Spring is a season of rebirth in DC, with an extra dose of pollen and blossom fragrance in every breath to remind us. As part of this recreation of the self, people are hitting their yoga mats hard as they emerge out of DC’s winter hibernation. Some folks are developing yoga as a new habit while old hands are reconnecting with or sustaining their yoga habit.
In order to keep yoga as a healthy habit and to let go of unhealthy habits, it’s a good time to pay attention to the underlying nature of habits. It’s so odd how we keep habits and hold patterns, even down to talking a certain way, without even realizing what we are doing or why we are doing it. Habits are just automatic. We often consider our habits to be part of our identity, part of the way we are. But this just isn’t that true. Habits are just something we do, but they aren’t what we should identify ourselves by. Let’s go a bit deeper than that.
So next time we start operating according to a habit, whether good or bad, let’s pause and look at what state of being that the habitual action is a reflection of. Do we like the state of being our habits are based on? Do we want to remain, being, in that state?
If we ask ourselves these questions, whether we keep our old habits or not, we will be more aware of our habits and what causes them. That’s the kind of self knowledge that yoga is all about.
So what motivates your habits, including your yoga habit?
It is hard to believe that 6 years ago, my life and those of my fellow Hokie friends were dramatically shifted due to the unexpected and heartbreaking shootings that occurred on Virginia Tech’s campus. Six years ago today marks the beginning of the redirection of my path.
The days, weeks, months, and years that followed this day have been extremely transformative. People who have not experienced traumas do not realize the full extent of what they mean. Your entire world changes, including your friendships, dreams, possibilities for career, and willingness to confront the present moment. All the plans I had for my life shifted. And the fears I had to confront were phenomenal, beginning with, How will I survive now?
The traumatic shootings that took place on April 16, 2007 and the difficult times that followed led me first, to a path of self-destruction, anxiety, and depression. I was disillusioned, angry, volatile, resentful, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I had lost my trust in life itself, even though at the same time I still completely trusted that God would somehow lead me through it all. I was living in a psychologically and emotionally contradictory state, which made me even more desperate. There wasn’t a place I could hide in my head about this. Little did I know that chaos is a classic precursor to transformation.
As time went on, I found myself more and more distant from those I loved and from my own work. Eventually, my mentor stepped in and encouraged me to attend a mindfulness meditation group that had been organized specifically for those of us who were present during the shootings and wanted to heal. After several sessions of mindfulness meditation and yoga asana, I felt calmer and as though I could now begin to confront my feelings and my new relationship to life. I began to open to a path of self-healing and self-transformation through the power of a daily practice of Ashtanga yoga and meditation.
The path of healing dark patterns of illness has not been easy and I tend to revisit the dark spaces on occasion. At first, I had to rely on the strength of my faith to get through this, and my faith wasn’t that strong when this happened. During my recovery, I felt dark emotions I didn’t want to accept I had in me, such as jealousy at other people’s ability to move on from this experience. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to work my way through these feelings and to come out the other end a person who still saw purpose and potential in her life. I learned, through the practice, how to draw on my own reserves of inner strength and integrity to establish myself as worthy, capable, and a powerful conduit of change. I learned how to experience, through my body and breath, my own ability to protect myself, not only because I could respond honestly to my feelings through my body, but also because I knew I could move past the discomfort into a place of ease. I learned how to deal with the consequences of being honest with myself. My whole internal attitude toward my life underwent a remarkable transformation. It’s amazing how your world changes when you discover that you can honestly take care of yourself.
To this day, yoga continues to provide me the opportunity to practice and cope with all that I feel I do not deserve, good or bad, in ways that empower me, and to pursue as best I can the development of my highest potential in all endeavors. Yoga hasn’t solved all the darkness in my life, of course. Rather it has given me the tools to honestly explore and live fully in the mysteries, traumas, and affections while discovering myself one piece at a time.
– Marie Belle
If you have taken a class at Yoga District (or hopefully, if you’ve taken a yoga class anywhere), you have heard these words. Your teacher has moved the class from Warrior II to Extended Side Angle. Your forearm is resting on your front thigh, chest opening to the side of the room. The pose is difficult, and your front thigh is beginning to shake, knee bent to 90 degrees. Then, as if she has no idea that this pose is freaking hard enough as it is, your teacher begins to offer modifications to deepen the pose. “If you feel comfortable, you can lower your bottom hand to the floor”. As a student, a teacher’s well-meaning modifications can come across as, “If you’re a good person, wrap your hand behind your back and take the bind” Okay, hopefully not in those words – but that’s how it can feel. Too often, we begin to equate our self worth to our physical ability and how we compare to those practicing around us. We judge our own practice by how closely our poses resemble the photos on the cover of Yoga Journal. When you hear the phrase “all options are equal”, it may not sound sincere. Clearly, you think, all options aren’t equal, and the girl next to me who has somehow wrapped her hands behind her back, around her thigh, and lifted her front leg straight into the air is winning.
While I have never felt competitive against other students in a yoga class, I have definitely been competitive with myself. I have pushed myself to achieve a fuller expression of a pose, even when I haven’t been ready or when it has caused me pain to do so. I have gone beyond my limits; driven by ego and the fantasy that teacher will love me more if my body can do more.
The 200-hour teacher training at Yoga District has opened my mind to the truth behind that phrase I’ve heard so many times: All options are equal. More than just equal – the decision to back off, do what is right for your body in the present moment and respect your limits is often the much harder choice to make. It is easy to show up for class and push yourself too hard, sacrificing your alignment or your breathing for the goal of getting to that next pose. It is actually more difficult to allow yourself to drop that bottom knee to the floor when you need to. It is a challenge to realize that your body is not ready to take a headstand today, even though last week you were able to hold the pose for two minutes. It is difficult to quiet your mind enough to listen to your body. To accomplish this is to truly practice yoga. Getting in touch with your body, your limits, and achieving the type of self awareness and confidence that it takes to back off and make decisions based on your needs will take you further on the path of yoga than a hands-free headstand ever will. When in class or practicing at home, listen to your teacher and to your body. All options are equal. Choose the one that works for you.
– Kate Adams
Notes for the past 2 weeks might still make it online, or not. But here is what we did last night: 1. Start with the Dancing Cossack, which is beautifully taught here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGnQ99bkHqA I don’t know this teacher, but to give … Continue reading
The diverse family of DC yoga teachers at Yoga District are dedicated to making yoga accessible to everyone through a huge variety of yoga class types, from vinyasa flow to restorative and beyond. Most Yoga District teachers are graduates of Yoga District’s nationally-attended 200 hour teacher training program. All Yoga District classes focus on coordinating breath with body movement to promote flexibility, strength, and peace of mind. We strongly believe in yoga as therapy, so catch one of our classes whenever you need a healthy dose of self-care.
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The Yoga District 200 and 500 hour teacher training certification programs, registered by the Yoga Alliance are unique in their emphasis on diversity of teaching styles studied, personal attention, and trauma sensitive yoga. It's no coincidence that Yoga District is regularly voted the leading studio in the nation's capital, and that most of its classes are taught by graduates of its training program. As a full time yoga school, small group trainings are led up to eight times a year by a dedicated faculty including Jasmine Chehrazi, contributor to the Harvard Karma Yoga Project teacher training, teacher training faculty at George Washington University, Yoga Alliance Standards Committee Advisory Board Member, Yoga Activist Founder, and Yoga Service Council Advisory Board Member. So take your practice and community involvement to the next level by joining a training. There's a reason why our graduates call the training "transformative."
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