29 April 2012

An Experience of Trust and Surrender

Freshly back from part one of my yoga teacher training at Kripalu, I'm feeling puzzled about how to convey a fraction of what I experienced during the past two weeks. Although I typically love to write about my experiences, several of them seem to lie just beyond words. However, in the interest of inspiring just one other person in the world who might stumble upon this post, I'll share a story that might illustrate some qualities of my time there: my first practice teach.

The Set Up
The second Monday, each of us was asked to lead a small group (2-3 other students plus a facilitator who would drop in for parts) in a 30 minute class. In this short time, we had to incorporate all 8 elements of a complete Kripalu yoga class. We were required to teach two different breathing techniques and one required posture, but the rest was up to us. Because I was comfortable with my group and what I'd learned so far, I was excited about the opportunity to put together and practice leading a class, but for the most part, an atmosphere of anxiousness permeated the larger group. During lunch and dinner breaks, students asked each other "are you nervous?" and "how are you feeling about your practice teach?" After a little while, I started to question why I wasn't feeling nervous.

My default is typically to be an extreme planner, an over-practicer, and a learner who memorizes perfectly for evaluations and then promptly forgets everything. However, I had decided going into this training that I was going to approach it differently. For example, I:
  • was not going to stress about not having time to do all the readings from the manual in between sessions
  • would pay active attention (possibly taking less notes) to try and really absorb the material
  • was going to plan and practice at a higher level than usual, then wing it, trusting that it would come out just fine
  • would let go of my need to be perfect, and be okay with making some mistakes as part of the learning process
This seemed to be working out for me, until one more person asked me how I was feeling about my practice teach, and it snapped me back into my old habits. Up in the Sun Room during a break, I found myself over-analyzing (down to the minute) when I should be on which posture and starting to write down the exact wording of what I would say. As I did this, I noticed how it felt in my body. My heart started to race, my breathing got shallower, and time seemed to speed up. Thankfully I decided to stop, packed up my things, and headed to the Meditation Room with the Japa mala beads we received early in the program.

The Small Enlightenment
The Meditation Room has long been one of my favorite places at Kripalu. It's a  simple room with a small altar, adorned with one photo of Swami Kripalu and random trinkets and flowers left by visitors. It's ridiculously silent and peaceful. Alone in the room, I grabbed a cushion and sat down close to the altar, taking in the photo of Bapuji (as Swami Kripalu was affectionately called). In it, he has one hand outstretched with his palm facing out--given that it's closer to the camera than the rest of him, it appears large and detailed. I closed my eyes and started to repeat a mantra, following along with my mala beads.

After a few rounds, something happened. I first noticed myself sitting a little straighter on my cushion. Next, my ability to take a full breath up into my chest (which is often difficult for me) seemed to just open up. Then my heart started to feel...well, just a little bit stronger. The words "courage" and "bravery" came into my mind, and I started to sense powerful beams of energy radiating from the palm of Bapuji's hand moving directly into my opened heart. I thought, "I need to teach the  Warrior 1 posture, and I am a brave and courageous warrior." I sat there taking this in for several minutes, extremely grateful and in awe of the seeming infusion. When I opened my eyes, I thanked Swami Kripalu profusely, and left feeling even more centered and grounded than I had before anyone had asked about my feelings around the practice teach.

The Follow Through
My first practice teach went well. I wove the theme of bravery and courage, which I felt Bapuji had re-revealed to me during my meditation, throughout the class. When I stumbled to remember which warm up I was going to teach next, I calmly glanced down at my notes at the title to remind myself, and continued on. When what I'd planned took longer than I expected, I decided to bag the transition to the Warrior 2 posture, and instead gave my group the gift of a longer relaxation. When I realized I probably could have fit the posture in anyway (especially when another member of our group was told she brought people into relaxation too quickly, much as I had), I didn't feel shame. Rather, I felt proud of how I had trusted my instincts, and believed that over time, I would hone them to be more accurate. Overall, I felt a deep peace about what I had done. I had let go of my need to control every last detail--I had surrendered, and not only had nothing catastrophic happened, but I had flourished.

14 April 2012

While I'm Away, Please Give Me Your Feedback...

Many of you know that I'm going to be away for the next couple weeks, doing part 1 of my 200-hour Kripalu yoga teacher training certification. As you can imagine, I'm very excited and curious about what this experience will bring!

While I'm gone, I'm going to take a break from writing blog posts. But in the meantime, I would really appreciate it if you, my readers, would let me know:
  • Which posts you have enjoyed the most (and why)?
  • Which posts you could have done without?
  • What health and wellness topics you'd like to hear more about?
Comments on the blog or personal emails are both fine!

Enjoy your weeks, and namaste,

08 April 2012

Setting Interaction Intentions: Defining Your Personal “Wake”

As I sat down to breakfast last Monday morning, I felt myself starting to feel overwhelmed. My schedule (both at work and at home) was jam packed, and it was easy to feel tired before I even started. However, what came to me as I sat there and took a few deep breaths really helped me through the week, so I thought I'd share my strategy with you—my fellow overwhelmed colleagues, family, and friends!

I forget where I first heard about this, but listening to Wayne Dyer recently reminded me about the concept of a “personal wake”. Like the trail of waves a speed boat leaves behind it, each of us leaves behind something when we interact with another person. Usually, this “something” is a feeling—it could be a feeling the other person has about themselves, and/or a feeling they have about you once your interaction with them is over.

That morning, I decided that rather than stressing about my hectic schedule and all the things I had to do, I'd instead think about what kind of personal wake I wanted to leave behind as a result of each interaction. For each of the meetings I knew I had that day, I wrote down who the primary people were in my journal. Then next to each of their names, I wrote an intention, or how I wanted them to feel after having interacted with me. Sometimes this was based on how I thought they might be feeling coming into the meeting, or about the topic we'd be discussing. Other times it was based on how I wanted them to perceive me as a colleague. Some of the feelings I came up with included:
  • encouraged
  • supported
  • connected
  • motivated
  • amicable
  • helpful
  • appreciated
  • understood
  • safe
  • valued
  • smart
  • respected
  • relaxed
  • inspired
After doing this for the people I'd encounter in my work day, I added two very important people to the list: my husband (whom I interact with mostly before and after work), and myself. Then I wrote feelings like:
  • loved
  • centered
  • peaceful
  • happy
  • forgiving
  • compassionate
Lastly, I put an asterisk next to my top three people, because after all, there were a lot of people and feelings I could potentially focus on, and I knew these good intentions also had to be realistic if I had any hopes of honoring them throughout my busy day!

Although I didn't refer to my journal during the day, I found that most of the time the intentions I had set came into my mind before each meeting. In some cases I was able to focus on bringing the feeling to the interaction—in others, not so much. But at least I felt that I had a higher goal--one that was much more based on people than on completing tasks. It also made me feel less attached to the outcome of each meeting, because whatever we decided to do was secondary to maintaining and strengthening the relationship.

Throughout the week, I took a few minutes each morning to do this exercise. Because things stick with me more when I write them down, I usually captured my intentions for the day in my journal. But some days I just thought through my day and mentally noted what I wanted my personal wake to be for each interaction.

Now, I'm not suggesting any of this was easy. Sometimes it was difficult to identify just how I wanted others to feel; sometimes I totally failed to think of my intention before getting together with someone; and sometimes I completely screwed up. But even screwing up gave me the opportunity to remember that I was on my list too, and that I needed to take care of myself. One of the most difficult and humbling things to do is admit when you are wrong, but for perfectionists like me, it's even more difficult to be forgiving and compassionate toward yourself when you know you've behaved in a way that's less than you would have desired, or when you feel you've let others down. After a bit of internal struggle, I was able to see how much my ego had been running a show, and tried to allow the experience to be an eye-opening, enlightening lesson, rather than yet another thing to worry about incessantly or continuously beat myself up over.

Meetings, tasks, chores and a limited number of hours in the day and week will always be a reality, but you only get so many opportunities to improve the lives of others. What kind of “personal wake” do you leave behind when you interact with others in your family, at your job, or during your social engagements? The next time you're feeling overwhelmed, try setting a few intentions and then watch with curiosity--see if and how doing this changes your feelings about the days events (before and after they happen). And just as importantly, pay attention to how it impacts your thoughts and feelings about yourself.