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

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

 

What to Expect in an Ananda Yoga & Meditation Class

I was trained in a small village in the very rural foothills of Northern California at a magical place called The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation. I return back about once every year to further my knowledge for not only the classes I teach but for myself.

I started out VERY strict with myself. I followed the “Ananda way” for the first 3 years after attending my school the first time. Over the last couple of years I have started to recognize that an extreme of anything is often detrimental to the initial intention. My intention with learning and teaching yoga was to understand myself better and to understand the world around me in its truest form. I am at a place where I no longer strictly focus on the way I thought yoga had to be done, but instead I focus on my experience of each aspect of my practice and what my body and mind are asking me to do. What I mean by this is that if I feel like connecting two poses together (not the traditional “Ananda way”) as a flow, or if I feel like reconstructing the sequence other than how it was originally taught to me, that all of this is ok. The focus is not how I complete my practice. The focus is that I quiet my mind from these worldly distractions and practice being in my own stillness, my own  space.

My practice is still evolving and I am proud of whatever form it takes. I am grateful to have the ability to share this experience with others and I’d like to go deeper into the traditional ways of Ananda Yoga. This sequence below is the way I was taught to formulate my personal practice sessions and classes that I taught. I appreciate its power immensely.

  1. The Energization Exercises: This is a series of 39 exercises used to physically warm-up the body and energetically to experience the body as energy.
  2. Asanas: Asana refers to the physical yoga postures commonly known from most westernized yoga classes. These postures usually include one of each of the following: a balancing pose, a forward fold (flexion of the spine), a backward bend (extension of the spine, a twist reflecting on each side, and a lateral movement of the spine reflecting on each side (side-to-side). I was taught that the most energetically beneficial way of sequencing is to start with a balancing pose, move through a forward fold, twist, and lateral movement to open the spine, and a backward bend to energize the spine and to draw energy towards the brain. Drawing energy towards the brain is said to benefit one in meditation as it takes much focus and energy. In Ananda Yoga, each posture has its own affirmation that is to be repeated by the practitioner. Traditionally, there is a short period of time between postures where one practices a “mini-meditation”. This is a time to focus on one’s experience of the previous pose on both body and mind.
  3. Deep Relaxation: This is also known as Savasana or corpse pose. I have heard many times that this is a favorite. In Savasana we practice stillness while resting the body in its anatomical position lying supinated, or on our backs. This is a time to rest the body, but not the mind. In Savasana try to keep your gaze gently lifted, this will help to keep you awake. For beginners and intermediate levels it is beneficial to have a guide during Savasana. Your teacher may use poetry, visualizations, readings or additional methods for you to keep your attention on. Try to keep your energy in the body, moving upwards towards the brain. Utilize your breath. One of my teachers at yoga school told me to be cautious when entering into Savasana as many people release their hard-earned energy out of the body as they lay down. This is probably due to the body position and its relation to how we sleep. Habits die hard.
  4. Meditation: Traditionally in Ananda Yoga meditation contains 2 preliminary techniques, a practice of releasing the breath, a mantra and finally time to enjoy our cultivated stillness. This is done with the Hong Sau technique. Hong, meaning “I am” and Sau, meaning, “Spirit”. This mantra is used to help one connect with our true essence.

So there you have it. The traditional way of practicing Ananda Yoga. I utilize this in my personal practice frequently. I am grateful that I am no longer so hard on myself about always practicing and teaching in this format. It is beneficial to both me and my students that there is a level of freedom and creativity in the practice of Yoga.

-Namaste Soul-Friends

The Matrix vs. True Reality

I only recently returned from the Ananda School of Yoga and Meditation in Nevada City, CA. This was my third time attending the retreat center and school. I took classes on Advanced Pranayama (Advanced Breathing Techniques) and classes on how to teach Restorative Yoga. As it always seems to be, it was a magical experience. I feel like this place is the charging port to my spiritual battery. I discovered new insights, personal lessons, and tons of techniques to share in classes!
As I was preparing to leave the Ananda School of Yoga and Meditation one of my teachers, Gyandev, said to me, “Emily, you must enter back into the Matrix. Remember, out their is the matrix. A world of delusion and human emotions. Here, this is reality.”
This really resonates with me. I would like to add that I feel that I hold the magical place of Ananda Village within me. I return to it with every meditation or moment of true awareness. Inside of you, when you experience that place of Peace, that is reality. This physical world, the world “out there” is the matrix. Don’t be fooled by the filters of the matrix. The filters of human emotions are not who we are. They may trick our current experience and we may feel them in the body or brain, but who we truly are is that Peace, Joy, and Love. That stillness in meditation. The joy or love you feel with your family, partner, or dearest friends. That shared experience of a divine quality. That is our true essence peaking through. That is who you truly are.
In times of woe, desperation, greed, addiction, or heartache know that that is NOT who you are. That is the matrix of this outside world dizzying your Truth. We are all the light or energy that is invisible moving around us. Feel it move within your body as you breath, feel it captivate you, inspire you as it moves in the sound waves of music. Feel acceptance in your heart that this body is the separating factor from your light and energy being absorbed into the bigger pool of light and energy. This body may have it’s magical moments and moments of pain, but it is not who you truly are. Acceptance of the bigger picture will awaken you to your True Reality.
If you would like to hear a different perspective on this matter by Paramhansa Yogananda click this link: https://youtu.be/RQoYRk3vgO8?t=3m10s
Blessings to you all,
Emily Basili