Category

Vulnerability

Impermanence

By Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Impermanence is the state of lasting for only a limited period of time. A very dear friend of mine is moving away from this valley in just two weeks. She is relocating to Pennsylvania which seems awfully far away. As I think back on the many fun times we’ve had together, I realize I never expected this past spring would have been the last time we rode horses through pastures of baby calves. I never thought we would have already played our last game of pickleball or taken our last Snow Bowl bowling lesson together. We all know change is a constant and certain part of life. In yoga, we practice presence on and off our mat. We understand tomorrow isn’t promised to us, but even with that knowledge, do we really embrace life and those around us?

Another friend of mine from Denver is getting ready to square off with stage three breast cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy are in her future. She is one determined and strong woman, and I have been inspired by her for years. I fully believe she will crush cancer, but I know she has a fight ahead and her life of leading yoga and fitness classes and owning a gym will abruptly change for a bit. How often do we think about our practice of yoga as a gift instead of just something we schedule at 8:30am between our morning routine and the start of our work day?

When I lived in Denver, I was a tired mom of two young and energetic kids. I could easily create a pity party of the never ending needs and demands of raising children. Driving my route for daily errands, I would occasionally (and seemingly when I needed it the most) drive past the house of an older woman going through chemotherapy. Her elderly, frail husband would help her with her walker as she slowly made her way from the house to the car. Thinking about what she faced each day initiated the immediate attitude reset I needed. Awareness about her situation heightened my gratitude for my own health and lifestyle. I wasn’t in and out of a hospital or doctor’s office; I was running in the park with a stroller and playing in the sunshine with my kids.

We take so many things for granted. The place we call home, our beautiful Yampa Valley, is one that so many people from all over the country want to see and visit. We regularly experience gorgeous weather and we can enjoy long trails that take us away on hikes, bikes, or skis. We share our lives and land with wild animals that seem exotic to city dwellers. And, we can easily connect with each another through the wonderful small businesses around town including gyms and yoga studios.

We take so much for granted until one day life instantly changes. Maybe you get sick or injured and your routine is interrupted. Maybe you need to tend to a family member or friend who faces sobering challenges. Suddenly that typical yoga class or regular walk up Spring Creek with your dog sounds so lovely. You wish you could be in the routine you took for granted. As we have learned this year, things can change in a moment. Again and again. My wish is that we all approach our time, our activities, and our loved ones with real-time authentic presence and gratitude.

In light and love,

Sandy

Grace

By Ayurveda, Breathing, Covid-19, Energy, Health, Mindfulness, Seasons, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Last month, the concept for my blog focused on my observation that we act differently around others while wearing a mask. When we are anonymous, our moral codes are disguised and we are not accountable. It seemed like we were losing kindness, connection, common courtesy, and politeness as we interacted or avoided interaction with each other. Over the past month, I have personally witnessed and heard others relay stories of aggressive, hurtful, and rude behavior in our town. It feels like we have hit an energetic low in this community.

There are so many possible reasons or a combination of reasons for this. Steamboat is super crowded right now. It has become more challenging to get outside and enjoy the feeling of getting away from it all. There are more people on the trails, at the lakes, and in open spaces. There are ongoing economic concerns as well as uncertainty around COVID-19 and its future impact on our lifestyles, businesses, physical and mental health, children, parents, and politics.

One thing to remember is to take a breath and realize that we are in the middle of pitta season. Wait, what? Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, is the traditional medicine system of India. It is based on the idea of creating balance throughout the body’s systems via diet, herbs, yoga, and pranayama. Things that affect the body’s balance include the seasons and the associated temperature, characteristics, and elements.

Pitta, or fire, season runs from late spring to early fall. In this season of fire energy, we can get out of balance from living at a high elevation, being closer to the sun, enjoying outdoor activities in the heat, lack of air conditioning, and even the foods we choose to eat. Too much pitta may manifest as becoming impatient, quick to anger, confrontational, or grumpy. It can also manifest as skin rashes, joint pain, or gastrointestinal symptoms such as reflux or diarrhea. The bottom line is: it’s hot, crowded, and we are losing our cool!

The one word that keeps coming to mind as I begin my asana practice on my mat these days is grace. It is one of my favorite words. I love its simplicity and elegance when spoken aloud. The word has several different definitions and uses. It can mean smoothness of action or beauty of form. It can indicate a pleasing or attractive quality. It can refer to kindness, forgiveness, or reverence.

When I practice grace on my mat, I am meeting myself right where my body is with honesty and kindness. Through the lens of an observer, I honor myself. When I practice grace with others, I accept them where they are in their journey and I extend kindness and compassion. I honor them. Grace is ending class with Namaste, which means the light, spirit, and divine in me bows to the light, spirit, and divine in you. I honor myself and I honor you.

It is easy to practice grace. And it is easy to be full of grace, until you aren’t anymore. I can be full of grace until I walk into the grocery store and spot someone walking down the aisle the wrong way with their mask below their nose. Incredulity, righteousness, and rage flash through my system. And I am instantly reminded that grace is a practice, and I am committed to it. My righteousness recedes, and so does my judgment.

Grace means we acknowledge that we are all shipwrecked in this boundless and unforgiving ocean right now. And we acknowledge, too, that we are all in our own, unique boats. I cannot assume I know and understand the kind of stress someone else is experiencing, just as others cannot truly know and understand mine. Just as it is important to balance pitta by selecting or avoiding certain foods and activities, it is also important to find ways to cultivate grace with yourself and others around you.

In light and love,

Sandy

Seeing Behind the Mask

By Health, Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness No Comments

Last summer, my daughter and I rode a crowded subway in New York City. I wondered about the people packed onto the subway with me. Where do they live? What do they do for work? Are they happy? Who are the people in their lives? I assumed everyone contemplated the lives of people with whom they shared public transportation, but my daughter’s skeptical facial expression gave me doubt.

I’ve always been curious about other people. Passing by houses, I imagine who the families inside are. What’s their story? How did they land there? When I travel, I poke around neighborhoods trying to catch a glimpse of locals’ lives.

As a PA, I speculated about patients’ lives a lot. Without knowing very much about our patients, I had to make judgments about their capabilities. Will they be able to take the medication as I’m directing? Will they be able to get to a pharmacy? Do they understand when they need to be seen again? If I could have one super power, I wanted it to be the ability to feel patients’ symptoms (very briefly) so I could understand what they were experiencing. I think this curiosity—and this desire for connection—is why I liked medicine and why I’m drawn to teaching. Practicing medicine is teaching—well over half of what we do is educate those we treat as well as those with whom we work.

Before moving to Steamboat, I had the incredible opportunity to work with a good friend. Dr. Chris Colwell was the head of Denver Health Emergency Department. One evening while attending a soup kitchen just blocks from Denver Health, he recognized the need for a free medical clinic for the homeless. His goal was to triage and provide care for those who were getting lost in the system but didn’t need to be in the emergency department.

It wasn’t long before we were seeing more than 50 patients in two hours. The success of Dr. Colwell’s clinic wasn’t innovative technology, advanced equipment, or potent medication. In fact, most medication we offered was over the counter. The success of the clinic was based on the connections we made and the care we provided. For once, our patients had someone to check in with each week. We knew their names and where they lived or camped. We cared deeply about their physical and mental health. We laughed and joked together. We grieved together when some patients never returned. We saw our patients and they felt seen. To be seen is so important in this world.

As soon as face masks were recommended or required for us to wear in March, I noticed people looking past each other. Maybe in part it was our adaptation to the new social distancing, but we started not seeing other people—even when we were out. Often times, eye contact was avoided. If eye contact was made, I sensed fear behind it. And of course, wearing a mask makes some of us feel less conspicuous or more anonymous. Our personal dynamics changed dramatically.

Not being seen has so many social ramifications that are not beneficial for society. I’ve noticed anger and aggression rearing up in many places but especially on social media where inherently we are not seen. In isolation, people can hide behind a computer screen, appear as a cursor, and leave hurtful comments with no real time or direct consequence. Without seeing others and without being seen, are we different people?

As we navigate this pandemic and the waves, resurgences, and phases of new normal, we really need to see each other again. We need to be open, curious, and respectful of each other. We need to step away from the defensive and over-protective; we need to nurture connection to other humans.

The focus of my classes the past few weeks has been on being that one—that one person who forgives, who looks past insults, who maneuvers the awkward situation and finds the authentic individual behind the overwhelming negativity and stark division. Be that one—that one person who extends kindness to all (starting with the self!). Can we see people, make eye contact, smile behind our masks, and say hello? Can we remember that we’re all connected? Can we stay curious about each other so we can keep learning, experiencing, and moving forward together? Can we imagine what others are feeling? Can we care what it’s like to be the person just six feet away?

In light and love,

Sandy

The Gift of Time & Yellowjackets

By Health, Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie right now. Empty streets, empty supermarket shelves, and toilet paper panic. The past few days have been difficult trying to make the right decision to close Rakta when, as a small business owner, I feel uncertain and anxious. I’ve been concerned about my teachers and concerned about taking away a place people can come to breathe, ground, and find peace.

But, I believe in my heart that closing is the right thing to do. Social distancing helps flatten the curve and reduce the impact on our healthcare system. Please remember that real people with families are working in hospitals and clinics. They are risking their health to take care of us. We owe it to them to be responsible and look out for society as a whole.

Remember, too, that we have been preparing for this kind of experience. Every yoga class, posture, meditation, and quote is designed to help you feel great when life is good and to feel stable, ready, and equipped when life is uncertain, unprecedented, or unfamiliar.

This is a time to grow and experiment. This may be your first opportunity to practice at home. It might feel awkward or empty at first, but lean in. Be present. Know that you are the source of your own calm. The pause between stimulus and response is your breath, and this is where growth occurs. Use your yoga tools.

Last fall, we had a bizarre infestation of yellowjackets in my house. It nearly unglued me. I have a real fear of all mean stinging vespids (not honeybees—they’re sweet and I love them). In the summertime, I jump away from yellowjackets when they land on my meal, hover, and dare me to proceed to eat and practice proper social etiquette.

The infestation in our house was like living in a horror movie. We wore shoes because dying yellowjackets fell from ceiling lights and blended into the carpet as they crawled around using their last measure of life. They fell on my son’s pillow at night. They dropped into my morning coffee while their counterparts buzzed overhead.

We called exterminators and set traps outside. “It seems this winter may be unusual and we’re seeing some bizarre behavior,” professionals explained. “Just wait it out and it will pass.”

About six weeks ago, I started feeling a shift in the energy around Steamboat. People seemed stressed and busier than ever. When I asked, the common response was: “I just have so much going on.” People stopped having time for social gatherings, meeting up to ski, and making phone calls. I thought back to my yellowjacket friends from the fall (yes, I’m overcoming my aversion) and I thought to myself: is something looming?

Here we are on March 14th, 2020. The COVID-19 situation means things are changing rapidly. It’s day-by-day, hour-by-hour with regard to policy implementations, cancellations, and closings. This is uncharted territory for the entire world.

But we are all in this together. Our over-scheduled lives have just been completely opened up. It may feel daunting, you may feel lost. But you have the power to make the most of this gift of time.

Get outside and walk, run, or bike. Listen to the sounds of nature and feel the springtime ground beneath you. Look through your pantry and finally use the dried beans and quinoa you intended to use last winter. Read a book. Catch up on sleep. Hang out with your family. Sit, meditate, and evaluate how much of your busyness is necessary versus optional.

Following the news nonstop will not help. Refer to one or two trusted sources for updates and information. Don’t fall victim to panic and the sneaky, dangerous every-man-for-himself mentality. You’ve been training for this moment on your mats for years. Continue the yoga without your mat. Continue the yoga.

In light and love,

Sandy

Get Outta Your Head

By Energy, Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I spend a lot of time in my head thinking, analyzing, overthinking, planning, dreaming, and creating. One of the reasons I was initially drawn to yoga is the freedom of getting out of my head and connecting with my breath and my body. I liked it so much that I became a yoga teacher, opened my own yoga studio, and started my own yoga business.

Instead of living in a stretchy bliss of ease and acceptance, I began to overthink and overanalyze all things yoga. I can tell after a class I taught if I was too in my head—the class didn’t feel right and I’m left dissatisfied.

When I take yoga classes or practice at home, I’m still in my head. “What a great cue,” I think, or “wow, I never thought of that sequence.” As much as I try to simply receive, I’m stuck in the mode of creating, learning, and trying to improve and evolve as a teacher. Have I lost yoga to my monkey mind?

I was recently invited to preview a Qi Gong Equine Therapy model a friend of mine created. She wanted to test things out before working with caregivers of hospice patients. Having no exposure to Qi Gong, I had no idea what to expect.

I grew up riding and raising horses, so I figured I had that part down. I was with a wonderful group of women and we were warned that emotions could arise. I trusted we would hold space for each other.

After a brief introduction, we did a few basic Qi Gong exercises. I was immediately blown away by how grounded, peaceful, open, centered, and calm I felt. I didn’t notice until later that I was actually out of my head for a bit. The purpose of these exercises was to get into our hearts to connect with the horses.

We went into the arena to find our equine partner. Some horses might choose us, we were told, or we might choose the horses. Entering the arena, I had butterflies. I had memories of walking into a middle school dance. The horse I was drawn to passed me by. Feeling like we were playing musical chairs, I quickly chose a handsome chestnut gelding named Doc. Doc looked completely disinterested in me.

I wondered if I made a bad choice. We all circled up. The horses came over and circled up with their human partners, too—except Doc. He turned away from us and took a nap.

My brief relationship with Doc felt a bit like my current relationship with my 14 year old son. Before transitioning to the next activity, I asked if I should pick another horse. I wasn’t sure Doc and I were a good fit.

I was assured that I absolutely had the right horse. I was skeptical but started the work of learning to connect by leading with my heart and getting out of my head. Without using verbal commands or touching the horses, we were to use our eyes, our heart energy, and some movement to invite the horse to walk with us. This is based in Qi Gong as the mind goes where the eyes go and energy goes where the mind goes.

It’s hard for me to put into words what this experience was like. Before I began, I was instructed to close my eyes, come into my breath, get out of my mind, and assess my energy level on a scale of 1-10. We were reminded that all relationships look different and we were encouraged to just be.

My energy level was a 7-8. I was nervous that Doc and I would fail. And if I failed to connect with Doc, then naturally I’d fail to connect with my son. Realizing how in my head I was, I started questioning my ability to teach yoga, berating myself until the big question finally reared its ugly head: am I enough?

I found my way out of my head, focusing my gaze and opening my heart. As Doc and I connected, I felt something I can only describe as a pleasant electric shock in my heart. My heart felt like it was bursting open. I could feel myself beaming and fighting back tears. The connection was immediately lost when my monkey mind kicked in, but we could re-establish connection when I came back to my center, my body, and my breath.

It was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had with a horse and I struggle to accurately describe it. For days afterwards I experienced euphoria while also feeling like I could burst into tears.

What did I learn? That I had more connection with a simple Qi Gong exercise than I’ve had recently with my yoga practice. That I’m in my head. That relationships that don’t look like you think they should can still evoke connection. I learned what pure, innocent connection feels like. And most importantly for me right now, I’ve become even more inspired to get out of my head and teach from my heart.

In light and love,

Sandy

 

Brene Brown, Netflix, and my Rabbit Hole

By Brene Brown, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness No Comments

As many of you know, I’m a huge BBF: Brene Brown Fan. I love her books, Ted Talks, and most recently her Netflix documentary, Brené Brown: the Call to Courage. She’s a born storyteller and as she humorously shares stories, you almost don’t realize how much learning, contemplation, and reflection you’re experiencing. In her documentary, she talks about what it means to dare greatly, or to be vulnerable.

Because I believe the world would be a better place if everyone watched Brene’s videos and read her books, I enthusiastically encouraged students to watch her as I began teaching class the other day. I even used the quote that inspired the title of her book Daring Greatly. While I could easily conjure up so many past examples of being vulnerable in my life, it seems ironic that I didn’t see my very next experience in vulnerability and shame as I was heading right into it.

Over spring break, I changed up my flow and it had some tricky transitions. I had already taught it successfully a few times, but this time I ad-libbed some new poses and I got lost. Getting lost in teaching happens—you lose your train of thought, miss a posture, confuse the left with the right, no big deal. But I was really lost, completely disoriented, and without traction. I was so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t get out. I was distracted by stories and thoughts in my head: “I’m not good enough to teach” and “I don’t belong here.” After class, a friend who gives very honest feedback told me the class wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but I was a complete mess. I know it’s just a yoga class, but I still felt inadequate, embarrassed, and ashamed.

Any kind of teaching is generally considered a vulnerable experience. You put yourself out there—your knowledge, ability, values, and emotions. By nature, I’m an introvert. I’m fairly shy. Big parties overwhelm me. When I’m not teaching, I spend a lot of time alone.

Even though teaching yoga isn’t rocket science, time and care go into creating a playlist, theming a class, coming up with a sequence. You don’t really know until you’re in the middle of class if things will come together as you planned or fall apart. I was watching myself fail and it was a perfect reminder of Brene Brown’s lessons. I started my class with her wise words and stumbled into a rabbit hole. I was living her Netflix documentary in my 60-minute flow.

As we approach the two-year anniversary of Rakta Hot Yoga, I think back on all the times I felt vulnerable as I ventured through the process of starting a business in a small town. I’m so glad I chose to dare greatly. I’m so thankful to the Rakta community for all the love and support we have for each other. Brene Brown emphasizes the value of embracing the ordinary versus always chasing the extraordinary. After traumatic events, she says, it’s the small and ordinary things we don’t have anymore that we miss the most—the unremarkable moments that hide between the momentous occasions.

I feel privileged to be able to spend ordinary days with this community coming together on our mats. I do love the extraordinary gatherings (goat yoga, guest teachers, donation classes), but it’s the everyday classes and connecting with people that I love the most.

As we enter into a new year, I vow to continue to dare greatly. I vow to keep taking chances and trying new things. I vow to keep being vulnerable, and I invite you to do the same. Let’s not miss the ordinary for chasing the extraordinary. Let’s allow for vulnerability on our mats, through our flows, and in our lives.

In light and love,

Sandy