The Gift of Yoga

What’s the gutsiest move I’ve ever made and how does it inspire my life and work today? That would have to be deciding to extend the gift of yoga to my students what is now over five years ago. This decision is significant because it signifies my stepping into what I’m truly passionate about. I’m passionate about helping people take care of themselves and I deeply believe that yoga is probably one of the best tools out there to do just that.

I work with low income, first generation, underrepresented students and help prepare them for graduate school, so when I had this idea, I immediately thought people would think … what does yoga have to do with getting into graduate school? I judge myself enough as it is, but I forecasted people judging this decision even more. I envisioned people thinking I’m taking away from the focus of the program. I envisioned people thinking that I’m wasting resources. I envisioned people thinking this kind of activity to be entirely too woo woo. And for that matter, I risked people thinking that I was a little off my rocker! Crazy girl!

I did it anyways and never looked back.

I had scholars talk about never feeling *as alive* as they did after that first session (think: senses on fire!) and I had scholars think they were being coerced into giving up their religion. I’ve had scholars puke (just once). I’ve had scholars get profound relief from back pain and mental anguish (all the same). I’ve had scholars joke around during classes and I’ve had scholars take the opportunity uber-seriously.

Perhaps I should note that we never *force* our scholars to do yoga. That would certainly be un-yoga-like now wouldn’t it? We *might* strongly encourage, role model, even incentivize them during the summer, but never force. Thank goodness, huh?

This is the thing. Yoga opened the door to having a conversation about how to take care of ourselves so that we can do awesome things in our lives on a daily basis. We’ve all got some goals and plans for our lives. We want to feel good while we are striving to achieve them (I’m assuming here). That pretty much means we need to figure out a way to keep ourselves in tip-top-shape (body, mind, spirit anyone?) so that we are in full-operational mode as much as we can.

So there’s the trick.

It’s not so easy to do that on a regular basis, is it? We might start off in a nice groove, say at the beginning of a new semester (great time to set our intentions), packing a healthy lunch when we’re on the go, getting that workout in before class, making sure to get to sleep at a decent hour. Then the semester *really starts to happen* and those plans sail right out the window.

It sucks! And I understand why.

It’s the daily pressures of all of our responsibilities that we’ve chosen to take on (key word being *chosen* as in *we choose* what is on our plates). It’s the pressure of making enough money to live while we go after our dreams (really thinking about my students here). It’s the pressures of wanting and having to do well in order to achieve our goals. It’s the pressures of all those other “little nuggets of life” that can surface in the most in opportune times and make our heads spin.

So getting back to yoga. I think yoga is one of the best tools for self-care because it gives us an opportunity to slow down, completely pause even, in our busy lives. It allows us to go inward and focus on our bodies and on ourselves in a way that we don’t really do that often. The physical postures in yoga make us feel good. We stretch and we strengthen.

But I would argue that yoga is so much more than that.

It’s the work that we do with our breath and our minds. It’s focusing on our breath and just listening, instead of having our minds constantly be in “doing-mode” and stressing about all of the things we still need to get done. It’s taking some time for ourselves (doesn’t have to be a ton of time either) and slowing down enough to get a read on how we’re really doing. Of course, there’s much much more to it, but I think this encapsulates why yoga can be so good for our students and good for everyone.

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McNair scholars unwinding with some summer yoga.

I think back to that first yoga session quite often and I smile. I think about how far we’ve come since then. We’ve definitely “upped” things by incorporating other wellness-oriented workshops + activities through the years, but in my mind, it still comes down to yoga. I love to give the gift of yoga, and by that, I mean inviting others to explore how yoga might create small, even huge, shifts in their lives for the better. It’s about having an open mind, creating the time + space to doing something special for yourself, it’s about experimenting with all different kinds of tools to see what really works for you.

 

 

Joy.

My good friend, Jeanine, finally got her horse. He arrived Saturday and his name is Regal. He’s deep black and gorgeous. I drove past her house on Sunday and had to stop because I saw him standing outside the barn. Jeanine was napping in her little makeshift bed she assembled so that she could spend the first few nights with her new love. He had been with other horses his whole life and so going solo would be something new!

It’s actually hard for me to describe the sheer delight + joy that I witnessed in my friend that beautiful sunny afternoon. Jeanine told me all about Regal, her plans for getting him used to his new home, how she would be riding him on a regular basis (also something very new for him) and how she would give him warm sponge baths and groom his coat.

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Jeanine’s new beauty.

I haven’t really been around horses and so standing right next to such a strong and beautiful creature was a pretty awe-inspiring experience for me, even more so knowing this moment to be so precious to my friend. Jeanine showed me how to let him sniff my hand at first. I could already see Regal falling in love himself, totally at ease with Jeanine and allowing her to take his life into her own.

That might seem “over the top,” but that doesn’t stop me from describing it that way. You see, that’s how it is when you find a passion. When you are in love with something so much that everything else seems to fall away. I must have given Jeanine five or six hugs before I left. We talked about how it’s been a long time coming. She pointed out that she simply decided to DO IT NOW.

Get the horse now. Indulge in your passion, whatever that might be. Don’t wait and wait until conditions are “right.” Jeanine was done waiting.

Love that message! Yes, please. Let me have some of what you’re having. Passion can be contagious, I think. Witnessing it – in its most basic form – is a thing of beauty. Jeanine’s courageous move forward is inspiring to me on lots of levels. She’s jumping in, not entirely knowing if this horse will be “the perfect horse,” without knowing if she might experience some challenges down the road, which is sure to be the case. And that’s okay, because that’s also how it goes with passion. You’ve got to follow it, trust that you have the wherewithal to handle things that come up (good or bad) and just keep on moving forward, relishing in the beauty of the moment … the beauty + joy + excitement that only true passion can bring.

<3

Time and Time Again

What’s your relationship with time? Is it a good one? For me, I most often view time as the enemy, something to be battled against in order to attain some level of sanity in a pressure-filled world. Within the constant struggle, however, I always seem to lose. Almost rarely do I feel “on top of things” with regard to my to do list or feel “ahead of the game” when it comes to maintaining a functioning household and doing my “day job” well.

I find myself talking about this conundrum quite often – with my students, fellow moms and work colleagues. As a matter of fact, the topic of time comes up pretty quickly because I’m usually lamenting how difficult it is to “find the time” (can one actually do that??) to schedule in a meeting, a chit-chat, a regular “touch base” time with many a friend, colleague, student, that will keep us feeling engaged, connected and fulfilled by our relationship. The clincher here, if you will, is that when I become “overly scheduled” with such items, it quickly weighs me down, starts to feel constricting and leads to overwhelm.

What is the secret to organizing one’s self in such a way as to feel uplifted, triumphant, even buoyed by time? Perhaps the goal even should be to achieve a state of timelessness within the flow of our normal everyday. I know one thing for sure though; I’m tired of constantly racing against time.

I’ve taken to examining the myriad tips, tricks and tools out there that deal with the challenge of time management. As my continuous struggle has informed my own approach to managing myself, my responsibilities, my activities, I’m interested in applying these lessons learned to a new way of living with time.

Danielle LaPorte writes, “We’re obsessed with the doing of life, adrift from the being.”

She hits it straight on here and brings in another key issue related to time and my relationship with it – this idea of “present moment” – being fully present to what is happening, living in the moment instead of the mind constantly drifting to an analysis of the past or planning and worry of the future. Either way we get screwed out of actually taking in and enjoying the moment.

So this topic of time certainly will not be solved in one short blog post. I’ll conclude for the moment with this concept of setting realistic expectations. It comes from one of the books I’m reading on this topic of “time investment” (notice the shift in perspective here even in the title). I always talk about my “sickness” of creating unrealistic to do lists – and I do this ALL OF THE TIME. Seriously. I think I can do like ten things in five minutes (multi-tasking of course, oh so healthy) – especially in the five minutes that I should be using to arrive “on time” to my next commitment or activity (read: picking up kids on time from school). This definitely leads to constant rushing, feelings of defeat and being pissed off as well as general underlying frustration with my self and how I interface with the world.

What I’m paying close attention to this week: how I set myself up for success or failure when it comes to making choices about how I invest my time. I’m going to scrutinize my to do lists this week and notice how I’m feeling when working through them. I’m going to cut in half what I normally would try to do, each time I find myself setting out expectations for how something should go or what things I intend to accomplish. I’m making a wish that some real epiphanies emerge.

Now this could get interesting! Stay tuned.