Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Why I Teach Yoga

This weekend I did something extraordinary: I taught my visiting big sister some Therapeutic Yoga. What’s the big deal, you might wonder. Well, Mary has Multiple Sclerosis and somewhat limited mobility and energy. She fights the “I can’t” demon daily. Can she do everything she’d like to do in her life? No. But I think this weekend we both learned that she can do much more than her mind thinks she can.

Through the two practices we did together, I was reminded why I teach yoga: to help people live happier lives, with less pain in their bodies. For me, it’s not about twisting up into a pretzel or standing on your hands in the middle of the room. It’s about good alignment and small movements that help build strength and improve posture. The mind opens up along with the body, and the spirit feels more free.

Yoga isn’t a miracle cure, but it can be miraculous. Consistent practice and a compassionate attitude toward yourself are key. I tell my students regularly that 10 minutes of yoga every day is better than 90 minutes with a teacher once a week, and a combination of the two is ideal! The body longs to be in good alignment, and with skillful, compassionate instruction, it will move toward the better. With a stronger, better aligned physical body, the mind has a chance to calm, especially when we connect with our breath, feeling it move in the body. From there, it’s easier to be in the world, challenges feel less overwhelming, and we respond to others with more care. If you’ve ever visited my website, you know that my teaching mantra is strong body, sound mind, open heart, and this is the reason why.

I’m currently apprenticing in Therapeutic Yoga with the lovely, skillful yoga teacher Lucy Lomax on Monday nights at The Yoga Center of Columbia. She is a senior teacher with a beautifully compassionate spirit, and so generous with her time and knowledge. Thanks to Lucy’s open heart, I was able to share yoga with Mary this weekend. Mary can take what she learned (handout included!) and incorporate it into her life. The community of yoga is rich and loving, and the benefits ripple out endlessly. Namaste, Lucy and Mary. I honor you both.

Check out my schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Enduring the Fire

No one was more surprised than my father to find himself with a new baby (me!) at age 48. I was his Cookie, and he was my Daddy. He loved, protected, and nurtured me for 26 years, until he died at age 75. When he was felled by a serious stroke at 70, I was in my last semester of college. While he survived the stroke, he lost the use of his left arm and leg, and would spend the rest of his days in a chair or riding in a motorized scooter. He would never play golf again, and he needed a great deal of assistance for his daily needs. His stroke was the beginning of my walking through fire…many years of intense emotional pain and uncertainty, as I prepared as best I could for his transition to the next life and my transition to life without him.  Amazingly, throughout this time, he retained his sense of humor and his intention to be engaged in living. I learned a lot from his graceful, dignified example of living out the hand you’ve been dealt. It was a tough lesson to learn, and I was not always as graceful in receiving it as he was in the teaching.

He died suddenly when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child. I was so devastated that I was sure I’d lose the baby. When they played Taps at his funeral (he was a World War II hero), my emotions were so heated I felt like I couldn’t breathe. That intensity was heightened by my uncle unexpectedly rising in the little chapel, before the casket was carried out, to sing Danny Boy. This classic Irish song was a family tradition and one of my Dad’s favorites. It was usually sung around the dinner table, my father in the head chair with a good glass of red in his hand…this time the words were ever more poignant, the richness of the moment burnished in my heart forever.

I mourned his loss for a long time; my beautiful baby’s birth a few months afterwards was tinged with the regret that she would never know her grandfather. As I gradually emerged from the darkness, I found that having given myself time to just live with those intense sensations was a gift. I welcomed the support of family and friends, and stepped back into a life without my Dad but with a renewed sense of the rapid-fire passing of time. Now I wear an Irish Claddaugh symbol tattooed on my upper back, and I conclude every yoga class with an Irish blessing that my Dad taught me. These are some of the ways that I honor him and keep his memory alive.

Raw emotions are just like the raw ingredients in a good Irish stew. With alot of time, simmering heat, and careful attention, those raw ingredients soften and cook, leaving us well-nourished when the meal is over. Similarly, we can sit in the midst of challenging times and allow life to settle around the experience, as we reflect and feel and give ourselves time to soften and gain a new perspective.

A yoga practice can support us through fiery times. When we hold postures longer than is perfectly comfortable, the heat in our bodies builds, along with our stamina. With a long hold, an inner conversation might arise that will teach us to simply be with the fire, breathing and remaining steady. As thoughts blend with the physicality of the practice, ultimately, we learn that we can endure.

Moment of Release

You’ve held the pose for so long.
All your sweat and effort,
all your focus, courage and connection
have brought you to this moment of release.

Receive it with your whole being,
knowing that you can’t control
where surrender takes you.

You can only give yourself
over to the flow of breath
and consciousness that leads
into the clear light of
your remembering again.

–Danna Faulds

Check out my schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Light Brings Life

The lengthening days of spring as we head toward summer solstice on June 20 are something to celebrate! More sunlight hours beckon me outside onto the deck in the evening…with dinner al fresco, I linger outside, reveling in the last moments of light and enjoying the birds, deer, and foxes that make their home just outside my yard. Each evening outside is a little mini-vacation, and I’m refreshed and renewed.

Light is more than just something to read by; it’s the very source of life. Nearly all life on earth depends upon the sun! Don’t you love its warmth shining down on you? Being outside is one of the ways that so many of us relax and nurture ourselves. In many cultures, light is a symbol of consciousness. God is often spoken of as the source of light; Jesus is considered the Light of the world.  The contrast of light and dark enriches any experience:  poets write of shadow and light to engage our emotions, artists use shadow and light to create depth and dimension. Times of darkness teach us to appreciate the light when it shines brilliantly into our lives, just as the cold days of February invite longing for the sunny days of spring.

The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, is a dynamic series of poses (asana) that require precise physical alignment and engagement with the flow of breath in the body as heat builds. The body-mind softens as tensions dissipate and we create a silent “meditation in motion.” The Sun Salutation originated almost 3000 years ago as a ritual bowing to the dawn; the sequence draws us inward toward a humble adoration of the Light.

May the lengthening days bring a smile to your face and invite a sense of gratitude in your heart for all the good things in your life!

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Are You For Real?

I’ve been sharing life with two good friends for almost three decades. We’ve been together through births, adoptions, illnesses, deaths, parenting highs and lows, a deployment to Iraq, graduations, and so much more. They are the “extra” brother and sister that God gave me when I really needed them. Whenever we’re together, it’s like we were never apart! We have bonds of love, loyalty, and trust, that we’ve nurtured over a lifetime. True friends give you the courage to be your authentic self. The word courage comes from the Latin cor, which means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” When you show courage in being vulnerable to another person, you make a real connection.

There are layers of vulnerability that arise quite unbidden in both teaching and practicing yoga, and in this way the practice teaches us to be authentic. One way or another, the masks we try to hang onto fall away. Yoga is never about what we look like, but rather, about what’s happening inside. We connect with our breath, we combine breath and movement, and we enjoy stillness and quiet contemplation. The active part of the practice opens up channels of energy and strengthens the body, and the passive part lets the body integrate and rest.

When I teach, the class is always about my students and never about me. I share bits and pieces of myself because I think that keeps it real, but my goal is always to help students connect into themselves. I try to create a safe space where students know they can be themselves, and they give me the space to be myself. Every practice is an opportunity to check in with yourself, and hopefully with something greater than yourself. Each practice builds on the one before, and as we come to know ourselves better we take that authenticity out into our lives off the mat.

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!