Yoga Makes You Well

May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well,

may you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy.

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Teaching meditation to kids with malas

Posted on October 16, 2016 at 8:48 PM Comments comments ()
My cousin is a pastor in a progressive Baptist church in town. They have summer camp for the neighborhood kids where they learn to love reading. And there are some bible lessons.
And there are some creativity and skill classes, too. They asked me to teach the kids a short little lesson about meditation. I thought that would be lots of fun.

I decided immediately we should make mala beads.

Mala beads are from India.They are used in counted chants and meditation. In traditional malas, there will be 108 beads and then one special bead at the end that is not counted that marks the beginning and ending spot where you turn around. Malas are used in chanting and in prayers and in meditation. Each time you say the mantra, you hold one bead. Then the next time you say the mantra, you hold the next bead. Until you get to the special bead at the end and that is the end. I did not want to make the kids thread 108 beads on their malas, so we just did ten or maybe twelve beads apiece. With the littlest kids, we did three.

Since I was working with little kids, I just taught them to use something they like as a mantra. I asked what they like. Some said kitty cats.Some said video games. Some said Pokemon. And so we used those things, one at a time, to chant while we worked our way through the beads. "Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat" works pretty well for calming the mind and clearing out thoughts that might not be positive. The mind can only hold one thought at the time, so the idea behind mantra is to replace the generally negative chatter of the mind with some positive, rhythmic sounds.

All the kids made their bead necklaces/ malas and they learned their personal chant, which is just a favorite thing. They seemed empowered by it and by the idea that their thoughts don't have to stay negative. They can do something to cultivate their minds into peaceful places and think better thoughts.

In America, yoga is something done on a mat moving your physical body for an hour or so. In India, traditionally, yoga is something done as a lifestyle with vows and precepts and there is not a lot of movement involved. It is basically the cultivation of a stable and peaceful mind. I suppose the hope is that the movement of American yoga will somehow stabilize the American mind. And open the American hips to be able to sit long enough to meditate. And it does, to a point. It is an entry point for this sedentary society to get acquainted with yoga and create some health and stability in our bodies and minds.

The original text of the yoga tradition is the Yoga Sutras. It is 2500 years old and is attributed to a man named Patanjali. It is written in Sanskrit, which is an ancient language that is no longer spoken, but which is supposed to be healing to speak and to hear.

The second verse of Chapter one of the Yoga Sutras is (in Sanskrit):
Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah

To look at that word by word, realizing there is much depth lost in translating anything:
Yoga- yoga

Citta- the mind, perception

Vrtti- twisting, whirling, spinning

Nirodhah- halts
(Rodhah is the goddess of storms and ni means the opposite or to negate.)

So it could be translated dramatically:
Yoga calms the whirling of the storm of your mind.

Or less dramatically:
Yoga calms the mind.

Either way works. You get the idea.

And so using mala beads (or cheerio necklaces, or whatever) to chant something pleasant and calming when your mind is feeling unpleasant and less than calm is helpful for establishing stability in the mind.

All together now:
Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon...










Yoga and the creative aspect of life

Posted on August 28, 2014 at 9:40 PM Comments comments ()
I have been noticing the ways in my life I have become more reliable since starting yoga.  I notice emotionally I am more available and vulnerable.  I notice I am better able to keep a steady pace with the rhythm of my life, instead of rushing around all the time as I did for years.  And I notice that I find it easier to be creative.

I spend a little bit of time every day writing or taking pictures or making something.  Mostly for me it is writing.  Sometimes it is just cooking and nothing else.  Or designing a yoga class around a particular need in someone's body or around a theme in yogic philosophy. 

I think as I become more balanced, I am not so overwhelmed by all the things happening around me and outside me.  I find I can listen to and notice the things happening inside me.  I write about them. 

One noted author I read said that the best way to become a writer is to read everything and to write a little every day.  I believe in the every day habits.  The things we do every day or almost every day become our lives.  They are the things we build ourselves from.  Brush teeth, eat breakfast, talk with a friend. That is a pretty good start on a pretty good life.  Now add some artistic expression into it.

Many artists are very passionate about their work, showing up to work on it whenever inspiration strikes for days on end with no sleep and no routine.  And that makes sense.  But the days lost, weeks lost, years and then decades lost as an artist waits for inspiration to strike cannot be redone.  Those are years of artistic fields lying fallow. 

I think yoga is an excellent therapy for life because its wisdom is so simple and so practical.  With yoga, the idea is to do some yoga every day.  For a lifetime.  What happens when we do a little artistic expression every day?

"That practice is indeed firmly grounded when it is pursued incessantly, with reverence, for a long time." Yoga Sutras I:14

What Yoga Has Taught Me About Making Art

Posted on August 14, 2014 at 10:02 PM Comments comments ()
Today's guest post is from Lucy Curtis... The Amazing Lucy Curtis!  Lucy is a yoga teacher at the 500 hour level (an advanced certification).  She is a groovy DJ and she makes her yoga classes fascinating through the use of storytelling.  When I have attended Lucy's yoga classes, I have always learned some new things about the ancient roots of yoga and I have always laughed because of the way she phrases things.  I remember one time she told the class to hold our hands in front of our chests as if we were "holding something amazing in them, like a library card!"  She is quirky and deep and an amazing yoga teacher.  She has a wonderful way with words, too, as you will see.
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What Yoga Has Taught Me About Making Art

First I was invited to design and make my own hat at a High Tea thrown by Elisabeth Koch, who is my oldest friend on Earth. We spent most of the 1980’s playing Barbies and building kudzu forts in the suburban Atlanta neighborhood we shared. Elisabeth’s family moved to Europe when we were just 12 or 13, but we’ve always kept in touch. She’s since lived all over the world and in recent years has made a name for herself as mainland China’s only couture milliner. Elisabeth’s hats are beautifully crazy and crazy-beautiful and can be found on the heads of socialites and in the pages of Chinese Vogue. I jumped at the chance, not only to catch up with my friend who only comes to America a few times a year, but also to make my very own fabulous hat!

Then the very next weekend, another dear friend, Atlanta artist Heather Johnson, invited me over for brunch and to make our own linocuts, which is a printmaking technique. First you draw a picture and transfer it to a piece of linoleum. Using a little gouging tool you then carve out the negative space so that the image shows up. Then, after slathering a piece of plexiglass with ink, you press the linocut into it and finally print the image onto paper. I’d never made a linocut before and drew a complicated little cartoon for my future husband of all of his favorite things. It includes me, a skateboard, our two cats Debbie Harry and Joan Jett, his Gibson Les Paul guitar, and a fishing rod with a lunker of a bass dangling from the hook.

In both creative pursuits, I felt an exquisite feeling of happiness that was so intense it surprised me. I wasn’t just making a hat to wear to a party or making a little present for David “Dreamboat” Lane, I was truly connecting with my soul through art. I’ve felt this feeling before, sometimes in nature, certainly while watching live music (if you want to experience enlightenment through your ears, check out The Purkinje Shift at the Earl on 8/ 28), but most often on my yoga mat. In fact, I feel like my yoga practice is what’s trained me to be able to feel that soul connection in the first place. Here are 3 things my yoga practice has taught me about making art:

1. Trying is Succeeding
I remember making a scribbly mess as hot tears rolled down my cheeks when, as a kid, I couldn’t get the perfect mermaid on a rock out of my head and onto the paper. At that moment I threw in the towel, decided I was “bad at art” and began to pursue other interests even though making art had always felt so good when I wasn’t obsessed with a perfect final product.

In yoga there’s no such thing as a perfect final product. Yoga is not competitive. It's about the practice for each individual, and in yoga trying is doing and doing is succeeding. It’s not like you practice yoga to achieve a perfect Tree Pose and then you’re named champion of the Yogis and you never do it again. Conversely, it’s not like the Yoga Police are going to come in and take your mat and stretch pants away if you fall out of Tree Pose. The physical poses are just a conduit for doing the best you can with the tools you have in the present moment.

Before my yoga practice taught me that trying is succeeding, I might have turned down the opportunity to make art, because I would’ve been too scared to try and fail. I might have spent my time comparing my work to others instead of diving into my own experience. Now, however, the hat might turn out ugly or the linocut stupid-looking, but I’m not going to let fear of a non-perfect final product stop me from throwing myself into the experience with all I’ve got.

 2. Positive Self Talk
At both events I noticed that as people were working on their pieces, they were dogging themselves and their artwork, pointing out all the ways they were sucking. At the same time, they were freely complimenting other people’s work. They say we’re our own worst critic, and I saw that in action for sure.

In the years that I’ve practiced yoga, I’ve noticed a definite shift in how I talk to myself and about myself. The first rule of yoga is ahimsa, which means non-violence or non-harming. You try not to hurt others and you try not to hurt yourself. One way to make your self talk more ahimsic is to talk to yourself like you were talking to your best friend. I’ve even used this band from Tennessee’s name as a mantra: Be Your Own Pet. The whole function of yoga is to control the mind. My yoga practice hasn’t made all of my self-critical thoughts disappear, but it’s certainly trained me to quit listening so hard.

3. Aparigraha, Baby!  
At the hat making workshop, Elisabeth was running out of black supplies so I got stuck with a pink base for my hat. I felt a flash of greediness. I wanted a black base! I calmed myself down by reminding myself of another tenet of yoga, aparigraha.

Aparigraha means non-grasping or non-clinging; pretty much you get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. Perhaps if I hadn’t learned about aparigraha from my yoga practice, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy making a pink hat, but as I ungrasped my mind from the idea of having to have a black hat, I began loving it more and more.



Here is Lucy in that fabulous pink hat:
Lucy Curtis is the cofounder of Art & Action, a yoga and art program for kids. Learn more about what she does and contact her at the website: artandactionatlanta.com

Elisabeth's website (with the hats): elisabethkoch.net 

Heather's website (with the prints):   curiositaphotography.com

Comments on this blog

Posted on August 14, 2014 at 12:35 AM Comments comments ()
Every time I get a comment on my blog, the website service sends me an email excitedly announcing that I have a comment on my blog.  And almost every time, I rush to see what someone wrote in response to my deep (or not so deep) thoughts about yoga or meditation or massage or just making the world a better place to live. And almost every time, I get to the comment and it is just some spam post from Russia or China trying to sell watches or to promote weight loss or maybe I do not even know what it says because it is written in a foreign language and I do not even know which one.  

Frustrating.

And then I write some little blog post about the meaning of life and how using a bolster changed my pigeon pose in yoga class or something.  And it makes me feel better.

A blog is kind of like a personal graffiti wall.  I can draw whatever I like up there.  And then some spammer can come along from wherever and draw over it with pictures of Rolex watches or some special product.  And then I can draw over it again.  

I like getting friends and people who do good things for the world as a habit to write little posts about what they do and why.  I know it might not stop global warming or get us all universal healthcare, but I like writing my little practical tidbits about yoga and meditation and massage.

I wonder if the spammers ever read it.  

Making a massage powerpoint

Posted on July 14, 2014 at 10:52 PM Comments comments ()
I have been a massage therapist for almost thirteen years.  I am supposed to put together a power point presentation about massage and its benefits and present it for half an hour at a university in a couple of days. 

Awesome, right?  Yes.

And yet I find myself stumped as I face the computer screen.  There is so much to say about massage and so much that no one will ever understand from me speaking.

I was working with a client recently who I had never worked with before.  She described herself as under a lot of stress in the interview.  As I worked with her, I noticed her skin felt tighter when I did long strokes down the back (which most people's tissues respond to well).  I changed to circular strokes and her whole body relaxed.  She took a deep breath and then we could work. 

How do I put that in a power point?

Being a massage therapist has a lot of benefits.  It has taught me to be more present in all my interactions.  Not that I am always 100% present, but that I tend to at least notice if I am not now. 

It has taught me to understand people.  Being in a healer's role will teach you about how we become who we are.  We tend to tell our stories with our bodies.  

Above all, I think massage has taught me how to be quiet with people.  And how to let them be quiet with me.  That is such a gift.  Just letting go of the personality for an hour and just being.  I feel much more able to just be quiet with people in my whole life now.  I give thanks for that.

So now to get back to that power point...


Sowing

Posted on June 28, 2013 at 11:10 AM Comments comments ()
I am dog sitting in a little suburb of Atlanta this week.  Ranch houses everywhere.  Nice little brick ranches with nice yards.  One little house is just a little different.  Front yard is the same as all the others.  But back yard.  Now back yard has something else going on.

Ernest and Hazel Hale moved to Smyrna 48 years ago.  They had lots of kids.  Ernie had grown up on the farm.  Even though the back yard was steep, he saw a garden there.  He just went to Dallas, GA (an hour plus drive) and borrowed his dad's tractor.  "I needed his tractor because it had the sweep on it", he said.  He cleared the trees.  He brought in forty loads of fill dirt.  He built himself a back yard that he turned into a garden.  

They have been there forty eight years.  They have had the garden going forty years.  If they are not there, leave some money in the box and get yourself some homegrown.

Mandala Project Day 2

Posted on May 28, 2013 at 5:10 PM Comments comments ()
I went to the coffee shop and worked on my mandala today.  I forgot to bring in the rest of the pens, but I had a nice blue pen.  I used that to color in the next layer.

There were two ladies- one older, one younger- church ladies- seated beside me.  They were gossiping about the other women in their church and what bad decisions they were making about men.  

I stared at the eye of my mandala.  But then my tea and cookie came.  I continued for two more minutes, but... not much happened today.  I guess I was too busy thinking about the girls making terrible decisions about men at church.

Teaching mandala meditation

Posted on May 27, 2013 at 5:12 PM Comments comments ()
I had several students today come take my mandala meditation class.  We made mandalas and meditated on them.  It was beautiful to see how it came out. 

This picture is of my mandala.  It shows the center point, an eye.  When you meditate on a mandala, you try to focus on the center point of the image.  We sat for five minutes staring at our mandalas on the wall. 

I saw my grandmother's blue eyes in this mandala.  I saw the eye looked like it had something important to say.  And then it looked like it was simply exhausted. 

I took it as grandma telling me to slow down a bit.  Take life as it comes.  Be a little less serious about changing the world for the better.  Maybe the world gets better- maybe not.  But it does not hinge on what I do.

Then I noticed my mandala is a little off-center and looks like a patch, the way I colored it with pens mostly.  It has a woven quality.  It strikes me as looking very strong.  Maybe a little bit misfitted, but significantly strong. 

With mandala meditation, you work with it every day- coloring it in, adding to it, meditating on it (maybe you could call it "listening" to it), and journaling about what it tells you each day.  I will keep you updated...

Starting a Peace

Posted on May 21, 2013 at 10:54 AM Comments comments ()
Alright.  I guess I may as well get comfortable with the fact that I am turning into an activist.  Meditation does have this one side effect that could be considered negative.  It brings the world into clearer focus and it helps you see with compassion all the people around you and what they experience.  In some ways, being numbed out is easier.  There was some famous somebody or other who said that once you see you can't unsee.  That is true.  So be warned.

It has brought me into my own view, too.  The things I do, the motivations behind why I am doing them, the probable outcome, the habits.  I see myself now.  And now I ask myself, "is that something that I want to do?  If so, why?  What would happen if I did the opposite thing?  Would I like my life better?"

I have a lot of friends who are musicians.  I have always gone to see shows.  It feels pretty cool to "be on the list" and get in free, with them probably buying me a beer and me getting to be "in".  I always enjoy hearing their music and it is a blast.

But recently, I started asking myself what I really think is cool. 

What I Really Think is Cool:

I really think it's cool when people serve community.  I really think it's cool when people value their families and get to know their children.  I really think it's cool when people take care of the environment.  I really think it's cool when people take care of themselves.  Boom.

So.  With these answers in my pocket, I decided to start volunteering.  I signed up to volunteer with Trees Atlanta one Saturday morning, planting trees in an abandoned lot in a neighborhood in town.  Because the planting started early, I went to bed early Friday night.

When I woke up and got ready to go, on my way out the door, I saw a text from a musician friend of mine.  He sent it the night before, last minute, telling me he was performing at a smoky tavern and I should come down and he'd put me on the list.  He said he would buy me a beer.

As I drove over to the forest, I felt a pang in my heart, wishing I had seen the text and gone to the show.  I knew, though, that if I had gone, I would have stayed out late and not gotten up early and gone to the forest to plant and tend.  There is no doubt that I would have had fun.  I would have had a blast.  I would have had two or three beers.  I would have seen some friends and they would have invited me to their shows and it all would have been nice.  I would have come home smelling of smoke and dragged the next day.  But it would have been a wonderful show.

As I arrived at the forest, there were fifty volunteers there, unloading truck beds filled with shovels and plants and buckets filled with mulch.  Arborists and families and neighbors and people who brought their dogs.  We worked.  Hard.  Those mulch-filled buckets were heavy.  But not as heavy as the water buckets.  But with so many people there, we got done early. 

I drove home, filled with fresh air and community, with dirty hands and muddy feet.  

I read a book about meditation in which the author said something like, "meditation gives you a pause between something happening and your reaction to it.  And in that pause, you choose this friendship and not that one, this job and not that one, this place to live and not that one, this thought and not that one.  And in that choice, you build a better life." 

As I drove home, I thought to myself, "Amen, brother.  Right on."

New Growth

Posted on May 15, 2013 at 2:17 PM Comments comments ()
Making a Path

Life seems to have a destination, but sometimes the path is unclear.  That perfect relationship, that perfect job, that harmony and ease are over there, always over there, just out of reach.

Play it Loud

I played clarinet in band in middle school.  I remember how terrible we were.  And I remember my teacher telling us to play the wrong thing and go ahead and play it loud!  He was dealing with our angst as we hesitated our way through each piece.  When we started playing and making the mistakes, we got better.

Do Something

When I plant seeds in the garden, after they come up, some of them show lots of growth and some don't.  I weed out the ones that have not grown very big and give space to the others.  There are moments in my life when I have been that spindly plant, wondering which way to grow, not growing very much in any direction.

Follow the Sun

Just like a plant, the way to grow is to follow the light.  There will be some path that just has more of a glow to it than another path.  It might look like a more winding path.  It might seem to disappear at times.  But walking that path feels warm and sunny. 

Keep on Taking Steps

The plants I pick to let grow are the biggest, strongest plants.  They have the most life force, the most chi.  They have established their ability to follow the light.  I don't really care if they have grown a little east or a little west in their attempts to grow. Just like these plants, the direction to grow in is not the most important thing.  Do some every day toward the goal that feeds your inner light. 

Others Get Inspired by You

Sometimes I have made the mistake of thinking that I should not do all I can do because it will make those around me jealous or threaten my relationships.  But in truth, relationships that are threatened by my growth are worth losing anyway.  And those that aren't will just get stronger.  In this way, my life gets weeded and pruned and new growth comes in to nourish.

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