It’s been a while now, my teaching yoga, and I’m realizing how easy it is to fall into a routine – even a rut – of how I guide my classes. True confession: It would be easy to follow a script and not notice what’s happening in the room. And while I love a good online class, the studio experience is different. The studio is where we can make connections as we practice in community. One of the best ways I know to foster that experience is to firmly plant my backside in the seat of the beginner. Remembering what it’s like to be new helps me be more mindful of my word choices, the pace at which I teach and the vibe of the room. Taking the seat of the beginner helps me stay present and feel more connected.
If you’ve practiced with me, you’ve heard me talk about yoga as more than the hour we spend together in the studio. Sure, we come to the mat for relaxation, mindfulness, physical exercise. If we’re open to it, we also learn lessons on the mat that follow us into the whole of our lives. Those lessons invite us to take the seat of the beginner and see things in fresh new ways.
Kids live in the seat of the beginner. They are filled with wonder at the smallest of things. What would happen if we each introduced ourself to our inner child looked at the world through that person’s eyes? In the spirit of Spring freshness, invite you to join me in this practice for the next day (or longer):
- Eating: Slow down and taste the food. Notice the different flavors in one single bite.
- Walking: Replace purpose with curiosity. Notice the newly sprouted trees and grass.
- Talking: Look someone in the eyes during a conversation and hear their words in a different way.
Explore, yogis. Have fun with this. Notice what happens. Is it hard to slow down? What happens when you do? Any surprises?
Happy Spring, happy new beginnings!
We live in a “go big or go home” society. Get a big income, big house, big car. Faster. More. Then more again. Our brains become hard-wired, in a way, and these big thinking attitudes can even transfer to our physical yoga practice. Practices like Vinyasa, which I love, are wonderful for building strength. Where big practices fall short is in working with the smaller muscles that support their large counterparts.
Without our help, the little muscles become stiff and go into hiding. It becomes all they know. And our brains, which guide the muscles, forget how to move them. It’s a sad breakdown in communication.
Relief is in sight.
Until we bring more movement to the little muscles, the bigger muscles can’t work to their fullest potential. SomaYoga practices – a series of slow, subtle movements – reeducate our brains and muscles on how to work together. The result is more freedom of movement which can increase our overall strength as our smaller muscles are better able to support the large ones.
Other important SomaYoga benefits:
- Decreased stress and increased calm. The mind learns to slow down and carries that skill into all areas of our lives.
- Improved posture. When we stand taller and our spine is in its best alignment, we can say goodbye to aches and pains, walk better, and enjoy better physical balance.
- Healthier internal systems. As our muscles release tension, our posture improves and we’re putting less constraint on our insides. The lungs have more room to breathe, the stomach has more room to digest, the lymph system has greater ability to communicate with our immune system.
There’s a new SomaYoga series beginning in St. Paul on April 22nd. Details are here. You’ll also find a complete schedule of my classes here. And – if one-on-one’s your thing, contact me to set up an individual session.
I wish you health & happiness, friends, and am here to support you however I can. Namaste.
My teacher training homework this month includes the practice of Santosha, the Niyama which guides us to live in contentment. One of my assignments was to generate a list of 108 wellness tools – things I can use to help myself return to center, to contentment and love, wherever I am at any given moment.
I’m sharing my list below and encourage you to create your own. What can you write down and post somewhere in your home as a go-to for times when you feel ungrounded and discontent? 108, a sacred number in yoga tradition, is also a very daunting number for list making. If you’re not feeling 108, see how far you get and then let your Santosha shine through as you allow yourself to experience contentment with however many items are on your list.
Elen’s 108 Wellness Tools
- The feeling of curling up in a soft blanket when the windows are open just enough to make me chilly and the blanket adds just the right amount of warmth.
- The smell of a blanket after it’s been hanging outside to dry.
- Touching the hand-stitched squares on the quilt my great-grandmother made.
- The smell of a paper book.
- The comfort of a paper book in my hands, especially one that’s worn from use.
- The luxury of the number of e-books I can pack onto my iPad for a long flight.
- Writing a book and seeing it printed and bound.
- Teaching kids that they can write beautiful stories.
- The feeling of Raja the Horse Dog next to me when I feel alone.
- The softness of Raja’s fur as I brush him to soothe him and myself.
- Looking in Raja’s eyes and experiencing the feeling of a pet’s unconditional love.
- Planting seeds in preparation for gardening season.
- Spending a snowy day planning the spring and summer gardens.
- Watching the first flowers poke through the snow, and marveling at the fact that they will survive the cold.
- Noticing the differences in each type of flower in my garden.
- Sitting on my patio and listening to the familiar sounds of my neighborhood.
- Knowing that my elderly neighbor, Frank, will tell me I am beautiful and he loves me every single time I see him. Every. Time.
- Visiting my co-op when I feel lonely because I know I’ll run into someone who I can hug.
- Cooking food with friends and enjoying it together.
- Cooking a friend’s favorite food when they need some extra love.
- Feeling the blessing of being part of a loving community of friends and family.
- Laughing with my daughter.
- Crying with my daughter.
- Listening to whatever kind of music my soul asks for a that moment.
- Dancing like nobody is watching. Not caring if they are.
- Meeting my neighbor’s 7-year old at his school bus and walking him home as he tells me awful knock knock jokes.
- Watching a little kid eat an ice cream cone.
- Carving Jack o Lanterns
- Calling the friend who makes me laugh so hard I drop enough tears to wash my kitchen floor.
- One word. Emojis.
- Walking in the rain without an umbrella and noticing what the drops feel like as they hit the various parts of my body.
- Making snow angels and laughing as I try to get up without wrecking the silhouette.
- Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face.
- Riding my bike around the city lakes and feeling like I’m 100 miles from home.
- Drawing with sidewalk chalk even when there aren’t any kids around.
- Listening to my son talk about politics.
- Drawing beautiful pictures.
- Coloring and chatting with my bestie.
- Listening to the sound of traffic on my street. It’s comfortable and familiar.
- Hearing the bells from six different churches in my neighborhood every Sunday morning.
- Traveling to a different country and realizing, once again, that we humans have more in common than we are willing to notice.
- Lying in the grass and trying not to wiggle when ants crawl on me.
- Lying in the grass and watching cloud formations.
- Visiting the local global market and hearing dozens of languages.
- The first smell of brewing coffee every morning.
- Noticing how quiet the neighborhood is during my early morning Raja walk.
- Netflix binging and not feeling guilty about it.
- Slathering thick, luxurious lotion all over me.
- The feeling of a fresh haircut especially when it included a head and neck massage.
- Sitting quietly in my yoga room.
- Hearing the sound of snow crunching under my boots.
- Walking through puddles and not caring if my shoes and socks are soaking wet.
- Texting a friend in the middle of the day just to say “I love you.”
- Volunteering to cook for a soup supper at my church.
- Listening to crackling candles.
- Going to play bar bingo with my girlfriends. Laughing at how we all need reading glasses to see the cards.
- Learning a new mudra.
- Sitting with my mantra.
- Looking through boxes of photos of my kids when they were little.
- Smiling when I look at the “I love you” towel I bought myself for Valentine’s Day.
- The feeling my legs get when I go for a long hike. Tingly and tired and energized all at the same time.
- White lights on my porch railings even long after the holiday season.
- Roasting a turkey just to make the house smell good.
- Having a fondue party and laughing each time one of us loses our food in the pot.
- Seeing how far I can stretch the pizza cheese before it breaks.
- Feeling the joy of being able to introduce myself to someone new without anxiety.
- Super cold day, super hot bath.
- The sound of the candle my friend’s mom gave me so I can hear the sound of a crackling fire when I turn my gas fireplace on.
- Cleaning out a closet and delivering donations to the community shelter.
- Taking an entire day just to bake pies from scratch.
- Delivering pieces of pie to my neighbors.
- Scouring the Internet for new recipes.
- Handwriting cards to friends who live far away.
- Calling a friend rather than texting.
- Spending time on my therapeutic spinal strip.
- Sharing the beauty of SomaYoga with others.
- Settling into Viparita Karani with no set time of when to come out of the pose.
- Surrendering into Balasana.
- Getting out of the house in time to go to Sunday morning church.
- Doing something that pushes my limits and comfort zones.
- The mantra “In this moment, I am wonderful.”
- Exploring what’s in the Little Free Library.
- Going for a mindful walk – slowing down, noticing how my feet feel each time they hit the ground.
- Teaching a yoga class as a way of doing service.
- Reminding myself of all the times I thought I was unraveling and how the tapestry became even more beautiful.
- Splashing in the lake even though it’s not really warm enough to swim.
- Gliding through a city lake in a kayak early in the morning.
- Watching silly Rom-Coms while balancing a giant bowl of popcorn on my belly.
- Taking a day trip, even if it’s just a few hours.
- Making and eating mashed potatoes with more butter than any human really needs.
- Re-reading notes from students who thanked me for helping them feel their bodies for the first time in a long time, or ever.
- Wearing my great grandmother’s ring to remind me of all the women who have paved the way for me.
- Going barefoot in any weather to notice the sensations that come through the bottom of my feet.
- Get a massage and allow myself to gratefully receive the healing touch.
- Explore the tea aisle at the co-op and enjoy the smells and beautiful packaging.
- Touch fresh produce. Notice the different textures.
- Give myself a facial with avocado, apple cider vinegar, egg whites, coconut.
- Take a bubble bath with extra bubbles.
- Babysit for a friend so she can have time for herself.
- Watch a baby sleep.
- Clean up trash in one of our neighborhood parks.
- Sit in my house late at night when the neighborhood is quiet and it seems like nobody is around.
- Candle meditation – Trataka
- Walking through my neighborhood and noticing all the different types of trees.
- Feeling my heart expand when I hear my daughter talking about her future.
- Knowing I am where I am supposed to be every time my son asks for my help with something.
- Watching a Dalai Lama video on YouTube.
- Making a list of 108 wellness tools to remind myself of how blessed I am.