I love yoga! I used to love running.

Yoga, I wish I had met you sooner.

I spent a lot of years pushing my body to the limits, and if I had known yoga, I think I would be in much better shape now. For around 20 years I was birthing and breastfeeding babies. (7 of them!) I ate as healthily as I knew to, and my exercise, besides giving birth, was toting babies and walking with the kids around the neighborhood.

Half marathon
RunGirl 2011

Then in my mid forties, I took up running and participated in quite a few 5k’s and 10k’s and completed three half marathons.  Oh, how yoga would have benefited me then! I never really learned how to stretch properly, and now my body is much less flexible than I would like it to be.  I am glad I did all the running I did, but I think that I could have done better with proper stretching or yoga. This picture is me doing my last half in December of 2011, when I was 55. That was the only time in my life I had a personal trainer, and set a goal to complete it in less than 3 hours.  I made it with 3 minutes to spare! I would have done much better if I hadn’t started having severe pain in my left leg and knee. I was determined to finish, though, and limped my way proudly across the finish line.

I had an inflamed iliotibial band, the ligament that runs down the outside of the leg from the hip to the shin. Using a foam roller helped me heal from that, and I am convinced that had I been stretching well, or practicing yoga, I might have minimized that issue. Since then, I have participated in a handful of 5k’s, only to have a setback about a year ago with severe back pain that was likely a slipped disc. I have recovered from that, but have residual right hip pain. I’ve made a few attempts to start training again, but  haven’t been able to get the mindset to do it.

I first met yoga at a class at the gym I used to belong to, about 3 years ago, and fell in love immediately.  I had a great teacher, who said that it is ok that I can’t sit  in lotus, or even cross-legged. I am more comfortable sitting in a slight variation of seiza. It is important to find a position of comfort in sitting, and this was a breakthrough for me! Also, sometimes, at the end of the class when we were lying in savasana, I would feel a release of emotions, either laughter or tears. I knew that I loved the gentle yet strong movements that our teacher took us through, and I always felt better after class no matter how I felt before.

Over the last year, as I have sought healing and fitness, I keep coming back to yoga. I have thought about trying to take up running again, but it never works out. I have done some weightlifting and even bought some workout videos, but my body always is happiest with the gentle yoga asanas.

Yoga is much more than exercise, although with time it molds and firms the body. More importantly, yoga clears the obstructions and limitations in our bodies and minds, and increases  creative life energy. This is why I feel so peaceful and happy after an hour-long class, even if I have experienced discomfort, been disappointed at my lack of flexibility, and cried at the end. Note: it is important to accept your limitations and not compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone’s body and flexibility are inherently different.

I found a yoga studio just down the street from me, with a wonderful teacher who lives and breathes peaceful yoga energy. I went to my class last night feeling very tired and stressed from the day, just wanting to sleep. But as I moved through the poses, I felt the release of all the tension and exhaustion of the day.

And I had a very good night’s sleep.

Do you have a yoga practice? What do you love about yoga?

Walk barefoot in the grass

Or walk shoeless on the beach. Connect with the earth.

Ok, I know it it the middle of winter. I realize that your environment is likely to be very cold, possibly snowy. I hope you’ll read on anyway! I live in southeast Texas, and a few days ago we had a wonderful warm day in the 70’s. I had been feeling emotional, cranky, and wanted to blame someone besides myself for my irritability.  In other words, I wanted to pick a fight with someone, and absolve myself of responsibility for my own emotions.

A few years ago when I felt this way, which was quite often, I would become reactive to other people, including, to my sorrow, my children. I was in a difficult marriage with a difficult person, but I made it worse by being extremely reactive. Now I share life with a peaceful person, my children are all grown and gone, and I knew that I needed to keep looking inside myself for a loving response (to my own emotions.)

I left work at 4:oo and drank in the warm sunshine as I walked to my car. I called Robert and said, “Let’s have a picnic in the park!” I wanted to feel the grass on my feet, gaze at the sky, and let go of the insanity in my head, which comes periodically in spite of  everything. By the time I got home, he had packed some food, and we grabbed a blanket and drove the half mile down the street to the park.

feet in cloverWe had about 30 minutes before the sun went down and it started to get cold. I took off my shoes and buried my feet in the clover. I walked a bit, did a few yoga stretches, then lay on my back and absorbed the cloudless blue sky above the tall palms.  I felt the tension and static leaving me, peace returning to my inner being. We lay there until the sun was almost gone and it was too cold to stay, food and drink forgotten. I took this sunset picture that evening. Apparently this was all very needful and beneficial for Robert, too. We were both getting ungrounded from the busyness of daily life, needing to take time to stop and be in nature.

This experience is what I call grounding. It has something to do with connecting with the earth, and getting recharged.  It’s like we have all these ions that get  out of whack , fuzzy, and if we can connect with the earth it puts everything back in alignment. That’s what it felt like to be outside, touching the earth and embracing the sky and the sun. ( No this isn’t scientific, it is my personal experience and opinion.)

I’m very grateful that I can walk outside barefoot occasionally even during the winter months.  I live on the third floor and work on the fourth floor, and so have become more purposeful in literally connecting with the ground when I start feeling like a porcupine, and meditating on its own doesn’t completely bring me back to center. I love being outside, watching birds and nature, sunrises and sunsets, so I probably need to stay in the south.

What do you do to ground yourself, especially during the winter?

 

Sitting with myself (3 ways meditation impacts my life)

In my last post I mentioned that I meditate on a regular basis.

A fellow blogger asked me what impact this has on my daily life. This is a question many people have, I think. Meditation has become mainstream. “Everyone’s doing it.” But what is IT, exactly? And how, aside from all the scientific evidence that it is good for me, does it make my day to day life better?

Meditation is often used as a synonym for  contemplation, musing, consideration, reflection, deliberation, rumination, reverie, concentration, but this isn’t true meditation. A definition I like is “a state of thoughtless awareness. The mind becomes calm and silent, yet remains alert. Eventually, one gains higher levels of awareness.” Key word here is eventually.

Why did I want to learn to meditate? I used to have anxiety every day, and it manifested itself in that I was very controlling. I had become very aware of this, and my motivation for wanting to learn to meditate was that I wanted to know how to calm my mind. All the years I was a churchgoer praying and reading my Bible diligently had not brought the peace I so desperately sought.

And now?

1. I am calmer, over all. The anxieties and irritations that used to upset my days are now just a little blip in it, gone quickly when they start to rise up. I do still have “hormonal” moments. I get upset about stuff.  People annoy me at times. I get emotional and cry. But when I cry, the tears are cleansing rather than draining. And after almost a year, I am beginning to notice a difference in myself, a difference that others have commented on for months.

2. When upsetting events occur, as they will, I am more able to bring myself back to my center, to the present moment, to my breath, or whatever I need to do to look at what is really happening, what is really important.

3. The biggest change I have noticed in myself is that I have become much less judgmental.

wpid-20150204_185943.jpgI am less judgmental of myself as well as of others. In meditation, it is important to learn not to judge the experience. If I am judging, then what is the point, really? There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” meditation experience. It is what it is.  Sometimes I have loads of thoughts, spinning around and around. Pema Chodron says in her book of daily readings, Comfortable with Uncertainty (p17), that “our practice is to watch our thoughts arise, label them thinking, and return to the breath…Each situation, eath thought, each word, each feeling, is just a passing memory.” In other words, we will have thoughts during meditation, and it’s ok.

As a result, I have taken this practice to the ordinary situations of life. Instead of looking down on others because their choices and behaviors don’t match my particular standards, I remember that everyone is doing the best they can at the level of awareness that they have at the moment, including me.

If you are a meditator, how has it helped you? What do you see as the greatest benefit to your life?  Here is a great infographic on the benefits of meditation. I encourage you to explore this, and begin taking a few minutes every day to just sit with yourself.

Namaste. The divine light in me bows to the divine light in you. Have a beautiful day.

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What do I have?

The last two years have brought many changes in my life. I got out of an unhealthy relationship,  moved, my two youngest offspring left home, and  I am now sharing daily life with the man of my dreams.  The only thing that didn’t really change during this time has been my job. I have been at it for nearly 5 years, and have been very thankful for the security and regularity it has provided during all these transitions.

I set some intentions relative to how and where I would live, and they have manifested in amazing ways. Yet I find myself continuing to ask myself “What do I really want?” This morning as I found myself pondering, I decided to focus instead on what I already have.

Peace.    I have been on a search for peace for years. I tried to find it through religion, friendships, moving from one relationship to another, but none of this worked.  I finally learned that I was looking outside myself for peace. Even expecting GOD to provide internal peace when I kept looking for people to make me happy didn’t work. While I was still married, I went to Al-anon meetings, and that program was the first place that I learned that I needed to take care of myself. I finally  became strong enough to make healthier decisions for me, as in getting a divorce instead of holding on to a fantasy.  Re-examining my beliefs about God, religion, and spirituality and beginning to meditate daily has led to the most peace I have known in my life – because I have found it within, instead of expecting it from outside myself.

“The world around us will never be peaceful until we ourselves are at PEACE WITHIN. If we are fighting and angry on the inside we will never experience the opposite on the outside.”
Angie Karan Krezos

Love.   The greatest thing in life is to give and receive love. Without doubt, I have always been loved – I had a good upbringing with loving parents, have been in love relationships, and have had the love of my children, which I would have to say is the most special of all. I have generally taken care of myself, but until I began in earnest a quest for enlightenment, didn’t realize that I hadn’t been truly loving myself, which had the effect of an inability to give love unselfishly. Unselfish love doesn’t demand anything in return, yet attracts lovingkindness.

“Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Be true to yourself. How you treat yourself sets the standard for how others will treat you.”  ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Freedom.   When I focused on the chaos around me and in me, I attracted chaos.As I learned that peace and love had to begin with me, I began to attracted peaceful and loving people into my life.  As my life changed, and I disentangled myself from that which didn’t serve me well, I began to experience a buoyancy of spirit. I also did something I’d wanted to do for a long time – divested myself of homeownership along with numerous possessions and embraced a more minimalistic lifestyle. This lightness of spirit plus minimalism has led to a sense of freedom that I’ve never known. I must add here that the fact that my 7 children don’t live with me anymore also contributes to that sense of freedom.

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

As I ponder these ideas, I am thankful for every step of the journey that has brought me to HERE.  A huge life lesson is to learn to live without regrets, whether it be about how I failed my children, or wasn’t able to stay married, or wasted money. All those things were part of what I was supposed to learn. I have no doubt that I have more lessons ahead of me. I plan to meet whatever challenges lie ahead with peace, love, and hope.