Back In the Flow

Last year for my birthday, my best friend gave me the book Perfectly Imperfect by Byron Baptiste. It’s not one that I read straight through, but I’ll pick it up here and there when I need inspiration. The other night I read about being in ‘the flow’. We can be in the flow of life just like we can be in the flow of yoga. Things feel graceful and effortless when they are moving along the way we’d like. Body, mind, and energy is harmonious.

But we know the next day, in life or our practice, we can hit a wall or plateau. You have flow in your practice when you hit a wall and don’t react with self-hate or dive into a shame spiral. You trust that you are still moving forward (even if slowly) and things will pick up again. Simply being in the process as it is, is being in flow. Sometimes you hit a wall for long time, other times not. On or off the mat, you stay the course knowing it’s part of the flow. You have flow in your practice when you can accept breaks in tempo or achievement and use the slowdowns as learning opportunities.

I had that opportunity this week with my students. Towards the end of Tuesday’s class, I completely blanked and forgot a piece of the pose sequence on the second side. I honestly almost let it derail my teaching right then, which never happens. But my amazing students chimed in and cued for where we needed to go for the next few poses. They’re the best. I played it off, but I was embarrassed and immediately started that shame spiral of questioning if I was even a good teacher, what am I doing here, you know how that goes… My flow was slowing down.

But throughout the day I came back to what I read earlier this week. Being in the flow doesn’t mean doing everything “perfectly” all the time. It means learning from your challenges and obstacles and moving forward with grace and confidence. So I did just that. I intentionally created a class today that had some complex breath to movement cues and I practiced my instructions out loud. The class was physically challenging and I really had to pay attention to what I was saying as I guided my students through. But I didn’t make any mistakes in my instruction and I felt good about myself as a teacher again.

That’s what yoga is about, taking what we learn on the mat and applying it to everyday life. In this case I was able to practice self-love after hitting an obstacle. I learned from it and my students had a good class. I am back in my flow.

Morgan’s Musings on Manifesting, Meditation, and Mindfulness- Part 2

Quite simply, I would not have the quality of life that I do without meditation. It keeps me focused and grounded and at the end, I always know the right thing to do (whether or not I do the right thing or not  is a something I’ll cover in Mindfulness). I think people often have the wrong idea of meditation. They think they need to be sitting with their ankles on their hips, on top of a mountain somewhere, chanting to God. Well, for some people that does the trick, but for me, climbing to the top of Mt. Rose every day doesn’t sound fun. I also don’t understand chanting and I don’t believe in God. But I do believe in my Higher Power (HP) who I call The Universe. For the focus of this blog I won’t dive too deep into higher powers, I do think a little explanation is needed though so you can understand how I meditate.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “Not only are we in the Universe, the Universe is in us. I don’t know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me.” That is pretty much the basis of my belief in my HP, the Universe. I pray/meditate/ask/talk to the Universe and it responds through me, then I act upon whatever I’ve received. Here is where you might be thinking, WTF is she talking about. Remember my flood story from the part 1 of this blog? The man prayed to God to save him and God sent boats. Now God isn’t going to physically pick this man up and place him in a boat. That’s levitation and this is not Harry Potter World. God was answering his prayers by sending boats, it was up to that man to act on his own to save himself. You might still be confused, here is a real life example. Right now I’m manifesting making the switch to teaching yoga and personal training fulltime. When I pray/meditate- Preditate? Medipray?- first thing in the morning, I thank my HP for everything coming my way in terms of my intentions and goals. I ask for the motivation, tenacity, and ambition. I pray that I might be an inspiration to someone today to live a better life. I pray for those struggling and ask for my HP to guide the thoughts that I think, the words that I say, and the actions that I do. I pray that I may be of service to my fellows.

So now you know how I meditate, I’m sure you want some tips on how you can do that too; especially if you’re not sold on the idea of a HP yet. Fair enough. But before we learn how to meditate, let’s consider why we meditate. Meditation teaches you how to respond in a constructive way, rather than impulsively react. It’s organized around the concept that you are naturally whole, you are capable of well-being, and your thoughts are messengers. That awareness is key. Along with awareness as a key concept of meditation, so is receiving and using every opportunity as a learning experience. Receiving is your ability to accept and respond gracefully to every experience as opposed to having a dismissive, reactive, f*ck you attitude. Receiving and welcoming keeps you connected to the experience instead of lashing out with knee-jerk reactions. Receiving allows you to step back, take the moment in, and gain perspective. In this moment you are more than the experience, you are aware of your awareness. When you are aware that you are aware, the emphasis now becomes on what you are aware of. Make sense? Try this, say hello to yourself in your head. You “heard” that, you recognize that thought. You are aware of your awareness. You are awareness. And once you are awareness, you become mindful of judgment, resisting, refusing, and trying to change situations. How often has that happened to you, your thoughts are running wild in your head how much you dislike someone. You replay everything they’ve ever done or said that hasn’t set well with you. Then suddenly you catch yourself and think, ‘wow I’m being really bitchy right now’. That is you becoming aware. You are awareness. And you learned this from the focus you created in your meditation.

Sometimes you don’t want to receive “negative” emotions though. Let’s call them ‘scratchy’. Sometimes you just want to feel irritated or mad. That’s natural. Over time you’ll learn to welcome and receive these scratchy feelings uncomfortable as it may be. Think of the scratchy feelings as a messenger to help you live a better life. By receiving them you’ll learn there are healthier ways to live in that moment instead of what you’re currently doing. The scratchy feelings are your body’s way of getting your attention; they are disharmonies way of getting your attention to take action and reconsider what you could be doing instead to be happy and healthy.

Still with me? If so, now let’s talk about to how to meditate. You might say, Morgs I don’t know about that HP thing and I don’t understand awareness. Or maybe you think, this sounds like a lot, I don’t have time. You might even be thinking, ‘my thoughts run wild, there’s no way I can slow them down’. My answers to those, do you want to feel more connected to life around you? Do you want to be a part of this life on a deeper and more meaningful level? Do you have 5 minutes to yourself every day? Can you make 5 minutes to yourself every day? Even in the bathroom? If your answer to all those questions is no, then maybe meditating isn’t for you yet. And that’s ok. But if you think there is something out there bigger than you, even if you don’t know what it is, and you can make 5 minutes for yourself- yes even in the bathroom- then you are ready to meditate.

The purpose of meditation is to create focus and become aware. It is about focusing your attention on your experience. The reason for focus: it allows you to be here now. Your only reality is This Moment, right here, right now. Peace is found in such awareness. First you must find quiet. A space free from distraction where you can tune out any external stimuli. This might be in bed in the morning pretending to still be asleep. It might be in the bathroom. I meditate in the morning in my car before I head off to teach yoga. The radio is off and I simply start talking to my HP, an intentional conversation. I’m a master at multi-tasking, so to sit still like this and focus on nothing but this conversation takes a lot of focus for me.

An exercise to get you started, once you’ve found your quiet place, sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed (less glittery squirrels to catch your attention that way) and try to focus on something else other than your thoughts. Intentionally clear your mind, try to disengage from all the thoughts that are used to running rampant in your head. In yoga, we call that the ‘monkey mind’. As a monkey jumps from tree to tree, our thoughts come in one after another. So basically, stop thinking. If a thought comes into your mind (because that’s what the mind is for, it’s human nature), acknowledge it and let it go. Imagine you place the thought on a cloud and watch it float by. It takes effort and patience. The more you practice dis-attaching from your thoughts, the easier it becomes, until it’s effortless. You can listen for sounds around you and identify them: that is a car going by, that is the clock ticking, that is the faucet dripping. Suddenly you aren’t thinking anymore about picking kids up from cheerleading and football or dinner you need to make, you are simply listening and your mind is still.

Another meditation exercise is counting your breaths. I like to use the square breathing technique- all through your nose, inhale to a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold at the bottom for 4. It might take some getting used to; it’s not uncommon to feel like you’re going to suffocate holding at the bottom of the exhale. You get used to it, I promise, and it doesn’t feel so panicky. Repeat that a 5-7 times then let your breath return to normal.

You might also try a mantra. On the inhale you think to yourself ‘I am’ on the exhale consider what you are. I am… love. I am… patient. I am… forgiving. You can think about things you want to be as well to set an intention of something as well as a way to manifest it in your life.

Meditation is a journey and the fact that you’ve even been considering it means you’re on the right track. Be gentle with yourself. Be patient, curious, and persistent. Know that this awareness and focus is possible when you nourish your practice and give it a chance.

Lessons From Buffalos

Sunday mornings I attend an hour and a half meditation. I try my best to make this meditation a priority in my weekly appointments and it’s rare that I miss one, ever rarer that I miss two in a row. The meditation is sobriety focused, but it’s an open meeting and I believe everyone would benefit from the energy/positivity/wisdom/hope/open-mindedness/honesty/love that fills this room every week. This week was no different and as ‘V’ opened with our regular prayer, the phrase that came into my head was ‘heavy peace. V is a Lakota Native American and grew up on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The style of meditation varies from week to week and this week V used his singing bowls as he guided us ‘out there’. I try to remember what he says but I rarely do. (That’s the irony or catch-22 of meditating. If you’re doing it right you will be too far gone in your own place to remember everything. Kind of like a dream. A lot like a dream.)

One thing I do remember V talking about today was comparing buffalos to cows in a storm and the lesson we can learn. Imagine a dark storm rolling in. The sky is black as the rain and hail roll in from the mountains. There is thunder and lightning. What cows do is very natural. Cows sense the storm coming, so they turn and run away. However cows aren’t very fast and the storm catches up quickly. Instead of outrunning the storm they actually run right along with the storm. Then consider the buffalo. Buffalos can run up to 40mph, and instead of running away from the storm, they turn and run into it. Instead of facing the blizzard or rain solo, they tackle it together. They charge the storm and get through it quicker. It’s a powerful image isn’t it?  A herd of bison steadfastly and slowly progressing in the face of a storm rather than running in the other direction. So not only do they face this test as a team, facing down the storm makes their hair thicker and their bones are stronger. Facing the fierce weather elements literally makes them stronger.

So which one are you, the cow or the buffalo? When confronted with a problem, do you try to avoid it, or do you put your head down and find a way through?

I get it. Life can seem overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Student debt, job insecurities, marriage problems, health issues, financial pressures, work, bills, the list is endless. Working through tough times isn’t easy and a lot of times it seems more comfortable to turn the other way and try to outrun the storm. But more often than not, the problem doesn’t go away. It just lasts longer and gets worse. About 4 years ago when I was still living in Illinois, I once racked up over $3,000 in unpaid tolls and was sent to collections. Instead of just paying them (like a normal, responsible human) I kept throwing the notices away, thinking the problem would just take care of itself and Illinois Tollway would forget. They didn’t forget (Illinois is super broke, of course they aren’t going to forget about $3,000 of unpaid tolls.) and I had to pay so that I wouldn’t do any further damage to my credit.

Moral of the story- turn and face the problem head on. Be the buffalo.

FINDING YOUR YOGA MAT SOUL MATE- IT’S OUT THERE!

If you’re like me, you think of your yoga mat as your best friend. It encourages you through challenges, it’s there to celebrate and share your victories, and it’s that safe space you can come to at any time. It should feel like a little island you want to call home for every practice. Like your practice, your yoga mat should be one that you invest in, one that you keep coming back to, and one that supports you through every inhale and exhale.

The most important features in a good mat includes:

Durability and longevity — A yoga mat’s ability to withstand even the toughest of practices over time.

Comfort and support — Just enough cushioning for your joints can reduce squirming in kneeling postures and provide padding for impact, but not so much that it compromises support.

Stability — A firm, dense mat can help you feel stable throughout standing and balancing poses.

Portability — Consider how much travel you will be doing with your mat. A mat’s weight and size will dictate whether or not it is toteable. Since most people walk, bike, and travel to class, an easy-to-carry mat is an important feature.

Traction and stickiness — It’s important for a mat to provide traction both to keep you from slipping and in staying connected to the ground. The last thing you want is for your mat to function as a Slip N’ Slide.

Texture — Mats have different surfaces, but most yogis agree that it’s best to have a mat that feels most natural.

Environmental consideration — Buying an eco-friendly yoga mat is important to many practitioners. If this holds true to you, consider purchasing a mat made from all-natural materials.

Size — Your yoga mat should cover the length and width of your entire body. Not every yoga mat comes in various widths and sizes, so make sure to check measurements before purchasing.

Reviews.com recently compiled a study on mats that you can see here. Don’t be afraid to test a few mats on your own and ask around before making a purchase—because when a yoga mat feels just right for you, it can make all the difference in your practice, and thus your life. Happy practicing!

Crazy Sober People

Intentional sobriety in our society is still weirder than it should be. Some people unfortunately think there is something wrong with you if you don’t drink. Like they are confused that you can be sober and still have a good time. Or they automatically assume you’re an alcoholic and therefore a bad person.

I know it’s a crazy concept that someone can still go out and party, start up and hold conversations with strangers, or put themselves outside of their comfort zone intentionally. So if you come across a wacky person like that, here are some suggestions on how you can respond so you’re not caught off gourd and don’t accidentally say something insensitive.

What not to say (and these are all responses that have been said to me at some point):

“I don’t drink.” 

  1. Ya it’s probably better that way.
  2. Congratulations (if someone doesn’t drink because of their religion, you wouldn’t congratulate them on being that religion…)
  3. Not even just a little?
  4. Wow that sucks.
  5. Why not? (We will come back to this)
  6. How do you still have fun?
  7. Are you, like, an alcoholic or something?
  8. Oh I’ve tried being sober too. It lasted 14 hours and… (then they launch into some version of a pointless story where they drank too much tequila one night on spring break and woke up with *the worst* hangover and they swore they were never ever going to drink ever again. Until that night when they did it again. Or whatever.)
  9. I’m sorry

So as you can see, I’ve received responses that were clueless, insensitive, and downright rude. However, sometimes people truly don’t know what to say, and in that case, it’s ok. Whether the non-drinker in question is sober, just taking a break, or just doesn’t like the taste or effect of alcohol (you don’t have to be an alcoholic to not drink) there is nothing wrong with them. You don’t need to walk on eggshells, but be cautious. Each non-drinker is different and you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable about their non-drinking. I am very open about my sobriety, others are not and that’s ok. That’s why you should be careful if you ask ‘why’. If someone would prefer to not share why they choose to not drink, don’t press it. They could be very new in their sobriety and not be ready to share and now you’ve unintentionally put them on the spot. If they choose to share with you, they will on their time.

So what do you say then when someone tells you they don’t drink? How about, ‘oh, ok’. (Depending on how well you know the person or how the conversation flows, you could follow up with ‘can I ask why not?’)

The moral of the story is that alcoholics are normal people. We are actually tend to be happier because we have recovered and have been given the power to help people. “We aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life.” (Big Book pg. 132). Cheers to that!

Special Projects

A couple years ago I was getting coffee with a friend and he asked me what projects I was working on. Outside of work, what was I doing with my time? At the time I didn’t have a good answer and it got me thinking: from now on I will always have a project. It didn’t always need to be something huge, maybe it was starting (and finishing) a new book or trying a new recipe (that’s a big one considering I cook a “real” meal maybe 4 times a year.) What I didn’t realize at the time was that by not having a project, it meant I didn’t have a vision. I didn’t have an idea or clear picture what I wanted to do with my energy, and that’s not acceptable. Having a vision is important because it gives your existence a purpose. We are only on this planet for such a short time, we should use it wisely.

So consider this, what is your project? What is your vision? Make it BIG. Make it HUGE. The bigger the better. It’s supposed to be so big that it’s almost unbelievable. And what will it take for you to get there right now? In the beginning when you’re setting out on a new journey towards a new, amazing goal, it’s easy to get frustrated with the preliminary steps. You’re so excited and eager and anxious to reach the end point, the brilliant dream that inspired you, that the preliminary steps just seem like they’re taking up too much time. This is natural. If the dream wasn’t so stunning, it wouldn’t be worth dreaming.

So what’s my vision right now? Oh my gosh I have so many. I’ll keep it yoga-pose related. I am working on Adho Mukha Vrksasana, aka Handstand. I have been working on it for over a year now and while some days it doesn’t feel like I am making any progress, I know I am. I practice my handstand every single day for at least 10 minutes, and even if I don’t hold it for very long that day, or some days I don’t even get legs in the air at all, I know that I am at least stronger now than I was before I tried.

As you keep grinding along on your project, know the “small victories” that that are the baby steps of accomplishing your goal (practicing kicking up, reading a few pages of your book, running a mile, etc.)  are actually huge victories in the overall big picture (handstand, finishing that book you’ve been putting off forever, running a 5k or marathon, etc.). For every mortal step you take here, a huge leap, cartwheel, dance party has taken place in time and space, advancing you forward more than you’ll ever know. And the best way to finish this project? Get started on it. No more procrastinating, no more excuses or if/thens (if Sarah calls me to go to kickboxing with her, then I’ll go), that’s lame. Get up, get out, and just START DOING IT. Wherever you are, any progress is good. You’ll finish your project, achieve your goal, just in time to start your next one

Keep Bending,

Morgan

@keep_bending

Happy People Feel Stress Too

I consider myself a positive person. I was born blessed with a sunny disposition and a cheery outlook on life. I also consider myself a realist, but you can count on me to find the silver lining, see the glass half full, and put a positive spin on any situation. However, these last couple weeks had been very trying for me and the reserves I’ve had of ‘saving happy for a rainy day’, were starting to run low.

Along with being a naturally optimistic person, I am also (like most people) a person of habit. I’m highly functioning and having my routine makes me feel comforted and in control. By no means am I saying I’m a rigid, OCD, control freak. I’m just saying I like having a plan and crossing things off lists. Having a loose schedule helps me feel grounded.

Over the Christmas holiday my sweetie and I decided to get off the grid and take a road trip. We turned our phones on airplane mode and vowed to stay present and in the moment. We had a general idea of a direction to go (south) but for the most part we drove until we found something cool, slept when we were tired, and ate when we were hungry. It was a great way to experience letting go of “the plan” and enjoying life on life terms. It was so refreshing to not have to worry about answering to anyone or returning phone calls. We left the dogs at home, so it was even nice no having to worry about making sure they got walked. We were adventurers to the fullest extent.

Living free spirited like this lasted for 3 beautiful days. A few years ago a good friend taught me her camping practice- on these getaways, turn off your phone, but turn it on for 10 minutes every day just to see if there is something super pressing that needs to be taken care of and cannot wait until you get back. I’m glad I took that advice. On the fourth day, December 26, we were driving through Death Valley and pulled over to enjoy the scenery at the Furnace Creek Inn. I finally had Wi-Fi so I turned on my phone. I had a barrage of voicemails, texts, instant messages all with the same message, my dad had unexpectedly passed away and the funeral was in 3 days. The road trip that we had been looking forward to and planning for months was now cut short so that I could get back to Reno and back to Illinois. It was a hard lesson in giving up control and accepting situations as they come, but I was disappointed. I now had to go back a “reality” of checking my phone on time so I get a good section on the plane and getting to the airport with enough time to get through security.

Funerals are weird. You see tons of friends and family that you maybe haven’t seen in years and you want to catch up with them, but at the same time you are there because you’re mourning the same loved one and it seems unsympathetic to talk about anything other than the deceased. Funerals are exhausting too. I show emotion, but I’m much more comfortable and used to showing “happy” emotion and I felt me judging myself from time to time on if I was grieving enough or the right way. I felt like I had to be strong for those around me and honestly I felt a little bitter about my dad’s death. I stayed in Illinois for 5 days to hang out with my mom and sister and came back to Reno feeling drained. It was hard holding space for others without having anyone to hold space for me. I had been telling the Universe that I wanted to get out of Reno a little bit, get a change of scenery, but this hadn’t been exactly what I had in mind. I had accepted that my Christmas break hadn’t gone exactly how I expected and needless to say, so I was ready to get back to my normal schedule and my little routine.

The Universe wasn’t done yet though. In the 2 weeks coming back to work I think we had 5 snow days and 3 delayed starts. Some of those were even delayed starts that turned into snow days! I absolutely loved them because I was able to catch up on my own projects, like studying for my personal trainer exam, creating a vision board, journal, make some new yoga classes, etc. I had a lot of fun things to keep me busy and it should have been super enjoyable, except for the little voice in the back of my head that kept annoyingly nagging at me saying, ‘you’re not supposed to be at home right now. Christmas break is done, you’re supposed to be at work. This wasn’t the plan.’ Leave it to me to find a way to stress myself out about schedules on a surprise vacation. I think it was the uncertainty of not knowing what the next day was going to be was stressing me out. Funny how on a road trip, not knowing what the next day holds is exciting, but back in reality, not knowing if I’ll be working the next day gave me was stressful. And I had nothing to be stressed out about at all! These were paid snow days anyways! I am seriously a freak.

My life was feeling inconsistent and my inner peace was really starting to crumble. It was getting hard to find the balance in my life. During this time it was even proving difficult to get up and be motivated to teach yoga. I felt like I was keeping my head above water and on the surface I looked fine, maybe a little tired. But underneath the water my legs were flailing and I was struggling to stay afloat.

During this time my best pals came to visit. These three ladies are the loves of my life. I’ve been friends with Goose since 1st grade, Uni since 5th grade, and Lulu since 6th. Cumulatively that is 60 years of friendship. These frands and I know a thing or two about each other. These last time we were all together was almost 3 years ago and a lot had changed since then. Goose graduated Pharmacy school and is engaged to be married this fall,  Uni graduated Nursing school and went through a huge break up, and Lulu is a boss climbing the corporate ladder in her advertising agency and her man just moved in with her. Me on the other hand, I’d gotten sober, moved to Nevada, started teaching yoga, and am also engaged to be married this fall. The 4 of us have a group text message that we write in almost daily, but nothing compares to quality time with your best friends. They visited for 5 days and we did enough talking, laughing, crying, and being silly to get us through to this fall when we see each other at the weddings.

And just like that, in a trail of glitter, Bobbi pins, and perfume, they were gone and I was left to figure out my emotional state of balance again. Thankfully it didn’t take long. The Wednesday after they left I woke energized and excited. I popped out of bed at 5am and immediately knew I was back to “normal”. (Side note, I HATE that word. I don’t even know why I used it. I am one of the weirdest people I know. A new coworker at a job I had last year once told me, “You are probably the nicest person here and also the weirdest.” That was the nicest compliment Id received in a long time.) I was eager to start my day and looking forward to what awesome surprises it held. This is how I typically feel 99.9% of my mornings and I hadn’t felt this way consistently since before we left for our road trip. It was good to be back.

The moral of this story is it’s OK to feel sad, stressed, out-of-sorts or whatever. Sometimes you can pinpoint why you feel this way and other times you can’t. The goal is not to be 100% happy and excited and having what I call “your dial turned up to 20” all the time. That is not realistic or expected and anyone who is excited and bouncing off the walls all the time, is either on drugs or needs to be. The goal is to be self-aware enough that you recognize these deviations from your normal thought processes and behavior patterns. Once you are aware of these changes in your energy and acknowledge them, it’s up to you how you want to handle them. And always acknowledge the feeling because it’s happening. It’s real and covering it up and hiding it just because the feeling is uncomfortable or not fun isn’t going to make it go away. For example, you wake up one day and feel sad. Nothing has happened but you simply feel down and you don’t know why because that’s not how you typically feel when you wake up in the morning. First, you acknowledge the feeling and bring awareness to your state of mind. You might think to yourself, ‘I realize I feel sad right now’. You don’t need to change anything just yet, just be there, noticing what you notice. Like a headache, you notice there is something different about you. From there you either choose to actively try and move past being sad, or you choose to be sad for a little bit. And that’s ok! Sometimes it’s nice to have an excuse to stay in PJs and watch Netflix and eat a family bag of pretzel MNMs to yourself because. Just don’t let that little bit turn into a big bit. Either way, the mind is going to do its own thing, there is no need to attach to the feeling. And when you’re ready to move on, you come out on the other side of being sad. Except this time you and energized and full again, with a renewed appreciation for life and positivity and optimism.

Being positive doesn’t mean you live in a candy land. Positive people feel sad and melancholy. They also get angry and challenge people and stick up for what they believe in. being positive is not about being oblivious and hiding from reality behind a unicorn. Positivity is about being strong, self-aware, and accountable for your state of mind.

 

*Snuggs*

Morgan