Why Bother To Be Influenced?

Why Bother To Be Influenced?

Who are those who influence our lives and how is it we allow them to influence us? I think one of the character qualities that allows someone to impel or direct our lives toward change is trust. Trustworthy people win the confidence of others and move them toward living better lives. Secondly, those who influence us, knows us. Strangers are not known to compel us, but friends and acquaintances give our lives directions.

 Good Guidance

When I began practicing yoga, I did so in a fairly small community of other yogis. Every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, I attended the classes offered at our local health club. There, unrolling my mat alongside the other practitioners, I learned the flow of breath and asanas. It was a friendly and unassuming group of men and women and I felt comfortable quickly. The teacher encouraged us to practice to the best of our abilities honoring our own level of potential. It was, after all, a one room schoolhouse, so to speak and we were all at different levels. Some had been practicing yoga before yoga mats had ever been invented while others, like me, were fairly new at it. No matter our ability, beginning or advanced, we knew better than to compare ourselves with anyone else in the room. Yoga, after all, is not a competitive sport.

Like churchgoers having their preselected Sunday morning pew, yogis too have a tendency to place themselves in the same space in a room. I liked unrolling my mat next to an elderly woman named Judy. Her calm and friendly demeanor made conversation before and after class easy and we became fast friends. One Saturday, she told me she was enrolling in a 200 hour teacher’s yoga training. I was impressed. She was at least twenty years older than me and yet her age did not inhibit her from taking her yoga to a deeper level. For the next several weeks she was gone from class and when she returned, she had completed her training and passed her test. Now she would be one of the instructors at the health club. 

I began attending Judy’s classes along with my other yoga classes and one day she approached me about becoming a yoga instructor. “You know, if I can become a certified instructor, you can too.” Her words caused me to pause. Her zeal for learning inspired me as did her courage to try something new. Her confidence was contagious and I was encouraged to consider the possibility of taking my practice to a new level. We discussed the teaching program, and the cost and by that winter I had enrolled in a 200 hour teacher certification class.  

Then I returned to class, this time as Judy’s substitute teacher. Our bond as friends  deepened and a respect for each other as teachers grew. Judy’s influence in my life changed my life, for the better. 

Why bother to be influenced? It is worth allowing a trustworthy person to influence our lives for the better so that in turn, our lives will be changed for the better.

Why Bother Sharing Grief?

Why Bother Sharing Grief?

Sharing good times is easy. Sharing hard times is not. Yet, I do not think we are meant to carry heavy loads of woe alone. Sorrow, though  personal, is also  universal. None of us make it through this life without bumping up against sadness and loss. We do not get to forgo the inevitable parts of living; such as experiencing grief when loss happens.

Sharing the Load

Sadness makes us feel vulnerable, uncovered, undone and powerless. Recovering exhausts us. Mending from bereavement can be a little bit like rolling a boulder up a hill. It is hard work. Then, just when we think we might be okay, the rock slips out from underneath our hands and rolls back down the slope. And we start again. Yet, since none of us are exempt from grief, we do not need to roll our boulder alone. From my own experiences with pain, I have noticed that those who have lost, as I have, can help me the most, if I let them. They are like a guide who has already tread down the path of adversity, and lived to tell about it. Their season of sadness changed their lives, but their lives did not end because of their sadness. These are the best ones to call upon for a little help. And recently, I was privileged to have someone call me. 

A friend, emotionally depleted and physically spent after a traumatic loss, said to me, “Can you help me to remember how to breathe?” 

We  agreed that yoga could be helpful and set a date to practice some breathing. Unrolling our mats onto my deck one morning, I led my friend through some slow and simple asanas. I reminded her that no matter where we put our bodies in space, our priority was to breathe. She let out an audible sigh. 

We breathed in deep draughts of air while seated in an easy twist. We inhaled the warm summer breeze while lying on our backs with our legs resting against the wall. We permitted our bellies to fill with air while resting in supported bridge pose. In essence, we moved, but more importantly, we breathed.

When we finished, the smile on her face confirmed for me that together, we had moved her boulder a little farther up the slope toward betterment. 

Why bother sharing grief? It is worth it to trust another with the personal load of sorrow. After all, it is universal. 

Why Bother Showing Your Bruises?

Why Bother Showing Your Bruises?

When my sons were young, they loved showing off their small, but significant wounds. They’d roll up their pant leg or push up their shirt sleeve and point to the fresh scrape, cut, or bruise. Then they’d  go into great detail telling me how they’d skidded off their bike, jumped off their skateboard or tackled a teammate in soccer. Like badges of valor earned after a battle, they were proud and unashamed of the black and blue bump they’d gained while having fun at playing hard. 

Working Hard and Having a Blast

It is good for me to be reminded of how much fun playing hard can be. Recently, I spent a Sunday afternoon at a yoga arm balancing workshop, working with great diligence and having a blast. 

At the workshop, nine or so other participants and I copied the instructor as she demonstrated how to balance our knees just above the elbows in crow, flying crow, hurdler pose, and eka pada koundinyasana. With each pose, the teacher first demonstrated with ease, how to move into it, how to hold it and then how to safely move out of it. Before we practiced the poses however, she reminded us that a folded blanket placed strategically where our face might fall would take away some of our fear of falling. 

Then we each went to work on our poses. Balance poses force you to focus on the pose and nothing else. Gathering your thoughts together as well as coordinating your body causes you to narrow your thinking down to you, your mat and the pose.

 Although I lift weights to keep my arms strong, the arms are not where the strength comes from. The power comes from the core, including the abdominals and obliques. 

Firing up the core fires up the center of power. But still it’s not muscular energy that gets you where you are going as much as it is the focused concentration and the magic of discovering your point of balance. Oh my, when you find that point of balance, body parts, such as the feet and extended legs, seem to float up off the floor and a person can’t help but smile.  

Like everybody else in the room, I’d laugh when I crashed, shout out, “I did it,” when I finally did and applaud when someone found their point of balance. Beads of sweat pooled above our upper lips, and we stood back drinking down our bottled water to watch as someone’s appendage floated magically off the ground.  

At the end of the workshop the teacher’s parting words to all of us were, “You will be sore tomorrow.” In the morning, not only was I sore, but I looked at the flesh just above the backside of my elbows and discovered a bruise on each arm. Like my sons in their younger days, my earnest work at playing hard had earned me two black and blue wounds. 

At school that day, when my fourth graders asked if I’d done anything fun over the weekend, I rolled up my sleeves and proudly displayed my bruises.

“Wow! Mrs. Luikens, what happened?” Then I told them my story. 

Why bother showing your bruises? It is worth it when you can tell an audience just how hard you played to earn them.

Why Bother Finding a New Community?

Why Bother Finding a New Community?

After practicing with a particular yoga community for four years, pesky circumstances left me without them. Without my familiar companions I fell into disappointment and tried to convince myself that I’d be fine alone. Yet, I knew I was wrong. 

      The Truth About Community

The truth is that there is so much more to yoga than just going through a routine of poses. There is camaraderie and a pulse of warmth generated by a roomful of yogis moving in unity, something you don’t get when you are by yourself. So I pulled myself out of my funk and disengaged from the force field of procrastination to look for some new companions.

I’d heard good things about a fairly new studio that had opened in town, but I did not know anyone there. It is always nicer to try something new with someone rather than alone.  Attending a yoga class as a newcomer is intimidating. Stepping into the unfamiliar space of a new studio can be a little frightening and following a different yoga teacher can be awkward. But I had no one to aid me with this new venture. So I took a leap and registered for one of the classes they offered on a Saturday morning.

After talking myself into registering for the class I had to refuse to talk myself out of attending it. Saturdays are my busiest days of the week, catching up on all the domestic chores left undone Monday through Friday. But, I crossed over that invisible line that divides one from simply saying something to actually doing it and I went.   

  Climbing the long flight of stairs to the studio located on the second floor of an old brick building, I noticed the air getting warmer and sweeter with each step. Opening the door to the studio I immediately felt the heat and smelled the lavender emanating from the room. 

Crossing the threshold I noticed the whitewashed walls and two banks of windows allowing the early morning winter light to flood the spacious room. The floor was void of any mats. I was the first one there. 

The teacher introduced herself and gave me a quick tour. Then as the other students came through the door, they unrolled their mats out onto the floor in what I suspected was “their space.” Just like regular church attenders with their particular pew, yogis have their particular spaces on the floor. 

I unrolled my mat onto a piece of unclaimed space and sat in the warmth and light of the room. The friendly chatter from the company of people floated around me and I smiled in anticipation of the movements to come.

 For the next hour I followed the instructor’s voice as she talked us through a series of familiar poses; tadasana, forward fold, downward dog, plank, chaturanga, warrior two, reverse warrior, goddess and then through it all again and again. Every time I stood up sweeping my arms overhead making the large arc to begin the sequence again, I knew by glancing around at everyone else that I was in sync with a company of yogis. I didn’t know a soul there, yet my soul connected with everyone. 

Why bother to find a new community? It is worth it to search for camaraderie. When you find it, it generates a warm pulse and you get the sense you belong. Something one does not get when one is solo.

Why Bother to Rest?

Why Bother to Rest?

When I began practicing yoga, more than five years ago, the hardest part of any practice always came at the end of a lesson. When the instructor told us to lie flat on our backs, eyes closed, feet flopping away from each other and to breath slowly, I wanted to roll up my mat and run out of the room. I understood the benefits of moving in and out of the poses; they made me feel alive, powerful and strong. But lying immobile for the last five minutes of a class, made me wonder, why waste time lying still?

Release

It had not yet dawned on me why this last pose of the practice, called Shavasana, or corpse pose, was just as crucial as any of the other poses. Then, one particular teacher made a statement that changed how I thought about taking a rest.

“Let the floor hold the entire weight of your body,” she said one day while I lay on my mat peeking up at the clock waiting to be done with reposing. But that day, for some unknown reason, her words, like a key unlocking a treasure chest, clicked and I released something I never knew I was holding; tension. 

Of course the floor will hold my weight. Yet I’d never allowed my weight to be held by it. Sure I was lying down, but more like a stiff  corpse than a fully relaxed one and my insides stirred like a racehorse waiting to start a race. But on that day, I let out a sigh, smiled and relaxed. The floor joists held the entire weight of my body and did not cave in. I felt something new inside my body; release.  

Resting has never been easy for me. As a kid, when Mom designated “nap time,” and spread a blanket out on the living room floor for us to lie on, I usually squirmed, wiggled and rolled until we could finally get up. Nap time was a painful part of childhood.

As an adult, I’m not comfortable walking away from unfinished work. Emails call out for my attention, the laundry waits to be sorted, a check book needs balancing and dishes don’t wash themselves. Some days, twenty-four hours do not seem like enough time to accomplish everything. 

 Sundays used to be a day of rest for a large part of the population. People went to church, took a drive out in the country or sat on their front porch swings taking in a summer breeze. Nowadays, natural pauses that were once built into our culture are gone. People can listen to a sermon from their phone while doing the dishes and you can shop online any day of the week at any time of the day. Online stores never close. Convenient? Yes. Needful? I’m not sure. 

Hypervigilance to any task, even a good one like yoga, can actually diminish the benefits you gain. Too much of anything takes its toll on our bodies and our minds. A rest is necessary to regain perspective, momentum or a train of thought. 

Taking steps away from the computer, the laundry, the dishes, or the phone will not bring an end to the world. I do not encourage rolling out a mat and lying down on the job, but I do advocate for letting out a sigh to release unease, or raising one’s arms, reaching for the sky and taking in the view.  

Why bother to rest, even for a few moments? It is worth it because, “There is power in rest,” says one of my yoga teachers and now I believe her. 

 

 

Why Bother Accepting Unsolicited Advice?

Why Bother Accepting Unsolicited Advice?

Some time ago, I had the idea to train for a triathlon. The event called to my sense of competitiveness, and my need for a good challenge. The race would include swimming one third of a mile in a lake, biking twelve miles and running three. I signed up, trained and competed. I liked it enough to do another triathlon again the following year, but this time for longer distances; one mile swim, twenty-four mile bike ride and a five mile run. I trained and competed four more times in local triathlons. They gave me a good challenge and satisfied my need to compete. 

   Stepping Into Yoga

“Yoga helps keep your ligaments supple,” I’d overheard another triathlete say to their friend after an event. So, on a whim, and while training for the next triathlon, I stepped into my first yoga class. I was surprised that it was harder than swimming, riding a bike or running. 

First of all, yoga wasn’t about going as fast as you could to cross a finish line. There was  no one to compete with because yoga is not a competitive sport. Secondly, swimming, riding a bike and running did not require me to think too much; I simply switched into cruise control and ran, pedaled my bike or pulled my body through water. Yoga, on the other hand, required me to pay closer attention.

 “Tuck your left leg under your right, and wrap your left elbow around your right standing knee.” Huh?  “Don’t forget to breathe and notice how your back feels in this twist.” 

Thinking about how my body felt while in a particular pose was completely foreign for me as was breathing full belly breaths. When racing, one just pushes through whatever one feels; pain or weariness, in order to complete the course. 

Friendly Yogis

But, I kept showing up for yoga class, drawn to how it slowed me down and made me notice more. And though I wobbled in my one-legged balance poses while others moved with grace and ease into forearm stands, the instructor cheered us on;  “Make it your pose. Every body is different.” 

Then after class one day, a friendly fellow yogi lady in her seventies, approached me with some unsolicited advice that changed my life. 

“Yoga fits you,” she said with a smile.  I nodded my agreement. It did fit, better than I thought.

“I’m training to become an instructor and I think you should too.” 

She was in her seventies, and she was becoming a yoga instructor? And she thought I could too? I smiled as I noticed how her unsolicited advice ring true for me. It fit my need for a good challenge minus the competitiveness.  

So, I found a program, traveling to a little town in Canada on the weekends and after 200 hours of bookwork and classwork, I crossed the finish line, but with a deep, slow breath.  

Now it is my turn to give instructions, “Tuck your left leg under your right, and wrap your left elbow around your right standing knee,” while reminding others, “Don’t forget to breathe, and notice how your twist makes you feel.”  

Why bother accepting unsolicited advice? You just never know how it could just change your life for the rest of your life and that just might be worth it.  

 

Why Bother Slowing Down?

Why Bother Slowing Down?

     “Slow down, you move too fast,” are some words from The 59th Street Bridge (Feeling Groovy), a song written by Paul Simon. I’ve mostly liked the music of Simon and Garfunkel, and used to listen and sing along to their melodies. But, I never took the words to their songs seriously, especially this one. 

     Slow is not my natural speed. I’ve never been one to hang back or lally gag. When I move, it is purposeful. I’m on a mission to get from point A to point B with efficiency. Is it my personality, my disposition, or my demeanor? Is it nurture or nature? I only know that “it is.”

     My mother and her mother were both swift movers. They never did anything in slow motion. My grandmother always sat on the edge of her chair, back upright, ankles slightly crossed, ready to move from sitting to standing in one second.  

     In the same fashion, my mother sat long enough for Dad to say the blessing over the food, but popped up right after the amen was said. She’d scurry away to fetch the salt and pepper shakers, turn off the oven or grab a rag to wipe up the milk someone always spilled during a meal. Did their ways leave an indelible imprint on my life? Perhaps so.

     My mother taught me how to drive, though I never thought of myself to be as bad a driver as she was. She’d honk her horn at other drivers and call them names. 

     Though I hate getting behind a slow driver, one that will not exceed the speed limit by any degree, I’ve never honked at them or called them names, out loud.

     By the same token, I don’t like to stop. Once I’m driving down the road, red lights and stop signs are an interruption to the groove of moving. Yes, I am the one who speeds up when a traffic light turns yellow. I don’t mean to be this way, it is just who I am.

     I am early to work everyday, never late. Yet, no matter which route I take to get out of town and onto the highway, I’ve never found a route that takes less than five minutes. One of my sisters and I had this discussion a few days ago.

 “Have you tried the Pine Street route?” she asked while driving to our destination.

“Yes, I’ve tried that route.”

“What about going down Ontario Street?” 

“That is too far west I think.”

     I thought it interesting that she, like me, had tried to find the quickest route out of our little town. I am not alone in my need for speed.

     I was once called Speedy Gonzales when I worked in a nursing home. One of the patients dubbed me with this name, and I accepted it with a smile. It was his way of getting me to push him down to the dining room in his wheelchair. He knew he’d get there faster with me pushing him than with anyone else.  

     However, I am at odds with myself and here is why. Some years back, I started a personal yoga practice and now I’m a certified yoga instructor. As a practitioner, I know it is necessary to integrate into my life what I’ve been taught and one of the things I’ve been taught is to slow down, specifically, with the breath.

     Belly breathing, breaths that are full, and long, are better for us than shallow chest breaths. When our breathing slows down, our mind slows down giving us pause, time to respond rather than to react. 

     Of course, this slowing down of the breath is not easy for me to practice. I still hate to get behind anyone who lally gags whether it is in the grocery store, on a hiking trail or highway. But, when the impatience arises inside of me, I am learning to breathe in long slow breaths and exhale just as slowly. Then I see new possibilities before me; there is a wide spot just up ahead where I can pass.

     Why bother slowing down. I know it is worth it, but I’m still trying to discover the value for myself. I’ll keep you posted, and let you know when I do.