Fear of the Unknown

It may seem strange to title a post about Courage “Fear of the Unkown”. In yoga school I was taught to not focus on the quality I wish to release, but instead focus on the quality I wish to have in its place. Courage is an exception. To understand courage we must first understand the force which holds us back. The force that fills us. Fear.

Fear has been an interesting journey for me. Fear is what brought me to yoga. The summer before yoga school I took a two week trip cross country with my brand-new USED Prius. I had never traveled alone and I never had the means to plan my own travel. This coming of age adventure gave me moments of shaking in my boots and crying like the baby that I was. Being alone forced me to sit with my fear. These were the first moments of my own meditation practice. Have you ever sat with your fear? What does fear feel like?

I have never met someone as willing to be present with their fear as the love of my life, John. John is baffled by his fear of heights. He has no problem climbing to the top of silos, but his body does. While standing on the top of a ladder running up the side of a silo he explained his experience. His legs shook uncontrollably, his mind raced, his breath quickened, but yet he forced himself to remain at the top. He explained that his brain was creating this fear of heights, but another part of his brain gives him the inspiration to know that in these kinds of height situations the fear is unfounded. His curiosity of his experience of fear drives him to stay present with it. This man has gone sky diving, he stood at the edge of Yosemite, and he’s gone for a ride in the World’s Tallest Ferris Wheel while standing as close to the edge as possible. This experience caused him to sweat and become dizzy, but he stayed there with his fear until the verge of passing out.   The ability to not allow his unnecessary fear of heights to hold him back is courageous.

 

Image result for limbic systemThe experience of fear, as taught in yoga teachings, takes place in the limbic system. The limbic system is the smaller, animalistic part of our brain. This is where fear lives with its neighbors sex drive, fight or flight, care of off-spring and pleasure. These traits are similar to animals. The limbic system is the part of the brain that keeps us alive in day-to-day and in emergency situations. It’s the neighborhood of many of our emotions, and is an important part of the brain.

We are not animals. The major difference between humans and animals, in the brain, is the pre-frontal lobes. Yoga teaches that this area of the brain is directly related to inspiration and creativity. Ever wonder why you are guided in yoga to gaze upwards at the place between the eyebrows, the spiritual eye? That’s the pre-frontal lobes. Ms. Gilbert, you nailed it on the head. (No pun intended.) Due to this larger, frontal part of our brain we have the ability to understand our fears, come to grips with them, and move forward. Notice I did not say eliminate our fears, as this could be fatal.

Gilbert stated it so eloquently in her book Big Magic, giving the metaphor of taking fear with you on your creative road trip, giving it space, but not giving it deciding power. This, my friends, is revolutionary.

 

Ardha Chandrasana
Ardha Chandrasana- Half Moon Pose “Strength and courage fill my body cells.”

At a time when many of us feel deep cuts of fear, we must not give it our deciding power. Fear can lead to worry, anxiety, and depression. All of these can weaken the immune system. This is not the time for that. So when you feel moments of fear, take a deep breath with your belly. Recognize that you are not your fear. Your fear is their to give you pause, to slow you down so you can make the best choice for you. The next time you feel afraid close your eyes, lift your gaze, and become aware of what you’re feeling. What effects does fear have on your body; on your mind. Now breathe into that space of fear. Give fear the space it needs and in doing so release its grip over your intuition, your gut, and your decision making skills.

Fear is not something we want to eliminate. Fear and the awareness of it gives us the space for Courage.

Finally! Let’s talk about COURAGE.

Ms. Gilbert explains that we need courage when trying to live a creative life, and if you are trying to live a creative life then it will begin to apply to all parts of your life. Fear and courage are a duality, or dwaita in yogic teachings, meaning everything has its opposite. We don’t want to live without fear. We want to live courageously in the moment with our inspiration while acknowledging our fears existence.

So what is courage anyway? Well, it’s described a lot of different ways. A quick google search tells us that courage is when we overcome fear, or when we show strength in difficult times. In Affirmations for Self-Healing, written by Donald Walters or Swami Kriyananda, he explains courage like this:

There are three kinds of human courage: blind, passive, and dynamic. Blind courage doesn’t count the cost until it finds itself faced, horror-stricken, with the bill. passive courage is the strength of will to adjust to reality, whatever it may be. And dynamic courage is the strength of will not only to accept reality, but to confront it with another reality of one’s own making.

I believe Dynamic Courage is creative living. It’s where we greet the events or things that occur in our lives but we greet it with an awareness of ourselves, our life thus far, and the vision we have of our life ahead. For if we are living creatively, uncovering the hidden gems of ourselves, we have developed some level of self-awareness, vision, and resilient drive. This reminds me of Jack Gilbert. Jack is mentioned in Big Magic. No relation to the author. Jack spent a year as a college writing professor; he was also an admired poet. Jack inspired his students to be brave.

Without bravery [we’d] never be able to realize the vaulting scope of our own capacities.

-Jack Gilbert interpreted by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you want to live an interesting, exciting life than become familiar with your fear, so you can become familiar with your courage, so you can pursue the things in life that inspire you most; living into your fullest capacities.

Inspiration for Courage

I would like to offer the remainder of Swami Kriyananda’s excerpt, his affirmation and prayer to help stimulate courage. This content is all from Affirmations for Self-Healing.

There’s a fourth kind of courage: not human, but divine. Divine courage comes from living in the awareness of God’s [or Spirit’s]  Divine presence within, and in the realization that She/He is the sole Reality. Live more in Her/His, for nothing and no one can touch what you really are.

-Swami Kriyananda

Affirmation for Courage

An affirmation is a statement that we wish to absorb into life. How to practice an affirmation:

If the use of the word "God" makes you feel uncomfortable simply remove it, but understand the inner light within is the part of you that can never be harmed.
*If the word God makes you feel uncomfortable remove the word, but know the part of you that can never be harmed is a spiritual part of you. Try replacing the word God with something that suits you, like, Divine Infinite Light, Infinite Spirit’s Light, the Universe’s Infinite Light, etc.
  1. Repeat loudly to command the attention of your conscious mind
  2. Repeat in a normal speaking voice
  3. Repeat in a whisper to draw the words deeper into you
  4. Repeat silently, eyes closed, gaze lifted, and feel as though you are drawing the words up to your brain and to the point between your eyebrows.

Prayer for Courage

I look to Thee for my strength, O Infinite Spirit. Hold me closely in Thy arms of love. Then, whatever happens in my life I shall accept with joy.

In these trying times never forget your ability to laugh, the things you enjoy, and the love from your friends, family, and community.

Blessings to you,

Em<3

 

P.S.- Creative Living defined: The hunt to uncover our own capacities, aspirations, longings, and secret talents.

What Else Do You Have Going On Right Now?

Here I am. The fridge and pantry are fully stocked. Social Distancing practices are under way, and I have started a Self-Isolation Resolution List to keep me focused.
When I first heard about the Coronavirus or COVID-19 I thought like many. I thought people were overreacting, over-buying, and full of it. Here we are only one week later and everyone’s day-to-day has changed for at least two weeks. Schools are cancelled, gyms and libraries are closed, and social distancing is in full effect.
BUT WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF FOR THE COMING WEEKS? Within two days all three of my jobs were dismissed due to closures. After filing for temporary unemployment and watching a movie I was already bored. Due to the library closing quicker than I anticipated, I was unable to check out any new reading material, so I poked around my bookshelves and had a jolt of inspiration. Only yesterday I recommended a book to an old college friend. My favorite book. That conversation and seeing the book sitting there on my bookshelf sparked big magic in my brain. 😉 So without further ado…..

Inspired by a dear friend, I have decided to re-read my favorite book, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic. I have read this book at least 3 times all the way through. My copy is filled with post-its, bookmarks, and notes I’ve scribbled in on the margins. Every time I read this book I learn something new, I find a new inspiration, and I feel uplifted and encouraged to create something unique.

DSC_0770_1Over the next couple of weeks I will finish this book yet again. Only this time I will be making posts covering the six sections of the book: Courage; Enchantment; Permission; Persistence; Trust; Divinity. Each blog post I do will not only relate to the section in the book, but also relate to yoga and meditation teachings I have discovered along the way.

I am leaving my inspiration open for now. Meaning, with the upcoming blog posts I may also include pictures, affirmations, and videos where you can practice yoga and meditation right along with me.

DSC_0771_1Life is weird right now, and the stress you may be feeling is relatable. The more goodness , Joy, and Love we can inject into the world right now the better. I wish to provide my services as a teacher and a human being to all of you. Please join me in contributing positivity into this uncertain world.

Here’s your invitation.

I cordially invite you to join me however you’d like in the coming weeks. You’re invited to enjoy this excellent book along with me, to check in on this blog, and to become inspired by the world around us and the world within us. What else do you have going on right now? 

With Love,

Em<3

 

P.S.- You can find the e-book here (price $12.99):
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Elizabeth_Gilbert_Big_Magic?id=IVMmBgAAQBAJ&hl=en-US&gl=us

I Need A Minute

Hello Friends!

When some people hear that I am a Yoga & Meditation teacher they assume a few things about my personality: I must be a chill, calm person; I must never lose my temper, and I must always be kind. Although I find these assumptions endearing they are just NOT true about me all the time.

I experience anxiety.

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Ophelia and I enjoying Supported Bound Angle Pose in the sunshine.

I do not have an anxiety disorder, but like all humans, I experience periods of anxiousness. On Saturday this past weekend I woke up feeling anxious without any good reason as to why. I felt jittery and out of control and I hadn’t even drank any coffee! After recognizing what I was feeling I used my toolbox of techniques to help relieve my mind of fictitious impending doom. It was a sunny day and the temperature was right around 40 degrees. The wind was chilly so practicing outside deterred me. I still wanted to enjoy the sun, so I set up my Restorative Yoga props in front of our sliding glass door. This area of the house gets direct sun and I wanted to be in it. I must have laid in Supported Bound Angle Pose (a restorative yoga pose) for 20 minutes. I laid there so long that our dog, Ophelia, came and curled up in my lap. When I was finished I was able to separate myself from my experience of anxiety. It no longer was a cloud over my head, but merely a cloud on the distant horizon of my now still mind.

I experience anger

Resized_Snapchat-494820516_13870370143245Since I was a kid, I remember times when I would lose my temper. Whether it be a temper tantrum, an emotional meltdown, or a full-on blow up, I have witnessed my temper boil over. Along with these memories of anger comes the memory of the feeling that always seemed to come after: an empty, hollow feeling of shame. Losing my temper always leaves me feeling exhausted and worse off than when I started. I think this is because after allowing my emotion of anger to get the best of me and boil over, I boil over my energy and thus am left with an emptier pot. I see this energy as being wasted. Nothing was gained from blowing up and energy was certainly lost. My daily practice of Yoga & Meditation HELPS me to stay calm and aware of my emotions. When I feel my temper and when I feel it rise I use breathing techniques or chanting to help me get a grip over myself. These techniques help me to recognize that I am NOT my anger. My anger does not control me. I am master of my energy.

I can be rude.

Practice KindnessI have a bumper sticker on my car that says “Practice Kindness”. This isn’t a sticker to remind drivers running up on my tail to slow down and be kind with their driving (although that is appreciated!). No, this sticker is a reminder to myself. I see it whenever I walk up onto my vehicle and I repeat it in my head. Kindness has been a hard thing for me to learn. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a genuinely kind person. I am empathetic and I know common courtesy, but sometimes I am a space cadet. Sometimes I am not present in what I am doing, and sometimes I don’t think about other people’s feelings. Kindness is an on going practice for me. I start by practicing kindness with myself. I speak kindly to myself, I repeat positive minded affirmations, and I forgive myself when I goof up. Practicing kindness with the world outside of myself is sometimes a challenge but a challenge that helps me to grow and to be a better version of myself.

 

I am human; thus, I am not perfect.

I have bad habits.

I make mistakes.

I am working on it.

All of these things I have mentioned, the “ugly” parts of myself, these are the stones that make up my yellow brick road TO yoga. A brick or two for my anxiety, a few for my ill-managed temper, and several more for all the times I have shown unkindness to others and myself. My saving grace is my ability to be aware of  myself. I wanted to understand these parts of me better, I wanted to be able to control myself, understand my emotions, and most of all, I wanted to grow into a women living her best life.

You see, people’s assumptions of me as a yoga instructor doesn’t let them see me as an average human being. Simply, Yoga & Meditation is the toolbox I chose to find the answers about myself. It worked/ is working. I loved the process so much I wanted to be able to share the toolbox with others, and here we are.

 

I invite you to one of the classes I teach at NIP East in Mason City, Iowa held Tuesday and Thursdays from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM. Classes are $10 for members or $15 for non-members and a student rate of $7.  Find out more details here.

Finding Love on the Mat

It has been six months since I last taught yoga in a studio. I moved three hours north here in the great state of Iowa. It’s ten degrees colder, at least; it’s much more rural, and I moved here with only knowing ONE other person. His name is John and he has upturned my life in the best way. Some people thought I was crazy for moving, but my heart was sure. I could feel it’s confidence in my decision through every step of the way. I still feel that loving confidence. I know I am where I belong. That feeling that I have, that confidence, THAT is how I would describe love.

Love is a topic that meets us on the mat. Perhaps at home or maybe in a room filled with other people. I know on my mat I have had moments of pure self-love. Moments where I didn’t feel ashamed or not enough. I am not alone in this experience of self-acceptance. It happens when you’re 40 minutes in on a flow class or deep in the stillness of meditation. Love comes to us in other ways during the practice. I have felt Love for the people around me, sometimes strangers. Appreciating and accepting their existence, their significance, their power. In classes I teach I often have students use a mantra, or repeating phrase, during meditation. One of these mantras is “I am Love.”

Try it now, as you sit here. Close your eyes, lift your gaze just slightly, and breath smoothly and naturally. As you inhale repeat “I am” and as you exhale repeat “Love”. Inhale, “I am”. Exhale, “Love’. Continue this as long as you’d like.

This practice is powerful, because we are not focusing our attention on the things that we love and we are not focusing on the way that we love. We are focusing on the experience of Love itself. Love is confident in itself and so it gives us confidence in ourselves. You are enough. You are meant to be here. You have within you the power to love and be loved. You are Love. Through this practice we can identify with the strongest experience that creatures of this planet have: LOVE.

Happy Velentine’s Day.

Em<3

What to Expect in a Restorative Class

Hello again friends!

Today I would like to talk about Restorative Yoga. I can just hear some of you experienced restorative yogis hum-sighing with excitement. When I practice restorative yoga it makes me feel like a fat cat with nothing better to do than lounge around with a bunch of squishy, comfy objects. I have described this kind of yoga as delicious and if you EVER get the chance to try it, DO IT. It will slow you down in the most comforting, enjoyable way. Alas, this isn’t helping you with truly understanding what to expect in a restorative yoga class, so let me try again with the power of STORY TELLING!

Joy was taking her first restorative yoga class at a studio in her City. She was nervous, but she had read in the class description to wear comfortable clothes, to bring water, and an open mind. As she walked through the studio doorway the lights were dim. There were sounds of the ocean rhythmically tossing against the shore and a light overlay of a string instrument. Joy sat at the bench in the lobby and began to unlace her boots. She silently worried to herself, “Joy, don’t fall asleep.”

“Are you here for the 5:30 Restorative class?” A woman asked as she approached Joy.

“Yes, I am,” Joy said with a smile. She hoped her nerves didn’t show through.

The woman across from her had a kind smile. She wore loose fitting pants and a tucked-in shirt. Her wavy hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she walked with ease. “I’m Emily Basili. I teach this class. What’s your name?”

Joy responded and the woman said, “Hello Joy, if this is your first time here you’ll need to fill out a health questionnaire and a waiver. The questionnaire helps me tend to your needs so please take your time answering the questions.”

Joy took the clipboard and forms from her instructor. Once completed, Joy handed it back too Emily. “Thanks! You can go ahead and make your way into the studio. At the front of the room you’ll notice I’ve set up my mat and several props. Once you find a place on the floor for your mat please grab the same amounts and kinds of props for yourself. While you wait feel free to do some cat-cows, light stretching, or meditate sitting or in Savasana.

Joy nodded and turned to the studio doors. As she moved closer she could smell burning sage and what she thought might be sandalwood. The room was dimly lit with a lamp at each of the back corners of the room. In front of her she saw the mat Emily had described as well as 6 yoga blankets stacked to the side and one bolster and eye pillow stacked next to that. Joy felt a twinge of excitement beginning to erode her nervousness. “This is gonna be good,” she said to herself and she began to set up her things.

At two-minutes after 5:30 Emily came into the room, closing the door behind her. She walked to the front of the room with a clipboard. “Good evening everyone. I am grateful to be sharing this space with you and I hope you leave class tonight feeling relaxed and centered. We will begin tonight’s class with a centering exercise. Come to a seated position, and become aware of your breath.” Emily continued to guide Joy and the others in the room. She told them to let the breath flow as it wishes and throughout the next hour to practice simply being. This was a hard concept for Joy to understand, but she hoped that after the next hour of class she would know better.

After centering, Emily led the class through three poses. The first was called Supported Child’s Pose. Emily instructed students to place a bolster and blanket in front of them and an additional smaller folded blanket at one end. She demonstrated how to enter into the pose by gently and slowly laying her torso, belly side down, on top of the props. She used the smaller folded blanket as a pillow for her head, resting one cheek on it. Emily then prompted the class to try it themselves. “I’ll be around to assist you,” she said.

The next pose was Supported Supine Twist. After listening to directions of how to place the props and how to get in and out of the pose Joy set her area up. She sat with the bolster to one side with the top end in line with her belly button. She inhaled as she brought her knees bent and raised her calves to be parallel to the floor. She exhaled and let her legs float down to rest on top of the bolster at her side. She didn’t feel much at first, but tried to focus on her breathing to experience more. Emily came around to each student to check in with them. “How does everything feel?” Emily asked quietly.

“It feels fine, but I don’t feel much of a twist in my spine,” Joy replied.

“Let’s see if we can adjust a few things.” Emily had Joy lift her legs back up and exchanged the bolster for two blankets. Joy relaxed her legs down onto the blankets. They were lower to the ground than before. “That’s much better,” Joy said.

“Excellent,” Emily said quietly. “Now go ahead and close your eyes and lift your gaze just slightly.” Joy did as she said and could feel Emily move to the space above her head. “Is it alright with you if I adjust your neck?”

“Sure,” said Joy. Emily gently drew her hands to the nape of Joy’s neck. She placed her hands firmly under Joy’s neck and without lifting it she moved her hands all the way up the back side, gently pressing slightly. She rested her fingertips just on the bottom of Joy’s skull. Here Emily lifted Joy’s head slightly off the floor and ever so slightly pulled her head away from her body. This movement was gentle and controlled. It was subtle and made Joy feel longer as she laid across the floor.

The final pose that was instructed was Supported Savasana. Students put two blankets under each leg, a blanket with one end slightly rolled under the neck and Emily came around to each student to cover them with an additional blanket and assist putting on the eye pillows.

Joy could feel herself fully relaxed into her props. Her body felt heavy but her mind felt light as though it was filled with space. Emily guided students through a visualization of light lapping over the body like sweet waves lapping against the shore. “Time doesn’t seem to exist in this space of relaxation,” Joy thought. Time moved on. Joy wasn’t sure if she had been laying in Savasana for five minutes or five hours.

“Gently begin to bring yourself back to your body. As you inhale, feel your belly rise and as you exhale, feel the belly soften and relax towards the floor,” Emily cooed.

As instructed Joy slowly awakened her body by wiggling her fingers and toes, rocking back and forth, and slowly bringing herself up to a seated position. While seated, Emily guided the class through a meditation technique called Hong-Sau. As it concluded Joy found herself overwhelmed with the feeling of acceptance. She was accepting of her initial nervousness, she was accepting of the parts of herself she tended to be critical of, and she was accepting of the guy next to her who snored during Savasana.

“Bring your hands together just in front of the heart. Keep the eyes closed and the gaze lifted. Say I silent ‘thank you’ to yourself for the time and energy you put forth today and send out waves of gratitude to the other individuals in this room for cultivating this space. Thank you so much for attending class this evening. May you leave here feeling calm and relaxed and know that this space of stillness is present within you all of the time. You are free to revisit it whenever you’d like. Namaste.” Emily gave a small bow.

After cleaning up her props and mat Joy thanked Emily for the class. “I’m glad to hear you enjoyed, Joy,” Emily said with a smile.

“I very much did, and I hope to come back.”

“That’s great to hear. Classes are every Thursday from 5:30-6:30.”

“Thank you,” Joy said once more. She turned to go and felt deep in her heart a new level of relaxed effort in her own skin.

Wanna give it a try? Check online with your local studios to find a restorative class near you. If you live in the Mason City, IA area and would like to attend a class with me please check out the classes tab on this website! Have a great day and be well.

Em<3