Monthly Archives: February 2013

Inhale, Exhale, Pause

By Marcia Miller

Inhale, exhale, pause, inhale, exhale, pause

Can you observe and feel two cycles of your own breath, noticing each of these elements, before reading further? No need to change any of it—just be with your breath however it is.

I’m just back from teaching a retreat in Belize with students from all over the US and Canada, including of course some from our YOHI community. Inhale, exhale, pause turned out to be one of the main themes for our week together and to be a very useful theme to me personally during experiences out of class as well.

In our first class together we met in an outdoor palapa.

All of us had traveled 12 hours or so to get there and starting with a breath practice seemed like a good idea. The next morning we met at 6:30a to experience a mist-enshrouded class. Because we were in the Macal river valley with tall mountains on either side of us, the mist gradually rose so that by the end of the class the tropical sun had risen above the mountain top and we were bathed in light. Inhale, exhale, pause seemed to honor this whole experience. Inhale—take in the gift of the breath right now in this moment; exhale—let go of that which is no longer needed; pause—feel the refreshment, the awe and the integration of this moment.

I love these pauses. A pause is not a “hold.” which implies effort or tension of some kind to keep the breath out when it would prefer to come in. It is an opening into spaciousness that can be the briefest of moments or a luxuriously intimate dip into eternity—the mind quiet, the mouth and nose relaxed as if I just smelled a fragrance at once mysterious and delicious. These pauses, however subtle, give us a chance to stop and see the effects of what just came before, whether it be a yoga pose or a climb up a mountain. These days we seem to move so quickly, even in yoga class, that I relish these simple moments of noticing the effects of my actions, my thoughts, my heart. Inhale, exhale, pause has a rhythm that seems natural and is enhanced by being in a jungle or by the beach as we were last week. All of life is both movement and stillness and it is not always possible to see clearly how each aspect relates to the other. Even as the inhalation is mostly nourishing, it can also be deeply quiet and receptive. The exhalation can be more active and is also a time of deeper absorption for all that was just inhaled. The pause is a time to be with the mystery, the koan, of all of it.

As we continued through our week I remembered this theme many times when I was not in class and experienced many moments of awe and beauty, and a few of fear and confusion.

Early in our trip we visited nearby Mayan ruins. The whole area felt sacred. As I paused on purpose I felt tingling all over my skin and the hairs stood up on my arms. It felt delicious and holy, and I might have missed that feeling if I had not paused. As we climbed the ruins our talented guide of Mayan descent, steeped us in stories of Mayan civilization. These were the stones and stories of his people, and we were captivated by his presence.

And at the same time, my body was terrified of being on narrow ledges up that high. I could hardly breathe and my belly tightened and clenched with fear. “Get out of here now!” it kept saying. But to “get out of here” I had to go down tiny stairs, at times with nothing to hold onto—not a great resolution to this fearful experience. I remained on the ledge, as far away from the edge as possible and stayed with myself. Inhale, exhale, pause. I felt the sensations of fear in my body and continued to breathe my mantra of the week. I’d love to say that the breathing practice completely calmed my fear and that I was able to dance my way down the stairs. Not so. But the gift of the breath offered me a way of being with myself as I was fearful and that felt huge. When I noticed judgments arise, wondering what was wrong with me, asking how I can call myself a yoga teacher if I have this much fear, I would return to my breath with gentleness and compassion. I don’t know why I am afraid of heights but I am, and yet I was able to see the site and sort of enjoy myself. By staying with my fear that day, I have the sense that I might be a bit less afraid another time. Somehow, I trust myself more. And I was able to laugh at myself as I sat on my butt and went down the stairs that way!

As we went through the week, there were so many moments of awe, of learning about the natural world we were a part of and a few other moments of discomfort but inhale, exhale, pause was with me. I paused to see a red-rumped tarantula that was coaxed out of its hole by our fearless guide. I stood atop a mountain, again with a quivering belly, to see the entire river valley laid out before me.

 

I saw a rare basilisk lizard that rested so peacefully on our guide’s arm that we all got to take pictures. I saw thousands of stars and the sweep of the Milky Way that are not visible where I live. I saw and heard Howler Monkeys with their call that sounds like ujjayi breath gone evil. I saw a pelican land on the ocean less than 10 feet from me and frigates floated overhead as we practiced yoga. While snorkeling, among dozens of miraculous sights, I saw a Spotted Eagle Ray that looked like it was slowly flying under water and a tiny juvenile damsel fish that looked like sparkling stars in a deep blue night. Because of our practice of inhale, exhale, pause in class and in my own personal practice over the years, I could remember to take the time to be with all the beauty that I saw.

Inhale, exhale, pause.

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Featured Teacher: Ambre Emory-Maier

Why do you practice?   I practice to feel in touch with my true self, for the physical and emotional benefits and the enjoyment of moving.

Why do you teach?   Teaching is the act of sharing yourself and your gift’s from God with others. I teach to learn and be of service.

Inspirations?   The great saints, my family and the many people and students I come into contact with during my life.

Who have you trained with?  Many fabulous and wise teachers from the dance and somatics field.  Yogis-Marcia Miller, Linda OshinsDoug Keller, Swami Ramananda, Martha Marcom, Gail Sky among others.

What style do you teach?  Hatha, Vinyasa and Restorative and I have been known to teach Ashtanga in a pinch!

What’s your favorite food?   I love cookies, fruit, cheese, cucumber salad and hummus.

What’s your nickname? As many of them as you care to share.   Ruby  or Chief (given to me by my dance students from long ago).

Do you own any animals?  Yes--two dogs-pit bulls-Karma and Margie.  Would love to have more animals but we do not have the room. I have an adopted turkey in Western New York on a farm that rescues farm animals called Cracker Box Palace. I went to high school with one of its founders.

What’s on your playlist right now?   Christmas Music, R & B and Big Band.

What’s your favorite yoga accessory A block.

What style influences your teaching?   I come from a dance background so much of my classes are filled with movement or vinyasa type flow. Since I started off as an Ashtangi-I have a tendency to structure my classes similar to the Primary Series format. However, I add in somatic and physical therapy exercises work depending on the theme of the class. I also love to offer restoratives and chanting to my students.

Favorite yoga pose?   Right now, Gomukasana-Cow-faced pose.  Great hip and shoulder opener.

What is your favorite TV show of all time?   I cannot say I have a favorite but I loved Bewitched, Scooby Doo and I Dream of Jeanie as a child.

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?   I am okay with my name but I probably would have chosen the more traditional spelling.  Thanks Mom!

Your favorite item of clothing?   I love fuzzy socks and dresses. Dressing up is fun but I do not do it much.

What did you want to be when you were little?  A veterinarian and a TV star.  I aspired to be on the Mickey Mouse Club as a kid.

Best trip you’ve taken, or dream trip you’d like to take?   I love going to the Keys-Key Colony Beach or traveling overseas.

What word describes you best?  Can any one word describe someone?

What drives you every day?  To live my life well as it is a gift and to try and be of service in some way to others.

Whom do you admire?   My husband, my teachers, my mother and fabulous friends

What is your mission?  Same thing that drives me every day plus what is on the to-do list.

What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?  I have been shown innumerable kindness in my life.

Fun fact about you?  I have sailed across Lake Ontario to Canada many times

What books are you reading right now?   The Hobbit--it is the 75th anniversary of the book. The Life of Abraham.

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All The Space You Need

By Angie Hay

Years ago I came across this quote from supermodel Cindy Crawford: “They were doing a full back shot of me in a swimsuit and I thought, “Oh my God, I have to be so brave.” See, every woman hates herself from behind.”

I was recently reminded of this arguable statement when I received an invitation from my colleague to be photographed doing yoga for the studio’s new promotional materials. The instructions specified that one’s hair should be neat, and included hopes that clothing for the shoot would be provided by a fancy national yoga gear chain known for their behind-flattering pants.

My brain, known for occasional moments of cruelty, instantly flooded me with images of my out-of-control dreads, my big butt, and the package of vegan cookies I ate almost entirely by myself the week before. They sent this to everyone, my brain said, but clearly they didn’t mean you. I mean, let’s be realistic.

Oh. Right. You’re probably right.

I took my first yoga class when I was twenty-one through Gahanna Parks & Rec. One day, unannounced, a guy from the local free paper showed up asking to photograph our class. The other yogis refused, but I was feeling fearless and said yes. In class I felt like a gazelle, like a water lily, like the Grand Canyon, and it was new feeling for me. Why not capture it in pictures? I practiced like he was shooting a feature and waited anxiously for the paper to come out. The image that made it to the cover was my face in profile in Trikonasana. My round cheeks. My soft neck. Me, just me. Not the yoga model I expected to see. My face was as serene as a bonsai tree, but it was difficult to see that through my disappointment. I didn’t even save a copy, not one.

These are the facts: there has never been a body shaped like mine on the cover of Yoga Journal. Lululemon’s snazzy yoga gear isn’t made in my size. They don’t look at me and see a yogi. But, miraculously, I do. Almost every hour of the day, almost every day of the week. When seeing myself as a beautiful and valuable person is the hardest thing I have to do all day, I stay in the fight. But not in that particular moment when I was invited to have my picture taken. In that instant, it was a fight I couldn’t win. It was bravery I didn’t have.

As a fat lady, professions other than belly dancer and yoga teacher might have made more sense. Maybe there are jobs where a big gal is just the thing. I worked in a café for a year where the boxy men’s chef coat I had to wear because the ladies sizes didn’t fit made my eyes sting with tears. For two years I sat in a basement office where all anyone talked about was how few calories they allowed into their bellies. The truth is that there are no safe havens for fatness, not yet. So I take my body to the dance floor and the yoga mat, the places it feels best in the whole world.

This is the type of bravery I do have. To stick with it. The courage to be the fattest lady in class so another woman doesn’t have to worry that it’s her. The courage to come to the mat as I am, even if I’ve never received the “yoga body” promised by the world’s ad men with the purchase of your first mat. The body I see in the mirror is a yogi’s body shaped by fifteen years of practice. A dancer’s body shaped by sixteen years of undulations and shimmies. The body of someone’s favorite aunt, someone’s beloved girlfriend, a girl who watches hours of vampire TV and eats too much ice cream, who rides her bike singing down High Street in the spring. A body created by two lineages of exceptional women who I am proud to call my ancestors. I am shaped exactly like myself. On this point I am unfalteringly, unshakably clear.

Though the yoga industry does not make space for all of us, the practice of yoga does. I believe there is a room somewhere with a vacant space that is exactly your size, waiting for you to roll out your mat. I promise to greet you there exactly as you are, with my head bowed and my palms pressed together in front of my heart.

If what we want does not exist, it becomes our responsibility to create it. Knowing this, I will put on my own clothes, and, when invited, turn to face the camera.

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Featured Teacher: Jill NielsenFarrell

Why do you practice?
To remind myself I am a spiritual being having a human experience and not the other way around.

Why do you teach?
To spread the love.

Inspirations?
Exceptional people with exceptional challenges.

Who have you trained with?
Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Tej Kaur Khalsa, Jai Dev Singh and others.

What style do you teach?
Kundalini Yoga, Yo!

What’s your favorite food?
Sweet potato fries with vegan sour cream.

Do you own any animals?
A one-eyed Boston Terrier and a portly French Bulldog.

What’s on your playlist right now?
The Staple Sisters station on Pandora.

What’s your favorite yoga accessory?
My sheepskin, of course.

What style influences your teaching?
Chill humor and an inner awareness of the inter-connectedness of everything.

Favorite yoga pose?
Probably Ego Eradicator but it changes depending on what I’m working on.

What are you reading?
Traditional Chinese Medicine books.

Favorite quote?

Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear. – Lao Tzu

What is your favorite TV show of all time?
Six Feet Under.

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?
Forest Princess

Your favorite item of clothing?
My new Yoga on High sweatshirt!

What did you want to be when you were little?
A veterinarian

In the animal kingdom, which animal would you be?
A wolf

Do you dream in color?
Yes

What word describes you best?
Effervescent.

What drives you every day?
Curiosity.

Who do you admire?
Short list: My mother, Elyn Saks, Paramahansa Yogananda, Annie Lamott, Leonard Cohen.

What is your mission?
To explore my own consciousness while living with courage and grace.

What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?
After a particularly difficult time, a friend watched my sons every Monday night for about a year so I could go to Kundalini Yoga class. It saved us.

Fun fact about you?
I can curl my tongue into a clover shape.

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