A Mighty Wind Horse Conference A-Blowin’: Sunday Reflections

What gifts do you have to offer the world?

It’s a worthwhile question to contemplate and one that Ana posed to us this morning: “What’s keeping you blocked off from sharing your gifts? If you notice you go into thinking that you don’t have anything worthwhile to offer or that you’re worthy enough of receiving love, can you recognize these thoughts as the lies they are?”

As we moved through the morning practice of backbends, we focused on connecting into what gift we have to give and working to remove the blockages that stand in the way of our doing so. Since I’ve been in a state of being confused on exactly what I want to achieve and have my career life look like, this was a helpful way for me to work on getting out of my default mode of feeling incompetent and hopeless. Instead, I started looking at how I can use confusion as a way of getting curious about what feels right in my life.

We did a lot of new variations of backbends with neck traction. I found that dropping my head back in many of these backbends felt great on my neck. Even though Ana was not cueing us to do so, I felt empowered to go with what felt good for my body as long as I wasn’t compromising my breath or my intention to do so. The backbends built to an apex of two strong poses for me: king and queen pigeon poses. It was empowering to me to feel successful and proud of the persistence and long work it took me in my practice to get to the full expression of these poses.

I was eagerly awaiting the afternoon sessions and they did not disappoint. The first session taught by Brian Campbell was on anatomy, bodywork, and yoga. We learned a number of different techniques for releasing the low back and hips. After a brief presentation and demo, Brian had us work in partners to practice a number of hands-on bodywork adjustments. Hands-on assists are the biggest challenge for me and I’m nervous about trying to replicate a move even after I’ve just watched a demo. However, Brian made it a comfortable environment for experimentation. “Anyone can do bodywork,” he said and encouraged us to have fun with it and meet our partner with the breath and explore what works in each other’s bodies. It helped me to explore with an understanding partner, both as a receiver and a giver of the assists.

Through Brian’s teaching, I truly got a sense of the parallels between bodywork and yoga. With an assist, you hook in with the hand and when you meet the first point of resistance, traction with the hands. Gradually you may be able to work in deeper as the body releases. The same is true in a yoga pose. You go into the pose to that edge of resistance, breathe there, and perhaps deepen into it as you release into the pose. Brian also pointed out how bodywork is a form of meditation. Rather than shutting off the mind or staying in the “thinking mind” that is scattered all over the place, bodywork focuses the mind by connecting in with another person in a beautiful way. Keeping this in mind helped keep the bodywork a learning and explorative process instead of a nerve-wracking, “am-I-doing-it-right” experience.

The second session of the afternoon was on empathing and seeing energy with Willow Ryan, Kelley Rush, and Suzi Zorbist. The three both have an engaging and playful style and good rapport with one another. First off, they explained that everyone is an empath, although we all have different strengths and ways we perceive energy. People tend to be very visual (“I see”), auditory (“I hear”), or kinesthetic (“I feel”) with how they empathy. We looked at the five different means of empathing (hands, eyes, inner ears, heart, and overall sensing/empathing).

Some signs you might be very empathic: “Have you been told you’re too emotional or overly sensitive? Do you find you take on the feelings of others?” We explored ways of honing our empathing skills to strengthen the areas in which we aren’t as empathetic, yet at the same time, finding a way to use our empathing strengths as gifts without depleting ourselves in the process. For example, using your compassion and intuition to connect to a person, without taking on their feelings and emotional baggage. Through partner exercises, we practiced using empathing skills and then shared with our partner what we observed. “Even the best healer only gets it right about 70% of the time,” Kelley said. Empathing is not a perfect science, but it’s a way of practicing and refining our intuitive skills.”

I really related to Willow’s comment that often people who are sensitive to the emotions in an environment tend to close down and zone out as a response. Zoning out and going into “doing” mode is a common coping pattern of mine. A big part of my work in Forrest Yoga is to keep myself from spacing out and staying in my body and present in the moment. This workshop helped me to think about techniques that can help me strike a balance between keeping emotional boundaries without closing myself off to powerful emotions. Both sessions were good compliments to each other for exploring ways of focusing the mind on one of the most worthwhile focuses out there: connection with other people.

Speaking of connection, one of the observations my partner shared was that she sensed I was connecting big time this weekend. She was stunningly accurate. From hanging out with my roomie to chatting with new folks, to looking around a workshop room and being excited by the folks there who’d been in teacher trainings with me, I felt my fingers tingling with charges of connection.

And connection is what yoga is to me.

The Meaning of Community: Guest post by Kristin “Kiki” Lovelace

I’ve been thinking a lot this past month about the meaning of community, and specifically our growing Forrest Yoga community at my new studio, Innerstellar Pilates & Yoga, in Berkeley, California.

When I was dreaming up this studio (and it cooked for a LONG time in my head before it came into being), my mentor, Pilates Educator and Life Coach Tom McCook once asked me to come up with an intention for my studio. I said, “I want a place where we all co-create our success and aliveness and abundance.” That is a wild thing to say if you are a very independent-minded Aries like myself. I spent the first quarter of my life trying to prove to myself and to everyone else that I didn’t need any help whatsoever. But as I got older, I really longed for a work place where I could be the leader of a group of many co-conspirators, with their various superhero skills and creative ideas.

One of the highlights of my week is our Wednesday afternoon “Forrest Yoga Playdate,” a weekly practice at Innerstellar, where all Forrest Yoga Teachers (aka Co-Conspirator Superheroes) are invited to come and do a really strong, sweaty practice in a room full of other thrill seekers and energy weavers. One of the advanced asanas I’ve been working with lately is practicing Forearm Balance in the middle of the room (i.e. no wall-crutch), which puts me directly into what I like to call “the squeal zone.”

About a month ago, Innerstellar Teacher and Forrest Yogini, Marisha Doan and I made a commitment that we would spot each other in this pose every week until we can do it by ourselves. Today, Marisha was sick and I could feel myself going into nervous chatter in my head as we neared the inversion section of our practice. “Well, I could just skip it today,” I thought to myself. But I took a deep Ujjayi breath, looked up from my mat and spotted Michelle Cordero (a Senior Forrest Yoga Teacher at Innerstellar and one of my best friends), in front of me. I asked her, “Will you spot me in Forearm Balance?” She did, of course. I felt totally supported by her.

This was an opportunity to grow into a feeling of being held up (literally) by the people around me, rather than shrinking away into my old hiding hole with my old story: “If I can’t do it by myself, I can’t do it at all.” As I’ve grown (thanks in HUGE part to years of therapy and Forrest Yoga), I’ve come to realize that my true gift as a leader is my vulnerability:  my ability to feel and emote (even in public), my ability to say “I don’t know,” and my willingness to take in feedback from my students, colleagues and teachers to process and digest it to see if it rings true to me.

These were some of the very things I absolutely loathed about myself growing up. But I’ve noticed that as the voice of my Inner Critic has receded into background noise, I’ve been better able to receive feedback from the people I care about with grace and dignity. More so now that ever, I am able to see and be seen in deeply authentic ways, to be comfortable in relationship with others even when it’s uncomfortable. I often think of something my therapist once told me: “Bickering is a sign of intimacy.” I remind myself of that when I’m in a tight spot with a loved one or colleague or student.

I’m inspired by this quote by Dr. Robert Butler in his book The Longevity Prescription:
“One of the best strategies to a long and healthy life is connectivity. Numerous studies have led to wide-ranging conclusions about the importance of social relationships to individual good health. Having caring people around you–or even just making meaning from contact with them by phone, via the Internet, or other means–amounts to a special kind of health insurance. So, a surefire way to longevity is greater interactivity in a social sense. We humans are social creatures: interdependent, adaptable, and flexible.”

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about another social creature: the wolf. I love wolves and am inspired by their ancient wisdom, affection, playfulness and joy. I find it fascinating that they hunt and play and run and sleep in a pack –in community with each other. I wrote my teacher, Ana Forrest, an email a few days ago about the Wolf Medicine I’ve been working with and she responded, and I quote: “Oooohhhhhhaaaaa.” That’s Ana-speak for a good old-fashioned howl. We have a slightly weird tradition in Forrest Yoga of howling when we get together to do our yoga practice. Wolves howl just for the joy of it. You should hear it when group of Forrest Yogis howl together – it lights up the room. It is absurd and funny and tender and joyful.

Wolves also howl as a call out to their pack when they are alone. It is a call for support: throat and jaw wide open and vulnerable. It is a sound of Beauty.

Are YOU willing to be vulnerable today? To call out to your tribe with throat and jaw wide open? When you need help sorting things out, I invite you to lean on your friends or loved ones or teachers or colleagues or fellow students. It’s strangely relaxing and satisfying. Your community will invariably come up with an inspiring, creative solution to the very thing that made you fell stuck. Or they will be still and listen, a true gift to you and your healing process. Either way, they will love to be of service to you. Don’t rob them of the opportunity.

Ask questions of others; be willing to say, “I don’t know.” Doing everything by yourself is so 2011. It’s 2012, y’all, and there are a lot of wise and talented people out there!

As Dr. Butler says, “As a species, we have evolved in a world in which we must rely upon one another and, as individuals, the more we can contribute to bettering that world, the better it will be.”

A-ho and Oooohhhhhhaaaaa!

Kristin “Kiki” Lovelace is  a Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher, Certified Pilates Instructor, and Owner and Director of Education at Innerstellar Pilates & Yoga. She howls with the best of them.

Yoga Month Free Yoga class & week of unlimited yoga

September is Yoga Month and in celebration, I’m teaching a free yoga class this coming Friday, Sept. 30, 7 PM at Type A Yoga. This Time For Yoga class is part of an international event where yogis worldwide will be practicing yoga at 7 PM their local time. That means there will be a wave of yoga rippling all around the world.

This event is for all levels and ages. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, can’t touch your toes, or just haven’t rolled down that yoga mat in awhile, this is a class for you. If you’re a seasoned yogi, never fear, there’s some some challenges in store for you too. Laughter is allowed and encouraged.

AND…you can also take advantage of getting a free week of unlimited yoga from Type A Yoga. Get your free pass here.

See you on the mat!