Baddha Konasana - Bound Angle Pose
Wife, most importantly.
No, it’s not because I’m pregnant.
I was 23 years old when I received my certificate to teach yoga. As soon as I recovered from the euphoria of training in the desert, I put all of my energy into teaching as much as possible. For a period of about two years, I taught an average of 12-15 classes a week, but sometimes as many as 19. I taught in schools, gyms, and churches. I didn’t have an opportunity to teach in an actual yoga studio and I think that’s mostly because I was very apprehensive of the idea. The culture here in Charleston is borderline devotee and I couldn’t bring myself to commit to any one studio’s methodology.
I was part of a group of women who were certified by the school that I went to and I wanted very much to open up a studio of our own. It’s probably best that it didn’t happen because most of our group consisted of married moms who had tight schedules and other commitments, which would have left me at the helm and I don’t think I was mature enough to take on that responsibility. (Also, I don’t think my husband was willing to go into debt over it.) In the mean time, studios were popping up all over the place and it seemed like everyone I knew (and didn’t know) was getting certified.
Did I mention that I was certified to teach Christian yoga?
That’s basically the equivalent of tightrope walking because I didn’t really fit into the yogi world, but I didn’t quite fit into the Christian framework either. Some yoga teachers considered my training inauthentic, which made for some uncomfortable conversations and moments of self-doubt. Celebrity church leaders deemed yoga blasphemous, idolatrous, and demon worship. Once Charleston churches caught wind of that stance, I started to notice a backlash from the people who were supposed to be “my people.”
So, there I was in my yogic limbo. I tried to carve out opportunities for myself. At one point, I waited for one year to initiate two programs: one for a hospital and another for a community center. Despite what I hope was their best intentions, they left me by the wayside and wished me well. I helped a friend open up a non-profit women’s health center, but the folks with the thickest wallets weren’t willing to donate if yoga had anything to do with it. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of heartache, burnt bridges, and split ways.
I put yoga on the back burner. I got a fulltime job, which exhausted me to the point of not caring if I ever taught again. I pulled away from the group of women who shared my same certification as they continued to pave the way for Christian yoga to have a presence in Charleston. I occasionally went to a yoga class, but always left feeling a little cynical.
I was having an identity crisis.
You see, I enrolled in that Christian certification program because I really thought God wanted me to do it. I had this fantasy of opening up a studio, teaching with my friends, and leading people to worship Jesus on their yoga mats, but the more I pressed into this vision, the more pain I experienced. It was like God had said “maybe” and I just heard him say “yes.” One door after another slammed shut in my face. One friendship after another resulted in miscommunication and separation. Every time I tried to make this yoga thing work, whether Jesus was part of it or not, it hurt.
And I just didn’t want to hurt anymore.
For a long time, I could not get on my yoga mat without weeping. I couldn’t do a sun salutation without grieving what I’d lost because of yoga. I couldn’t rest in savasana without feeling absolutely confused and distraught. There was no peace in my practice, but I kept practicing because nothing else brought me any peace either.
It wasn’t just the yoga aspect of my life that was in tatters. Everything else was falling apart, too. My husband and I left our church kicking and screaming, which led to a long period of isolation and depression as we tried to recover. I found out some traumatic information about my childhood that sent me immediately into months of intense counseling and rocking back and forth in the dark. My closest friends were no longer in the same zip code and I hated my job. I think 2011-2012 was one of the loneliest and saddest years of my entire life.
And then I got pregnant.
My husband and I agreed that it would be best for me to stay at home and focus on taking care of myself. I was in such a fragile state, he wasn’t sure I could handle working while growing a human being. Unexpectedly, I started to heal. It was like my unborn daughter was forcing me to face my guilt and self-hatred. She reignited my sense of purpose and I became happy again. She also got me back on my mat. The bliss I first felt when my yoga practice started over seven years ago is slowly making its way back into my bones.
My friends ask me when I’ll start teaching again. I don’t really know what to say to that. They try to remind me that I’m a great teacher, that they feel so relaxed in my classes. I can say with confidence that I am a good yoga instructor. Every class I taught was done with absolute love and care. I intentionally created an environment that would foster safety and sanctuary. And it didn’t matter to me if I taught in front of a cross or a carved wooden statue of the Buddha.
But it matters to other people.
They want you to pick a side of the fence.
It makes them feel less afraid.
There’s a story about Jesus’ disciples getting mad that a guy who’s not in their group is casting out demons and healing people in Jesus’ name. Of course, Jesus thinks this is silly and says, “Whoever isn’t against us is for us.” I think a lot of Christians forget that story. And a lot of Christians forget that each of our stories are different and won’t always sync up.
I don’t teach yoga (right now) because the doors that I want to walk through are shut and the ones that are open lead to places I don’t want to go.
I don’t teach yoga (right now) because it’s an ego trap. I’ve taken way too many yoga classes full of sycophants who love it when their teacher drops an eff-bomb.
I don’t teach yoga (right now) because I’m an introvert and a highly sensitive person, which a lot of people think don’t make for a great teacher.
And honestly, I don’t teach yoga (right now) because a lot of Christians think that what God wants for them, he wants for everyone. This applies to the Christians who think yoga is evil as well as the Christians who think yoga is good.
Stop making your story someone else’s story.
You’re robbing God and a human being of a unique and beautiful relationship.
As I folded forward in one legged king pigeon pose, my mind finally relaxed. It felt like waking up suddenly from a dream. Today, I was locked in a perpetual state of concentration that kind of imploded on the two mile walk I took with Molly and hubby. When we got home, all I wanted to do was get away and melt into my yoga mat. I think I have serious control issues. Also, I don’t trust my dog and for some reason I think my husband is incapable of taking care of himself so I coddle him. Needless to say, I was exhausted.
I put so much pressure on myself and create my own performance anxiety. I recently applied for a job and was asked to come in for an interview. First of all, I’m not interested in working, especially once Eleanor gets here. (By the way, I’m currently a happy and pregnant housewife.) Second, I applied mostly because I knew I would be good at the job, not really because I wanted it. Third, I was so worried about whether or not I was going to let this potential employer down. I seriously stressed myself out about it for a few hours and couldn’t get over it. I finally got up the courage to decline the interview because I knew I would end up saying no if they offered it to me anyway, but then I felt guilty.
Guilty for what?!
I’m starting to gain awareness of my pressure cooker mentality. Hubby brought it to my attention yesterday after mentioning that I was getting frustrated with him frequently just for asking questions. When I considered his words, I realized I was frustrated for not having an answer. I wasn’t mad at him for asking. I was mad at me for not knowing.
I recently implemented a new routine for Molly to help manage her energy and separation anxiety. On our walk today, I was short-tempered and visibly frustrated with her constant pulling and jumping toward anything that moved. But I wasn’t really mad at her. I was mad that I couldn’t control her. I was mad at my inability to make her do the right thing.
Matt usually has fruit and yogurt for breakfast. I typically peel an orange for him the night before. When we were getting ready for bed, he asked if I would peel an orange for him and I got upset. He thought I was miffed at him, but I was upset with myself. Why didn’t I remember to do that? I was mad that I failed to peel the orange without him having to ask.
What the crap is that about?
Why do I set the bar so high for myself?
Where do these ridiculous expectations come from?
After my yoga practice, breathing exercises, and meditation, I sat with my head bowed and my hands clasped in prayer. My eyes were shut tight, brow furrowed, lips pursed. This wave of sadness washed over me, but I didn’t understand its origin. I thought it’s probably the baby hormones. I recited a short prayer and got up to shower before making dinner. But now I think I have an idea of where the sadness is coming from…
I am unkind to myself.
By constantly setting myself up to fail with unrealistic expectations and reinforcing the subconscious notion that I am not good enough.
Okay. So…now what?
My friend Sarah came over with little Liam on Tuesday.
I know. Awesome, right? It’s been a huge relief to see how well Molly does with babies and kids. For the most part, she knows to be gentle and she really likes the sounds they make. I’m eager to see how she gets along with Eleanor.
One of the best parts of listening to Liam laugh was the fact that all of us were laughing because it just felt good. Sarah and I were so tickled by Liam’s silliness and the sound of it became infectious. Why is that? Laughter is contagious like a yawn. it sounds awesome and ridiculous. How did it even start, I wonder?
Yesterday, Molly and I went to the park and walked a mile together. That’s probably the most I’ve walked in a while and she was exhausted from playing fetch and the humid heat. What I learned from walking that mile and doing some yoga after is how hard it is to convince yourself to do something challenging, but how much easier it is when you’re actually doing it. By pushing myself to do yoga and meditate everyday, it’s a lot easier to say yes to little challenges. After a while, you kind of end up feeling like there’s nothing you can’t do.
This morning, I met with a really nice lady who works at the church we’ve been attending. Her name is Evelyn and I swear she’s one of my soul mates. It was so nice to talk to somebody who is like-minded, values the bible without being suffocated by our conservative Southern Baptist upbringing, loves to learn about other religious traditions, and is just…really nice. It was nice to have someone ask me questions about me, to listen to my thoughts and experiences, and really value me as an individual.
So, some things for you to implement:
My dog is Molly and I think she is the most beautiful dog in the world. She has wonderful coloring, the hybrid body of a deer and a greyhound, and lovely eyes.
She also makes me murderously angry.
Molly is very smart. If she knows that we’re going to the park to play fetch, then she pulls on her leash. Being pregnant and a little slow going these days, sometimes I’m not in the mood to be yanked about. Today, I acted out on my anger, jerking her around, yelling at her, and spanking her when she didn’t listen. Obviously, she hates it when I get like this and her behavior only gets worse. The cycle continues.
At one point, I think I want to choke her and finally and just close my eyes and think, “How did I get this angry? How did I let it get this bad?” We walked back home after throwing the ball for a while, which neither of us really enjoyed because I was being a butthole. I felt terrible. I felt like an awful person and maybe I should call the shelter and tell them, “Umm, I’m abusive. You need to take this dog back.”
I read a blog called Zen Habits by Leo Babauta and he makes a suggestion in regards to anger:
Widen the envelope of your perspective, from what you think is important to what the other person sees as important.
When I took Molly to the park, it wasn’t because I was looking forward to playing fetch, watching her run, and enjoying the glory of her existence. I took her to the park with a bad attitude, feeling obligated to exercise her because she was being rambunctious at home. I took her to the park to get the activity out of the way before my husband got home. There was no joy. No delight. Just…a feeling of work.
Then, I considered what was probably important to Molly at the time:
Because I was in a pissy mood, I punished her for very sweet and innocent desires. She pulled on the leash because she was so excited to go somewhere with me. She wasn’t listening very well because she couldn’t contain her delight. When I started to take out my anger on her, she stopped obeying all together. She didn’t really want to play fetch anymore. She was looking for an excuse to play with someone else.
After a few rounds of sun salutations tonight, I sat in front of Molly and did alternate-nostril breathing followed by meditation. It was a really intimate encounter, to close my eyes and surrender to my breath right in front of her. When I opened my eyes, I told her I am sorry and that I love her. I ran my fingers over her paws and kissed her face.
Do not let your anger rob another of happiness. It’s cruel.
For years, I’ve known about the practice of observing one’s thoughts and feelings as opposed to judging them. I never put it into practice until today.
Depression is something that I’ve struggled with off and on for most of my life. Surprisingly, it didn’t get as bad as I thought it would once I got pregnant, but today was a particularly moody day for me and I was feeling very sad. I was looking out the window feeling so overwrought by my grief, this ache, the unbearable state of just being so forlorn for no identifiable reason. Then I thought, “Okay. Just observe. Step away for a second watch your feelings. Watch your thoughts.” Suddenly, it was much easier to see the root to my pain:
These thoughts were under the surface of my sadness and I was thinking them for various reasons. I’ve been really overwhelmed by the occasional feeling of having no control over my body during my pregnancy. I’m scared of the effect my struggles might have on my unborn daughter. And I felt physically weak today. It’s so crazy how our mood can be completely taken hostage by thoughts of which we’re not aware.
I’ve been learning about oxytocin, a hormone that’s known mostly for the connection it creates between a mother and her baby during breastfeeding. Over the last several years, researchers are learning that oxytocin is stimulated by many things. Of course, yoga happens to be one of them. It just happens to be the primary activity in my life that really brings me to a place of calm. Doing it everyday during this month of May has had a huge impact on my quality of life. I also learned that survivors of abuse and trauma during childhood (i.e. me) potentially have a harder time producing oxytocin, so engaging in activities to help stimulate it is a good thing and I’m hoping it reaps great benefits for my daughter and me.
I felt very weak tonight on my mat, but felt so strong in every pose. I really tried to give each movement purpose and intention, vitality and direction. There’s a big difference between being in a pose and actively doing a pose. Engagement is key.
During meditation, the image of rubies growing out of the centers of my palms. When I placed my hands together, the rubies merging and becoming an emerald.
Earlier today, I stood looking out at the river and was overcome by a deep awareness of something sacred. It overwhelmed me with yearning. A yearning for what? I’m not sure. I just watched the water move, felt the wind blow, and observed myself.
When I got on my mat tonight, my mind was so full of ideas that need to be placed on paper, that have needed to be written down for years, but I was always too scared to do it. There was a gnat flying around the room, making the quietest and loudest of noises. I would catch glimpses of it and sometimes it flew right by my ear. It nearly drove me crazy. But I just practiced.
I was halfway through my sequence when finally I just wanted to give up. I surrendered, taking child’s pose and closing my eyes. Then, I listened to the gnat flying, buzzing. I decided to pretend that I was the gnat and I started to describe myself:
There’s unexpected truth that comes out when you put yourself in the shoes of another. Describing myself as a gnat, I identified not only how I’ve been feeling recently, but also how I see myself. Small. Annoying. This isn’t good. This should change. Where is my self worth? How do you build it?
I said a prayer and again that overwhelming sense of the sacred washed over me. I don’t really know what that means when I say it. God? A spirit? The universe? But then out of nowhere, behind closed eyelids, an image of a man smiling at me and these words:
“Just write it down.”
Reverse Tabletop on Sullivan’s Island. #yoga #asana #24weeks
I watched my husband fall asleep, wrapped up in his arms. I slid out of bed to start my practice. My mind was mentally kicking and screaming before I got on my mat. I didn’t resist, I didn’t fight. I just let my mind pull on my arm, leaning back, yelling like a banshee as I took child’s pose and said a little prayer. Eventually, my mind calmed down.
My sequence stayed the same, but I listened to my body’s desire to change it up a little bit. A twist here, a lunge there. I abandoned militance to make room for some breathing space. I noticed that I was having trouble with balance and tried to figure out why. I watched and felt my body as I took a lunge, extending my hands and arms into the air above my head. And there it was. I wasn’t settling in.
Here’s what I mean:
A teacher I know says you have to root down to rise up. I wasn’t taking the time to plant my feet in the ground and build a solid foundation with the bottom half of my body. I was trying to go forward without anything to push from. This led to imbalance. The adjustment was easy. Be patient, settle in, then extend up.
I’ve been making time for eagle pose, which I hate. It looks like this:
Isn’t she glamorous? I hate eagle pose because it’s hard. It makes my butt, leg, and foot muscles hurt. It works your body. You’re contorted. I don’t like exerting a lot of effort because I know I don’t look awesome. What’s up with pride, huh? So, I’ve been doing eagle pose to knock out my ego, to tone my pregnant bottom, and to work on balance.
I felt like I was losing it and then I remembered mula bandha. If you want to know what this feels like, act like you’re trying to stop yourself from peeing midstream. For women, that’s a Kegel exercise. Well, I don’t know what else to tell you except when I thought I was going to fall out of eagle pose, I did my little mula bandha and it was like anchors came out of the bottoms of my feet and pressed through the ground toward the core of the earth. I was suddenly solid. Awesome. And weird. You should try it.
Meditation was light and happy.
Love to you.
When I got on my mat for yoga practice tonight, I was resistant. My mind was all over the place and I felt very impatient to get it over with. I thought about skipping sections, making the excuse that maybe it’d be too much for my body. I pushed all of it aside and committed to the sequence that I developed for my pregnancy.
Making yourself be patient when you are impatient is somewhat excruciating at first. It’s almost as if I’m trying to will time to go by faster as I pout in each pose. I was practicing this, which I am nowhere near embodying right now, staring ahead at a chip in the paint on the bedroom door. I just wanted to stop. Every moment I held the split, I just wanted it to end. Until the last couple breaths…I just smiled and stared at the chip in the paint.
The mind is very much like an attention-seeking child. You can give your mind attention in two ways:
Like if you have to discipline a child…you could get angry and spank and yell. Or you can just observe the behavior, without judgment, without reaction. Eventually, the mind stops squawking.
Toward the end of the practice as I started my breathing exercises, I noticed the calm that was beginning to settle in. For meditation, I took half lotus, which looks like this:
I’m an overachiever, so I would typically take full lotus, but it didn’t feel “right” and half lotus was feeling real nice. I closed my eyes, brought my attention to my breath, and just got lost in…my breath. Bliss. Calm. Serenity. Nothing to prove. No one to impress. I’m here for me.
My friend Sarah and I have been cheering each other on this month to be active everyday. She has decided to run and plank no matter what and I decided to do yoga and meditate. So far, we’ve only missed two days (this past weekend). I’m pretty proud of us.
I was doing my yoga practice during the day initially, but realized that it felt best before bed. It helps me to get my mind calm and soothe my body from the day’s aches and pains. There’s something really lovely about doing yoga at night, followed by a meditation done to the soundtrack of my breath, my sleeping husband, and snoozing dog.
Over the past couple years, I’ve retreated from yoga classes in studios and gyms. For some reason, those environments breed anxiety and negative self-consciousness for me. I find that practicing yoga at home feels much more sacred, safe, and self-honoring. Also, there’s something to be said for being your own teacher. Yoga, as well as being pregnant, is teaching me that I am co-dependent on others to show me what I should do and tell me what is right. I gotta flip the script.
My belly is getting much bigger and Eleanor is very active. I notice that she is more energetic on days that I eat fresh, raw foods. Anything else tends to make us both pretty lethargic. By the way, pineapple has NEVER tasted so good until now.
So, I’m in the midst of brainstorming my birth plan. Wish me luck!
And for fun:
I asked myself this morning, “Why don’t you just get on your mat and do a few Sun Salutations everyday?”
My response: “Because the house isn’t clean yet.”
If you’re waiting for the perfect conditions, they will keep you from accomplishing the simplest of things.
My pregnancy influenced me to make better choices. A few things that I wanted to make priorities during this time in my life: writing, daily yoga practice, and meditation. For a while, I was on a roll, but then I started thinking about the baby registry, the nursery, spring cleaning, and everything else that distracts us from ourselves.
I would think to myself, “I want to write,” but then make a to-do list of chores for the day.
I would want to meditate, but then make myself feel guilty that the dishes weren’t done yet.
I would want very much to do a few rounds of a modified Sun Salutation I came up with, but stare at the dog hair on the floor and think, “No, I will after I clean the house.”
I am constantly postponing myself.
What do you want to do and what silly things keep you from doing them?
It’s May 1st. Sounds like it’s time for a month long challenge.
Phil Catalfo (via coffeeandyoga)