The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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Curating Silence

I’ve noticed in the last year that the word curate has become quite a popular one in our collective consciousness, especially online. Curate was once only reserved for museum directors; now anyone can curate. People are curating all kinds of stuff –everything from Rumi quotes to smoothie recipes, to bumble bee prints to workout music to favorite talk shows.

But sometimes all this stuff needs a rest.

I would like to create a space to curate silence. You can think of this blog post as just that space –a museum of silence. If you think about one possibility of a museum –a history museum, a place of antiques, or things that have become extinct; curating silence makes even more sense.

If I were to take silence out of the world to curate here, these are some places I might extract it from:

The car: When I turn off the radio, or CD player, or podcast I’m listening to, it is quite quiet in my car. It’s amazing how much more of the world outside my car I notice in this silence.

The living room: When I turn off the TV, shut down my laptop and Internet, the living room silence and snowbecomes a very quiet space. It even opens up space for conversation with others.

The forest: There is a lovely silence about a forest. Although the more you quiet there, the more you may hear.

In a cup of tea: You have to be silent when sipping. Tea is a liquid that somehow creates a hush of mind and body. With hands grasped around warm mug; stop talking, stop breathing, stop thinking even, at least for that one little sip.

And then another.

The predawn morning: There is nothing like the quietude when people, pets, machines have not yet awoken. When I can muster the courage to pull myself out of my cozy bed for a little extra me time in the morning, I never regret it.

I love doing my yoga in the space just before sunrise. The darkness there has this way of enveloping me, squeezing the thoughts to stay in their place. Squeezing my body to stay centered in the pose. The daylight expands my thinking into all that I will be doing for the day, and my mind gets carried away with the sun. But this soundless time before all that is priceless.

The night: Nighttime is made to be a quieter time. Darkness has a way of silencing. Too often, we shut out the darkness. Extract darkness to extract the silence from the night.

silence and snowSnowfall: Falling snow, like darkness, seems to have a way of winding down the earth into silence.

In our minds: This is sometimes one of the hardest places out there to find silence -but it is there. I find that meditation is an active work in progress in muting my mind. Some days, the task seems near impossible. Then there are those other sweet, sweet days when merely focusing on a few deep breaths draws that silence up like a spring.

I found this passage I had written a few years ago about a first snowfall that explains what I’m getting at. It encompasses three of the best places for me to find silence –snow, darkness, and morning:

The house is still quiet, still dark, only lit by the white from outside. I am sitting at the dining table looking out into our Christmas tree farm backyard; the snow falling now, slowing, but it’s there, stuck to the trees, laying on the ground, clinging to the browned leaves still on the cherry tree, even to the little cherries that no birds are feasting upon this morning. Everyone snuggled into some cozy nook, hopefully. And now all the movement of falling snow has stopped. So much energy falls from the sky, impregnating the air all around; only to bring complete stillness that lays heavy on the land. All that energy stops on tree branches, ground, roof tops, pressing into us, creating a vast silence; opening up some space for it; a quieting. Brown leaves remain on trees covered in snow, stilled in their process of dying. This silence here, creating enough space for my voice to come back.

You never know what you may find in the silence.

And lastly, this blog post: Yes, even here. My gift to you all is a moment of silence.

Sit in front of the screen. Close your eyes, if you are able. Shut off the TV. Insert your earbuds, then don’t turn on any music. Bring your laptop or ipad to a quiet spot in the house. You can even pretend you are still reading, pretend you are being productive. Go ahead, it’s worth the fib. Then let yourself experience a moment of silence, or two, or three, if you can spare more. The thing about silence is once you find it, it tends to multiply. You tend to find more pockets of quietude in the day to add to the space.

Ok. Ready? Go …

silence in snow

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The Meditation Practice that’s Working for Me Now

As my life seems to be getting more and more complicated lately, I have had a strong need to simplify my yoga and meditation practice.

For some reason Kundalini Yoga has felt too complicated. I can’t quite explain why, and I feel this is probably a temporary state, but it’s where I am. I’ve moved back to the basic hatha poses and sequences I started my practice with.

My meditation time too has simplified. I was having trouble picking from one of the many many Kundalini meditations, not having anything in particular I want to work on right now, other than the meditation practice itself. I have been drawn to simple silent meditation. Even chant and mantra has felt like too much.

So I sit.

I sit in silence.

An outward silence anyway.

I long for the simplicity of silence from within.

But the thoughts come.

I try to ignore them.

More thoughts come.

I’ve employed one simple technique to stop the thoughts before they carry me away. This is a practice I first read about in the book A Gradual Awakening, by Stephen Levine. Recently I have gone deeper with it and found it the most effective way to stop my thoughts, dead in their tracks.

I simply call them something. I give them a label and it appears this stops any momentum they were beginning to pick up. It’s like throwing a wet blanket over that thought.

I get quite specific with these labels, and this was the new difference for me. Before, all of my thoughts got one of four labels –planning, thinking, judging, remembering. But I discovered I could be more specific. Some planning thoughts are near-future planning, far-future planning, work planning. Many are rehearsing, where I’m lead into an entire imaginary conversation with myself. Much of my “thinking” is analyzing, processing, longing, wishing, wanting. A lot of times, putting the label on it allows me to see how silly, or pointless, or useless the thought is for this present moment.

Then there are thoughts that don’t hold much power over me in and of themselves, but the emotion attached to them does. Most of these thoughts are remembering. The emotions attached range from guilt, to sadness, to anger, to joy. Labeling the emotion lets me see it clearly for what it is. Once named, the emotion can just sit there with me, without holding on to me. I can go back into the silence, and it can join me or leave me there. I’m still sitting meditating, with or without the emotion.

I can go back into the silence for another moment, until another thought tries to take it over again.

Some thoughts are distractions from my environment –noticing bodily sensations, feeling, hearing.

Sometimes I actually find myself spending too much time thinking of the label, so, as silly as it sounds that thought gets one, “labeling.”

Silence lies within the spaces between all these thoughts. Putting a quick label on the thought suspends it. The more I do it, that little label pushes the thoughts back, creating slightly bigger and bigger spaces each time.

And this is what I want to get at. The goal of my meditation right now is simply the practice of it. The experience of those moments, split seconds sometimes, of meditation that is pure meditation and my mind does quiet.

This morning I sat zoning out a bit before I began my practice, watching the trees and grass outside. The sun was on the other side of the house, and it was a partly cloudy morning. I watched as, in a moment, everything became brighter and brighter, more vibrant shades of green and blue. The whole world changed as the cloud moved from the sun. It illuminated everything. Then just as suddenly, another cloud came back over it, and the colors dimmed again.

thoughts in meditation

the world under clouds

soul in meditation

sunshine illuminating everything

Meditation is like that for me. My thoughts are the clouds that muddy the moment. I can still see everything clearly, but nothing is illuminated. Then the clouds part for brief moments, and the sun, soul, God-particle, whatever you want to call it, illuminates everything and I can see what is really there.

Labeling those thought clouds seem to push them through the sky of my mind, letting that soul-sun shine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namaste,

Catie


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Juxtaposition

Trying something different for this post. This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge spoke to me. I think because my two legs have been constantly on my mind since injuring my right knee almost three weeks ago –a juxtaposition of movement and form. My left leg elegantly maneuvers through whatever I ask of it, strong, holding up more than its share; my right leg, all of a sudden unfamiliar to me, working so slowly, plodding along so carefully and diligently, the quad beginning to atrophy from under-use, reminding me of a much older leg. Juxtaposition –left leg confident, a bit of a show-off; right leg, the hard working under-appreciated assistant. Left, ready for adventure at a moments notice, full of possibility and joyful movements; right, surrounded by the unknown, fear, vulnerability.

The more I think about this word, juxtaposition, it is present throughout yoga as well. Our movements and muscles are often in juxtaposition –pulling, pushing, tightening one muscle, while relaxing another. This is especially true of balance poses, where part of our body is strong and rigid, while other parts need to be flexible and forgiving. And of course meditation is a constant juxtaposition of the active thinking, mind with the passive, observing Self.

But enough talk, this is a photo challenge! Since no one really wants to look at pictures of my legs, I’ve selected a few photos I feel more poetically express juxtaposition. I have always been interested in the difference between old and new, natural and man-made.

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2013-10-30 13.10.33


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Gearing Up for The Approximate Yogi’s First Anniversary!

Hello Lovely Readers,

I can’t believe almost a full year has gone by since I started The Approximate Yogi. It has been such a fun and blessed journey for me. As I reflect over the year, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share with you what I’ve gained from writing the blog.

Then I would love it if you could take a few minutes to share what you have gained. I have a few survey questions below that I would be so grateful if you took a few moments to answer so I can make a better blog in its second year.

My Lovely Little Treasures

A coworker asked me the other day how I found the time to write. I paused for a moment before responding. The time has always found me, whether it was after an exhausting day at work, or a quiet Saturday morning, or a lazy coffee shop afternoon, or, every once in a while, at 3 a.m. when I couldn’t sleep. Once I began this project, the writing always found me. Even when I thought my ideas were all dried up, and especially when I wasn’t planning on writing, an idea came to me that had to be written.

I love that magic. I may be addicted to that magic. So the response that bubbled up to my coworker was, “I’d hate my life if I didn’t write.”

And that’s the simple truth. Throughout most of my life I have dabbled, often with pen and paper, sometimes with paint and paper, or crayon, or needle and thread, in a creative pursuit. Yet the cycle of life leaves me with gaps, sometimes quite large, spaces of time in my life -days, weeks, years, where art just didn’t fit.

I don’t regret the times in my life when there wasn’t anything creative to turn to. I was called away from creativity for good reasons that were a part of my development, and often led to a deepening of my creative sense and purpose once I returned.

But during those times in my life when I didn’t have a creative project in the works, something always felt like it was missing. There was this unnameable empty space. Then I’d rediscover art, and slapping myself on the forehead with a “Duh!” I would remember.

Creating this blog was a big “Duh!” moment for me. It had been a long time since I had done any writing, other than journaling, the occasional poem, and the many many reports I write for work (by the way, I am a speech language pathologist in my day job, in case you were curious, since I tangentially refer to it sometimes). When I decided to start blogging, during a particularly rough time, all of a sudden sunshine came back into my life, colors seemed brighter, the impossible started feeling possible. I remembered again.

I remembered what beauty felt like.

I just read a lovely interview at Copyblogger with writer Elizabeth Gilbert, where she talked about a conversation she’d had with the musician Tom Waits. This is what she said:

Tom Waits told me once that all he does, as a songwriter, is make ‘jewelry for the inside of people’s minds.’ I find that incredibly calming as an idea. (Elizabeth Gilbert) 

does this look like the inside of your mind?

does this look like the inside of your mind?

As do I. It gets at why I write, why we creative types need to create. I often struggle with the value of spending so much time writing (and so much more time in all that surrounds the act of writing). Wouldn’t it be better if I was out there doing something? But maybe what I do, what I hope I do, is create a space for everyone that is out there doing things, to rest their soul. And hopefully this is a beautiful place. I need shiny, sparkly, pretty things for the inside of my mind, and I know that others out there do too -so I create. I want to design a bright space full of hope and colored light (I’m picturing the inside of “I Dream of Jeannie”‘s magic bottle for some reason) for us all to rest our souls, or perhaps discover our souls.

Which brings me to my next little treasure that this blog brought me -discovering other bloggers. A whole new universe of like-minded, different-minded, new-minded writers opened up to me. I was not only inspired by the act of my writing, I was inspired by what I was reading. This often led to more writing in a lovely sparkling spiral.

I am particularly grateful for discovering Jennifer Pastiloff‘s 5 Most Beautiful Things Project, which allowed me to reconnect with all the little beautiful moments in my life I’d been skipping over and taking for granted. It is an amazing practice to stop and notice how truly spectacularly beautiful this world is, to take a moment to be present in it, to bask, even, in this beauty.

Delving Deeper

Like teaching yoga, this blog has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into both the practice and philosophy of yoga and meditation. I have enjoyed exploring, with you readers, aspects of yogic philosophy I wanted to learn more about. I have enjoyed learning more about Ayurveda, and trying new healthy foods and recipes.

It has held me accountable to keeping up a steady practice. Writing has always been a way for me to process not only my thoughts, but my emotions, my feelings about a thing. In writing blog posts on yoga and meditation I have been able to discover more about what it means to my life, how it fits in my life, what it offers me, and what I have to offer others because of it.

New Friends

Here are a few other blogs/sites that have been an inspiration to me this year:

Rebelle Society -Where I go to find a little creative pick-me-up

alohaleya, wearing her heart on her blog -Often after reading a post of hers, I felt I could have written it myself

Body Karma -an inspiring yoga blog

from midnight oil -written by a high school classmate of mine; it’s been fun to create a friendship years later in the blogosphere

Genine’s Art Blog -Where I go when I want to look at happy beautiful art

Your Turn

Thinking of the future of this blog, I’m sure it will continue its evolution. Won’t you be a part of it and help me create an even better blog for year two? Please take a moment to answer these 6 quick questions below.

Namaste!

Thank you so much for taking the time to fill out the short survey. It is very helpful to me. Also feel free to add any other thoughts in the comments section of this post on what you hope to get out of The Approximate Yogi blog, or how I could make it better.


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33 Reasons I Love Yoga (for my 33rd birthday)

If you read last week’s post, you know that yoga and are…going through some things. Perhaps a little Shakti Pad? So, for a fun post on my birthday, and to help remind me what yoga (and I’m including meditation as a part of yoga, not just asana) means to me I thought I’d write this list:

Tom's Thumb, Arizona

Tom’s Thumb, Arizona

Ways Yoga Has Helped Me, or Lessons I’ve Learned from Yoga, or Ways in Which I am A More Tolerable Person to Be Around (oh, there’s number 1!)

Ok, here goes (in no particular order):

33 Reasons I Love Yoga

  1. Yoga keeps me honest
  2. Yoga clears my head in the morning –the best and fastest way I know to get those sleepies out of my eyes
  3. Yoga keeps me limber and flexible (body and mind)
  4. Yoga makes me less cranky (yes, my fiancé has on occasion asked the question on particular grumpy days, “Did you do your yoga this morning?”)

    chilly tree, Lake Tahoe, NV

    chilly tree, Lake Tahoe, NV

  5. Yoga makes me eat healthier
  6. Yoga strengthens my core
  7. Yoga strengthens my arms
  8. Yoga makes me laugh
  9. Yoga keeps me humble
  10. Yoga helps me release negative emotions, like sadness and anger
  11. Yoga helps me forgive
  12. Yoga calms my worries
  13. Yoga’s always got my back (It is always a Plan B in tough situations, even when it should be Plan A)
  14. Yoga never judges me
  15. I have met some wonderful souls through yoga

    Picture 091

    a hiking buddy and me treein’ it up at the Grand Canyon

  16. Yoga opens my mind to its more creative places
  17. Yoga makes me a more patient person
  18. Yoga makes me a better speech therapist
  19. Yoga makes me a better lover
  20. Yoga gives my lungs and body endurance when I’m doing non-yoga things like hiking big mountains
  21. Yoga taught me mantra. Mantra helps me get through really tough physical challenges or really scary times
  22. Yoga gives me commitment
  23. Yoga made me a teacher
  24. Yoga helped me conquer loneliness
  25. Yoga took me to a place inside myself I’d never been
  26. Yoga keeps life light
  27. Yoga is fun

    dancer at Smalls Falls, Maine

    dancer at Smalls Falls, Maine

  28. Yoga is versatile (I truly believe there is a style out there for everyone)
  29. I get to wear comfy pants while doing it
  30. I don’t have to wear any pants while doing it
  31. I can take yoga anywhere with me
  32. Yoga helped me get through grad school
  33. Yoga gave me the idea for this blog

Did I miss anything? Why do you love yoga?

If you enjoyed this post, as a birthday present to me, will you share it with someone?

Namaste!


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In Search of an Authentic Practice

You may have noticed lately there has been less posts about specific yoga and meditation techniques. I have been hinting I’ve been a little yoga-lite lately. This has happened in the past when I have taken a break from teaching. I took this break, firstly, to allow myself more time for some other writing projects (which you’ll hopefully hear more about later), but to also develop my yoga practice for myself, not for “yoga teacher Catie.”

I was beginning to feel inauthentic in my home practice. I was practicing, almost exclusively, kriyas I was going to teach in class that week. I found myself thinking about what I would say to the class during each exercise, reciting this script in my head. Even in my meditation, I would find myself rehearsing little monologues or things I’d tell my students to help them get back on track in the meditation -meanwhile, I was way off track!

offering up my practice to my Self

offering up my practice to my Self

So I decided to stop. I decided to give teaching a break until I cultivated an authentic practice for myself, that I could call my own, not my students. Don’t get me wrong, I think as a teacher it is important to keep up a practice for your students, and to plan well for classes, but there also needs to be a yoga that is just your own, and I had lost that.

I lost it because I lost some time, I started a new job that I had to get up a lot earlier for, I wanted to devote more time to other pursuits, so something had to give, and it was my personal practice that took the hit. But that was something I didn’t want to sacrifice, so I decided to take a break from teaching instead. I know I will come back to teaching (I miss it already), but I need to find some balance in my practice and life before returning to it. So in November I said goodbye to my classes with a bit of a heavy heart, and hoped that taking this time for my own practice will only make me a stronger teacher when I return.

Offseason Yoga

Then I stopped practicing all together. At first, I just told myself I needed a little break before starting back up. Then the holidays hit and it was easy to use them as an excuse. Then a couple more excuses came up that I won’t get into here, and before I knew it my practice was non-existent most days, a few casual stretches other days, interspersed with an earnest attempt at meditation here and there.

I don’t regret this little break. I read an article the other day about running. It talked about how even professional runners have an offseason. I liked that idea, the last couple months were my off-season for yoga.

I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a perfect little yogi, so it kind of all came to a head, and I fell into what often happens with perfectionists -I got fed up and dropped it altogether. (If it’s not perfect, why bother doing it at all?)

I needed an offseason. I told myself it was nice to feel like just a regular, normal person again, not someone trying to be this enlightened being. But now I miss it, and there are no more excuses left not to get back into it.

So this morning was preseason. Rather than pick right back up where that little perfectionist yogi left off, I needed a gentler approach. If I was really going to re-discover my own practice I needed to do it in a way that was good for menot my idea of what a practice should be. It was hard to not let that perfectionist sneak in. I ended up sleeping past sun-up and my fiance woke up at the same time

But,” little miss perfectionist yogi says, “it is best to do your yoga in the predawn, it’s easier when no one else is awake and you have the space all to yourself. You’ve already failed. You should just give up and maybe try again tomorrow when you can get it right.”

Ritual of Recommitting

Okay, shutting that voice off like shutting off the snooze, I get up. I decide that even though the sun is up, the day is starting, there are other elements of my practice I could implement that would still make it comforting, still make it feel right. I return to ritual. I get up, brush my teeth, and make myself some warm lemon water. I get my cushion out, tune in with the Adi Mantra, and begin some of my favorite stretches, while taking breaks to sip my warm and soothing drink.

This is feeling good. But, besides creating ritual, I need to create a commitment to make this practice last. Choosing a kriya or meditation to practice for 40 straight days has always been a great way to keep me on my mat day after day. I choose a kriya that is something I want to work on in my life. That creates motivation to stick with it right there. But I also choose one that is short enough that I could make the time commitment to it as I build my practice back up. I pick Balancing the Head and Heart. This is a kriya I’d been wanting to try a 40-day practice of for a while now.

Again, since I’m only in preseason, rather than jump right into the full times and have my arms be super sore tomorrow, I start with the minimum times. Now they’ll just be a little sore, that good sore. So I’ll take a few days to build up to the full times, and I’ll add a few days onto the end of my 40 days.

Thank you for allowing me to share, openly and honestly, the state of my yoga practice these days. I will keep you posted on its progress, as usual, and hope to explore some new kriyas and meditations with you that I have been wanting to try for myself.

In the meantime, any teachers out there: Do you ever feel this way -that your personal practice suffers from being a teacher? And if so, what do you do to get through it?


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When Too Much is Not Enough

I’m so excited to share this lovely piece on deciding to take a yoga teacher training by guest blogger, Heather Webb. Heather and I went to school together, sharing a really transformative creative writing class in high school. We recently reconnected in the blogger world. (Check out her fantastic, funny, and honest blog frommidnightoil.)

It is Friday afternoon, and I have just laid claim to the only solitary hours I will have this weekend. My son is at soccer practice, dogs are outside, and husband at work. I’m (finally) on my sun porch, in my writing chair, drinking pumpkin spice coffee and watching the wet leaves sway with each gust of wind outside. It keeps getting incrementally brighter outside, like God is turning the dimmer switch. “Hmmm” he or she is thinking, “let’s move from near dark to ambient light”. I’m grateful, but also, it’s okay if the rain continues.

I have a list, as they say, a mile long – and it’s divided into different categories: School, Home, Heather, Colby, Dogs. There are overdue bills and a form I need to help Colby fill out to schedule his youth orchestra auditions, cleaning and unpacking from our wedding and honeymoon. Laundry. Dishes. Grading. If it keeps raining then I won’t feel the pull to head outside, walk my dogs, and ignore the piles and lists and incoming calls.

I recently saw a graphic that told us, plainly, to “stop the glorification of busy”. That here today – gone tomorrow Facebook post asked me to re-evaluate the way I moved about the world. I grew up around busy women, wanting to be a busy woman. I babysat and took my charges to the store and loved, loved, loved pretending to be a frazzled mama. I never wondered if I could be the mama without the frazzled.

So I thought about my busy-ness, about how I normally walk too fast for automatic doors. I took my thoughts to yoga, to the garden, and into my kitchen. I am a busy mama, but every mama is a busy mama, just like most modern citizens of the working world are busy people in that they have more stuff to do than time to do it in. This isn’t a me problem or a mama problem, it’s an us problem.

After all of this thinking, I decided to do something that seemed to most to be counterintuitive, but made perfect sense to me and my family. I signed up for a yoga teacher-training program. Then I took on two adjunct classes to pay for the program. csypic

Now friends, I’ve loved yoga since I was twelve years old and started doing poses from a special edition Redbook I stole from my mother. I love the release in my lower back and shoulders in child’s pose, and the strength I feel in a warrior series. It also is something that always comes last in a list of family priorities. I joke to my friends that my memoir will be called “Can I Please Just Go To Yoga?” because in any given week that is my only request. I didn’t meet any yoga friends until college, and I didn’t find a studio that felt like home until I was in my 30’s. I can mark every major event in my adult life by the poses I was practicing. I remain convinced that yoga can fix nearly everything, and I will talk about this, at length, to anyone who will listen.

Whenever I thought about teacher training, though, I thought about all of my other responsibilities. Soccer games and family time and balanced meals. It’s time now. It will be many years before I have fewer family obligations, but I am no longer accepting “crazy-busy”. I will no longer glorify busy. We could talk about mommy wars and judgment and how the busiest mom is often deemed the winner, but I think we all know this already. I’m bucking the trend, friends. Join me.

So I’m sitting here in the afternoon light, surveying the to-dos and thinking about tomorrow, my first day of yoga teacher training.

By participating in this training, and paying for it immediately, I’m actively slowing down. I may not be doing less, but I’m doing with purpose. And I am not wasting my energy on worrying about it. An old co-worker used to tell me not to run at work. “Heather,” he’d say, “you’re going to get there at the same time no matter how fast you go”.

I’m thinking about you all, dear readers, and hoping you can shed the guilt, like I’m trying to do, of slowing down. I’m reminding myself to not answer, “oh, busy” to one single person who asks how I’m doing. I’m anxious to begin something new, and proud that I am brave enough to consider my life, still full and blessed, but different.