We’ve Got Your Back!

We’ve Got Your Back!

by Sandra Burgess

I spent the holidays in Phoenix this year visiting my delicious godson Connor and his sister Maggie. They were on me like velcro the moment I arrived, and I loved every minute of it. At three and a half, Connor is as sturdy as a tank, and felt about as heavy as one. Even as a seasoned
yoga practitioner and certified yoga therapist, by nap time I felt worn out too, my tense lower back asking for relief. Supporting the squirming weight of a child changes the body’s alignment, and can quickly result in imbalances and tension. Yoga practice encourages us to use a range of postures to become more conscious of our alignment, and of the relationship between different parts of the body. When the kids went down I did too – for a soothing yoga practice! These simple yoga postures helped me release tension and offer three key benefits:

▪ They help to keep your lower back muscles and your spine healthy and supple to better support weight.
▪ They help to re-align your pelvis.
▪ They stimulate the body’s relaxation response to rejuvenate and restore balance to the nervous system.

You will feel some benefits immediately, but this kind of conscious re-training takes practice, so keep it up and come see us at TexasYogini to learn more and enjoy community and connection with fellow moms!

1. Cat/Cow Seated

Prep: Sit comfortably on a chair with the feet on the floor hip distance apart. Feel your thigh bones release into the chair and your feet melt down into the floor as the chest, neck and head floating upward. Become aware of the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis, the sacrum bone at the back and the two sit bones on either side.

Exhaling: Draw your navel and front ribs draw inwards towards your spine, rocking on the back of your sit bones, releasing and lengthening your back body as your chin moves toward your chest
and your arms extend over your knees.

Inhaling: Release the contraction and allow your belly to soften, contracting the muscle of the back body to arch the spine in the opposite direction, gently gazing upward as the arms pull back
squeezing the shoulders.

Do 5 rounds, inhaling and exhaling as you move. This realigns the pelvis, back and shoulders by strengthening and stretching the front and back of the body. Come back to neutral and breathe normally for 5 breaths.

REMEMBER: Link the movements with your breath and go at your own pace. This pose will realign the pelvis, spine and shoulders and release accumulated tension.

     

2. Standing Forward Bend with Support
Prep: Stand with your feet hip width apart, about six or eight inches away with your back against a wall and your knees soft. Place the hands on the wall next to the hips for support.

Exhaling: Press the feet into the floor, firming the legs and drawing the navel and front ribs in towards the spine. Hinge forward from the hips, extending and lengthening the spine forward toward the center of the room before allowing the torso and head to release down toward the floor. Keep the knees soft and slightly bent.

Inhaling: Release the arms toward the floor as the hands softly clasp the elbows. Do 5 – 9 rounds of breath, inhaling and exhaling as you release the spine, neck and head toward the floor.

REMEMBER: To come out, gently bend the knees deeper and on an exhale draw the navel in to round the back and slowly come back up to standing one vertebrae at a time supported by the wall. Rest in neutral with the support of the wall for 5 breaths.

3. Restorative Inversion: Hips and Legs Elevated on support
Fold a towel or blanket and have nearby. Lie with your back on the floor and your legs resting over the seat of a chair, couch or ottoman. The edge of the seat should come right into the backs of your knees, so your calves rest completely on the seat. Press the calves into the chair to lift the hips and slide the blanket under the hips. Your thighs should be slanting slightly away from the chair. Allow the arms to extend away from the body with the palms facing up. Close the eyes,
relaxing the face and jaw and rest. Stay resting for 3-5 minutes, breathing normally.

This pose relieves a tight lower back, relaxes the spinal muscles and calms and soothes the nervous system. To finish, press the calves into the seat, lift the hips and remove the
blanket. Bend the knees into the chest, roll to the side and slowly come back to a seated position.

All Aboard!

This is the time – as the year comes to a close – when I find myself reflecting. Pema Chodron wrote (and I paraphrase), that the journey through life is akin to ‘riding in a train sitting backwards; we can see where we have been but not where we are going’.  It seems tempting to get caught up in the past – to romanticize people and events, or to pat one’s self on the back for dodging a bullet or for a job well done.  So, this year, I’m choosing to contemplate on the last twelve months through this lens: What big lesson do I want to carry forward regardless of where the train is headed?

Ticking through the months of the calendar, it becomes incredibly clear to me that the lesson of 2017 is not a new one. Rather, it’s one deserving of repetition.  None of my new endeavors, from forming a company to leading my first retreat to opening (and renovating) a yoga studio, could have been pulled off successfully without the support of my community.  Actually, the word ‘community’ doesn’t quite evoke the right mental image.  I’m talking about the folks who speak the hard truth to me when I don’t really want to hear it, who ask if they can help (and mean it), who drive past several other yoga studios and fight gnarly traffic to practice at TexasYogini, who are completely understanding when I’m preoccupied/distracted/overwhelmed… they are more like my family.  Words cannot express how much love and appreciation I have for them.

You may be reading this and wondering what it’s doing on a yoga studio blog.  I mean, yoga and meditation are meant to support our efforts to remain in the present, not the past or future. And… THAT’S IT!!!  My big take away from this year is to always remember right now, and now, and now, to show and tell the people in my life how important they are to me. This is exactly why I hug everyone when they walk in or out of the studio doors even if they are practicing with us for the first time.  It’s why I love showing up to the studio early and lingering after class to chat and get to know the folks who have shared breath, energy, love, and laughter in the studio.

The truth of the matter is, we only have the present.  I can choose to spend time in my head reflecting and reminiscing about the past year or I can be present with the members of the kula – my tribe.

As we move full steam ahead into 2018, I invite you to join me in savoring the intimacy, connection, and tradition we hold dear at TexasYogini.  We are on this train ride together – some folks for longer than others – and we never know when our paths will diverge.

 

 

And Why Did You Do This?

The doors of TexasYogini studio have been open now for three and a half months and they have been chock full of busy!  Creating and recreating the schedule, organizing and reorganizing the space, and even a full-on renovation of the studio while still running classes.

Throughout all the hubbub, I’ve been attending events spreading the word out about what I consider to be a sweet little studio.  No matter where I am, folks look at the schedule and say, “Tell me about the studio.”  My response has been pretty standard, sharing the circumstances that eventually resulted in the studio opening however, I never really share the WHY.  I’ve spent some time reflecting on the why and how I can best articulate it – and it’s been tough. So, here goes:

When I was in the first few years of my practice, I was fortunate enough to find a studio that felt like home.  The teachers, desk staff, and other yogis in the community knew me and my practice.  It was where I could show up “as is”.  The practice always included chanting, breath work, meditation, and of course asana. Teachers spoke and taught from a place in their own journey on and off the mat.  Philosophy went hand-in-hand with the practice and there was an unspoken reverence for the spirituality and history of yoga.  Nope, it wasn’t a perfect studio and I didn’t like every class – I don’t always like my sister either but I always love her 🙂

Fast forward to 2014 when I began teaching yoga in Houston.  I was lucky enough to land at Yoga Collective where Rhia entrusted us to teach from our respective lineages.  No two classes were the same and yet the studio always felt like a cohesive community.  When it closed in June 2017, I immediately felt like there was a great void in my life.

I’m not saying the feeling of home and community couldn’t have happened at any other studio or that other studio owners don’t give their teachers freedom to teach what and how they like.  What I am saying is that I’m striving to create an intimate studio space where teachers and practitioners experience a feeling ownership – either via what they choose to teach or by using their voice to ask for what they need in a practice – striving to create a kula.  It’s not perfect. I’m sure there are many more changes to come.  While some things are still up in the air, I definitely feel the studio and community taking root.  This is probably the scariest endeavor I have taken on, yet I feel so supported by the yogis who have brought their practices and personalities into the space.

All that rambling!!!!

So, why?  In this studio I feel connected with community, grounded in tradition.

 

Lucky Kids!

My yoga journey began at the age of 29 (I’m 46 now).  Throughout the years, I’ve often said to myself, “I wish I had found yoga when I was younger.”  Not because I’d be closer to twisting myself into a pretzel, but because I now understand and have experienced the benefits of breathwork and yoga.  However… what if we taught kids to tune in to their bodies and breath?  As an educator (and research nerd), I decided to do some reading about the impact of yoga on children.

Let’s be clear here, there are so many “kids yoga” programs out there.  I opted to steer clear of yoga games and silly animal yoga and instead drilled right down into the impact of a more traditional (breathing, movement, meditation) practice with kids.  Then I took it a step further by piloting a morning yoga program at my elementary school.  The responses from kids, teachers, and parents blew me away!

  • Kids identified how their emotions manifested physically and could explain when and why to use each breathing practice
  • Kids asked for more time to sit and breathe quietly
  • Third graders and fifth graders shared that they were aware of their own capacity to control their behavior when frustrated or upset
  • Teachers across all grade levels and content areas reported that the students who practiced breathing and movement – even just once a week – demonstrated improved focus
  • Parents asked for an after school yoga club (and we delivered)
  • At the end of each session we said, “When we change our breath, we change our brain.” and all the kids could explain what that meant
  • Kids and teachers prompted one another to use breath or movement in stressful situations (think STAAR test)
  • Kids who, at the beginning of the year, reported ‘not being good at anything’, changed that to ‘being good at yoga and controlling themselves’ by the end of the year

I’m not saying that yoga fixes everything, but the mindfulness part of the practice can create positive shifts one may not have expected.  Yoga may seem weird to kids at first – lots of them giggle and that’s totally ok!  Yoga offers them (and us) the opportunity to take control of their responses to stimuli and stress and to practice compassion for themselves and others.   Lucky kids…

Practice Where You Teach

Most of us have heard the phrase ‘practice what you preach’, but in the midst of getting a studio off the ground – and hopefully building a strong kula – I keep reminding myself that I should practice where I teach.  And then I mull that over trying to discern exactly what that means.  After all, TexasYogini is a small studio, there aren’t a million classes per week therefore there aren’t tons of teachers on the schedule.

Then it hit me.  I have this amazing opportunity to create my yoga “Dream Team“.  Over my almost six years back in Houston, I have met, practiced with, and cultivated relationships with some of my favorite yoga teachers in the city.  Each one has opened my eyes to a new facet of the practice whether it’s being inspired by Jessica’s creative flows, grounded by Elizabeth’s mesmerizingly meditative classes, becoming re-acquainted with the subtleties and mechanics of my own body through Larry’s practice, recognizing my mental and physical strength as I move through one of Susan’s deceptively simple sequences, or tapping into the lila (play) aspect of the practice with Stacy.

But… What if they didn’t want to teach at TexasYogini? I just had to ask them and one by one they said yes.  The doubt in my head melted away and instead my heart filled with excitement and gratitude.

So, I will definitely be practicing where I teach.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe in going out and learning from a variety of teachers.  As a life long educator, I understand the importance of acquiring new knowledge and expanding horizons plus, there are a few more teachers I am hoping to add to the schedule.  In no way am I insular but admittedly, it’s nice to walk in to my hOMe studio and practice with my yoga family.

 

Sweet Clarity

You know those scenes in movies when one object or person is in focus but everything/everyone else is blurry?  Well, I think that is how I have been living my life – I focus my attention on one person or project at a time but the different pieces of my life never seemed to fit together as one clear and cohesive image.  Recently, I’ve been spending time considering where and how my yoga world, my education world, my social world, my emotional world, and my personal/love world intersect.  And interestingly enough, once I discovered how to dovetail my professional passions, the other parts of my life have begun to come into focus.

By no means am I so naive to think that now with this new sense of clarity, that life won’t get blurry at times.  It will.  But part of being a grown up learning how to reflect on her successes and failures, I am developing awareness around when and where I need to ‘zoom in’ on a person or project without doing so at the expense of all the other people and projects I love.  And not at my own expense either – I mean, what good can I be if I lose sight of myself?

I can already tell that there will be some growing pains associated with my newly acquired sense of direction.  For me, expressing gratitude is easy but asking for help borders on painful.  Bending over backwards for others seems natural but standing up for myself is a doozie!  Holding myself accountable is a breeze but holding others accountable and having difficult conversations makes my armpits sweaty.

When I step back and focus on the big picture – in full color and high definition – I know that there will be times when turning this vision into a reality means being completely out of my comfort zone.  It’s a challenge I’m ready to step into.  Chances are, I’ll meet disappointment and encounter struggles along the way.  I don’t want to get too caught up in the minutia of things but I do want to celebrate the small, everyday victories.

Skin Deep

Yes, I’m talking about beauty and how do we define it?  This has been on my mind lately and I have no idea how to answer that question.  If asked to describe a beautiful sunset or beach or bluebonnet most people would probably have a similar response, but when it comes to human beauty it’s likely that everybody’s definition is different.

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see beauty reflected.  I see a set of features – my brown eyes, olive skin, short brown (and graying) hair, a pierced nose, crooked smile, a little extra meat on my bones, a few tattoos…  And I would describe my style as ‘plain city hippie’ meaning I spend most of my days without make-up and in jeans, t-shirts, and Birkenstocks.  This about sums up the physical me; the one you would see at the grocery store, Half-Price Books, or Starbucks.  Now I am making a conscious effort to see beyond the surface Hope when I look in the mirror. After peeling back the veils or mayas of clothing and then that of my physical self, what’s there?  Here is where I see the seedlings of beauty I’ve cultivated and am continuing to nurture.  I see the loyal me: the one who fiercely loves her family, friends, and cat (ChiChi!).  The strong me: the one who has survived the death of a parent, BFF, divorces, cross-country moves, solo trips across India and who gets shit done. The sensitive me: the one who loves nature, who would give her right arm if she could remedy her students’ learning disabilities, and who has armored her heart to protect it from further harm.  The vulnerable me: the one who is widening the cracks in said armor, the one who reveals her fears and insecurities, and the one who is learning to cry without shame.

At the end of a yoga class we say ‘namaste’ which loosely translates to: the divine in me honors and reflects the divine in you.  Isn’t the divine in any form essentially beautiful?  

So I’m not glitzy or glam. I don’t turn heads when I walk into a room. On the outside I’m solidly average. But, reading through what I know to be below the surface – the features of the inner Hope – I am proud and I think I just may be beautiful.  

Oh, and I’ve always been a hippie. TexasYogini at age 5:


 

Cleaning Windows

Although I’ve heard it many times before, I recently read the ‘eyes are the window to the soul’.  As I think about that, I am acutely aware of how intimate and vulnerable and scary it feels to make eye contact with someone and know that as we sustain that contact we are really seeing one another.

My BFF saw me.  From the age of 14, he could look me in the eyes and it wasn’t painful or intimidating because I knew he saw beyond the me on the surface – he saw my light, my energy, my soul.  And even when he wasn’t happy with my actions, he loved me for who I am; but he’s been gone for over two years.

A few years ago at Hanuman Festival, I attended a workshop during which I had to sustain eye contact with another individual for 3-5 minutes and we repeated the exercise with three other attendees.  It was a simple exercise but not an easy task.  I wanted to look away, to talk, to distract myself or the other person and my monkey-mind was in over-drive.  Ultimately, I attained some level of comfort because I realized that these people were strangers and if they didn’t like who they saw, it would be of no consequence after the workshop ended.

As I over-analyze my life (I often do) I realize that as long as I don’t cultivate a level of deep emotional intimacy with others, they cannot see my brokenness nor can they hurt me.  The truth is, emotional intimacy cannot be established until I gaze inward and love myself regardless of the cracks and scars.

So, dear friend, be compassionate.  Please understand when I start to over intellectualize, preface my responses to your questions with justifications or rationalizations or appear to lose focus.  It’s not that I want to avoid emotional intimacy with you, it’s that I’m working up the courage to embrace it within myself.  Remind me gently that I’m safe with you, that you want me to see you as much as you want to see me. Remind me that sitting in the moments of stillness with one another is my yoga.

If the eyes are indeed the windows to the soul, I suppose mine are due for a cleaning.  Time for me to draw the curtains, dust off the cobwebs, open my heart, and bare my soul.

An Early Departure

As I am sitting at the Phnom Penh airport waiting to board my flight home (2 weeks earlier than expected) I’m reflecting on the why. I meticulously planned this trip – had everything laid out and was to end my journey volunteering in Thailand. 

As such a Type-A, why did I deviate from the plan and end up with a horrible stomach bug and in a Phnom Penh hospital?  Why am I going home early instead of sticking it out and forcing myself to push through like I normally would?  

I think it’s for two reasons. The first is what I wrote about in the first post of this trip. This has been a journey of the heart. A journey of rediscovering the depth of love I have for my sister and niece and that which is growing between me and the BF. The second is my awesome travel companion (she told me to use the word awesome though I would have picked fantabulous). Instead of viewing my desire to cut my trip short and head home with her as a failure, she helped me see that listening to my heart was what I needed to do. 

I think the only one who would have seen this turn of events as a failure is me – and that says a lot. I have so much to be grateful for. And as I lay in the ambulance and then hospital bed and cried, I knew it was because at that moment I wanted – and needed – to be around those who love me the most NO MATTER WHAT!  

Truth be told, I miss my home, my family, my tribe (you know who you are), my friends, and my yoga community. So I’m heading home ahead of schedule, with a tender belly and even more tender heart. 

Deep In My Heart

When I traveled to India two summers ago, I thought it would be the impetus for my own spiritual evolution and I was right. I returned home a different person and prepared to face incredible challenges in a compassionate manner.  The events of the last two years have cultivated a sense of gratitude for each and every day and all the people I have been fortunate enough with whom to cross paths. I often fall back on cliches: each day is a gift and in every experience is the opportunity to learn.

Fast forward… As of today, I’ve been in Southeast Asia for over a week and it has become incredibly clear that this journey is about my heart.  It began with the spreading of my BFF’s ashes in Hong Kong.   An emotional implosion was averted because my sister and niece were by my side and my amazing friends and my sweet BF were sending me peace, love, and complete understanding.  From there we’ve enjoyed Hong Kong, Chiang  Mai, Ao Nang, and Phi Phi.  Not every moment has to be filled with jokes or conversation. Yes, we have gotten on one another’s nerves. Ultimately, it’s about the time we are spending together and our shared experiences. When I slow down and reflect on the short time we’ve been on this trip, my heart is again filled with gratitude and so much love.

I’ve not practiced yoga – at least not asana – since arriving.  I do, however, awake each night at about 1am and listen.  From our bungalow I can hear waves crashing and I close my eyes – imagining it’s the sound of the earth breathing – and I try to synchronize my own breath with it.  I am reminded that I am only one small part of this world.

So, after my sister and niece leave I have a few weeks to explore Asia in my own and part of that time will be spent volunteering at an eco-lodge/sustainable garden/yoga shala.  I don’t really know what that means but I will embrace the time on my own with my hands in the soil and the sun on my face.  I also hope to continue filling my heart.  And this makes me wonder how I can cultivate a life of love and gratitude at home.  Right now I have no idea but I have the feeling – deep in my heart – that I’m ready to find out.