Tag Archives: yoga

To there – from here – with help

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“For one month follow the yes and don’t fight with no. Give more cooperation to the yes – that is from where you will be united. No never helps to attain unity. It is always yes that helps, because yes is acceptance, yes is trust, yes is prayer.”    – Osho

savasana

This morning, I posed a question to a friend:

“If today you had a strong desire to jump on a plane and go to another country for a week, if that place was calling you, would you do it?” Like many of you, I suspect, his answer was “no”. His reasons are probably yours, too: (lack of) money, plans and time.

I recognize my proposition as a tad nonsensical, but not far off from the space where I believe you should take flight if you’re called. Where do you want to go? And how are you going to get there?

When I was invited to move to Italy for a year, I was riding a wave of semi-irrational momentum that only brought me pause the night I sat at my kitchen table in Philadelphia, hunched over a glowing Excel spreadsheet with a phone pressed to my ear, my very rational mother on the other end.

“I can’t gooooo,” I wailed. I was staring at the screen of numbers – big numbers with dollar signs. My mother is extremely talented at managing, saving and moving dollars, an all-around rock star at her relationship with money, and she replied: “You’re right. You can’t.”

I could have folded at this point. Given up on this expensive dream. Cursed the lack of a trust fund. Instead, I called my sister. Though she didn’t give me money, she did tell me how much she had taken out in student loans for graduate school.

Then I sold my car and cashed in my vacation days. I left my job and I moved to Italy.

italy road

It wasn’t exactly waking up one day and putting a plane ticket on a credit card, but figuring out the numbers did feel satisfying, like scratching a hard-to-reach itch. When you want something bad enough, you get fueled to find and finish ways to make it happen. If you get too scared, or if there is a bigger plan in store for you, momentum usually dies and your Excel sheet wins.

Now, two years later, I’m planning my travels to Nicaragua with a group of yoga teacher trainees to build a school in a village there. You might think that getting to a hot country lacking in luxury would be easier than getting to the lush vineyards of northern Italy, but the legwork involved in coming up with the money to get to Nicaragua has proven to be more complex, challenging and uncomfortable by far.

While getting to Italy necessitated signing papers and promissory notes, getting to Nicaragua involves me asking other people to pay for it. Think that sounds weird? So do I. To participate in the school build project, each trainee has to raise $5,000 to fund a portion of the school building materials and their room and board with a host family in the village. While I could, hypothetically, pay my own way, this would be cheating the type of journey this is supposed to be (and is kind of against the rules of my training). So I’m challenging myself to do something uncomfortable. I’m challenging myself to be comfortable with asking for help.

Partnering with local mayor’s offices and a number of local NGOs, buildOn has constructed 94 schools throughout the regions of León, Chinandega, Nueva Segovia, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Madriz. These schools have built a new generation of readers and writers with limitless opportunities.

Partnering with local mayor’s offices and a number of local NGOs, buildOn has constructed 94 schools throughout the regions of León, Chinandega, Nueva Segovia, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Madriz. These schools have built a new generation of readers and writers with limitless opportunities.

Help given freely and without prompting – like when someone takes half of the six grocery bags you’re carrying out of your hand so that you can get your keys out of your pocket, or cleans the dishes after dinner because you did the cooking – feels pretty loving and fair.

But asking for help? Hard. Asking for money? Even worse. Asking for help makes me feel vulnerable, guilty, needy and annoying. Why should you help me? Help yourself! You work hard for your money! Go buy that plane ticket to Nepal and get yourself a nice cup of tea.

fold gratitude

Through this process of trying to get myself to Nicaragua by fundraising, I realized that a “You find your way and I’ll find mine” attitude is my default mode of operation, and it’s hindering. Yet it’s not surprising. I come from a lineage of strong, capable women and men – nurses and steel workers and breadwinners; the caretakers, not the ones being taken care of.

I wonder if the Nicaraguan men and women with whom we will build the school felt – and may feel when we get there – uncomfortable asking for help. There is no way that they could afford the materials for this new building without the assistance of buildOn, the non-profit facilitating the project, or the fundraising efforts of our Beyond Asana yoga teacher training group. It’s a lot of money. It’s taking a lot of time. It can feel like a burden. And yet I’m happy to do it.

Lajero School Volunteers, Nicaragua

Lajero School Volunteers, Nicaragua

But first –

To help others, I want to allow myself to experience what it feels like to be helped. To ask for support and to receive it. To live up to the responsibility I’m offering to accept. To let myself feel real, heavy gratitude toward another person for making something happen, and not just proud of myself for balancing my Excel sheet.

Asking isn’t easy and receiving isn’t a given. But I’m learning that when you let others help you, you give them the chance to be powerful and bright. When you let others help you, you relinquish control. You believe that you’re worthy of care and attention. When you let others help you, momentum and grace is gathered into a force infused with the energy of thousands and that vastly surpasses what could come from just one pair of hands.

Being on the receiving end of help allows you to learn what gratitude truly is, to say thank you… and mean it.

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Thank you to everyone who has made an individual donation on my buildOn page. At the halfway mark of my yoga teacher training, I am, fittingly halfway toward my fundraising goal. Thank you to the organizations whose foundational and generous support is helping to raise fuller funds faster:

“The drawing shows me at a glance what would be spread over ten pages in a book.” Australian artist Helena Rosebery sketched gorgeous "Veggie Asana" notecards for donor incentive gifts. View her work & imaginative design services at  http://www.facebook.com/bobiro.graphics

“The drawing shows me at a glance what would be spread over ten pages in a book.” Australian artist Helena Rosebery sketched gorgeous “Veggie Asana” notecards for donor incentive gifts. View her work & imaginative design services at http://www.facebook.com/bobiro.graphics

Meghan Nunes, Arbonne Independent Consultant & colleagues are donating a portion of summer sales to the Nicaragua school build project, having already contributed $250. Visit Meghan's page to buy fresh Arbonne skin care and health products at http://www.facebook.com/MeghanNunesArbonneI

Meghan Nunes, Arbonne Independent Consultant & colleagues are donating a portion of summer sales to the Nicaragua school build project, having already contributed $250. Visit Meghan’s page to buy fresh Arbonne skin care and health products at https://www.facebook.com/MeghanNunesArbonneIC

The fun guys over at Jackie Party Tops are donating each tank sale ($25) bought with the online promo code YOGA to the project. Head over to www.jackiepartytops.com to purchase (Women & Men's sizes)

The fun guys over at Jackie Party Tops are donating each tank sale ($25) bought with the online promo code YOGA to the project. Head over to http://www.jackiepartytops.com to purchase colorful tanks for women & men

Nicole Smith, owner of Pacific Yoga, Philadelphia's newest yoga studio in Fishtown, is hosting once-a-month First Friday pay-what-you-can donation classes from 6:00-7:30. All proceeds go to the project. www.pacificyogaphilly.com

Nicole Smith, owner of Pacific Yoga, Philadelphia’s newest yoga studio in Fishtown, is hosting once-a-month First Friday pay-what-you-can donation classes from 6:00-7:30 through November. All proceeds go to the project. http://www.pacificyogaphilly.com

Thank you to my teachers and my teachers’ teachers. To the leaders of the Beyond Asana yoga teacher training, Brittany Policastro and Maura Manzo. And to buildOn for their vision and organization.

Beyond Asana founded by Brittany Policastro Philadelphia, PA www.beyondasana.org

Founded by Brittany Policastro Philadelphia, PA http://www.beyondasana.org

Next Stop: Nicaragua

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“It’s no accident that when you look closely into the eyes of another, the very first thing you see is yourself. That when you hold their hand, you can feel your own warmth.  And that when you give of yourself, you give to yourself. Because, quite simply, both you and they are the same.” – TUT

The road more or less traveled, Nicaragua

The road more or less traveled, Nicaragua

“You used to dance,” she said to me from the front of the room. I gazed up at her from my crossed-legged position on the floor and nodded my head. “I used to dance, ballet mostly,” I confirmed.

“I see you dancing,” she continued, doing an awkward waltz to strengthen her point, then laughed, apologized for her lack of coordination.  “You’re in the middle of a circle of children patting them on the head,” she continued, “You’re protecting them. Why did you turn this opportunity down?”

Flustered, I racked my brain for what this stranger could possibly be referring to. “I don’t know?” I offered.

“You’re going to build schools. Like Oprah,” she said definitively, snapping closed the book on the prediction for the next chapter in my life before moving on to the next person in the crowd.

Some people carefully make plans, weighing the pros and cons of the risks and benefits on their decision chart, researching and reading and editing until they have the most logical answer. I consider the advice of psychics.

I let the prediction go, but realized a few weeks later what she was talking about. In January, I had been discussing work with a yoga teacher and traveling with a group of yoga teacher trainees to Nicaragua to build a school for children. But, in January, I had plans to move to California, and I backed out of working with the teacher and the training. I turned the offer down.

I used to dance. Sometimes I still do. In my room. Big, brazen dances with strong arms and elongated legs. That creative energy is contained within my four walls, even though I often yearn to break it out and bring the wild dance to the streets.

As January fell into February which turned into March, I started to be pulled in a direction that could allow me to use more of this creativity. To write, to generate ideas, and to share what I know. I chose not to move to California. I wanted to jump into something else.  A project. Anything. I wrote to the yoga teacher and asked if I could have a do-over. I wanted in.

49% of students in buildOn schools are female.

49% of students in buildOn schools are female.

As of today, I’m at the 40 hour mark in the 200 hours I need to be a certified yoga teacher, though explaining what we’re doing in those terms minimizes the growth and openness that this training is provoking in me and in 11 other women – and one calm, anchoring man.

As a group, we’re raising over $100,000 with buildOn to build two schools for children in two villages in Nicaragua; the schools will double as hurricane shelters. The kiddos we will build for are currently taking classes, but they don’t have a proper building in which to learn. As of now, their school looks something like this:

Old School

Old School

No one is saying that what happens inside of this school is any less important than in any other school, but the village wants a new, bigger, sturdier school so that even more kids can learn and read and play in a safe space.  And the kids deserve it. The new school will look something like this:

New School

New School

We will be in the village for a week in February 2014. During that time will get to know the people who live there. (I’m practicing my Spanish.) We will eat together and play together and build the school together. I predict we might even dance together. I hope we do.

My portion of the school fundraising efforts is $5,000. For more information about the Beyond Asana buildOn Project in Nicaragua and to donate, please visit my fundraising page.

Italy the Ordinary

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“I believe it is in the way we handle the ordinary that gives us the foundation to step into the extraordinary when it calls.”
– Margaret Stortz

“It’s only time, it will go by. Don’t look for love in faces, places; it’s in you. That’s where you’ll find kindness. Be here now.”
– Ray LaMontagne

Zeit ist immer. Time is always.”

It has been five months since I moved, and I guess you could say that I’m in the middle of my journey. Life in Italy has begun to turn faster, travel itineraries are traded like cards and the sunshine has started to melt all of the clouds in the sky into a holy blue canopy. Consequently, I have not been able to put things together in my head fast enough to write about them.

But tonight, with a promise to myself to deliver something of substance, I stumbled upon a page I had written last April, before boarding a plane to Italy with two suitcases had even been a realized possibility.

I remember sitting down to write the reflection at the shiny wooden kitchen table in our Green Street apartment. I had just returned home from a yoga class with one of my favorite teachers, and her interpretation of the Guru Mantra we chanted before moving into less prostrate postures was still reverberating in my mind.

In yoga, chants from the Yoga Sutras (basically the Yoga bible) are sung in the very old, fairly stoic language of Sanskrit. Like any time you change one language to another, there can be slight differences in the interpretations of the words, flavored with a pinch of your own culture. Here is the chant (though it’s so much cooler if you hear it):

Gurur Brahmaa Gurur Vishnu
Gurur Devo Maheshwarah
Guru Saakshaata Parabrahma
Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah

And a bit of interpretation/take-home notes:

  • Brahma is the Hindu god of creation
  • Vishnu is the preserver of the universe
  • Maheshwara (Shiva) is the destroyer of the ego and, ultimately, of the universe
  • Brahman is the “unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe”
  • All of deities are teachers, so show reverence to them all

Off sticky mats and outside of yogi circles, “talking Sanskirt” tends to make some eyes roll, so I promise that there are only English words from here on out. But I had to outline the mantra because what the gurus (Hindu gods) represent are the beginning, middle and the end. (And you thought all we did in yoga class was tone our abs!)

Last April, I had written:

  • There is a teacher in the beginning, middle and end. The beginning of a day, the middle of a class, the end of a relationship, for instance, all have lessons that would be different if presented at any other point. There is a responsibility in each of these points – as teachers – to bring to us an understanding of that moment’s experience.
  • Beginnings tend to bring excitement and nervousness because they are new and fresh and still a bit uncertain. This lesson tends to take a lot of energy because things need to be built, created, started.
  • Currently in the middle, I feel that same satisfaction and joy, but also some sadness, as I see hints to an end. Almost three years since this new beginning, duties at my job are becoming a bit old hat, good friends are moving, old friends are growing apart, my body is changing and life is pushing forward.
  • As easy as it can be to define the beginnings and ends, it’s the middle of things that – in my experience – requires the most patience and carries the most potential. Like in Warrior II – the pose of the present, my teacher said – your body should not be placed too far forward (in the future) or too far back (in the past). Being right in the middle creates a firm burning in your quadriceps (!)…but also feels really stable. That’s how the middle can be: sometimes it’s frustrating because it feels uncomfortable, but ease can be had if you let it take over. A balance can be struck if you let yourself be in the middle, the present, the now.

Reading last April’s words, I realized that they are almost identical to this April’s feelings. Does anyone else get antsy in the Spring? Perhaps it’s because when us North bloods hear the urgency of the sun’s gunshot, we strip off our sweaters and sprint at full speed in the warm grass, knowing that we’ll blink and, just like that, in a few months, we will have to put our sweaters back on. West coast kids and those who live in warm climates don’t have to deal with the impermanency of fair weather and are therefore move even keeled, more steady.

Like Pennsylvania, northern Italy too has cold winters and, just as the sun has consistently been showing its face, so has grown my itch to make something new happen. It’s like the Spring is my warm open window of opportunity to use up the rest of the juice in my Middle; to get things in line so that I know where I will be when I have to pull my sweater over my head again.

Let’s face it: stability can be boring. I had tons of material for the beginning of my adventure, and will most likely have some tear-stained stories about the end. Yet the middle can feel a bit old hat if you’re not careful. And the way to be careful, as last year’s lesson taught, is to let yourself feel at ease, preserved, protected. Relish the stability because it often signifies that an end and, therefore, new beginning is right on the horizon.

There are so many miracles in an ordinary day that can be realized if you pay attention to them. So, cultivating the opposite of wanting something else, I relish in my favorite things:

v In certain spots around the town in which I live, you can see the Alps on the horizon, stained on the sky like a lightly pressed temporary tattoo on a child’s arm at a fair.

v Every afternoon from around 2:00 to sundown, the sun shines directly into my bedroom, making it impossible not to throw open the doors, sit on the balcony or take a nap.

v The generalization that every kid in Italy grows up knowing how to play soccer is true. Running through the park, I see little guys as young as 18 months kicking a ball with a wobbly leg, and 5-year-olds chest bumping and dribbling with the ease of David Beckham. I love watching my classmates play the same game and engage the kids we meet on our study trips in kicking the ball around. I love how the sport is a universal language.

v Gelato. Mostly fior di latte. Lord help me not every day.

v My commute to school is down a catapulting hill and through bucolic farm land. Now that the grass has turned “new green”, as my friend Maria and I call it, it’s even more stunning to pedal through. It almost puts me over the edge that the commute ends in front of what was once the Savoy family’s summer house – these buildings are our classrooms. Earlier this week, I was lying on the grass imaging the Italian royal family roaming around, enjoying the same warm sun as I was feeling on my shoulders.

v I’m terrible at math, but I will venture to estimate that there is approximately 1 church per every 300 people in Bra. I see two from my apartment – one from my front balcony and one from our back kitchen window. There is nothing like getting sandwiched between the ringing of bells thrown from these holy walls when the clock strikes noon.

It is precisely these sights that welcome me to keep my eyes open; these tastes that make me close them in order to savor; and these sounds that jolt me awake, rendering me helpless to be anywhere but the middle.

A New Winter

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“Rodin was a proponent of metamorphosis as a principle of style, and let himself be guided by the chance blots and aureoles of water color.”
– Rodin museum, Paris, France

“As the weeks and months progress, it seems that the more you tap into that vast pool of potential and strength that lies within you, the more magic and abundance you can attract into your life. Key theme for 2012: Transformation.”
– Sarah-Jane Grace, 2012 Astro Forcast (Leo)

What does it take to make a change? Some may say a good plan. Others, a good reason. Change can develop organically, or be beckoned by an emotion that forces you elsewhere. As the New Year approached and crested, I decided that change is best guided by a healthy does of chance.

I have been feeling like Rodin: dipping my brush into a pretty sunset pink or lemon yellow, holding it over the paper, taking a deep breath, and connecting brush, paint and surface. I have been paying attention to what develops. While many artists, and at times Rodin, carefully control their brush strokes, in his water colors, Rodin first observed what was taking shape before making his next move. I imagine he entered an almost meditative state, let his eyes go hazy, memories flying, imagination expanding before inspiration struck. His watercolors weren’t rushed, and once he realized the path of the pool of paint, he created another image entirely around the chance shapes.

When you read musings on change (thus chance), it’s often preached that you have to leave comfort behind. Why is this so? I don’t know, yet I find it to be true. Comfort is ease, luxury and coziness; things you don’t think of when you hear “change”. During a yoga practice this morning, my teacher even went so far as to say that “change is pain.” It’s the time you keep your eyes peeled, especially when you’re not sure exactly what it is you’re looking for…until you do.

I’m living in a hybrid state of comfort and change. And I’m excited. The past two months have brought travel to inspiring places with like-minded people: I laughed over plum liquor in Parma with six brilliant girls; admired the Eiffel Tower on the horizon during Christmas time with my family; rode my bicycle along the Po River in Turin; shouted “Bonne annee!” in Lyon as the clock struck midnight on January 1st; pruned a vineyard on a sunny day in the foothills of the Langhe with two new friends; gazed at the snow covered Alps perched on a stone wall in Salutzzo without an inkling of the time. These are my favorite memories so far. These have the power to transform.

This new learning has carved bright, clean places in my body and mind that I’m free to let air; once the band-aid rip of change stopped stinging, the healing, the regeneration, the transformation began. It’s imperative to remain open and believe that the gamble you took brought you to the places and feelings you were meant to find. We alone shape every moment, harnessing and projecting our light and grace to see what we desire manifest in front of our eyes. It happens when you take a chance.