Come Back to Your Breath: A Return to Meditation

           “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

           “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.  You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

 

           “Come back to your breath.”

           It was a simple direction, but powerful nonetheless.  I was in the middle of a fairly intense yoga class. Could the instructor read my mind because I had wandered into thoughts; and thinking, for me, can be a source of positivity or, as is more often the case, a source of negativity and defeat.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

          I often give a similar instruction when I am teaching yoga.

           “Focus on your breath.  If thoughts enter your mind, brush them away as if they are food crumbs on the table of your mind.”  

           And yet, how very often do I practice this? How often do I ruminate on lists of things to do for school and other work, for home, for my daughter, for my husband, for when-I-get-home, for when-the-weekend-gets-here  . . . On and on the mental post-it notes stick in my mind in the same way they adorn my work desk, my notebooks, and sometimes throughout my home. Must do, gotta remember, can’t forget . . .Oh, those lists; and I haven’t even made it to the lists of worries; the lists of things for which I should feel guilty; the lists of oh-I-wish-I-would-have-thought-to-do . . .. All this mental inventory and babble!  

 

Like the lists that adorn my notebooks, kitchen counters, and work desk, my mind is often filled with post-it notes of mental lists.

 

          Of all people, I should know better! After all, I spent a large portion of 2018 in yoga teacher training (YTT), which had a huge emphasis on mindfulness and meditation.   In fact, during this time period, I was an avid meditator with a daily practice emphasizing breath work. As a matter of fact, I had a couple of years of meditation under my belt before starting YTT, and yet, here I was standing in a yoga class with my monkey mind as it dashed, darted, and dipped.  

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

           Momentarily, my racing mind, as if it were a bird in flight alighting upon a tree limb, landed on a phrase by Thich Nhat Hanh, the author of hundreds of books on mindfulness and meditation.  In fact, at the end of my YTT training, each student, in our group of 20, received a mini-book with excerpts from his numerous books.

           “This is an in-breath.  This is an out-breath.”

 

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Both the book and the heart were gifts from my instructors at the end of YTT training at Brown Dog Yoga. They are on my work desk as a reminder of what I had not been doing for nearly 3 months.

 

           As I repeated those words, my awareness shifted its focus to my breath.  So simple, yet so energy shifting. Without realizing it, I lost the words as I continued to follow the breath—which of course is the point. Lose the words along with the chattering thoughts. Albeit, it was brief, because my mind is so addicted to its thoughts, worries, and fears.  However, with the brevity came the recognition that in order to be of service to others, as well as myself, I needed to return to a regular mindfulness practice–one that included more meditation.

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

          Yes, I had a whole routine of prayers, petitions, and points of focus that I did daily each time I drove first thing in the morning.  I mean, I even turn the radio off for heaven’s sake to ensure my mind is not distracted, so I can fully concentrated on my murmurings.  Plus, each week at mass, I also wholly devote myself to prayers and meditations—ok, ok, semi-wholly . . . ok, more like, well, like the squirrels that scamper throughout our school’s grounds skittering around from one thought to the next. Truth be told, I had been lying to myself for several month as guilt washed over me.  Great, another point to add to list of things for which to feel guilty!

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

 

           Time to get back on the proverbial wagon. After honest reflection, I realized I could not make meditation-time another item on my many running post-it lists of things-to-do-for-the-day.  It would then run the risk of becoming a daily point of pressure for which to create an excuse for not doing—I don’t have time for twenty minutes, so why bother at all? What could I do then?

           “Come back to your breath.”

           Wait, could it really be that simple? What if I set a timer for five minutes in the morning before showering?  Then, for five minutes sit and focus on breathing-in and breathing-out; and, actually practice what I preach. If  . . .I mean, when, because I do know my mind . . .when thoughts enter my mind, I push them away as if they are food crumbs on the mind of my table—just for five minutes; or three minutes, if need be.  

 

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Could I set a time for five minutes and meditate?

 

           As I write this, I am three days in to this practice.  Ironically, I ended up sitting all three days for 10-15 minutes focusing on the breath and pushing away those pesky mental post-it notes of thoughts. Afterwards, I have felt more grounded, focused, and less anxious.  Oh-to-be-certain, all those lists were still there! However, for the time that I focused on the in-breath and the out-breath, they did not exist. And, that, for now, is good enough. That said, I fully recognize that there will be days when five minutes will be all that I manage, but this is how one returns to a habit that has been lost—at least how I know I can realistically.

 

There are numerous apps and youtube videos on meditations that can be of great assistance. . .if I would actually use them!

 

           In fact, this simple practice of focusing on breathing in and breathing can be accomplished anywhere, even at those dang-blasted red lights that prevent me from getting home quickly after a long day away.   As Hanh points out, “The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful.” And, while there are numerous other benefits from a regular meditation practice supported by science that can be found with a quick click of computer keys, I’ll start with a bit more joy!

 

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As seen on Instagram at thichnhathanh.bot

           

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An image my daughter, Madelyn, painted for me several years ago when she was just starting to explore painting–which is a form of mindfulness–and, when I first began to dabble in meditation.

 

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An OM, given to me by a dear friend, adorns my kitchen, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of meditation on the mind, heart, and soul.

May we be a Light to One Another

“May the supreme light illumine your minds, enlighten your hearts, and strengthen the human bonds in your homes and communities.”—Unknown (As seen on Times of India)

 

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“What a life we have!” I exclaimed to John, my husband of nearly 30 years, as we sat down for a late evening dinner.

 

It was Saturday, and our workweek had been a whirlwind, but that evening had been spectacular.  I recalled a statement made by one of my friends, Christine, earlier in the day during a lunch get-together and found myself repeating her words to John.

 

“We are truly blessed.”  Then, I added, “No matter the bills, we are truly blessed.”

 

Of course, John, being his ever sarcastic, and realist self, retorted, “We’d be a lot more blessed, and could bless ourselves more, if we had everything paid off.”

 

 

While John and I do not know the ladies in the picture on the left, they graciously posed for our picture.  Right picture is of one of our former students, Ajay Neginhal, and his beautiful mother, Sapna.

 

While I felt both the humor and the reality of his comment, I continued to feel contemplative and inspired as we had just left the Tristate India Association’s Diwali celebration held annually at Cabell Midland High School.  As John and I both currently teach in the same school, many of our current and former students were performers in the evening’s festivities.  Additionally, several more students and staff were in the audience. The celebration was lovely, full of displays of generosity, positivity, love, and mutual respect.  I could not help but feel my heart overflowing with hope, optimism, and gratitude in spite of the realities of life.

 

 

 

         Former and current students gathered to celebrate Diwali.  Top to Bottom, then right: Emily Blatt, Naveen Joseph, Angelina Bir, Nishi Chowdhury, Maanasa Miryala, and Heidi Short.

As best I understand it, (I do not claim to be an expert, and I ask forgiveness from readers in advance, if I explain something wrong.) Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated yearly in either October or November, depending upon the Hindu lunar calendar. It is not only celebrated in India, but also in several other countries, including Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Fiji to name a few.  Additionally, it is not only commemorated by those of the Hindu faith, but also by Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists.  However, it is the basic tenant upon which Diwali symbolizes and honors that persons of all faith backgrounds can agree upon, “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.”

 

          The beautiful Bir family celebrate Diwali and insist on taking pictures with me.

In a world often filled with division, derision, and discord, Diwali appears, based upon my limited understanding, to focus on the sweetness and goodness of life that can be attained through a commitment to faith, family, education, work, and community.  Thus, as I looked around the auditorium and observed people of all faiths, not just Hindu, coming together respectfully and quite joyfully, I could not help but feel encouraged.  Hopeful for not only our daughter, but also for the students John and I have taught, past and present.

 

These adorable girls dance and celebrate Diwali with their family and friends.

 

 

 

      

The family-centered atmosphere delighted John and me, and we were especially amused by buoyant and excited children of all ages, vibrantly adorned.  We watched in awe as women of all ages, shapes and sizes, dressed the most vivid colors and sumptuous-looking fabrics, were honored and celebrated. Distinguished and dapper men of all ages, clad in colorful clothing, helped hold babies, patiently delayed performances for family members trying to change costumes, talked with the audience about the importance of giving back to the local community, and even turned up the lights for crying toddlers, who had become suddenly scared, when the house lights were dimmed for the performance.

 

 

     Left to right: Dr. Kalpana Miriyala, Dr. Pushpa Joseph, and Dr. Vinod Miriyala at the 2018 Diwali celebration.

Police officers, Tri-state dignitaries, and various community leaders were recognized, honored, or even given donations for their various works of charity.  Abundant, and seemingly endless, trays of what appeared to be traditional Indian foods were offered to guests for an hour or more before the start of celebration. Additionally, after the first song, performers walked off the stage and out into the audience offering small bits of food. Countless hugs, kisses, cheerful greetings, and affirmations could be heard throughout the evening.  I could not help but wish I could bundle all this positivity up, and send it out into the world, allowing it to envelop all of humanity with love and light, peace and patience, and an overall sense of community . . . the, we-are-all-in-this-together sort of attitude.  But alas, I am a sentimental, dreamer . . .

 

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Our student, Maanasa Miriyala, dances in a performance at the 2018 Diwali celebration.

 

 

One of narrators of the evening’s festivities, as he defined and explained Diwali to audience members, who, like myself, did not have a background, referred to the famous words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. He encouraged all in attendance to go out and be a light unto others, living the change we wished to see in the world.  This line, and its variations, is so often quoted, it sometimes falls on deaf ears.

 

 

Current students, Angelina Bir and Nishi Chowdhury, dance in a performance during the 2018 Diwali celebration.

 

On this evening of Diwali, however, my ears listened as Gandhi’s words rained over me. I was bearing witness to one group’s attempt to not only offer light, but also be the change they wished to see in the world. No, they were not trying to convert those of us of other faiths to their faith.  Rather, it felt as if the TSIA was demonstrating the understanding, tolerance, and dialogue that are possible when we concentrate first on the similarities we have with others, rather than focusing on the differences.

 

It was a beautiful evening with an even more beautiful lesson to be learned.

 

“From untruth lead us to Truth.

From darkness lead us to Light.

From death lead us to Immortality.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”—Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

 

 

More pictures from Diwali!

 

 

 

Yoga Flow

Photographed above:  My beautiful daughter, Madelyn, practices tree pose while standing on the limb of an amazing tree at Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Author’s note:  What follows is a highly personal piece I wrote for my recent 200-YTT training.  It is important for the reader to understand that yoga is NOT a religion, nor is it affiliated with any certain religion.  However, what I have found is that yoga’s tenants, restraints, and practices strongly compliments and enhances my personal faith life.  Namaste.

 

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           “One of life’s quiet excitements is to stand somewhat apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful . . ..”—Norman Mclean

           “Eventually, all thing merge into one, and a river runs through it.”—Norman Maclean            

           “You cannot step into the same river twice.”—Heraclitus

           Fortitude. Tenacity.  Breath.  These were three words I strongly associated with yoga, and for that matter, any fitness or life endeavor, when I first began the journey of yoga teacher training (YTT) at Brown Dog Yoga (BDY), a yoga studio situated alongside the Ohio River in Huntington, WV.    Like the ever changing, ever flowing Ohio River, each time I have stepped into the studio at BDY, the experience is different; and thus, I am different now than when I first walked through its door.

 

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           I am no longer the same person who whispered, “Fortitude. Tenacity. Breath,” as I walked into BDY for the very first time. Arriving early, I sat in the studio, which was all new to me, fighting the well-practiced negative chatter that has spent years dominating my monkey mind.  

           “You’re too old and too injured,” alleged doubt.

           “In fact, you’re too irrelevant, not fit enough, and certainly nowhere near knowledgeable enough,” droned fear.   

            “You’ll never fit in, and talk too much, ask too many questions, or do none of those and just freeze,” whispered anxiety.

           “You’ll never have time to study, practice, and read—much less still possess the ability to learn.  I mean, really, you should just get up and walk out now. Who do you think you are, the next Bryan Kest?  Don’t be so arrogant,” added distrust and suspicion.

           Still, I remained in the room, frozen, silently chanting my mantra, “Fortitude. Tenacity. Breath.”  Bryan Kest videos taught me those words in the 1990s. He was the professional yoga teacher that initially inspired my journey into yoga.  Those words clearly worked for him; therefore, I had latched onto that phrase as the flame clings to the log. After all, those three words pretty much summed up large portions of my life.  It was how I overcame fears, anxieties, and sorrows.

 

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           Nonetheless, I walked out of BDY after that first weekend ready to spread my arms out wide into the crisp, night air and shout to the heavens.  Instead, I inhaled deeply, smiled broadly to myself, and felt a new lightness in my step. This was where I supposed to be, and at the right time.  I would be okay.

           However, like a nagging joint injury that won’t go away, fear, doubt, anxiety, distrust, and suspicion logged frequent flyer miles in the seat of my soul with each new month.  Heart palpitations would wake me during the night. My throat squeezed, belly gripped, and my lungs felt small. Still, I whispered my mantra, “Fortitude. Tenacity. Breath.”

 

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           Then came the moment I was to teach a lesson for the first time.   A percussion section drummed a staccato rhythm in my lungs as a bass drum boomed a brilliant beat in my chest that echoed into my ears, my head, and vibrated my limbs.  Fight, flight, or freeze?

           Emotion ripped through my third chakra, which is located around the area of the belly button and extends up the bottom tip of the breastbone.  It is called the Manipura, which according to The Chopra Center, translates to, “lustrous gem;” yet, this was not what I was feeling.  Instead, the sensations of entrapment and abandonment spiraled in my center. I froze, folded, and flopped.  Failure was all I could think as tears fought to free themselves.

 

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           Fortitude. Tenacity. Breath.  Go back.  Don’t quit. Keeping trying.  

           Then, came the first written test in month four.  It was over the bones of the body and a few other anatomy terms/references.  Life had been busy, and my time for study had been limited. Once again, downpours of panic splattered over me mimicking the winter weather; and, just as the banks of the Ohio River were overflowing with muddy water, so too was my self-doubt spilling out into my now murky manipura.

           Was I really meant to be a yoga teacher? Did I really think I could help others when I clearly couldn’t help myself?  Would the world end if I never became I yoga teacher?  After all, I could finish the program, and at least say my practice had improved, and my knowledge had increased.  There was nothing wrong with that.

 

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As seen on Instagram @positiveenergyalways

 

           Surrender.  Seek. Soul-search. A new mantra was forming.  I began to journal, to meditate, and to pray more.  What did I really want to do? This required work and reflection.  It also required purposeful, deep three-part breathing that Katrina, our main instructor, strongly encouraged me to practice in a private session.

            “Take the breath deep into your belly. Expand it into your ribs and then up into the heart space,” she encouraged.  “Really connect with your breath,” she added. And so, I began to practice this way of breathing.

 

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           Practice.  Progress. Breath. I practiced this three-part breath driving to and from work.  My mediation evolved into simply focusing on three-part breathing and remaining open to what arose.  Moments of prayer, and even time spent writing, were also filled with three-part breathing. All yoga practices, including the sessions in which I practiced teaching others, began to focus more on three-part breathing.

           Soon my desires became clearer.  I needed to practice three-part breathing for the rest of my life because that is yoga. “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life . . .. (Genesis 2:7 NIV).  This prana, this breath of life can spiral energy, joy, and peace within me, but more importantly, it is my connection to my Creator, my inner light, and my heart.

 

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           I now know that yoga is so much more than physical exercise.  It is a practice for the body, mind, and soul. It is a practice that occurs both on, and even more so, off the yoga mat.  Its observances and restraints ask me to take my practice into my daily life. I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of yoga and all its interrelated topics in my 200-level YTT.  I want to learn more, to understand more, and to gain deeper insight with regard to yoga. Not only that, but I also feel a deep motivation to share this Divine connection with others in the same way in which it has been so graciously shared to me.  

           Have I lost all feelings of unworthiness, pessimism, and distrust?  NO. However, Rich, another instructor at BDY, introduced another mantra in my life, “Progress, not perfection.”  

 

           Practice.  Progress. Breath.  One of the first yamas, tenants, of yoga is ahimsa, or nonviolence.  However, as I reflect over the very words I have written, I see that violence, sadly, has enveloped so much of my self-dialogue throughout a large portion of my life.  If I have been seeing myself through such a negative, fearful, and judgmental lens, what messages have I subconsciously been projecting onto others? Thus, if I am to truly incorporate this yogic way of life, then I must offer free-will/empowerment, compassion, and forgiveness to myself first in order to fully offer the same to others. This will increase my ability to choose actions, behaviors, and words motivated from a point of genuine love—a practice worth pursuing.

 

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           Deborah Adele, author of one my required readings for 200-YTT, The Yamas and Niyamas, states that in the New Testament, the Greeks used a word, splagchnizomai, which is translated to mean compassion. According to Adele, this word means to feel deeply within one’s bowels or inward parts.  It was used, she explains, when the Gospel writers wanted to reveal that a person was touched so profoundly by another, that they were deeply and inwardly motivated to take immediate action for the benefit of others.  This accurately describes how I now feel about yoga.

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           Yoga holds up a mirror for me daily.  It allows me to see the real me without mucky illusions or ideals of perfection.  I am free to feel deeply, to see where I fall short, but to also feel empowered and emboldened to move forward with incremental steps towards progress as I journey through life.  Looking at my reflection, I can say, I am enough,which will also increase my ability to convey to others, you are enough.  Therefore, I embrace this path of yoga, rather than resist it.  I surrender to the unknown—the unknown of each breath, each practice, and even the unknown of this journey.

 

 

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There is no “arriving,” just a path on which to continue to walk, learn, and grow.

   

        On the Sunday of month six of YTT, our group practiced a walking meditation alongside the Ohio River.  Its rock bed, laid down two-three million years earlier, continuously changes with the unremitting flow of the water.  Likewise, its boundaries subtly, and sometimes violently, shift and sway with the rise and fall of the water. It was formed by the confluence of two rivers; and, countless tributaries from six states feed it and influence its ebb and flow.  Ultimately, the waters of the Ohio River join with the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In the end, all of this water stretches into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean thus becoming one interconnected body.

 

 

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And all rivers merge into one . . .

 

That is yoga.  It began with one Divine OM over the centuries of time.  One breath led to our collective prana, the Ultimate life force, of which I am an interwoven part; bound to all who came before me and all who will follow after my physical body is not longer present. It began with the ultimate Source as a gift of love, and this Divine Providence lights me from within as well as all living beings around the world.

Light. Love. Life.

Surrender.  Seek. Soul-search.  

Practice. Progress. Path.

Connection.  Breath.

Yoga.

 

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Yoga Teacher Training: The first steps into Forgiveness, Faith, & Fearlessness

           “A little step may be the beginning of a great journey.”—Jennifer DeDonato

           “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your heart.  Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes.”—Carl Jung

           I recall when the stack of books arrived on my doorstep in December 2017.  I could feel their physical weight within the box and within my gut. Uh, oh. Who did I think I was?  What sort of thing had I placed myself into? Where did I think this would ever take me? When did I think I could find the time for this? Why did I ever think I could do this? How did I think I could ever learn all of this material?

 

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As seen on Instagram by positiveaffirmations101.

 

           All of my self-doubts, insecurities, fears, and uncertainties burned to the surface via my red face and icy cold hands as I slowly lifted each new book out.  Then, the aroma of new books filled my lungs and the crisp, shininess of each cover glimmered in the light above my kitchen table—my “home office.” One thing was for certain, as a 30+ year educator, I DO savor the sight, scent, feel, and even the sound of pages turning when casually flipping through new books—each filled with the promise of uncharted waters, stories, and journeys.  At least there was comfort and familiarity with that.

 

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Required readings for RYT 2018!

 

           Then came January—the first weekend of training with 19 other so-called strangers, in an unfamiliar location, with unknown instructors, and wait, what? —No desks, tables, chairs, or other types of furniture!  Everybody sits on the floor on mats, blankets, cushions, or any combination of the three? Are you kidding me? At age 52, how was I supposed to survive Friday evenings and daylong Saturday and Sunday sessions like this?  I was ready to bolt back out to my car as tension tightened my belly but froze my body in place. This was yoga teacher training at Brown Dog Yoga, Huntington, WV. It was my choice, but how on earth would I ever get through it?

 

Yes, even at my age, sitting on the floor, with continuous practice, is not only possible, but good for your posture muscles!

 

           I thought of one of my favorite and charismatic video yoga instructors, Bryan Kest, best known for his work with Power Yoga.  He had a saying onto which I had latched in the early 1990’s: fortitude, tenacity, breath.  These three words had often been the mantra that powered me through many life and fitness endeavors.  I would utilize the strength of those words once more in order to power my way through this training. Little did I know then, those three words would be replaced with other, more meaningful and much softer phrases.

 

 

One such phrase was, surrender, seek, soul-search.  Learning to surrender to the moment, to events as they are, to life as it is—is a skill for which I am still learning. My desire to seek truths, knowledge, and understanding began to evolve over the eight months of training/study, and it continues to grow even now. Additionally, looking inwardly and learning to honestly soul-search was, and often still is, a painful experience because of the truths I am a master at hiding from myself, but if I am to grow, then I must continue to do this.

 

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Although this is the logo for Outer Banks Yoga, the image serves as a reminder to me of the importance of taking time to develop your own inner practice of growth.

 

           Practice, progress, breathe, has also become another utilized phrase.  Yoga is not just a form of exercise (Although it is a GREAT form of exercise that anyone can do!) —it can be a way of life with practices and applications for both on and off the mat.  Make no mistake, though, it is NOT a religion. My 200-hours of training and study is not the end, but only the beginning of a practice that I intend to continue for the rest of my life.  I now realize I have MUCH more to learn and apply in order to evolve.

 

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There is no “arriving,” just a path on which to continue to walk, learn, and grow.

 

           Thus, I can no longer think in terms of “perfection” or “arriving,” as I used to do when I trained for a marathon, sought a degree, attempted to lose weight, and so forth.  With yoga, it’s about progress.  Yes, I will most likely falter, waiver, and perhaps even fall.  The important thing is, like the old saying from my childhood, “try, try again.”  Allow those mistakes and so-called failures to teach me lessons and further my progress towards understanding.  Age, injury, career, and any other role that life has assigned to me cannot impede my inner-work, unlike my former short-term goals.  Personal growth and progress never has to end as long as I practice, study, and/or reflect.

 

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Deep belly breathing, meditation, prayer, and time for reflection are so important for personal growth.

 

           Breathing comes into play because I am a breath and tension holder.  Part of my make-up, if I am to be honest, is to feel “in control.”  As an educator, writer, parent, and so forth—that feeling of control has ruled my life—I, frankly, still struggle with it.  Letting go of the feeling of control requires faith and deep breathing.  And, while I do not want self-discipline to be confused with what I am writing about, the act of holding expectations causes me to hold my breath and grip tensions throughout my body—such as neck, shoulders, belly, etc.– when life events don’t go my way.  Deep breathing reminds me to let go and rest in my faith that life is as it should be, and a MUCH higher power than myself is in control. No amount tensing up body parts is going to change outcomes.

           Finally, one of my dear teachers, Katrina, recently offered me a new mantra:  forgiveness, FAITH, and fearlessness.  Learning to forgive myself of my self-defined failures will thus lead to more forgiveness of others.  We all make mistakes; it is the humbling part of our humanity. Fear of so-called mistakes will freeze and stagnant my inner growth. Thus, I must continue to rely on my faith in order to increase the act of forgiveness and move throughout the rest of my life with fearlessness.

 

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As seen on Instagram @positiveenergyalways

 

            Yes, it is true, I entered yoga teacher training in order to teach yoga—which I am now officially certified to do.  However, I walk away a different and very grateful person, with not only a deeper understanding of yoga, but also a deeper understanding of myself.  Additionally, I am now connected to group of gifted and unique individuals with whom I shared this journey.

 

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           What does all of this mean?  I am not sure. I do plan to teach yoga.  I also plan to continue teaching my students at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, continue writing, and continue on this path I started at BDY.  I am also still wife, mom, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, and so forth. Yet, I now realize that none of these things are truly who I am. At the very core of who I am, I see a child of God, a Divine creation that is not only within me, but also within each of you Dear Reader, and every other human being on this planet.  As the book of Genesis described, we were all brought into the being with the “breath of life,”and we will continue on this earth until our last breath is uttered.  It is my intention to utilize this gift of life to offer moments of positivity and upliftment to others. I will NEVER be perfect, but I can move forward with Grace.  In the words of Anne Lamott, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

P.S.  I am eternally grateful to Katrina and Rich Mailloux as well as Tina Chabot and the members of the 2018 YTT tribe. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. Namaste.

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Lucy, the brown dog, visits us on our last day of Yoga Teacher Training!

 

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Katie Arnold, one of my dear classmates, took a selfie of the two of us for her Instagram album.  She, like the rest of the 2018 YTT tribe, is a special and gifted individual.  

 

 

One Grain of Sand

           “I love the sea’s sounds and the way it reflects the sky.  The colors that shimmer across the surface are unbelievable.  This, combined with the color of the water over the white sand, surprises me every time.”—John Dyer

           “In this big ball of people, I’m just one grain of sand on this beach.”—Aurora

           Walking across black pavement, I moved as if the asphalt under my feet was melting into a viscous mixture.  The air was heavy with 83% early morning humidity. I rounded the corner of the Hilton Garden Inn, Kitty Hawk, NC, and there it was!  Looming directly in front of me: the Kitty Hawk Pier.

 

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The Kitty Hawk Pier bathed in morning sunlight.

          

           I followed the yoga teacher down the steps beside pier.  She explained that we would practice in the sand facing the pier.  “You’re not going to avoid getting sandy,” she added with a wry smile.  

 

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The beach yoga teacher rearranges a beach blanket on the ground from which she would teach yoga. She had just loaned the only yoga mat she brought with her to a student who did not have one.

 

           Watching her leave the designated area for our morning practice, she walked to the shoreline.  Sunlight glistened, dazzled, and danced over the expansive, seemingly breathing waves. I inhaled deeply, fully expanding my belly, rib cage, and heart space as is if I could make the ocean air part of my very being at the cellular level, if that were possible.   To and fro went the rhythmic slap of the waves overpowering the sounds of urgent morning birdsong, distant conversation, and the click, click, clatter of sand crabs. The resonance all blended into a shoreline tune full of layered harmony.

 

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Morning sun glistens on the Atlantic Ocean at the Kitty Hawk Pier.

 

           Gazing down at my feet, the most random questions struck me.  How many grains of sand was I standing upon? How long had it taken for each grain to arrive at this very point in support of my feet?  Furthermore, if I returned to this exact spot tomorrow morning, how many of those grains would be gone, or at the very least, be moved to another location, and how many would be new?  Then, it hit me . . .my life is but one of those grains of sand in a world full of billions of people. However, I rapidly lost this train of thought as a few others gathered. It was time for the morning yoga class to begin.

 

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How many grains of sand are under my feet? How long did it take them to travel there? If I stepped in the exact same spot tomorrow, would any of the same sand grains still be there?

 

           True to the instructor’s word, we did, indeed, get sandy—really, really sandy.  In fact, I was reminded of a TV commercial for a product of long ago, “Shake and Bake.”  Meat, usually pork chops, as best my memory serves, was placed in a plastic bag. Then, a beautifully manicured hand poured a prefilled pouch of spices into the bag, and over those generously cut pork chops.  Next, those same perfect hands shook the bag turning the raw, red meat into a white, ghost-like, powdery form. That was me practicing yoga on the beach, minus the bag.

 

Our instructor giving final instructions before beginning our yoga practice.  Students beside me listening and preparing to begin.

 

           The sun, still low on the eastern horizon, felt like a spotlight on each pose as the instructor taught.  Sweat began to form at the nape of my neck and ran into my eyes whenever we bent forward—which was often at the beginning. We practiced what is called in yoga, appropriately enough, “Sun Salutations.” This is often used as a warm-up sequence in yoga classes.  Warm me up, it did, but I wasn’t about to complain. After all, I was at the beach for heaven’s sake!

 

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Photo by AllJos . on Pexels.com

 

           Half way or so, through the class, at the request of one of the students, the teacher moved us into the shade of the Kitty Hawk Pier.  It completely changed my perspective. The beach, the sand, the ocean waves, the beach homes in the distance, the hotel behind the sand dune, people with cups of morning coffee making their way idly along the shoreline, sea birds dipping, darting, and diving for their breakfast, the cacophony of sounds, and the briny, pungent scents—none of this had changed, but my line of vision was now redirected.  It was as if a whole new beach spread out before me.

 

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Under Kitty Hawk Pier.

 

           This is what a vacation, time away, a day or two off from work, or even a good night of sleep can bring—a newer, fresher perspective.  It is the feeling of the sweet release of a sigh after a deep inhale. It is the sunrise of life. The new sand washed ashore after a storm, or the blue of the sky after days of dark, doom-filled clouds.  

 

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The shore will erase the sand of my footprints as if it is a fresh sheet of paper ready for a new story.

 

           As a teen, and even into my thirties, I used a typewriter to write essays and assignments for classes or work. There was nothing like pulling out that white sheet of paper, feeling its smoothness, and drinking in its blemish-free blandness.  That blank page was full of promise and hope of work well written.

           I’d carefully line up those paper edges into just the right spot.  Then, I’d roll the bar until I could press the return button and count down the perfect number of lines down before I began typing.  Fingers would hover over the keys momentarily as I sent up the silent whisper of a promise to myself, “You’re not going to make mistakes this time, Steph.  This time, you will not need white out. The margins, the lettering, the spacing will all be beautifully aligned when finished.” Within the first paragraph, however, that fantasy typically came to a crashing halt as I was a terrible typist!

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           And so it is with our attachments, expectations, and even our challenges/problems.  We forget that everything can, will, and is changing. Frequently we attach, and even worry/fret, over our vision of the world, of ourselves, of others, of our problems, of our jobs, of our family, of our current situation, and so forth.  Sometimes, stepping out of the daily routine, habits, and schedule allows us to gain a new vantage point as I did on the beach that morning.

 

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My yoga mat was clean and ready for a new practice before I “dirtied” it up with sand as we practiced on the beach that morning. While I did have to suffer through a bit of sand abrasion and discomfort throughout the practice, once it was over, I picked up my mat and dusted off the sand in order to start fresh for my next practice–just as we can do each and every day and even moment!

 

           That number of sand grains under my feet as I practiced yoga, changed, shifted, and rearranged itself continually on that day.  My body continuously wobbled, bobbled, and tottered on the shifting sand. In fact, I fell down on more than one occasion! Before long, the sun had risen well above the horizon, the beach was more populated with people, the class came to an end, and those of us who were brought together to practice yoga as one group walked away, one-by-one.  Morning bled into afternoon, afternoon flowed into evening, and the sun was swallowed up by the western horizon. Tomorrow will be a new day with a different view.

 

I was blessed to see the sun rise on this morning.  A new day, a fresh start after a period of darkness.

 

           It was my lesson to learn that I need to attach less to material acquirements, status, ideas of perfection, worries, stress, problems, and other rewards or challenges social media and the world attempt to convince me are important.  Instead, may I learn to accept the shifting sands of life, and may I continually see there is always another perspective beyond the image directly in front of me. May I continue to rise up, dust the sand off, and try again whenever I do fall; and, may I allow the same for others.

 

           Playing around under Kitty Hawk Pier after the beach yoga class.  Thank you Outer Banks Yoga.  You’re absolutely right when you say, “There is time for this.”

 

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An image from Outer Banks Yoga with whom I had the pleasure of practicing yoga and pilates with all week! Namaste!