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There’s a lot in my life that I frustratingly feel like I have no control over. So much effort I put out into the world with little or no results. And especially for beginners yoga can feel that way–it takes so much time to gain strength and flexibility, to master difficult asanas (and sometimes no matter what you do or how many years you try, you’ll body will never cooperate).

Which is why having a tangible task that you can see the results of once you’ve completed it can be so deeply satisfying. I’ve found small home improvement are great for this. I live in a small rental apartment in Brooklyn, so I’m a little more limited than home owners in what I can do, but you don’t need a $10,000 kitchen renovation to feel like you’ve accomplished something.

I painted the main wall of my living room yesterday and it looks great and I feel proud and accomplished. It sounds like a small thing but, aside from having a huge impact on the room, the process felt like such a metaphor. I’ve lived in this apartment for six years, I don’t know how long before I moved in that the wall was painted (the building is over 100 years old). But I see it every day, for hours, and for the last couple of years there has been a few spots of chipped paint that irritate me. But doing something about them seemed like too much of a hassle. And besides, I’m not going to live here forever, I don’t own the place…so I lived day after day, with chipping white walls, feeling mildly irritated.

(the wall before with paint samples)

Finally, I decided to do something about it. I went to Home Depot, picked out a color, talked to the “paint expert” and got all the necessary tools. She told me to chip away at the quarter-sized areas of missing paint until the paint wouldn’t chip anymore and then just paint over it. Simple enough. But when I started chipping, the paint just kept going and going until a giant section of the wall was chipped away.

I was worried, this seemed like a much bigger issue. Back at Home Depot I was told I now needed to rent a power sander and sand the entire wall. I was near tears. Then an alternative was offered, sand the edges with sandpaper, use putty and primer then paint. I was nervous, but I did it, painted over it and the results are beautiful.

How does this relate to yoga, and to life?

There’s something small that’s always in the back of your mind bugging you, you try to ignore it and make excuses for not fixing it. Finally you force yourself to make the change and prepare with all the proper tools, but something goes wrong, you face a setback, things are now worse, you want to quit. But, you can’t, you’ve come to far (you can’t live with a giant patch of missing paint). You persevere, you finish–your results may not be perfect, and it may not be as easy as you planned, but you’re better for having tackled the problem.

I found myself in a situation yesterday where I was stuck waiting for over two hours, and had to cancel plans. I felt frustrated, angry, and annoyed. Over the course of the two hours, my feelings and reactions changed and I tried my best to watch them–it wasn’t difficult to be patient at first–I was calm, but as more time pasted I got more agitated. I reached a point where I was so annoyed that I could no longer sit calmly and read, I tried to distract myself by breathing slowly and counting my breaths, but after 200, that didn’t work anymore either. I ended up pacing, trying to think only of my steps. Near the end, I searched my mind of something to pacify me–I wouldn’t be stuck here forever, it could be so much worse, what if I was in solidrary confindment for 20 years, what if I was trapped somewhere unsafe. My wasted afternoon and canceled plans were nothing in the grand scheme.

In the end all these tatics helped a little, and I think they severed me better than sceaming and crying (although sometimes that really feels good). Patience is a really difficult thing, and just like yoga, patience really is a pratice that needs to be exercised frequently, with only small incremental results. But the two really feed into each other–you need to pratice patience to pratice yoga and praticing yoga helps you pratice patience. Being patient with your body and where it is– if your hamstrings are tight and you can barely fold over your legs.

Patience is so hard, and probably the hardest thing about it is how long it takes.

It may seem like a counter-intuitive thing for a yoga teacher to say, but I’m a cynic and a pessimist by nature. I come from a long line of worriers and can usually find the worst case scenario in most situations. But I think that’s part of what makes me a good yoga teacher– I’m striving to not take things so seriously, I’m working on just being me in the moment, I’m no guru, I’m a real person (a jaded New Yorker with a friendly Midwestern core).

They say when the student is ready the teacher appears. Well, one particularly gloomy late winter day this year, I was walking home from a yoga class feeling pretty sorry for myself and all that was wrong in my life, when I saw this book propped up on the steps of a brownstone.

I’ve been reading The Happiness Project on and off before bed for the past few months, and I just finished it last night. It wasn’t life changing (well at least yet), but it did get me thinking, and I really appreciate her approach of research, theory, and practical  implication.

There’s a lot in the book (and the ongoing project on the blog) that have relevancy to the mindfulness of yoga and the goal of taking your practice off the mat, so I’ll no doubt come back to it in future posts. For now though, one of the main thoughts I’m left with is one that’s mentioned throughout the book:

“It’s easy to be heavy, it’s hard to be light.” 

People (to a certain extent myself included for a long time) think that being happy shows a lack of depth, an innocence or naivety, while unhappiness or dissatisfaction is “cooler”, and smarter. But in reality, it’s so much easier to complain than to be satisfied, to be discontented or ironic than to be enthusiastic and smile.

Especially when life is handing you lemons, making lemonade is not effortless. Being lighthearted is sometimes a difficult pursuit, but maybe that’s what the real idea of the pursuit of happiness should be–not that we should strive for some home and car ownership dream of  happiness, but that we should endeavor to be more appreciative beings, easier to please, and quicker to forgive.

I was annoyed and generally in a pretty un-yogi mindset this morning, and when that happens it’s always really difficult to keep my mind from wandering when I’m practicing. So I decided to challenge myself with something different, I decided to go through my morning flow with my eyes closed.

I’ve read and been intrigued with the idea of yoga classes preformed while blindfolded, but have never tried to do more than a few poses without opening my eyes. Clearly this isn’t something a newbie should try, you need to be really familiar with the poses and how your body should be aligned.

It’s often said that where the breath (prana) goes the body follows and  vice versa — if you are on edge or upset, your breathing will be quick and shallow, to relax and calm the body, breath slow and deep. There are so many breathing exercises that we bring into yoga classes to calm or build heat.

But it’s also true that where your eyes go your mind follows–eyes wandering around the room looking at other people and objects? Your mind if probably wandering too. So then, with your eyes closed, your mind is drawn more inward and without the visual information to help you in the poses you are forced to focus more on your body and depend on your muscle memory –your mind is forced to be with your body in the present moment–there’s too much for it to do to wander or worry.

Aside from helping to focus my mind on my body and breathing, I found that doing 45 mins of yoga with my eyes closed helped me to take it less seriously. When you’ve been doing yoga for a long time you always want to go for the fullest expression of the pose, but I fell all over the place in tree with my foot on my inner thigh, so I rediscovered the pose with my foot on my calf, a version I haven’t done for years. Half moon pose? With my eyes open I feel steady and open, with my eyes closed I could barely stay up, but I enjoyed the falling and trying again, because I cut myself slack that I normally wouldn’t (“I should be able to do this”, “I’m not strong”, etc were all gone since I knew I was doing a wacky version)

I felt much better after my blind yoga, and I’m interested to try it again (perhaps with a blindfold so I really can’t peek). I think an whole other layer would be added in a blind yoga class–trust in the teacher and in the other students, and freedom to look silly in front of other people.

There’s a lot to learn when you close your eyes.

“Hope that rises from the ashes of despair.”

This isn’t what I planned to write my second post on (I was thinking about explaining why I love pigeon pose). But that is a lesson in teaching yoga, and living life: make a plan, and being willing to change it.

I was do that thing we all do everyday: scrolling through Facebook, wasting time before getting to work, when I saw the face of a musician and poet that I had gotten to know many years ago when I was interning at an alternative weekly newspaper in Detroit. He had died unexpectedly in the heatwave a week ago, and the paper was doing a cover story about his life. A line that was written about his work has been qouted in many of the memorials: “his work focused on the hope that rises from the ashes of despair.”

So much of yoga is about feeling good, challenging yourself, and being present, but it can be too (both in the practice and in teaching) about finding hope when living in despair.  And before the hope comes, when there is just despair, yoga can be about sitting with that pain, breathing into it, knowing that it will pass, and that when it does it leaves the potential for something beautiful to be born.

There’s so much to life. So many directions to go in. So many thoughts to think.

Which is something I love about yoga, not only is it a way to connect my mind, breath, and awareness to the movement of my body, but when I’m really in it, when I’m just doing yoga, it’s practice for for life–it’s practice for being only where you are, doing only what you are doing. Then my mind wanders again. But in there are these perfect peaceful moments where I’m not reliving something that’s in the past, or worrying or anticipating what’s in the future.

Which is a good place to start this blog. I’ve just finished my Yoga Teacher Training at Joschi Yoga Institute, I feel so inspired to start a million things, I have so many ideas, so much anticpation, and yes, some worries. But I keep coming back to a quote I read just before I started my training:  “A relaxed mind, is a creative mind.”  You can’t create until you quiet and clear everything you don’t need at that moment. You can only think one thought at a time. You can only preform one action before you move on to the next. Your body is always in the present moment, join it.