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Building Empathy during Tough Times

IMGP6243 - Version 2As we deal with Martha’s impending death and the grief of her family and close friends, perhaps we can use this time to address how best to empathize with one another during hard periods in our lives. I know that SO very many of you care about her family and close friends, and you might not know what to say or do. There are some ways of showing your care that are easier for most people to receive. Let’s use this devastating event of the death of Martha to learn some tools that will likely serve you the rest of your life.

I’d like to start by recommending one of my favorite new books about offering empathy, There is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do when Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love, by Kelsey Crowe, PhD and Emily McDowell. It includes many great suggestions on what to say or not say, what to do or not do, illustrated with amusing picture and lots of painful and inspiring stories.

Here are two examples from the book of good ways of dealing with loss:

Instead of saying, “I can’t believe this happened,” you could say, “I’m sorry you are going through this.”

Instead of saying, “I lost my wife and I was devastated,” you could say, “This must be so hard,” or “I can’t imagine how you are doing.”

Generally when you are with someone who is grieving, do your best to take the lead from them and keep the focus on their needs in the moment. Many of our favorite ways of “helping” often shift the focus to ourselves in ways that don’t feel good to someone in pain. If you are familiar with Nonviolent Communication these are called “empathy blockers.” Here are some examples of things not to say—some very common and mostly painful ways that many people share their love and care:

  • Saying you know how they feel because (fill in the blank): Honestly, you don’t know how they feel, and asking them to acknowledge your feelings takes energy away from the other person to you. You are no longer focused on them; you are telling your story.
  • Giving advice: You probably know lots of people, practices and things that have helped you over the years, and you’d like to share them so that others feel better too. Please don’t. When someone close to us dies, feeling better is beside the point. Giving advice may make you feel better by thinking you are useful and it can also be a way for you to avoid feeling your own discomfort of being with someone in pain.
  • Saying your husband, wife, mother or friend (or even worse your goldfish) just died. As in the above scenario, the focus is now on you again, and not the other person’s experience. And now they are in the position of having to listen to you and your pain.
  • Asking how they are. Seems innocent doesn’t it, and likely you really care and want to know. But imagine they are feeling totally grief-stricken and someone asks them that question casually, while walking in the door of the studio together. How do they respond? Perhaps they sense you don’t really know what you are asking to hear. Saying that they are fine is hard as well, requiring some extra armor around the heart. If you have time and feel that the other is open to a real conversation, only then ask how they are doing, and be willing to
  • Asking for details—please, just no.
  • Being positive (we yogis are way too good at this sometimes). It might sound like this: “You’ll get through this with the strength of your practices.” Or “Just keep your head up, you’ll be fine,” or “It’s all for the best,” or “You’re so brave.” Again, just no. Each person finds their own way; you do not need to guide them.

And a few other phrases to please avoid:

  • “She’s in a better place now.”
  • “There’s another angel in Heaven now.”
  • “She fought a great battle and lost.”
  • “At least she is out of pain.”

You may be thinking that I have just taken away all your tools. That’s Ok, there are other tools, mostly non-tools. You can show up in little and kind ways. Send prayers, chant for the well-being of Martha and the family, and write notes and cards about what Martha has contributed to your life. In person, you can let them know they are in your hearts and prayers. You can listen if they want to talk. You can make donations in their names. Maybe bring flowers or food, but only if you know that will be welcome, and only if you don’t need your container back. Refrain from general offerings and be specific if you can. “I’d love to take you on a walk in the woods on Saturday if you would be interested in that.” “I’m very handy—are there any little projects you are not getting to that you would like help with?”

Keep it simple and give the person you are talking to the chance to say more or to stop the conversation. Don’t take it personally if the other person doesn’t feel like sharing. They are navigating a lot in their own way.

Some things that have been meaningful to me over the last month or so were really simple gestures…a few friends are texting me from time to time to check in with how I am doing and asking about my own self-care. I’m receiving this as a loving embrace. Others are asking if I would be open to a hug—almost always yes! The other day a woman let me know that if there was ever anything she could do for me that I could let her know. I was touched by her sincerity; I felt her care for me. Another student quietly brings me flowers from her garden. Others are letting me know they are sending me Reiki and keeping me in their prayers. I swear I can feel this support and love pouring in.

Many of you reading this are likely yogis. Showing up for someone in pain is a lot like showing up for yourself on the mat. Get started, be mostly quiet, listen deeply and make responses based on what you are noticing. You’ve got this.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, don’t be too worried about getting it wrong. We have all offered advice, told our own stories and not listened as well as we might like. Offer yourself as best as you can. Perfection is not the goal here, connection is.

What I Learned from My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to have jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
What anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, you chaste touch.

Julia Kasdorf

Martha is receiving great comfort care and has been comfortable much of the time but not always. It is these moments of watching her in pain that help us to let go a bit more each time. We love her so much—we want her to have every moment of the breath that is hers to take and are willing to be with her as she dies when it is too hard for her to keep living. It is unbelievably hard to type those words, yet they are as true as anything I can write.

If you want to support her or the family in some way and didn’t see the first blog with suggestions you can see it here.

This blog post was written with input from Linda Oshins and Jerry Marcom.

 

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Update on Martha Marcom

Dear friends,

Martha remains in hospice surrounded by family and love. Nothing like a 4-year-old to keep love and light in the room and we have had more laughter over the last 10 days than I ever could have imagined. And somehow we keep having parties with silly hats. Who knew that was a yogic death ritual? And poems, lots of poems about life and death (the best ones always have both.) And Reiki. Thank goodness for Reiki which is so comforting to Martha. It is also the time when the emotional roller coaster of one day she feels pretty good, the next day she feels worse, settles into the space of timeless being. We can re-ground into our inherent connection during Reiki and come out the other side clear-eyed and rooted in love.

Each day I read her the memories and goodbye notes you have sent to me. We hear you are chanting and practicing on her behalf. She lies there in amazement at your love and stories. She takes it in and keeps saying over and over how lucky she is to be dying surrounded with such love. You, your prayers and your kindnesses are keeping her, and all of us, afloat on love. We feel you around us and send love and gratitude back your way.

Martha is receiving great comfort care and has been comfortable much of the time but not always. It is these moments of watching her in pain that help us to let go a bit more each time. We love her so much—we want her to have every moment of the breath that is hers to take and are willing to be with her as she dies when it is too hard for her to keep living. It is unbelievably hard to type those words, yet they are as true as anything I can write.

If you want to support her or the family in some way and didn’t see the first blog with suggestions you can see it here.

In the meantime, I will keep you updated from time to time. Blessings and love to you all.

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News about Martha Marcom, Founder of Yoga on High

Martha Marcom

Here is Martha taking a lick of a mango popsicle.

Our dear friend and one of the founders of Yoga on High is nearing the end of her life. She has received treatments for the ovarian cancer discovered a few years ago, and there will be no more treatment. She is in the hospital at the time of this writing (April 5, 2017) and will likely be entering hospice in the next day or two.

Martha is grateful to have had time to watch her darling granddaughter continue to grow up, to spend precious time with family and friends and to see this year’s riotous spring. Outside her hospital window yesterday we saw a huge, flying hawk unfurl its wide, wide wings right in front of us--so close we could have nearly touched it. She remains glad to experience each precious moment as it comes. And she is accepting of death which she senses is near. She is not “fighting a courageous battle,” she is leaning into death now. Her pain and her yogi’s body, which is not supporting life anymore, and her natural growing detachment from the future, are all making the nearness of death more obvious.

Many of you are already reached out to us and we are grateful for the love, prayers and good wishes. Right now the circle of people able to be around Martha and Jerry is very small and it is the time for this quiet intimacy. We know many of you will miss Martha and may want to reach out in some way. Here are a few suggestions of how you can support Martha and her family during this time of much change.

  • Send prayers and blessings from whatever tradition speaks to your heart. We are all connected at this level and we are feeling your support.
  • Send Reiki if you know how to do that. Those of us with Martha are in the Reiki love pretty much all the time. We are giving lots of Reiki to Martha and we are sending when we are not there. Join us in the energy!
  • Chant the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra with us. This is an ancient mantra, sometimes called the Victory Over Death mantra. It is said to conquer the fear of death and bring calmness in the presence of death. Chanting this mantra puts us in the stream of yogis who have chanted this mantra for thousands of years. We add our voices to theirs to feel encouraged and empowered in the face of life’s challenges. When I told Martha I wanted to ask you to do this practice on her behalf she relaxed into her huge Martha smile and said she would like that—to ride out of this life on the wings of these holy and powerful words chanted by those who love her. That sounded just perfect to her. The words to this mantra are here and an audio is here.
  • Get on your mat! As a longtime Ashtangi, Martha believes in practice. She was a daily practitioner as long as she could be and always honored her time on the mat. In honor of her, get on your mat, practice, and dedicate the benefits of the practice to her or to anyone else in need.
  • Write down a favorite memory of Martha. Did she inspire you in some way? Help you in a time of need? Make you laugh? Write a single sentence or a paragraph or two and send it to me (Marcia@yogaonhigh.com) I’ll read it to her if the timing feels right and share it with her family.

Please know Martha sends all her blessings and love to you as well. It is now her time to turn inward and finish her preparations for this next phase of her life. She is doing this, leading the way in a path that will be all of ours some unknown time in the future.

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iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation: A Living Practice of Connection & Belonging

 

s-lopez-web_7By Stephanie Lopez 
This blog was originally published in the Accessible Yoga Conference newsletter in 2016.

In the course of daily life how often do we feel unseen, disconnected, and disempowered? For many this is an all too frequent experience.

People practice yoga and meditation to discover a sense of ease, balance, and purpose. I believe there is a deeper motivation as well; a longing for connection with one’s self and rest of the world. I’ve found this yearning is satisfied through iRest Yoga Nidra. This transformative yet simple practice uncovers an undeniable ground of well-being and interconnectedness. It brings forth a direct sense of wholeness that is unchanging regardless of life’s circumstances.

iRest is a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of yoga nidra and was developed by Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist and researcher, as well as yogic scholar and author. iRest comprises a full path of meditation with 3 core principles: the practice of welcoming, seeing everything as a messenger, and an essential wholeness or ground of being. These principles are woven through the 10 steps of the protocol forming a potent and healing meditation practice.

As we learn iRest we begin by welcoming everything just as it is. To practice welcoming is to abide in nonjudgmental presence and simply allow whatever arises in our mind. We learn that welcoming is not an extra something we do. Rather, it is an essential aspect of being human.

In contrast, struggle is accompanied by tension, contraction, anger, and fear. At its heart is the desire to have things other than what they are. You push away what you don’t want and cling to what you desire. There is no denying this pain and struggle but iRest meditation teaches us to meet these experiences without trying to fix or change them. Imagine the fierce grace of meeting pain as pure physical sensation and gently accepting the emotions and beliefs it engenders. Yet, simply feeling into and allowing pain to emerge can bring a shift in its intensity.

What happens when we let go of the struggle with life? What happens when we simply allow its challenges, heartbreak, and beauty? In my experience there is a release of tension, an opening to freedom, and joy in full presence of all movements of life. At the heart of this welcoming is an ease of being untouched by life’s movements. This is an underlying wholeness that cannot be broken.

In the practice of iRest we meet life fully through this combination of welcoming and ease of being. We navigate difficult emotions, beliefs, and memories with an Inner Resource to rely upon when they become overwhelming. We also come into new insight when our sensations, emotions, and beliefs are seen as messengers. Experiencing them fully develops and deepens a connection with the self. We come into loving and compassionate relationship with ourselves. You’re able to hear your voice and what is being asked for on the deepest levels. It is in this state of iRest meditation that habitual patterns are broken and you develop clear and novel responses to life’s challenges.

Through this compassionate welcoming you develop connection with all parts of yourself and begin to live authentically. There is trust in who you are and what you do -- and this belonging with yourself flows into a connection with others. As you live life fully and with an undefended heart you develop a sense of belonging in the world. This intimacy with yourself and others empowers you to live life to its fullest potential.

At the heart of every person is an ease of being and wholeness that has never been broken. I cherish this practice and its simple ability to shine the healing light of truth of who we are.

Stephanie Lopez is leading iRest Yoga Nidra Level 1 Training at Yoga on High April 19 -- 23.  Learn more about this training here.

Stephanie Lopez, LISW-S, is Director of Operations for the Integrative Restoration Institute (IRI), Senior iRest® Trainer and IRI Retreat Leader. Stephanie’s teachings are informed by over two decades of immersion in the non-dual teachings of yoga as well as her integration of western psychology and the wisdom traditions of eastern spirituality. As a clinical social worker Stephanie weaves self-inquiry and iRest meditation into her clinical practice. Teaching for nearly 15 years, Stephanie’s compassionate presence, depth of knowledge, and ease of being create a welcoming space for insightful learning. She leads workshops, retreats, and trainings in the U.S. and internationally. Stephanie finds joy in her marriage with her husband, Francisco, and their two cats, Juniper & Luna. She is also an avid traveler and hiker.

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Sending Reiki

By Marcia Miller

Marcia-8579ccOne of the greatest gifts of Reiki Level 2 is learning to send Reiki through time and space. There is no doubt that in-person Reiki offerings are powerfully loving and satisfying, but many of the people we love and care about are not able to be with us in person: they may be across town, across the world or even across time. (More about this in another blog.) Just as we love people who are not right in front of us, we can also send Reiki as a vehicle of that love for those who are not in our presence.

Linda Oshins and I are currently sending Reiki to our dearest friend who is living with cancer. We are so glad to have a daily way of offering her support. Linda lives in Seattle, I’m sending from my farm west of Columbus and our dear friend is downtown. We have chosen a specific time to send to her each night. The best part is that it feels like we are all together in person as we send energy each day.

We are having several different kinds of experiences as we send. Sometimes, we feel our friend as her separate self—with specific health and emotional sensibilities; for example, we can sometimes sense her anxiety, or we feel a deep personal love for her.

Marcia-8463ccSometimes I can feel our friend’s energy through the connection I feel with Linda. When Linda and I both lived here we did a lot of Reiki together. When we shared clients she would generally end up at their head and I would be at their feet. We found we could feel each other’s energy through a person’s body. We can feel each other in sending as well. When we are sending to our friend at the same time, we can feel each other there—together. Sensing Linda there with me is so comforting. As we walk side by side with our friend who has a terminal diagnosis, we need each other and Reiki is the best way for us to be with each other. It’s been hard for me to face this by myself, and it’s very comforting for me to know Linda is there as a felt experience. When I do my sending—generally at the end of the day—I’m tired and full of the day I just had. When I plug into my send it feels so much more palpable when Linda is there too.

And then there is the other type of experience I have—the Big Energy. Sometimes I start sending, and I tap into an Energy that is Big—it’s not just Linda and me together; it feels like the energy of the entire universe. It’s Big (I know I said that already but it’s the word that keeps coming) and palpable with a vibratory quality to it that feels like the essence of Life Force. It has a flow and pulsation to it. In this case, no matter how tired or distracted I am, I immediately feel this huge connection and can rest into it.

In my mind, I am not at all Ok about the impending death of my friend. But when I am in the Reiki energy with her, in that Big Energy, I am actually OK and so is she. It just feels Ok that life is as it is. That in itself is a huge gift as we go through this time together.

Reiki is one of my paths that has broadened my experience so that I know that things are not always as they seem. That love is love whether we are together or not. The Love and Reiki both exist without any limits of time and space.

Marcia Miller, Linda Oshins and Michele Vinbury are teaching Reiki programs throughout the year and reinitiating the Yoga on High Reiki Masters’ program beginning in the fall. Please click here for details.

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Yoga on High: Our 2018 Transition to an Updated Location

Partners-1340e2You – our clients, students and teachers – are and always have been our number one priority. And what encircles us all, tying our beautiful community together and making it all possible is our space. We have called our High Street location home for 15 years, but now we are so excited to announce plans for a new location in 2018.

We’re sorry you didn’t hear it from us first, Columbus Underground (link to article) beat us to the punch, but here’s what we can tell you at this time.

  1. All classes, programs and teacher trainings will remain uninterrupted though all of 2017, with plans for smooth transition in 2018.
  2. We are in negotiations for the new 1081 N. High St. space and have the entire year to find the perfect spot.  We have been working with a Broker, so let us know what you would like!  A dedicated hot yoga room?  Wall of windows?  More mandala art?  Dark wood floors?  We’d love to know your thoughts.  Please email questions@yogaonhigh.com

Even though the brick and mortar will change, the spirit of our beautiful studio will not.  We are committed to maintaining the integrity and diversity of Yoga on High’s programs and classes – and are looking forward to celebrating this growth with you! Thank you all for your continued support and patronage.

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Welcome Self-Inquiry

Abigail_Love_Teacher TrainingAbigail_Love_Teacher Training3After graduating from Ohio University I moved to Columbus to start my career as a nurse. Before moving, I was introduced to Yoga on High by a dear friend. Yoga on High quickly became how I built a sense of community in my new city. I immediately fell in love with the studio because of its central location, the sense of welcoming I felt as soon as I entered its doors, and the diversity of intelligent, passionate people attending the studio.

As my love for yoga grew, I was approached by my teachers at Yoga on High about my practice. They asked me if I was considering teacher training. My dream was to escape the city and do the training in an exotic location, and Yoga on High was doing their first Intensive in Costa Rica. I knew that was right for me because it would allow me to balance my career with the perfect learning experience. An added bonus was that I could share the experience with Taylor, a good friend from Columbus.

Once Taylor and I arrived in Costa Rica, we immediately felt relaxed and mentally prepared for the journey ahead. We both needed a break from our busy lives in the city and the time to focus on ourselves. The program was scheduled through three intensive, 3-hour class sessions each day, with breaks in between. We spent one week at three different locations. The first week we were in the rainforest at a biodynamic farm where we focused on the root chakra, the root of yoga, and the root of our practice. The second location was on a mountainside at an Eco-lodge facing the south pacific where we brought in the element of fire with the third chakra, the will power of our practice, and cultivated the authority to teach others. The last location was at a very luxurious beach resort with lush surroundings. Our room faced the beach and we could hear the waves crashing constantly. Here, we had reached bliss as a group – the sixth and seventh chakra. We learned to integrate all of the teachings, find our authentic voice, let our intuition guide us, and allow yoga to unify our life.

Jasmine and Michele provided just the right amount of challenge and support for each of our journeys. I never felt alone in the process or stifled by the pressure or expectations placed upon me throughout the program. It also helped to have by friend Taylor there as someone to lean on when I was feeling lost and it helped that we could decompress together. If you have the opportunity to take teacher training with a friend, I would recommend it!

I would say the most foundational thing I learned about my personal practice is to be OK with “backing-off” or taking a break when my mind or body needs me to. It is A LOT to practice yoga intensely three times a day, but because of my character, I immediately saw it as a challenge. I plan to use this lesson with my students by giving them the option to do less in order to feel more. My practice actually progressed immensely from this lesson because I am no longer holding that tension in my mind or my body. I was able to find ease and go further into what I sought or yearned for in my practice.

Abigail Love began her yoga journey at age 12. From an early age, she found that yoga helped adapt to body changes, improve self-confidence and build healthy relationships. Abigail is a nurse and sees yoga as a method of healing. She hopes her yoga classes will empower students to find harmony in their lives.

TT_Video-02Our next 200 Hour Teacher Training program begins September 9th.  For more information, join us at our upcoming Free Info Session Sunday, August 28 from 12:00p to 12:45p at the Teacher Training Institute. To apply or for questions, contact Breanna at applications@yogaonhigh.co

 

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A Poem for Summertime

Peaches_Full BloomFrom blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee
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Why Yoga Teachers Read Poetry

red-love-heart-typographyA year and a half ago, I moved to Seattle where I don’t know many people, formed a book group at my condo with my one good friend in the building, and the nine of us met to pick the books we would read in the coming months. I suggested a non-fiction book, What the Stones Remember by Patrick Lane, and a work of fiction, Gillead by Marilynne Robinson, and on a whim I included a book of poetry, The Way It Is by William Stafford. In the discussion about which to pick, several people mentioned that they don’t know how to or don’t like to read poetry, but a couple people were really interested and their enthusiasm carried the day. I was stuck leading a club meeting on poetry for people who don’t like to read poetry. Read More…

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