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Compassion Archives - Rakta Hot Yoga

Goodbye 2020

By Covid-19, Goal Setting, Health, Mindfulness, Transition, Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I struggled to write an End of 2020 blog this month. What could I possibly say about this past year that hasn’t already been said? 2020 was over and I was over it. Not wanting to spend any more time or energy on the year that seemed to crush us all, I was thankful for the inspiration of Jennifer Aniston.

I love Jennifer Aniston. I’ve been a fan for years and still root for her to reunite with Brad. Scrolling through social media, I came across an article about Aniston. It featured a recent photo of Jen, kissing herself in the bathroom mirror, reminding us to give ourselves a little love. The article described how amazing Jen looks at age 51, attributing her beauty and wellbeing to her strict diet and fitness routine, her early morning lemon water and meditation regimen, and her collagen protein line. I found myself going down an all too familiar spiral of self-worthlessness: I am not enough. My downward spirals typically follow a sustained period of eating Hershey’s Kisses filled with Cherry Cordial Crème washed down with wine.

Maybe I should set my alarm for 4:15am to allow time for meditation before I teach. I could buy Jen’s organic collagen peptides, add spirulina to every meal, increase my cardio output, and ensure eight hours of quality sleep every night. I’m cracking the code to Jen’s secret!

My anxious spiral crashes into an epiphany: Jen doesn’t have two teenagers to raise and get off to college, a husband with a demanding and erratic work schedule, a small business to run in a remote alpine town, and goats to feed in -14F. Plus, LA’s climate is so much more forgiving on the skin, right?

Because Jen’s life is totally different from mine, there’s no reason I should hold myself up to her standards. I removed these out-of-place expectations and enjoyed a wonderful moment of real reflection and true contentment. I don’t need to change my life around to be like Jen or anyone else. I can keep meditating in the afternoons because that works for me. I can come to work with alfalfa stuck to my leggings—I love my messy, crazy life! And I’m grateful for my health! Knowing this euphoric feeling of confident self-love will likely be mercilessly fleeting, I decided to create one intention for this new year: contentment.

I will practice being content with where I am each and every day, even while I continue to grow, learn, and evolve. I’m not going to devise a detailed plan calculating the value of skinning up Mt. Werner, eating homegrown Fenugreek microgreens, climbing 1,000 vertical feet, drinking 18 ounces of freshly juiced celery, reading a New York Times Bestseller about personal development, or weighing the right amount by summertime.

As I reflect on this year at Rakta, I can honestly say I feel content. It has been a wild ride, but we have learned and grown so much. Offering online classes had always seemed like a good idea, but it wasn’t something I was inclined to add before 2020 forced my hand. Private and small group yoga also seemed like great ideas, but I was too busy establishing a perfectly cultivated variety of daily classes to pursue privates and small groups.

We had our moments though! When the mandatory mask rule was implemented this summer, class participation tanked. When the public health code decreased class size to 10% capacity, I wasn’t sure we would survive. Any time I began to question our ability to persevere, someone would inevitably express gratitude for the studio and our yoga community. People kept telling me Rakta was making a difference in their lives, and I found myself re-energized and ready to go again the next day.

The Rakta community has been amazing. The support (showing up on your mat), the trust (hanging in there with our virtual technical difficulties), and the dedication (continuing to practice yoga with us) have been such gifts. Our core community has become so connected. Although I used to miss the energy of a full room, there is a beautiful energy of practicing with our tight knit yoga family. I am content. And I am hopeful for a vibrant, healthy 2021 for all of us.

To those I haven’t seen since March, many blessings for a wonderful 2021. You are missed and I hope our paths will cross again soon. I want to end with the finishing quote from our final Fire Hot Series class of 2020.

“May Light always surround you; Hope kindle and rebound you. May your Hurts turn to Healing; Your Heart embrace Feeling. May Wounds become Wisdom; Every Kindness a Prism. May Laughter infect you; Your Passion resurrect you. May Goodness inspire your Deepest Desires. Through all that you Reach For, May your arms Never Tire. ” ~ D. Simone

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

Every Little Bit Counts

By Fundraiser, Health, Mindfulness, Values, Yoga No Comments

Sometimes the news in the world—and even in our small community—can be so sad, upsetting, and daunting that it’s easy to feel helpless. It’s easy to doubt whether we can even make a difference. It’s mind boggling for me to think of the one billion animals killed in Australia’s fires. With so much death, destruction, and devastation, how can we make a difference? The truth is: every single animal we can help counts. Our support makes a huge difference in each animal’s life.

Expand this concept to the people within our community. We all know someone who has overwhelming medical bills. We know there are kids who need court advocates. People are fighting addiction, chronic pain, and social inequities. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how great the need is. But we have to remember that we can make a difference every day in little ways.

How we treat each other matters. Integrity, respect, and gratitude are big concepts most of us use to guide us through our daily lives. But even the small stuff has a big impact. How do we treat each other at busy intersections or when we zipper merge? How do we interact when we meet in the aisle at the grocery store? Do we make the effort to move our yoga mats over for the person who just walked into class? Do we make eye contact, or do we consciously avoid it? Do we take the extra two seconds to hold the door for someone behind us when it’s cold and we’re pressed for time? And if we do, are we smiling?

Think about what happens to your own mood when someone shows kindness and compassion. Little things we may not think about can make a big difference.

Years ago, I listened to a guest speaker at my kids’ school in Denver. This man had climbed the highest mountains on every continent. He told us that on each trek he had one thought: just one more step. When he felt weak and tired, he thought: just one more step. When he felt hungry and depleted: just one more step. When he was shuffling in pain: just one more step.

To this day, when I take on a project that’s big and challenging, I think of those words. Breaking things down into little pieces makes them more achievable. Just one more step.

The animals that suffered or perished in Australia’s wildfires really devastated me. As much as I wanted to board a plane and volunteer in an animal hospital, I knew that wasn’t realistic. Instead, we broke it down into a smaller, achievable course of action and decided to fundraise. I couldn’t fly to Australia, but we could help with ongoing costs of care and supplies. I was blown away by the generosity of the Rakta community and the love and concern expressed by so many. One little yoga studio in a small mountain town can send over two thousand dollars to help—that seemed pretty amazing.

While there are so many distressing issues in our world right now, we also have real, poignant needs in our own community. Horizons Specialized Services Early Intervention and Family Support programs help families who face overwhelming medical bills and other expenses associated with providing the best care for their children. As a Physician Assistant and parent, this hits home.

Throughout the month of February, proceeds of several classes will go to Horizons to help families facing challenges we can’t all comprehend. In the words of Judith Lasater, “Eventually our practice evolves from something we do into a truth we become.” Our yoga becomes more than open hips and cool inversions. We take the presence, calmness, and openness we create on the mat off the mat and weave it into our interactions with others. Every act of kindness and compassion matters.

In light and love,

Sandy

Getting Old, Getting Connected

By Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

This week, I turned 49. Do I feel old? No. I feel like I’ve been blessed with one heck of a fun adventure I get to call life, a wild and unscripted road trip I couldn’t have planned if I tried.

As I see so much suffering, uncertainty, and unease around me, I often ask myself: why do I feel blessed when others seem to struggle? With physical health, emotional or spiritual health, or mental health? When I turned 40, I remember thinking how old 40 seemed. Entering my final year of my fourth decade, I truly believe these 10 years are ones of growth and maturation. I finally found my stride and figured out who I am. I followed dreams and made bold moves (like move to Steamboat and open a yoga and wellness studio).

Our lives and the people in them are to be celebrated everyday. I don’t view my daily responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, mucking stalls, and managing behind the scenes tasks at Rakta as chores. Maybe with the exception of after school pick-up at the middle school (truthfully, it gives me angina), they’re parts of my life that fulfill me.

Life is short. I’m almost half a century old already! And with everything I’ve experienced and lived through, all the old clichés make more sense, become obvious. Live every day like it could be your last takes on a different meaning when you’re suddenly faced with an ailing parent, the death of a friend or pet, or the reality of cancer as it spreads through your community. Over this past decade, I’ve learned to be truly grateful for parents, family, good friends to confide in, great food and wine, the joy of cooking, the serenity of a walk with my sweet dog, and the sound of my goats greeting me. All the little things that happen before and after the big events—that’s where the beauty is.

My vision for this year is to create more real and deep connections with others and to tune in to my own innate wisdom about what I need in my body and life at this moment. The yoga studio is a magical space where we can connect with others through intention and breath but also have a truly unique and individual experience. In yoga, being united and together doesn’t diminish the power of individuality. It’s taken me 18 years of yoga practice to own my body’s strengths, injuries, and weaknesses. I’m no longer defined by how long it takes me to skin to the gondola or run a 10K, or how open my hips are in Pigeon or Lizard Lunge Twist. I choose to define myself by how I treat all living creatures on this earth. That’s what it’s about.

Moving into fall and winter—seasons that are darker and colder, I recognize that many people can feel isolated or lonely, disinterested or disconnected. In our social media-driven society, it’s easy to get lost in virtual misinterpretations and unhealthy comparisons to unrealistic ideals or imagined realities.

But Rakta is real, and open, and welcoming! We’re here to provide connections through asana, community, health, and new experiences. There are so many things about yoga that I love, and there are so many benefits to regular practice. Look for Rakta’s next challenge, some social sweats, and happy hours. We’ll coordinate some social ski and skate-ski days in addition to our existing book clubs, teacher trainings, and wellness lectures.

We’re all better when we’re together, feeling connected to ourselves and each other.

In light and love,

Sandy

Importance of Self-Compassion in Making Change

By Health, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Self-compassion is an important part of overcoming addiction, losing weight, or making any kind of change in your life. American culture tends to emphasize self criticism; we’re driven to be hard on ourselves in order to make lasting change instead of approaching change from a place of self-compassion. People may mistake self-compassion with self indulgence, pity, or overly permissive behavior where making excuses is prioritized over taking responsibility. Research from neuroscience, however, shows that people who practice self-compassion get more done and are able to sustain their work better than those who don’t practice self-compassion.

So what is self-compassion? Dr. Kristen Neff identifies three parts of self-compassion. The first part is self-kindness or the act of being kind to yourself. This includes being understanding and nurturing instead of harshly critical and judgemental of yourself. You are honest and clear about your faults but accepting and tolerant of them while seeking to do better. Self-kindness should not be confused with destructive pleasure seeking. When you are kind to yourself, you don’t engage in behaviors that don’t nurture the body or soul. You choose things which truly make you feel better and support you during dark times.

The second component of self-compassion is common humanity or the realization that it’s not just you–everyone makes mistakes and feels inadequate at times. If you see yourself as part of the whole instead of a isolated outcast, you are less likely to engage in the “poor me” pitfall of self indulgence.

Mindfulness makes up the third portion of self-compassion. Mindfulness is a state of non-judgemental awareness and self observation. How does one develop mindfulness? A great way to become more mindful and tuned in is to spend 3-5 minutes a day working on deep belly breathing in a quiet relaxed state, allowing your mind to focus on nothing more than the breath. This allows you to tune in to your body.

Start to note your internal dialogue, which is the voice in your head running commentary all day long. Is your dialogue helpful? Or is it overly critical and and telling you that you are “screwing up”? How can you change the dialogue to serve you and not cut yourself down? One way is to focus on the process of what you’re trying to accomplish instead of the desired outcome. Instead of being overly critical if you don’t achieve your expected reward, honor your deeper values and accept that the process is rarely, if ever, perfect.

Self-compassion is not an excuse to let yourself off the hook, ignore real problems, or be overly self-centered. People who integrate self-compassion tactics during life changes find they can regulate their feelings, experience less stress, and have less reactive behavior. To quote John O’Donahue, “when you are compassionate with yourself, you trust in your soul, which will let you guide your life. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny better than you do.”