Monday is my usual yoga night but I couldn't go this past Monday. Wednesday is my alternate yoga night, but this week I was travelling for Thanksgiving. Now back home, Saturday morning yoga seemed like a good idea. And, if you strip away my bad behavior...which I'll get to in a minute...it was a good idea. Yoga is good for you in so many ways.
Here's how yoga is good for you...
1. No matter what anyone tells you about some minimum number of times you should practice every week, practicing yoga for even one hour each week will help your body be a better body. Yoga is the best thing I do for overall flexibility and balance even going to class only once most weeks. I will never bend like Gumby but it is just short of miraculous how practically graceful and not clumsy I've become...way more so than ten years ago. The classes I take are vinyasa flow--one movement flows into the next--so the body is continuously working. In addition to flexibility and balance, I'm building arm, back and core strength.
2. Yoga takes your mind to a calmer place. I think most exercise takes the mind to a better place but yoga is deliberate about it. Most teachers will remind you near the beginning of class to set an intention for your practice. Something you want or need to let go of, like that big messy day you've had so far. Keeping someone you care about in mind, like your kids...just because you love them so much. Or something you want to be mindful of, like a shout out to the universe to help you be less judgmental, please. The teacher will also remind you to follow your breath, to move and breathe at the same time. Remembering the intention and coordinating movements with breathing focuses and calms the mind. Even when I start class ridiculously distracted, I am in a better mind space by the end.
3. A yoga class is a safe place to see what you can do for yourself. People come to yoga with a quiet mindset. It's an individual practice even if there are twenty others in class. It's you and your mat. It's your time to see what your body can do. I've had more than one teacher say, "remember, yoga is not a competitive activity". I confess that when I'm working on a balancing pose or trying to get one step closer to full pigeon, I will sometimes glance around to see if I'm the only one who can't bend or lift or balance a particular way. Of course I'm never the only one still working on whatever it is and then I remember...yoga is not a competition, yoga is not a competition...
Yoga is not enhanced by a judgmental attitude...
There is a sequence of moves, a flow, that is used in yoga class. I've taken classes from probably twenty teachers in the course of the past ten years who have each talked the class through this sequence using generally the same words. "Sweep your arms up straight over your head, take a slight backbend if you want to, drop/sweep your hands to the floor, bending at the waist for forward fold, half lift/flat back, forward fold, walk or jump your feet back to plank..." and it continues.
The teacher today kept saying "standing forward bend" instead of "forward fold". It was awkward in the spoken sequence of words and at first I had no idea what she was talking about, so the whole flow for me did not flow. I figured it out after a couple of rounds, but too late. I was annoyed. This is a sequence that gets repeated many times in the course of an hour, and every time I heard "standing forward bend", I got more annoyed. Twenty minutes into class I decided I didn't like her.
It's a little over the top to decide you don't like someone because they say "standing forward bend" instead of "forward fold" (no matter how obvious it is that the latter phrase is better and easier and is the phrase that should be used). I had to start talking to myself. I told myself if she was my daughter, I would certainly defend her right to say "standing forward bend". I told myself I really can't not like someone for changing a phrase. I told myself it was not very good yogi behavior to create such stupid judgment and hold on to it for the whole class and then to think about writing a blog post about it. Yet, here it is.
The way I will honor today's class is to take myself back next Saturday. I will set an intention to not embrace judgment, breathe in kindness and breathe out whatever isn't. I'll be a better yogi.
Are you a yogi with a story to tell? Why do you practice? What have you learned?
A few years ago, our marketing manager had me writing "Morning Minutes" to connect with people who support our mission as a nonprofit organization. The idea was to send a brief email to our donor list, about once a month, to put a face on what we do and why we do it. This one ended up having a lasting impact on me.
Your best self...
After five decades of life (and then some), I still ask myself if I’m living day to day as my best self. An unabashedly honest answer would have to be probably not each and every day, but hopefully most days I’m at least thinking about it. I think it’s defined differently day to day, but for me, my best self includes being kind (harder than it sounds), finding creative purpose (so important for my personal overall happiness), listening without interrupting (sigh), giving back (getting outside of myself in big or little ways) and pushing my body to some new ability (if I can ride my bike faster, then my mind feels stronger too). I have to remind myself sometimes that being able to pursue my best self is a gift. I have skills and abilities that allow me to do almost every single thing I want to do…or at least try!
I also have to remind myself sometimes that people with disabilities or people who have experienced diminished skills and abilities due to aging aren’t always able to be their best self all by themselves. It’s the highest expression of our mission to help people be more than happy, healthy and safe; it is helping each person to be their best self. We may not achieve that every day, but when we see someone has the joy of a first paycheck, has learned to ride a bike, is going to the beach for the first time, and is growing in confidence and independence, we know we’re on the right track.
What will you do today to be your best self? Can you write down what "best self" means to you? What will you do today to help someone you care about be her or his best self? Can you write down what "best self" means to them? What might the world look like if we all expressed our best selves…and worked to support the best selves of those who can’t quite do it on their own?
Your mantra is the words of your best self
I thought long and hard about the first paragraph before and after I wrote it. My best self. What does my best self look like? What is important to me? Who do I want to be even when I'm not? What do I want people experience when they're around me, getting to know me? What words capture my identity?
The five characteristics I initially identified haven't changed, but I did reduce them to seven words.
These words became a mantra--my mantra--as I clarified and reduced them to the most essential expression. A mantra needs to:
Be simple enough to remember. These words remind me who I want to be in all the minutes of my life. They serve as an ongoing meditation.
Be enough to capture what is most important. There's no magic to having seven words. It could be 10 words or 4 words. These words cover a lot of ground. None of them can be removed without leaving a hole but no other words need to be added to make the mantra complete.
Be forever words. I hope to get one fairly sizable tattoo this year. I'm thinking about incorporating these words somehow. Even if I don't, these words are tattoo worthy.
Write your mantra.
Here's how you do it:
1. Brainstorm. What do you have to do to be truly you? Who do you want to be even in the moments you aren't? How do you want to be remembered? What are the words you want people to use to describe you? Brainstorm these words and phrases. Write them down. Make certain you've captured the most important things.
2. Edit. Cross out any word that is too specific or feels like it belongs on your bucket list. For example, if you've written as part of your brainstormed list 'complete 3 marathons every year', 'run', 'compete', 'be a good leader', 'problem solver', 'mentor' on your list, you can cross out 'complete 3 marathons' and probably 'problem solver'. Plan to put the marathons on your goal list for the year every January and consider that 'problem solver' might be an aspect of leading.
3. Group. Put the remaining list into logical groupings. Using the above example, run and compete would go together. Mentor and good leader probably go together. Edit and group the words until you have somewhere between 4 and 10 groupings of words or phrases (but 10 is a lot!).
4. Determine the forever words. You're looking for one or two words to represent each group. The final words should also be active words. For mentor and good leader, the word might be "lead". For run and compete, the word could be "compete" if competing is what drives you or it could be "sweat" if like me, it's about exertion and performance or it could be "run" if you can't imagine a time when you won't.
5. These aren't hard and fast rules. After all, it's your mantra. If you want to use a word that doesn't fit the guidelines, use it! You may decide to use "friend" because being a good friend is the very most important thing to you. It isn't an active word, but there may not be another word that's exactly right. The word "friend" does convey who you want to be and will provide that reminder or focus when you say your mantra to yourself. And even though I do think the words should be tattoo-worthy, there's no law that says a mantra can't change. I've considered many times adding "be present" to my mantra. I haven't because it's more a challenge from myself to myself where my other words have to do with how I interact with the world. At least that's how I see it. You may see it differently.
Use your mantra as a meditation or a prayer, as a guide back to your best self.
I put over 17,000 steps on my garmin.
I missed a call from my mom. We're making plans to go to my nephew's wedding in February.
A huge fat squirrel had me laughing out loud watching him barrel across my back yard, stopping only to consider swiping some of my kale. He/She ultimately declined.
The Titans beat the Ravens.
My cat Zeke, for the first time that I'm aware of, demonstrated alpha cat behavior, not yielding the top step of the back deck to the neighbor's pushy Siamese cat, Ming.
I finished a pair of earrings and spent some time writing.
My friend Carrie started pulling together the pre-Thanksgiving potluck for our boxing gym crew. Thank you Carrie.
It was 80 degrees in Nashville.
26 people lost their lives because they went to church today in a "one blinking-light" town in Texas.
I'm almost used to it; startled but not shocked. It drags on my heart but I didn't burst into tears like I used to. It feels inevitable. It feels expected. Killing random strangers is the new response to hopelessness or rage. When I saw this was at the hands of an American, I also knew it would be tweeted about but ultimately ignored. We won't talk about guns. We won't talk about mental health care. We won't talk about poverty or hunger or the disenfranchised. We won't invest in public education or health care for all or criminal justice reform. We won't.
I honestly do not know what to do.
Still, I am hopeful.
Millions of people will go to work and do good.
Babies will be born.
Someone will dance their first tango.
There will be lots of birthdays and birthday parties.
My sons will be remarkable.
Runners will continue to bask in the glow of finishing the New York marathon.
People will choose love over hate.
We will persist.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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Write 100 words, take a nap and share your mantra
Tile and wood floor...this year's winter project...kitchen renovation