That shouldn’t happen to you!

“That shouldn’t happen to you, with all that yoga you do.”

Many times over the course of healing from a crippling bout of sciatica, I heard this comment. It exemplifies a misconception I find to be fairly common. People seem to have the idea that there are things we can do, like yoga, that will keep bad things from happening.

I wish this was true, but it isn’t. Bad things still happen no matter what we do. Wear and tear on the body still happens. Aging still happens.

What’s different for me because of yoga, is that I have tools to deal with “bad” things when they happen. I have a lot of body awareness so I can work very easily with my physical therapist. And, more importantly, I have tools to get my mind in the present moment. Without these tools, my mind would constantly be racing directly from the immediate pain to panicked thoughts about how I’m going to live my life if I can’t ever walk again without pain: maybe I’ll have to close the studio, or get rid of my goats, or stop gardening, or quit choir.  I have tools to get my mind back in the present when it travels back through time and starts nit-picking things I “should” have done differently: maybe I should have done more yoga, or less gardening, or not painted the house.

The reason it’s so important to get my mind in the present moment is that, when I’m thinking scary thoughts about the future or beating myself up about the past, my brain is telling my body that there are some even worse problems than the pain. So now I have my body and brain working fruitlessly to deal all this other stuff that isn’t even real – my brain just made it all up – instead of putting my energy into dealing with the actual situation.

Whether I’m doing the yoga postures, breathing, or meditating, I’ve been training myself to notice when my mind goes out of the present moment. This is the first tool that yoga has given me: simply to notice when my mind starts time traveling.

Doing yoga postures is, for many people, the first place they ever (as an adult) experience having their attention fully focused on the moment. Sometimes this will happen the first time someone ever goes to a yoga class. Sometimes it takes a few times. But, usually, new students are quickly so absorbed in trying to figure out when to inhale and exhale and where to put their feet and hands, that they soon discover how freeing it is to really be in the moment.

As it gradually becomes a little easier to find their way into the postures, students begin to deliberately work with some basic tools for getting the attention in the moment in a very intentional way: Breathe, Steady Gaze, Locks, and Gratitude.

Breath and gratitude were the two that really kept me present and able to move through the discomfort of the sciatica.  A lot of the time for about a month, the pain really was horrible. But that didn’t mean I needed to add to the problem by creating scary scenarios about a future where I’d never feel OK again.

Bringing my attention back to the breath anchored my awareness on what was really going on. Once I did this, I could use my energy to choose what the best course of action was right then: more heat, more ice, more pain killers, sleep on the floor, whatever. Freeing myself from thinking about what was going to happen next week, allowed me to figure out these very basic things – which was what I really needed to do to start to heal.

Continually bringing my awareness to what there was to be grateful for in each moment also helped keep me from thinking that the pain was the only thing that existed. Yes, it was bad, but there were SO many things to be thankful for: the students, teachers and staff at Yoga in ME keeping things going without me there, my husband taking most of a month off work to care for me (and even teach two classes!), well wishes from friends, good food to eat, the resources to get a more comfortable mattress,  my 7 year old grand-daughter coming over to clean the house, and more.

So, no, doing all that yoga did not keep me from having sciatica. And it won’t keep me from aging or, eventually, from dying. What it’s done is given me a set of tools to deal with life as it really is. The tools to let go of my attachment to how my body “should” work or how my life “should” be and be able to find moments of joy, love, community, and healing in the face of incredible pain.

A Yoga Tragedy

A Yoga Tragedy

by Sue Mickey

At 5:30 pm, Friday November 2, 2018 a man opened fire at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida. 21-year-old Maura Binkley and 61-year-old Dr. Nancy Van Vessem were killed in the attack. Five others were injured. Maura and Nancy were described as caring and helpful, working to make their community better.

At  8:00 am, Sunday November 4, 2018, thirteen people arrived at Yoga in ME to practice yoga. I was teaching that morning and was wondering how to ignore this latest American atrocity—the 304th mass shooting in 2018.  Usually my personality is humorous and a bit sarcastic. I do not take myself too seriously and try to invoke that during practice especially if I notice someone struggling physically or mentally.  In our studio we preach accepting yourself exactly where you are today. This aspect is important to reach the therapeutic aspect of yoga. On this day the clients were distracted. They were buying merchandise, they were chatty, and one woman was visibly upset. She pulled me aside after checking in and asked what we were going to do about the yoga shooting.

I looked at her right in the eyes and spoke with firmness, while her lips quivered. “We are going to do yoga”. This answer came from somewhere deep inside and I felt assured that this was the right answer. No joking, no sarcasm here.

Why was yoga my answer?

There are many interpretations of the word yoga. Some translations include: “to come together”, “ to unite”, “to yolk (nourish) ”, “to attain what was previously unattainable”, and “to walk with the divine”. My favorite translation of yoga is a thread. I like to think of my mind as a jumble of threads that are sorted out with yoga practice and woven into a beautiful tapestry that will become my life. This of course is a continual work in progress.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is considered to be one of the most important texts for understanding the eight-limbed path of Asthanga yoga. The 196 sutras are concise statements offering guidelines for living a wise and meaningful life. Sutra 1-2 states that yoga is the effort toward ceasing the distractions in your mind.  And Sutra 1-32 states that if one can steady the mind and practice, whatever the provocations, the interruptions cannot take root. When we stop thinking we are present and connected inside and not bound to the outside world. When the ripples stop the mind is still, this is the experience of yoga. It was clear to me that we all needed yoga that morning.

Why we do the work:

 

Many of us really do not know at first. We may feel better physically, then notice that mentally we feel more stable, so we repeat the process. Life starts to get better as we begin to focus on being present off the mat. Awareness  of our thoughts increases and we start modifying our behaviors. We begin to choose to listen to our bodies more and eat, hydrate and rest when we need it.

We also begin to focus our energy and time with people and tasks that bring us joy. Connection to our true self grows. Yoga Sutra 2-1 states that the practice of yoga reduces physical and mental impurities and develops our capacity for self-examination.  And Sutra 2-2 states that this practice will be certain to remove obstacles and clear perception. Well, “Hello!” something gentle, kind, and clears the clutter, why are they not doing this everywhere?

Better News:

Another great yoga text, the Bhagavad Gita, emphasizes that the way to our highest power is through our duties in life. In other words the search for your purpose is not separate from every day activities.  This is a relief, I do not have to search for my dharma (purpose) it is right here in every day life.

Healing and Hope:

This Sunday November 11, 2018, a candlelight vigil will be held in Tallahassee to honor the lives of Dr. Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley. There will be uplifting prayers, reflections and music. The community is trying to transform the tragedy into an event that strengthens bonds and promotes peace.

At Yoga in ME we will continue to practice, do the work and bring that peace into the world.  As part of the world community of yogis we hope that when we calm the waves in our minds the ripple effect of yoga brings change.

I honor the place in you that is the same in me. This is a place where the whole universe resides. I honor the place in you of love and light, of peace and truth. There is but one

Namaste

Sue Mickey

Don’t Be The White Rabbit – You’re Not The Only One With Problems!

“Why does everything always happen to me?” Do you ever think that you are the ONLY person in the whole world who has bad luck? The ONLY one with problems? The ONLY person who doesn’t have it all figured out? Yeah, me too.

Especially at moments like:

  • When my youngest projectile vomits all over the place when we’re sitting in the audience at my oldest’s performance of Alice in Wonderland… twice.
  • When my middle daughter inexplicably puts her teeth through her lip while playing in the gravel area at the farm store leaving us both covered in blood (we just wanted to get some plants for goodness sake!)
  • When my husband’s away on a business trip at the baby wakes us all up all night screaming and then we finally fall asleep at 6:30am and sleep through the bus and then I still have to make lunches and don’t get the trash outside in time for pick up and everyone is late for school, daycare, work…

And that was just the last 4 days. Whew!

It would be easy for me to get caught up in the narrative that I have bad luck. I’m the ONLY one things like this happen to. I am busier and more stressed out that anyone else I know. I’m the only one with problems, right? But is that really true?

There’s no denying that we live in a society that is based around busy-ness and drama. Who is the busiest, the most stressed out? Sometimes conversations about this topic can start to feel like a little bit of a competition.

Oh, your daughter broke 2 bones last year? Well, my son broke THREE.

You guys had the flu last week? Well WE had the stomach bug.

Conversations about drama, trials, and tribulations, especially between parents, can start to feel like they are glorifying all this drama. And that everyone thinks they have it worse than everyone else.

It’s like we have to one-up each other to prove that we have the most dramatic life. We have to keep feeding the narrative in our heads that we are the only one that this kind of stuff happens to.

Well, guess what? We’re not.

Life, especially with little kids, is hard! There is no shortage of drama. But I bet if we take a moment to stop feeding our inner narrative about how hard our lives are, we might notice that there are other people around us who are struggling too.

We don’t want to be like the White Rabbit in my daughter’s musical and totally focus on ourselves and what we have going on.

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye! I”m late, I’m late, I’m late!

The White Rabbit is so worried about being late that he keeps running from thing to thing like a chicken with his head cut off. He’s panicked about his own problems and won’t even stop and talk to Alice. Instead of only focusing on our own issues and our own narrative, let’s save a little energy for compassion and for paying attention!

You never know what the person next to you is going through. So maybe instead of just minding your own “busy-ness”, save a little attention for what’s going on for other people too. The more you pay attention, instead of just keeping your head down and focusing on being the only one with problems, the more you’ll start to realize that you’re not alone! We’re all in this together!

Hey, that’s yoga…

“I Have To” vs. “I Choose To” – Changing Up Your Thinking For a More Joyful Life

Think about the last week: how many times have you described something you are about to do as “I HAVE to do XYZ”? 1? 100? 1000?

“Today, I have to go to the store”

“I’m sorry, I can’t go to yoga, I have to go to an appointment”

“I won’t have time to go for a walk today because I have to vacuum”

“I won’t be able to meet my friend for coffee because I have to run errands”

Even, “I have to go to my friend’s birthday party… or my child’s play…”

Etc. etc. etc. …. We use this phrase from everything from pleasant outings to mundane errands to the harrowing task of clipping our kids’ fingernails.

Language is a powerful thing. Yes, there are always things that we should prioritize and things that do truly need to get done. But, in reality, do we HAVE to do most of the things we use this phrase to describe? NO!

What if instead of saying we HAVE to do something – we say that we are CHOOSING to do it?

When we speak truth to the fact that (almost everything) we use our time for is a choice, we empower ourselves to give our energy to things that we value. And, we give ourselves the opportunity to view our choices in a more positive light.

Think about it: “I am choosing to pick the kids up early and take my daughter to her rehearsal this afternoon” feels a lot better than: “I HAVE to pick the little kids up early from daycare, and then I HAVE to rush to the school and pick up my oldest and then I HAVE to take her to her rehearsal”.

And, if you really think about it, the first phrase is true. I am choosing to do this.

Will the sky fall if I don’t choose to have her participate in this activity or attend this particular rehearsal? Maybe I’d like to think I’m that important, but the reality is that no, it will not.

Our society puts a lot of emphasis on being busy, and on obligation. It seems that young parents are especially vulnerable to this plague. We are “supposed to” keep up with the Joneses. It seems like we are expected to put each of our kids in 17 different weekly activities. Then, we “have to” shuttle them all from place to place with begrudging devotion. Powering through, while painting ourselves as martyrs for doing it.

Well, I’m calling BS! I carefully weigh the options and CHOOSE what activities I put my kids in and what things I do myself. I choose the things that I think are valuable and important. I choose to prioritize spending time with my family, doula work, and teaching the boomer yoga class because these things are important to me. Almost everything else comes next – after these obligations… I mean CHOICES.

Yes, it’s easier to turn something down when painting another commitment as non-optional. But the reality is that pretty much everything we do is a choice. OWN it! Now, off to pick everyone up early and head over to that rehearsal!