22 June 2017No Comments

Always take the trip

I usually don't read any parenting advice blogs. Recently, however, I saw an article that appealed to me. It was called “Always Take The Trip.” In other words, don't worry about the cost and the journey and the hassle of packing (and not forgetting) diapers, sunscreen, stuffed animals and pacifiers. Just go.

Bonding

The author argues that families need time away from housework, homework and job responsiblities. Like any relationship, family bonds need to be fostered and cared for in order to bloom. According to the author of “Always take the trip,” it's not only the fun times that strengthen the bond. Spending time together outside the comfort zone of our own home and neighborhood is trying. But it's another way we bond, by going through the good and the bad together.

I had almost forgotten about the article. Last Thursday, however, I spontaneously decided the three of us should take the train down to Como for the weekend. In my usual brisk fashion I organized a place to stay, bought train tickets and sent my husband out to buy a picnic and yes, diapers.

Outside the comfort zone

Everything went well. With no schedule and no obligations, we just strolled around the town and enjoyed the italian vibe. We were looking forward to our journey home, which we had upgraded to first class. Right before heading to the station we turned into a gift store and completely forgot the time.

By the time we stepped out onto the street again it was only twenty minutes until our scheduled departure. We missed a turn and it got even later. So we ended up running up the hill in the thirty degree heat to make our train. And make it, we did.

For a moment I was angry at Nico. He's usually the one who's supposed to be in charge of directions. For some reason I also thought he was keeping an eye on the time while I was buying notebooks and paper garlands. But just before I started sputtering a reproach, I remembered the article.

It had definitely been a moment outside the comfort zone. The moment when you think you're going to miss the train and you're going to have to wait and rearrange the whole trip. With a two and a half year old child in the scorching heat. And you have no control over what's going to happen.

Being a team

But wasn't this another moment outside the comfort zone that proves to me what a good team we are?

At the bottom of the hill in front of the station we split up. It only took two words from me and Nico was racing up the steps to retrieve our suitcase. I was dashing up the long way around, pushing the stroller. We met with a few minutes to spare in the main hall. Perfectly in time.

We are usually pretty good at dividing our duties. Nico has an excellent sense of direction, I'm good with planning ahead and thinking of all the contingencies. Only that day I forgot about the time for a moment. For a moment my brain surrendered to being on vacation. Which is actually a very good sign.

So why be mad about a little jog in the Italian afternoon heat? The sprint was totally out of the comfort zone. One of those things you know you will be able to laugh about in the future.

It reminded me of all the difficult circumstances we have braved together. After four years together it may well look like we have never seen the comfort zone from the inside. We met and I moved to Taiwan three months later. Nico came to visit and I got pregnant. We became parents after a very short time of cohabitation. We both got new and challenging jobs within the last two years.

From the outside, our life together looks like one single roller coaster ride. Yet on the inside, we are always team. And while one of us may lapse from time to time, we still make it. Even on the rare occasions when we have to run full out our timing is always perfect.

8 June 2017No Comments

The typical yoga teacher

The other day I was sitting on a park bench with a friend and fellow yoga teacher. She was thinking out loud and debating whether she should cut back on her part-time job and take on more yoga gigs. Then she turns to me and says: “I don't dare because, you know, I'm just not a typical yoga teacher. I don't feel legitimate.”

My jaw dropped. What on earth is a typical yoga teacher? Because I'm certainly not one of them.

Next thing I know, she tells me how some new yoga teacher moms are doing feverish research into vaccination. Because apparently they're on a mission to find the one correct yogic way to do this. Which is not to vaccinate at all or if you must, then only after age one and a half.

What it takes to be legit

A few moments passed and I started to grasp the deeper meaning of this. Indeed, there are many unspoken rules to being a yoga teacher. There's a lot of shoulding out there. You would think that these rules derive from what students expect from their yoga teacher. But come to think of it, it's the yoga teachers who have set the bar so vertiginously high for each other.

I started thinking about my own situation. The pressure to be and behave a certain way has definitely increased over the years, even though I have always refused to change in order to fit in. Since I have added “mother” to my job description, the dos and don'ts seems to have multiplied.

Here's a little taste of the high ideals we – the yoga teacher guild – impose:You should be at least a vegetarian, if not a vegan. You should eat lots of healthy meals, enriched with super foods, and ideally post photos of them on social media. You should show off your inversions and other contortions on Instagram. Don't forget the hashtags.

If you become a mom, you should breast feed your child for at least a year. After giving birth, you should stay home for as long as you possibly can. Daycare before age one is frowned upon.

You should know about herbal remedies and globuli, because God forbid the child should ingest any Western medicine. You should always be calm and collected. Even with a toddler going through the terrible two phase.

Truth time

I am not vegan. We refrain from eating meat at home. But if I'm a guest and someone offers me meat I won't turn it down. I am fond of the Ayurvedic idea that if someone prepares food for you, it's an offering made with love. So it will be healing.

I only nursed my son until he was four months old. I went back to work because I was self-employed back then. I had no paid maternity leave in Switzerland because I had previously been abroad for too long.

Also, I experienced intense surges of aggression that were directed at my husband. I was up nursing during the night and he was slumbering peacefully by my side. I will be honest, I couldn't handle the (biological) unfairness. I knew that if I didn't gradually start weaning my relationship would pay for it.

So I chose me. I chose the way that made me more relaxed about everything.


I'm not telling my story to make my choices sound good. I am telling it to make a point. If you look behind closed doors, you realize that every situation is different. We cannot apply the same rule to everyone out there.

Being a mother to yourself

Yes, the decisions I have made seem selfish, but were they? They have kept me healthy, balanced and sane. They enabled me to function. Physical and psychological well-being are essential to being a yoga teacher and a mother. Or to anyone who wants to be at service.

I am aware that many people may disagree with me. However, these were the right decisions at that time. I may opt for a different path today. And yet for another one tomorrow.

As yoga teachers, we encourage our students to become inquisitive and observant in order to respond to what they need. And how many times do we speak about the kind of compassion that begins with yourself? “Don't push in your Asana practice, respect your limits, be gentle with yourself.” Yet when it comes to our own decisions, we have the impulse to follow the guidebook. We think that there are some golden rules that can't be bent.

What yoga teaches

About a decade ago, yoga changed my life completely with one simple tool: It has taught me to gaze inwards, make out what is there and react appropriately. When I was newly pregnant, I was still a vegetarian. But one night, I was craving fish. I didn't even know I was pregnant yet. But a voice inside was telling me I needed animal protein.


Any mindfulness practice, not just yoga, gives us the chance to pause, listen and be honest about what would be beneficial at that particular moment. Not what made sense three months ago. Not what we believed in when we were going through the rebellious phase. Only what is wholesome right here, right now.

For me the phrase “typical yoga teacher” implies that there is a right and a wrong way to do things. I might be biased, but it feels to me like we have to fit into that category in order to be a good yoga teacher. Or a loving mom, or a respectable human being. This also means that anything outside of that spectrum is not okay and not good enough.

And how is that compassionate? How is that typical for a yoga teacher?

28 May 2017No Comments

Yoga and business – is it a paradox?

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be involved in running a yoga studio, I would have laughed. I never wanted that kind of responsibility. I have seen too many solid yoga teachers losing it when confronted with financial pressure. It messes with your head.

My naive former self

About five years ago I was teaching a regular class at a local yoga studio. One day the owner sat me down and told me she was going to cancel my class.

I was confused and disappointed because I knew the flimsy reasons she was giving me could not be the truth. I also took it too personally. I thought it was bad press for my teaching. Yes, it was true the attendance had been low, but wouldn't she give me a little more time than a few months to grow the class?

Today I understand that it was a pure business decision. She couldn't justify to keep paying with those numbers. From a business perspective it was only reasonable to take the class off the schedule.

Back then, of course, I couldn't see it that way. I was sullen and hurt. I protected myself by being condescending. I told myself and others that this person couldn't be a real yogi. A yogi would know that things need time to evolve. You need to trust and surrender and give people another chance.

Inner conflict

Today I understand that yes, you have to trust and surrender, but that's not enough to keep a yoga studio in business. Or have you ever tried telling your accountant they need to trust and surrender? I now regret this naive reaction of my younger self.

They say you should never judge until you have walked a mile in someone else's shoes. About a year ago I was handed these particular shoes. I became a partner in one of the largest yoga studios in town.

It seemed like a good time in my life to take on more responsibility, but I still had no idea what it involved.

In the past I had always observed the inner conflict of teachers who own the place in which they teach. I didn't want that. I was afraid I would end up sitting at the front of the class counting bodies and figuring out how much money the studio was making with that particular class. Not exactly what you'd want your yoga teacher with the welcoming smile to think while you roll out your mat, right?

A fine line

But that's the sticking point: Yoga teachers are expected to always be calm, serene and compassionate. Business, however, may require you to be outspoken and to have your own best interest at heart. Sometimes you have to draw a line. Sometimes you have to say to a student: “I'm sorry your class package expired three months ago. I can't renew it, you will have to get a new one.”

Having to be a business person can mess with a yoga teacher's head. One minute you're accepting money for your class and the next minute you take the teacher's seat and deliver a nice dharma talk on life's abundance and selfless service.

And yet, as a business you have to have rules and you have to ask people to kindly respect these rules. Otherwise you eventually will have to shut down the place because you couldn't pay rent. And that won't make anyone happy either.

The thing is, I don't think there is actually a paradox. I refuse to believe that yoga and business don't go together. Why shouldn't it be possible to reconcile being kind-hearted and business-minded at the same time? Why can't we be outspoken and compassionate at the same time? It is my deep inner conviction that you can say and do anything with love.

Running a business is a bit like being head of the family. You want to take care of your employees and clients, as if they were your children. You want to see them happy.

Sometimes you have to be strict and you have to say no. As any parent knows, that won't make you popular. But in hindsight, it may make sense.

And yes, it is a fine line. When you try to balance, you're bound to fall. That doesn't mean I will stop trying.

20 May 2017No Comments

The Change in The World

Teaching is talking

As I was subbing for a friend, I was asked to talk about the famous Gandhi quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
As I thought about I'd want change about myself, the answer came fast from within: I want to talk less. Which is funny, considering that I talk for a living. Teaching yoga is mostly talking.

This may well be what attracted me to it in the first place. Teaching yoga includes weaving a web of words to describe movement, sensation and thought patterns. I love finding the ideal image for a specific coordination, so that the body just falls into place.

The way we measure and intonate with our voice creates a rhythm for the practice. It is so much like writing poetry, or even like writing in general. Which obviously is another thing I am drawn to.

Different teachers have different qualities and use their skills differently. I like to make the most of my verbal cues. I feel that it carries the room, and it also carries me.

Words are my gift and also my curse. Sometimes I'm too enamored with words and I end up talking too much. Teaching becomes over-teaching and over-explaining.

It is not about information, it's about experience

If you are a teacher yourself – any kind of teacher – this will sound familiar: At the end of the day, it is less about the information or the knowledge you impart. It is more about the atmosphere you create for people. It is about the experience they are taking away.

If you keep talking at people, there's not a lot of space left for self-exploration. They never get the chance to just feel for themselves. Too much information takes away from direct personal experience.

One of my most influential teachers says very little. His classes are almost eerily quiet. And also always, always packed. It seems that most of us appreciate a little bit of silence. A short break from the constant overwhelm of information out there. We have so little time to just feel.

The world throws so much information at us: We are told what and what not to eat, how to be a good mother, which therapies for what ailment, what a fulfilled sex life looks like, which gemstone is going to balance our mood swings, we are told how to speak in the politically correct way, how to handle our finances, which shoes with which lipstick... We need a break.

Only in the gap does change occur

Very rarely do we take the time to sit quietly and take note of what we feel inside. We override our emotions with our intellect, editing them until they fit some lofty expectation. How are we supposed to know how we feel and how to react if we are always chewing on some information or other?

I think this is why a lot of people try yoga or meditation. It is simply a quiet space where we can feel whatever we are feeling right now. As the yogis like to say, we can just sit with whatever arises. Once we know what's going on, we also know what we need and how to answer.

Ayurvedic psychologists say that a skilful yoga practice should be one third about the body, one third about the information or the knowledge, and one third should be silence. For only in the silence can the soul unfold. Only in the stillness of a deep Savasana do true shifts in consciousness occur.

In my experience, moments of clarity that arise during silent reflection slowly add up to bigger changes. They draw circles. They affect not only us, but gradually also the way we behave with our family, our friends, our co-workers, people on the bus. And so we become a change in the world. Maybe the one we wanted to see.

But there's no point in me telling you, really. You have to experience it for yourself.

17 April 2017No Comments

The Courage To Be Frail

Today I went to see my godchild. She is 6 days old – a little snip of a tiny human. A little bundle, utterly helpless, yet with the power to make me speechless (that doesn't happen often). I was touched to see the little family – now of four – and honored to be one of the first visitors. I've never been a godmother before. I never dreamed it would make me feel so special, to know a dear friend wants me to be a significant part of her daugher's life.

And yet, I came away with a sense of sadness and longing. I didn't understand. Could it be that I was jealous? But I didn't feel jealous. My heart is full to the brim with happiness for them and gratitude for my own family. Could it be that, my son being two and a half years old now, I was starting to sense the pressure of society's dictate that a family is incomplete with less than two children? I'm happy to admit that this dictate may be a product of my imagination. But seriously, people always ask whether you're thinking of a second. And if they don't ask with words, they ask with their interrogating looks. But I have never felt rushed before. Our son was anything but planned, and I have always felt it was only natural for me to take my time before I might potentially decide to do this again. Or is it just my biological clock ticking? It has never ticked before. Some women have always known that they wanted children. I never knew. It just happened to me. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but honestly, I never heard a tick tock.

So then why was I sad? I felt somehow deficient. Like there was something I should have done, but I missed my boat. Then I realized what I felt. The very thing I keep going on and on about in my prenatal yoga classes: We need to allow ourselves to soften and become vulnerable. We need to give ourselves time and space, because it is an incredibly delicate transition. And we need to be frail, to open up and let that little being get under our skin. And how long has it been since I have allowed myself to be anything but strong and on top of things? Ages.

Again, maybe this is my imagination, and I just keep blaming it on society. But I do feel like the world expects a young working mom to perform and keep all the balls up in the air. In Switzerland, the time that is legally set for maternity leave is 14 weeks. (There is no legal obligation for an employer to offer paternity leave, by the way). So we get a couple of weeks before delivery and a few weeks after that to rest and nurse and – you know – do the warm and mushy thing called mothering. For that time, the world will cut us some slack. Then you put your tough shell back on and go back out.

Don't get me wrong. I very much enjoyed going back to work. It was wonderful to slip back into the skin of the yoga teacher. I'm so grateful for the stimuli my work offers me. And yet, I can't help resent that we are not allowed more time to soften, to prepare for the biggest change in a person's life and to just be for a while. Experts say, it takes as long as the pregnancy lasted for a full recovery. Yes, that would be nine months to a year. In Taiwan, many women quit the moment the stick turns blue. The process of transformation starts then. Not two weeks before giving birth when you can no longer sleep and have to pee every half hour. And I believe it is a process that deserves more than just five minutes of our attention.

So, I am sad. I didn't cut myself enough slack. I was self-employed. Six weeks after giving birth I was teaching again. And you know what? I cannot blame society. Being a mom means being a lionness as well. While we may feel vulnerable during pregnancy and shortly after giving birth, we also develop some fierce protective instincts. We simply have to gather the courage to say: “I want this time off. I don't have a problem being the opposite of a superwoman for once in my life. I want time to settle into this new life situation, to be there for my family.” I cannot blame anyone else for not cutting myself more slack. I have a voice. I could have roared.

And maybe I'm afraid there won't be another chance.

15 April 2017No Comments

Becoming Spacious Again

Have you ever watched a baby breathe? Their bellies are so soft and round and they bulge even more with every inhale. Then the belly drops slightly with the exhale, like a parachute as it lands. Floop. For most of us, the breath pattern changes as we get older. Somewhere around adolescence, we start to breathe more superficially, higher up in the thorax. We just take in a little sip of air to fill the upper part of the lungs and then expel it again. As if we were saying: “I don't have time to breathe, let's get this over with quickly.” Some people also develop what's called reverse breathing. They suck in the belly as they inhale, hollowing it out, and push it out when they exhale. That's the way I used to breathe when I first came to yoga. I believe I developed the habit because I was dancing during all of my teenage years. Of course, when you're standing at the ballett barre with mirrors covering most of the wall space, you don't want your belly to stick out. So they teach you to breathe only into the side ribs while keeping your belly flat and in.

That is not inherently wrong. In some martial arts it's actually the indicated way to breathe. It's simply a different way to use (or not use) our diaphragm. For deep abdominal (also called natural or diaphragmatic) breath we engage the diaphragm, which is our primary breathing muscle. The diaphragm is dome-shaped when it's relaxed and its circular rim is attached to our bottom ribs and lower spine. When we contract the diaphragm it flattens out, thereby pushing down on the abdominal organs (that's why the sack of organs bulges forward) and creating a negative pressure in the chest cavity. To even out the pressure in the thorax, we reflexively let the air stream in, i.e. we inhale fully.

When we use the reverse technique, we put the cart in front of the horse. We suck in the abdomnial organs, so the diaphragm has more space and the pressure in the chest cavity drops, so we can fill the lungs with air. Like I said, just a different technique. Both are valid, but we need to be aware that each of the patterns sends a different message to the brain. Superficial, quick breathing is connected with stress or the famous fight or flight response. Deep, full breathing is associated with the relaxation response in the nervous system. And here's what's really important to know: The breath and the nervous system (or the brain) mutually influence each other!

When we are mentally stressed our breath speeds up. If we consciously slow down our breath, we trigger the relaxation response in the nervous system. This makes the breath a unique tool to stay calm even when things get hectic.

Chest breathing or reverse breathing is very prominent in men or athletes, people who are supposed to be competitive, very A-type, and alas, stressed out. People who are consumed with the need to be good enough. If we get used to breathing in a way that signals stress to the body – yes, you guessed right – we will permanently be in stress response, even when there is absolutely no need. Over time, that can be harmful to our overall health.

One night, as I was teaching Pranayama, it dawned on me that chest and reverse breathing patterns arise out of fear. And what are our fears in this incredibly priviledged life? We are afraid of not meeting a deadline, of being late for a meeting or of freezing during a presentation. We are afraid of not being attractive or smart enough. We are afraid to show our wounds and our insecurities. It just recently occurred to me that many of those fall under the category of “being afraid to take up too much space.” Because if we were too conspicuous in one way or another, we would fill out most of the stage, we would draw attention to ourselves. If we were too honest or too loud in some way, we would use up too much space.

The breath reflects our fears: Could it be that babies breathe so fully because they have not had as many scary and scarring experiences (and they forget quite easily at the beginning)? Taking up space, also known as, screaming at the top of their (yes) lungs, is crucial for a baby's survival. But something happens along the way. We are taught that it's rude and inconsiderate to be too loud. We are taught – like I was at the ballett barre – not to take up too much space, breathing and otherwise. We become more hesitant when it comes to expanding and expressing. And naturally our breath will reflect that.

This is one of the many reasons why working with the breath or the formal practice of Pranayama can be so therapeutic and transformative. We learn the technique of deep abdominal breathing again. We train our diaphragm. And literally and figuratively, we begin to fill out the space again. We allow ourselves to be spacious without being apologetic about it.

As we learn to calm the breath we also signal to the brain that the whole system can relax. No need to fight or flee. We create a calm and serene inner environment. From such a place of clarity and security it is much easier not to be afraid.

Exercise:

Lie on your back or sit comfortably. Relax the abdomen to the point of letting it plop out. Place a flat hand or just a finger a few centimeters away from the wall of your abdomen. Inhale and try to let the abdomen inflate so it reaches your hand. Exhale, observe the wall of the abdomen dropping gently drawing in towards the spine and away from your fingers.
It's easier lying on your back, because the abdominal muscles can be more relaxed here. So this is a good place to start.
(Click to watch the gif)

Tip: Relax your jaw as you breathe. This will also influence the nervous system.

4 April 2017No Comments

Never Good Enough

Only recently, I looked around and realized: many people who come to yoga – and I am one of them – are A-type personalities. They are quick-thinking, efficient, ambitious, often successful, and used to being good at what they do. I have often wondered whether this personality type stems from nature or nurture? Some of us are naturally fiery, outgoing and have an unquenchable thirst for life. But I can't deny that being brought up in a society where hard work and successful performance are highly commended and recommended has molded us all a certain way. Is the said personality type attracted by yoga? Yes and no. We have all heard that yoga relaxes you, puts things into perspective and teaches you to let go, little by little. It is exactly what the doctor prescribes for the overly ambitious. It is also true that yoga is about turning your gaze inwards. It is not about looking around to check what the person next to you is doing, and certainly not about comparing. But guess what happens when a lot of A-type personalities practice together in the same room? Exactly. The very thing we thought ought to put some distance between ourselves and our hamster wheel, becomes yet another thing we have to be good at – even excel at.

As I took my first steps into the world of yoga, the practice itself was a revelation to me. With 20 years of dancing literally on my back (because my back was hurting), it was the first time I heard a teacher say: “Listen to your body. If you are tired today, there is option 1. If you feel that you can go deeper, this is option 2. If you feel that this is plenty, maybe backpedal a bit. If you can't breathe fully, then you may have asked too much of yourself today.” Revelation. I felt like I wanted to put up my hand and ask for clarification: “Really? I don't have to push myself and ignore the pain? I can ask myself what I need and then follow that intuition?” I could hardly believe it. I came from a black-and-white world where it was all about reaching the one ideal or die trying. Everything else was worth nothing. In yoga, it was no longer about fitting in or being good enough. It was simply about listening, giving an honest answer and then reacting with compassion.

I guess it is not surprising that once I started teaching, this became one of the one message I really wanted to convey. My classes can be vigorous and heat-building, but they are never about ignoring your limit. To this day I am suspicious of methods and teachers that tell students there is only one proper way to do a particular asana, practice or sequence. It is a valuable way, but it is not for me, as I believe it perpetuates the patterns of the A-type personality. Dangle a carrot in front of our nose and we will run full out until we get to that piece of vegetable. Even if we break our hind legs in the process. I can only speak for myself, but learning to slow down and observe, to recognize my limit has probably kept me healthy and injury-free all these years. And I'm certainly not one who asks little of herself.

I do have to admit that I am slightly two-faced here. You may hear me tell students to pace themselves, to respect the signals the body is giving them. I encourage them to investigate this feeling of inadequacy that spurs most of us on. And yet, I often don't walk the talk. While I have no interest in pushing myself in my physical practice, my inner dialogue is still shaped by the urge to be good enough. Still motivated by the inner child that wants to be seen, accepted and loved, and thus will go to great lengths to achieve and stand out.

It is easy to compartmentalize here, easy to think: “Oh, I've truly absorbed this into my yoga practice. I have developed compassion for myself. Check. Done.” But what about outside your yoga practice? In my experience the feeling of never being good enough is almost ineradicable. And maybe not just for A-type personalities. You may think you have softened and ushered it out the front door, but it will come back and sneak in through the backyard.

Why am I telling you this? I'm telling you just in case you have heard me phrase instructions in class and thought that I have really integrated this lesson. Just in case you thought that I am really so relaxed and chill about life. Just in case you thought I was able to stand in front of the mirror and say to myself: “I am okay. I am good enough. I deserve love without working hard to deserve it.” Well, I am not able to say that. I constantly feel like I still need to work harder to deserve. Over the years, working with so many people, teachers and students, I have learned that this is one of our deep innate fears: not to be good enough. And I am telling you this, so you will believe me when I say: We are all in the same boat here. And it is safe for me to assume that the work never ends. “Much of spiritual life is self-accpetance, maybe all of it.” (Jack Kornfield)

15 March 2017No Comments

The Go-To Emotion – From The Meditation Diaries

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

One night after showering and before bed I felt the spontaneous need to meditate after a long day. So I sat down on the bed, recited a mantra and then settled in for a moment of silence with my eyes closed.

Only seconds after that, my husband came in and slipped into bed next to me. He started fumbling for his phone and soon a lot of clicking and whooshing noises were reaching my left ear. I felt that this was extremely irritating, not to mention rude. My reaction was strong, probably because I am quite addicted to and enslaved by the phone myself. But isn't that a meditation classic? The first moments, when we have to get accustomed to stillness, we encounter resistance and we start looking for an excuse to escape. So there I was, getting irritated. I got so angry that I was on the brink of telling my husband – very brusquely and in no unclear terms – to please take his phone somewhere else. Right before I did, I remembered that meditation doesn't mean being still in the perfect silent environment. It means finding a little bit of stillness no matter what.

I also became aware of my returning visitor, as Jack Kornfield likes to call them: Most of us have one go-to emotion when things get rough or tricky. An emotion we immediately resort to when we stand with our back against the wall. For me, it's anger or irritability. You could say it's my Italian temper or my Ayurvedic constitution, called Dosha, which is quite fiery. The element of fire (called Pitta, in Ayurveda) has certain qualities also reflected in  our personalities: It is easily enflamed, flaring out, it devours and unfurls. It rages. Other people are more airy (Vata, for air/ether) or down to earth (Kapha, for water and earth together), so they are more unrooted or melancholy. Their tendency may be to react with sadness, depression, cofusion and indecision (for Vata) or stubbornness and inflexibibility (for Kapha). No matter what our go-to emotion is, meditation (especially difficult meditation) usually brings it out and offers a great opportunity to investigate it. Meditation is also a safe environment to quietly observe how emotion evolves.

In every day life, emotion often prompts us to act or react. For me, that usually means that I snap and someone ends up baffled or hurt. That evening, because I was meditating, I was a bit more observant and I could see that pattern unfold. I also could stop short of reacting and focus on me being a sealed container for my emotion. Instead of directing it outwards, I turned my gaze inwards.

I literally imagined myself as a closed glass container with a fire burning inside. And what happens to fire after a while when it is not fed with enough oxygen or fuel or wood? Correct. First it burns low, then it dies out. The same happens with any emotion, when it is not fed. This may sound like we are swallowing emotion and holding it in, but that's just a pessimistic way to phrase it. What I mean is quite the opposite: We can experience every fibre of our emotion without acting upon it. If you wait long enough, the emotion transforms or subsides. Even if it takes years, the emotion will change eventually. Or, as my teacher used to say: “If you give it space, it also has room to transform.”

This is why, especially to someone as impulsive as I am, meditation is a true gift. I'm still angry, I still get upset, but I now know ways to contain the fire. Sometimes I manage, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I still lash out, sometimes I can control my combustible being. Whatever happens, though, I am aware. I see it happen or I can at least say: “Oh here I go with my go-to emotion again!”

That is very different from blaming it on someone else, from looking for reasons to escape and the chance to look away. Meditation gives us a closed container so that we can stop to watch before we go on autopilot. That right there is the gift of meditation. We get to consciously decide: Which wolf are we going to feed?

28 February 2017No Comments

The Voice Within – Yoga Becomes The Medicine Against All Odds

Six months ago, the mother of a student emailed me asking for private classes. The opening line of the message said “Dear Miss Malinverni, I have been looking... I have been looking for healing...” She told me about her diagnosis: She has a degenerative eye disease, which according to Western medicine cannot be cured and eventually leads to blindness. I replied that I didn't think I was the right person to help her. After all, I was only a yoga teacher, not a therapist, never mind a healer. However, this lady, let's call her Anja, would not take no for an answer. Eventually I agreed to setting up a few sessions.

For the last six months we have been working together. The first time I saw her, I had to hold back my tears. I was so touched by her trust in me and her willingness to be here. Strangely, even though I had no idea where I was going, I somehow knew where to start. I worked intuitively and created a practice that combines yin poses with different Pranayamas to soothe the nervous system. I created meditations around themes like taking refuge, accepting what is, trusting the process and allowing ourselves to be okay with only 50% of what we think is barely good enough. One Kriya particularly resonates with Anja: She loves Brahma Mudra because it is directly connected to the sense of sight. She says she feels a difference since she has been doing it regularly, which is now every night.

Anja's eyesight really is a handycap. There have been several occasions where her whole body was temporarily paralyzed in shock because out of the blue she could no longer see. Still she goes everywhere and tries to do as much as she can on her own. She is incredibly courageous and humble. Even though the work we do together is quiet and somewhat repetitive, I feel uplifted every time, and still as touched as I was the first time we met.

When we sit down together, I always ask her for an update on her health. She often tells me about her daunting doctor's appointments. Most of the experts she has seen either play her condition down or are flat out patronizing and tactless. There is one eye doctor who basically told her to get a grip and a white cane with a pair of dark sunglasses. But Anja is not the kind of person who gives up. Just a couple of weeks ago, she went to see a very special optologist. The optologist told her that due to a long ago car accident her pupils have shifted their position and are facing slightly outward. It is thus more difficult for the brain to create one single image from two slightly dislocated sources of information. Because of that difficulty Anja's nervous system is in constant fight or flight mode and the glands are constantly emitting stress hormones into her blood stream. Which also explains her chronic acidity and insomnia.

When she said this my eyes widened! Everything we have been doing over the last six months was aimed at calming and centering. I had intuitively chosen that approach because it seemed a no brainer that when the nervous system is more relaxed, all the resources needed for healing will be replenished. When we breathe deeply and relax our muscles, it tricks the body into what we call rest and digest mode (as opposed to fight or flight). In other words the parasympathetic nervous system responds and creates overall balance in the body. When we do something to relax us – and that could be as simple as going for a walk or reading a book – the brain assumes that there is no immediate danger and everything can let go: The heart rate decreases, the blood pressure drops, the blood flow is directed into the digestive tract. All bodily functions work harmoniously.

All Anja and I have been doing together is aimed at relaxing and regenarating the system. And in a flash we found out that this is the precise antidote for Anja's constant emission of Cortisol and Adrenaline.

I am realizing, however, that Anja knew. Not in an intellectual way. But she was so sure she wanted to see me and only me. I'm not saying this because I think I am particularly good or special. I am saying this because it reminds me of a miraculous thing: We know. We always do. If only we have the courage to elbow our intellect out of the way, another type of wisdom can get through. We begin to listen inwards and hear our inner voice. Call it intuition, gut feeling, inner guru, guidance. But it usually takes us down the right path.

Inspite of all the doctors talking down at her and ignoring her instincts, exhorting her to give up hope and settle for invalidity, Anja has never given up. She has listened to her inner voice and she has gone where that voice led her. Now, many months later, there is even a scientific explanation for what she immediately felt was the way to go. She was imperturbable. And she was right to be so.

19 February 2017No Comments

The Lizard and The Inuit – Stumblestones of Daily Practice

Ten years ago I was living in New York as a dance student, slowly consuming my savings, thinking the city might as well make or break me. Life meant survival in the concrete jungle with subway monsters and strange hormonal shifts. That year yoga went from something I was dabbling in to something that anchored me in my every day hustling and bustling. Ever since that time, yoga has been an irreplaceable constituent of my daily life. Now, that might sound nice, but actually for the last ten years, I have been obsessing about my practice more than I like to admit. The first phase, I thought it was imperative to get in a 90 minute Asana practice every day. The second phase, I added doing a 45 minute Pranayama practice every morning to the mix of expectations. And I actually did that religiously for over three years. Then, third phase, I had moved to Taiwan and had a lot of time on my hands, so my inner critic decreed I should do 30 minutes of seated meditation every morning. Which I did.

It only just occurred to me yesterday, that I have now spent the last ten years obsessing about how much was only just good enough and guilt-tripping when I didn't meet my lofty goals. Over the last two years of motherhood, this was more often than not. Yesterday, for the first time, I had to ask myself: Why? Why would I torture myself with all these expectations wrapped in a thick layer of guilt? And for ten years! Why? It suddenly dawned on me that this feeling of constraint is blocking my practice more than it is evolving it. I don't know how it is for you, but I don't like to be forced. Least of all by myself.

I was recently introduced to the concept of the lizard brain. This is the primitive oldest part of our brain responsible for survival instincts, such as fight, flight, fear, freezing in the face of danger and fornication. When we are reluctant to do something, it is usually because our lizard brain has smelled danger or disruption of a peaceful state. This part of the brain doesn't distinguish between the danger of running from a lion in the wild or the “danger” of getting yourself to move your tired body for a full 90 minutes, when it would be much more comfortable to lounge on the sofa. Both seem like threats to the lizard brain. And because it is well connected to its buddy, the logical thinking, excuse-making brain, we come up with all kinds of reasons why we should put it off and procrastinate: There's not enough time anyway, we have a cold or we are recovering from one, we had too much for lunch, we had too little and should get a snack first, we should return this call or reply to that email, we need to hit the snooze button one more time because we have been sleeping poorly lately... Right. We've all been there.

It's a cat biting its tail. The more we try to force ourselves to do it – practice, eat better, sleep more, spend less time staring at the screen – the more the lizard brain will sense the danger of moving outside the comfort zone and it will freeze, fight or flee.

So what to do? During a Yoga for Writers course online I was asked to do a specific yoga sequence every day, then sit down to write for a limited amount of time. The yoga sequence was only twenty minutes long, which I usually consider too short a practice. Still, I decided to give this a try. We all know what happened. Yes, I stuck to it. Because it was a manageable amount of time, feasible and not too menacing. It didn't require that I badger myself into doing it. The more I did it, the more I enjoyed it, because it was not too much, yet just enough. Even now that the course has ended, I keep sticking to the twenty minutes. I even usually end up practicing longer, but I can always start out by telling myself: Only 20 minutes, that's all you have to do. No biggie. I find that I haven't taken so much pleasure (yes, pleasure!) in my self-practice for a long time. It is just a little moment of tuning in and being present with my own breath and body. I put a little bit of distance between myself and the every day hassle. And I no longer feel like I'm standing next to myself with a horsewhip.

I remember someone once told me that the Inuit eat many little portions of food every day because it helps them stay warm. This is what this new approach reminds me of: one little portion every day to keep you going, adding up to many over the course of a week or a month. I've even started to call it my Eskimo strategy.
Many little portions eventually make up a plentiful nourishing meal. They are not to be sneered at for being small. Small is smart. It is not too much in one go, it is much more digestible and easier to metabolise that way. You never go hungry, but you are also never too sluggish from overeating.

It is simple, yet revolutionary.

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© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni |
All rights reserved | AGB| Kontakt & Newsletter

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni | All rights reserved | AGB | Kontakt & Newsletter

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni
All rights reserved | AGB | Kontakt & Newsletter