Hard is OK

I was assisting a yoga class and noticed a very tall gentleman in a very, very short Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose).  I suggested he take a much longer stance given his very long legs.  At first he resisted and then he looked worried.  That will make the pose too hard he replied.  I set him up with some props to bring the floor closer to his hand and he settled into the longer stance.

Several weeks later I suggested a slight modification to someone’s Virabhadrasana II (warrior II pose) to bring the knee in line with the center of the foot.  Again I was met with resistance and worry.  But it’s so much work to bend my knee and keep it pointing in the right direction was the reply.  I smiled and agreed completely.  It IS hard.  And that’s part of the practice.

Depending on who you are and what particular set of anatomy you came to the practice with it can be hard for a number of reasons.  Perhaps your muscles are strong but completely resistant to the idea of stretching.  Or perhaps your muscles are very long and the idea of the stability that comes from strong muscles is completely foreign to you.  Likely it is some combination of the two.

Hard is OK

But you stick with it.  You start to explore the physical body and its unique combination of expansiveness and limitations.  You push the edges of boundaries both real and imagined.  You start to notice your default reaction to the hard.  Your mind wanders.  It shuts downs.  You blame the teacher.  You set your jaw and decide to power through as the ego takes over.  You make excuses because you aren’t (__________) enough.

And then there is a subtle shift as you start to notice the important difference between needing to let go and come out of the pose because the mind wants a break and the body actually needs a break.  You realize you alone control your reaction to this pose and this practice.  That it is up to you to learn from this experience and mold it and shape it into something.

It is then that the practice takes a big shift from being all hard, all the time to something more balanced.  There is work and effort but there is a lightness and ease.  It is both hard and soft.  You start to find space for playing and giving it a try no matter what it might end up looking like.  And then you forge forward into that next level of exploration – you start to take the yoga off the mat.

You realize all this practice was never about the pose because in the end does a perfect handstand really matter?  It was about creating a safe space on the mat to explore our edges and our reactions to life.  It was about cultivating a reaction to the hard that life inevitably throws at us.  It’s about learning to override the default switches the poses revealed to you.  It’s not about instant reactivity but thoughtful consideration.  It becomes discernment in action.

Then another shift occurs.  You notice you miss the challenge the poses gave you — the way that the hard poses required your instant focus and attention on them.  So you start exploring new poses and new variations.  You look for ways to continue to hone this skill of being present even when poses are hard.  You take that increased learning off the mat, where life continues to throw us something hard or uncomfortable.

And thus the cycle continues: facing what is hard or uncomfortable, working to stay present, finding tremendous growth.  This is why hard isn’t to be avoided.  It is the place where magic happens.  This is why we practice yoga.

{from my kitchen} sweet & spicy caramel corn

One of my favorite things to do with my nieces is to make caramel corn.  When they (along with Nana – who is both old enough and tall enough to drive) pick me up at the airport I barely have my seat belt fastened before they start asking for the timeline of said caramel corn.  It might not happen the moment we step in the door (much to their chagrin) but almost without fail it makes its appearance before I leave.

My go-to recipe is a good one.  There is no thermometer to mess with, just a simple timer, some measuring cups and spoons, and a pan or two.  You’d think I’d leave well enough alone.  After all my nieces and I never had any trouble sitting in the kitchen and finishing off a tray all by ourselves.  Yet I always wanted a bit more dimension, something to go with all that sweet.

When I first started playing with which spices to add and how much I thought I had missed the mark.  It was still all sweet.  Then slowly the heat started to build.  But not too much heat.  It’s just right amount of both sweet and spicy.  Who doesn’t want a bit of both?

Sweet and Spicy Caramel Corn Gift

If you’re inclined to celebrate Valentine’s Day, might I suggest this as the perfect gift? It’s out the ordinary. Takes no time whatsoever in the kitchen.  And I’m even throwing in a download of my Namaste Conversation Hearts so you can tie up a pretty package of your own.  Though if you decided to eat the tray all by yourself, I can’t say I’d blame you.

Sweet and Spicy Caramel Corn Recipe Card

One Word


Now that I’ve reflected on the previous year, it’s time to think about what I want for this new one.  Some years the inspiration comes quickly and easily.  I rattle off page after page in my notebook of hopes, dreams, ideas, and goals.  The word that I want to guide my year seemingly materializes before my eyes.

Other years, this year, it is crickets.  I was stumped for the first two weeks of the year.  I knew I wanted to continue, and build on, much of what I started last year.  I also knew I needed to tweak some things to really make them work for me.  But for a long time no word came to mind that seemed like it encompassed the feeling I was striving for this year.

Then, in what has become a too rare occurrence in my life, I was spending a morning puttering around in the kitchen.  I was chopping, baking, simmering, and general mess-making away when suddenly I thought, “I really miss being in this space.”

2015 01 21 SpaceThere it was: SPACE.  It just immediately felt right.  That one word seemed to have a way of holding all that I hoped and wished to sustain, build, and change this year.  It felt full of possibility.

I will hold space for my yoga community in both old and new, exciting ways.  I will clear space for new opportunities.  I will reclaim space for cooking, reading, creating, and self-care.  I will makeover my home space.  I will make space for getting out on the town.

Here’s to embracing SPACE in all its myriad forms this year!

Lessons from a Year of Surrender

Nearly a year ago today I revealed my one word for 2014 to be surrender. It wasn’t in the context of giving up but of sinking into the grace of a situation. It was all about taking the part I am good at (abhyasa – putting in the work) and trying to marry it more consistently to the part I stink at (vairagya – surrender and letting go).

When I did my first quick glance back over the year I came to the rather firm conclusion that I sucked at surrender. There was not a single success, not one little moment of surrender to be had in all 365 days of that year. I decided there was nothing to be gained from the whole experience of dedicating a year of my life to that adventure. It was a failure. Let’s move on. {Note: this is clearly not the kind of surrender I was going for.}

Except I know myself too well. When I have such a strong reaction to something I know that there is something simmering below the surface that needs to be examined. So I let it sit and marinate. I attempted to write and re-write where I had been in the past year. It came out all wrong. I tried again. It was still all wrong. I did it again. And suddenly it came to me.

Yes! I had sucked at surrender but I learned a whole lot along the way. It suddenly all became so obvious. So here I share with you the 4 lessons I learned in my year of surrender:

1. It may never be easy but it just might get easier with practice.

The art of surrender was not achieved in a day or a quick weekend intensive. What I noticed were several subtle shifts along the way. My thinking around surrender started very academically. This is what it is. This is how I’ll do it. A little too in my head you might say. Umm, yes! Then around mid-year I started to notice that I would instinctively know the situations where practicing a bit of surrender might be wise. It didn’t mean I was interested in heeding this small voice but I heard it. (More likely than not I’d tamp that voice down and refuse to surrender out of stubborness). Until one day, late in the fall, I really did it. I listened to the voice and surrendered into the flow of one situation and let it ride. It ended up being one of the pieces of 2014 that I am most proud of. Who knew? Not easy but easier. Now the work becomes figuring out how to string more and more of these examples together.

2. Listen to your inner voice.

You know that mind we’re working so hard to quiet in our yoga practice? Now is the time to take advantage of that quiet. Whatever you want to call it – intuition, your gut, your heart, God, god, the universe – take a moment to listen and tune into it. It just might be giving you the best advice you could get. See above.

3. Five minutes – nay 5 seconds – of surrender is a win.

Give yourself a break. When it comes to surrender don’t discount your small victories. You better believe I’m counting the moments where I at least tried to entertain the thought of surrender, the times it lasted for five minutes, and those rare time it lasted for a blissful 5 days. Over the course of a year they’ve added up to something significant and rather impressive.

4. Some words are the work of a lifetime.
Having not checked off a little box on a big list and admitting there is still so far to go are the hardest parts of this little enterprise. But I’m going to trust that my start last year has me moving in the right direction. There will be missteps and restarts but they will be my teachers. I will get there in the end.

Hmm, sounds like I got something out of this one word after all.

{from my kitchen} smoky black bean burgers

Yoga translates as union.  And there is no better example of that in my kitchen right now than these Smoky Black Bean Burgers.  They are the union of two of my favorite recipes: Smoky Black Bean Dip and Veggie Burgers.  I’m not one to turn up my nose at a snack dinner but sometimes you want something a little more wholesome with all the delicious flavors of a snack time favorite.  I think this delivers on all counts.

Smoky Black Bean Burgers, vegetarian recipes

{Truth in advertising – This recipe makes six burgers but I may have eaten two of them before they made it to their photo shoot.  It was an extreme case of post practice hunger fueled by the delicious aromas wafting through my kitchen.  So go ahead, have two….I’d never tell!}

Smoky Black Bean Burgers Recipe Card

May Challenge: Don’t Wait for Someday

 

Someday

Dreaming of someday is nice, isn’t it? Someday I’ll learn photography, to speak French, to make bread. Someday I’ll have clean closets, grown-up furniture, and a gorgeous garden. Someday I’ll travel the world. Someday I’ll have a job I love. Someday I’ll [fill in the blank].

Yet too often someday ends up being our fallback position. It’s safe and easy to stay within our daydream. To hope for the day that the stars align and magically our someday dreams are realized. I’m sorry to say, that sort of magic doesn’t just happen. Our dreams require action.

So my challenge to you this month is this…What big someday dream can you start working on right now? What small steps can you take towards that dream?

Dream of being a master baker? Sign up for an introductory class.
Dream of clean closets? Donate or sell 5 items.
Dream of traveling the world? Start your travel fund.
Dream of a job you love? Join a networking group….and go!

Me? I’m going to find an app that teaches me some conversational French. To prepare for that month I dream of spending in Paris.

I hope you’ll share yours in the comments. I’d love to hear what you’re going to tackle in order to make someday a reality.

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