Gratitude as a Practice

Gratitude as a Practice

 

Written by Alison Gurevich 

542 days ago I began a gratitude practice.  I write down 10 things I am grateful for, and it’s usually the last thing I do before I go to sleep.  Everyday.  I am on my third journal – that’s 5,420 things I’ve taken the time to write down my gratitude for.

Although it seems everyone and their sister talks about gratitude and gratitude journaling (Oprah, Arianna Huffington, Tony Robbins and countless others) I had never quite found my rhythm with it. I finally did after reading “Girl, Stop Apologizing” by Rachel Hollis.  In the book she details her “Five to Thrive”, five key practices for mental and physical health.  They included things I was already doing (drinking plenty of water) and things I was not (writing down 10 things every day I was grateful for).   I was on vacation and stumbled across a half used old composition book of my daughters that I had torn out the used pages and intended to use for to do lists or notes or some such thing.  I decided to give it a 30-day commitment.

And then I just kept going.  And going.  I have no end date. I will not be done with gratitude when I get to 1,000 or some other magical number.  After this many days it has become a part of my day, like brushing my teeth.  Here is what works for me and how I keep it going:

Why 10?

The book said 10.  Not 10 big things, but more specifically 10 little things.  I’ve found 10 is enough that it never gets too easy.  I can whip through five or six things off the top of my head.  I usually have to dig a little deeper and revisit my memories of the day to get to 10.

Why at night?

The goal is to be mindful of gratitude during your day.  When you know you have to make a list at the end of the day, the brain begins to notice more things as they happen and tries to remember them.  That bit of extra attention matters!

Why I use dollar store comp books…

I have found I have to keep this low key.  I know myself, and by keeping this practice casual, I don’t feel bad on the nights I am scribbling in a way that is barely recognizable. I have a part of my head that thinks a fancy journal requires fancy thoughts in fancy penmanship.  When I’m feeling grateful that the kitchen soap dispenser was fixed (day 40) I don’t need to question if that gratitude is a big enough one, or if my handwriting looks nice enough.

Everyday??

Sort of.  I almost always do this at night.  I take my gratitude journal on vacation.  But… I am a human and I give myself grace and space.  If I miss a day, I just do it as soon as I can the next day.  I still try to write down things that are from the prior day, but I also do not stress about it and I fill in with extra things from the current day. 

 

Spending a few minutes each day focused on gratitude has given me a structure to pay more attention to the good parts that exist in every day.  There have been days it has been a challenge, days I had to reframe some things that happened to see anything worth being grateful for, and days when I could have easily written 50 things.   I invite you to give this practice a try, to allow more space in your day to notice the small things, and the freedom to find your own rhythm in how you put this practice into your life.

 

Making Space for New Ideas

Making Space for New Ideas

 

Written by Alison Gurevich 

Over the weekend I painted a room so we could move the office in there from the room just down the hall.  Just one year ago I painted the first room our agreed upon office color and we sort of moved everything in.  But we never really moved into the space.  We used it, but never really settled into it.  Much of what should have gone in there was still in boxes.

Changing the use of a couple of rooms was a weirdly big and hard decision.  We moved into this house a year ago and knew it the process of deciding to buy a two-bedroom home that we needed to put an addition on it before we could really move in.  In all of that planning and designing we had committed not just to the structure of the house but also to a specific usage of each part of the house.  Ahead of rooms even existing we had to know what it would all be for so we could know exactly what we were adding and how much to add.  That was a lot of commitment to both form and function.

Now, a year removed from those decisions I sat in that office once again pondering why it just didn’t seem to work.  Did we need to ditch the furniture and start over?  Was there some way of rearranging the furniture that would magically solve the rooms weird overstuffed feel?  Why was the room so full when it was not even unpacked?

Was the room too small or were we thinking too small?

In building the addition we took a phrase I had often heard in my yoga practice and turned into a very physical reality.  We tasked ourselves to “make space for something new”, but we ended up just making new space.  We constructed a very real space for something new.  Then we moved right in and started using all those spaces for the same old things in the same old ways.

After yet another lengthy, detailed conversation rehashing every possibility we could come up with within those four walls I suggested swapping the room with another.  Both rooms are rectangles with four walls.  The new room is larger but the biggest difference is where the window is.  The placement of one window was what was keeping the other room from working.  We went through the options yet again then committed to the swap.

The new room worked immediately.  It has a sense of ease, like it was made to be this room in this purpose.  That might sound dramatic, but how you feel when you enter a room tells you something if you are listening.

The same applies to my yoga practice – how I feel when I enter a shape tells me something if I am listening.  Sometimes the window is in the wrong place.  Sometimes I’m looking to fix how a shape feels with what seems like every option but I’m making no progress because I’m still limiting the options I’m considering by thinking small.  

In our vinyasa asana practice, we create space in our body before and as we enter the shape.  We rise, and then we fold.  We extend, and then we twist.  We inhale for length, we exhale for depth.  We create this space knowing we need it where we are going.  But sometimes we are too attached to that one vision of where we are going to feel if that is the right space for us to fit into.

So this week, both on and off the mat I’ll be listening deeply to what my body is saying.  I’ll make sure the window is in the right place, and that I’m not so focused on looking at an idea contained by just four walls to open the door and look at the other rooms I could be using. 

 

 

Growth and Personal Breakthroughs On and Off the Mat

Growth and Personal Breakthroughs On and Off the Mat

Written By Jackie Reckson  

We always talk about our yoga practice as a metaphor for how we live our lives off our mats.  How can we take the lessons learned on our mats and practice them in our everyday lives?

I found this quote by Marissa Mayer, Businesswoman…

“I always did something I was a little not ready to do.  I think that’s how you grow.  When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”

During this shutdown due to Coronavirus we have had to shift the way we practice yoga.  Virtual yoga has become the norm for group classes.  It is a way to stay connected to our teachers and community.  I personally love logging onto Zoom and seeing my students thru my computer screen.  Some choose not to be seen (no makeup, messy hair, messy house, etc!) and that’s fine as well.  I still know they are there and it gives me a sense of togetherness.  But what is different about practicing this way is that we have to rely on ourselves and not our teacher to observe, assist, or correct postures.   

We have to be more independent.  Maybe at home you are feeling a little braver to try something new.  You have more confidence to fall when you don’t think you are being watched by a roomful of yogis!  And it’s by falling and retrying where we learn what we are capable of and have those breakthroughs.  Keep in mind though, that breakthroughs are not always physical like getting deeper into a pose or balancing on your hands.  It can mean that perhaps your mind got a little calmer or your breath got a little deeper.  Or maybe you let go of something you were hanging on to unnecessarily.  That is growth.

Now that we are social distancing and staying at home let’s translate this concept to our new way of life.  We can have personal breakthroughs by doing something we weren’t ready for or never thought we could.  It might be something physical, like a home fix it project or gardening.  It might be having a difficult conversation with someone.  It might be meditating in your home while there is chaos around you.  I completed a project in my house that was way out of my comfort zone.  It took several tries but I finally did it!  Just like falling out of a yoga pose and retrying (several times),  I was able to succeed.  The sense of accomplishment was truly inspiring!  Think about the things that you aren’t really sure you are ready to do and push through it.  And just like your yoga practice, notice how you feel when you are done.  It’s through these personal breakthroughs where we grow.

 

 

Overfunctioning, Underfunctioning, and the Search for Balance

Overfunctioning, Underfunctioning, and the Search for Balance

 

 

Written By Alison Gurevich  

In the last year I discovered the work of Dr. Brene Brown.  It feels odd to use her full name and title because in my head we are good friends.  Her research is fascinating and the hours we’ve spent with her speaking directly to me (okay, fine – they were audio books) gave me more than a few insights on my path to know myself better. 

My favorite new-to-me concept from Brene is that of overfunctioning and underfunctioning.  The distinction was developed by psychologist Murray Bowen and to keep it simple both are stress/anxiety responses: over does too much, under does too little.  I typically thought of anxiety responses as simply fight of flight (freeze being a newer addition to the list) and did not give it much more space in my mind.  If I was not running from the room or having some sort of argument, I assumed I was doing fine.   

The reality is far more nuanced.  I am someone who does things.  I’m rarely still, because of all the doing. A few years back my yoga practice was a five day a week hot power practice and I had those classes booked as soon as the month started – along with everything else – so that my calendar was filled well in advance and I knew exactly where I could fit in more doing.   Just hovering my mouse over the word ‘does’ my computer is quick to let me know it means to fix, perform, make or solve.  Everything in my day would have fit neatly under one of those.  But occasionally something would pop up and I just could not seem to bring myself to get it done.

The story I told myself about this was both easy and easily accepted: I was so busy no one could expect me to get everything done.  But being a valid reasoning did not make it fully honest, and the more complete story is that in those tasks I know and now admit that I felt some anxiety. My normal tends toward overfunctioning but my anxiety response is fully underfunctioning with a bonus of skipping out on even acknowledging the anxiety by overfunctioning on other things at the same time.  As Brene Brown says, “For overfunctioners, it is easier to do than to feel.”   

Thankfully, yoga brought me towards balancing this even before Brene and I developed our current one-sided friendship.  Before I discovered Brene, I discovered yin yoga.  Yin was my first real journey into sitting with feeling and offered no mechanism to speed up the process.  Yin brought me to stillness and meditation, the counter to all my doing.  It was so distinctly not “doing” anything that it was tough.   Do not stretch to your fullest?  Do not move for 3 or more minutes?  Why am I just laying here? 

Yin was the hardest class in my week, the hardest part of my day.   My brain would plan the next ten years in the first 3-minute pose.  Only 57 minutes to go, which of the world’s problems shall we solve while here in caterpillar? Sometimes by the last couple of shapes I would experience a breath (or two) without my mind filling the space with mental gymnastics, blaming, list making, fixing and doing. And on those days, I left with a calm and a balance that stayed for a while. 

I believe that yin yoga originally felt like underfunctioning to my brain. Over time and with consistent practice I have reconciled that into a space of yin and yang balancing each other.  This balance did not come by merely coexisting side by side in my calendar, but in each side understanding why it needs the other to exist.  As with the symbol, there is a circle of yin in my yang and a circle of yang in my yin.  There is still plenty of full speed ‘doing’ in my life, but I also now give myself a lot more grace and space to slow down and feel what’s happening in the moment so that I can recognize when I am too yang and heading out of balance.

We may each cope differently, but every single human is processing some level of anxiety on any given day.  Some of us will overfunction as a form of the fight response, and some will underfunction as a form of the flight response, and most will find a mix of the two. I’m here with you.  I’m doing both my yin and my yang yoga and keeping tabs on how and what I am feeling at any given moment.  In this, my yoga practice has given me an amazing barometer on how I am doing at “hanging in”, a term Harriet Lerner uses to describe being in the more balanced place of neither over nor under functioning.

So if you ask me how I’m doing, I just might skip the typical “fine” and tell you instead that I’m hanging in.  I hope you are too.

 

 

How can Yoga help?

How can Yoga help?

Written by Veronica Rockwitz

There is no doubt we are living in a strange time…especially as of late.  It’s a time that can cause serious personal stress for all of us.  It’s the seeming lack of control that can drive it.  For me, there is stress from financial uncertainty that comes with not working my primary job as a dental hygienist, that my children will be at a disadvantage as the school year hangs on by a thread, the inability to be physically present with my students to teach yoga, etc.

Sure, I’m not able to control a pandemic…but wait a second.  I do have control…and it starts with a choice.  Stress is a byproduct of fear.  Fear is a motivator.  However, I don’t have to let fear automatically take me to dark, stressful places.  I can control the direction of this fear by choosing for it to motivate me in a positive way.  Another way of looking at this is…do I really want to sit around and bitch about things out of my control, or do I want to take control of what I can…and take advantage of any opportunities this strange time brings?   I choose the latter. 

A quick analysis of my situation and the (obvious) opportunity…

  1. Wow, I suddenly have more free time.
  2. What has guided me through stressful times in the past? Hint: It’s Yoga.
  3. If I can help myself in this way, there is an opportunity for me to pay it forward and help others in a similar way.

With recognizing the opportunity comes an increased sense of gratitude.  I’m grateful the world is slowing down to create more time.  I’m grateful that this extra time is allowing me to remember how wonderful it was when I first started learning yoga.  It’s the gratitude, working in conjunction with the opportunity, that helps it to become realized.   I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to teach remotely through the aid of technology. 

So how can Yoga help?

An unfortunate downside to being in a community during this time is that personal stress can become heightened as it turns into a collective stress.  The upside is that this can also work in reverse.  If we continually remind ourselves that, collectively, we are stronger when we help each other in any way possible, that in itself can be the catalyst to help keep stress at bay.   Continuing your yoga practice, especially in a safe way with others, is a good example of how yoga can help by creating a collective positive energy and sharing it in that effort. 

It’s a logical step one can take to help push away the fear, tune out the negative, and tune in the positive. 

It allows one to observe, reflect, and stay balanced to maintain a sense of clarity, which is especially helpful during a period of uncertainty when one can use it the most. 

In addition to the benefit of gaining physical strength, it can help one become more disciplined when facing life’s challenges.    

Ultimately through yoga, one can connect more deeply with spirit or the divine. 

It’s hard not to want things to “return to normal.”  Until then, I want to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and wish the same for everyone.  In the meantime, I’m carrying a greater sense of gratitude, and want to use that to be in a better position to live life more fully while helping others and not taking things for granted. 

 

From Times Like These – Foo Fighters

 

“It’s times like these you learn to live again

It’s times like these you learn to give again

It’s times like these you learn to love again

It’s times like these time and time again”

I‘m looking forward to our Oya community staying active and hope you’re all able to join our on-line classes

😊

Let’s Fly Together

Let’s Fly Together

Written by Tommasina Marlow
____________________________________________
 
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.
 
Pema Chodron
 
Oh, how quickly our lives changed! I sit here late at night oddly reminded of my youth. I can stay up late, listen to classical music and write. Oh, how long since I have lived so simply! I feel oddly at peace in this moment. As I reflect back over the last few weeks, what comes to mind is just how much duality we are all experiencing. I myself have flip flopped back and forth between so many emotions it has been like watching a tennis match.
 
Life as we know it has suddenly been changed. At first, I felt denial. I made jokes to ease the unsettled feeling growing. But, slowly everything began to shut down and I was faced with fear for how to provide for my family. I felt panic as I decided how to stretch food and worried about the weeks to come. In such a mindset, I struggled to figure out technology and the basics of translating my skills teaching to something compatible for online. My mind was blocked because I was gripped with worries.
 
So what I have noticed is that there is a huge opportunity right now in the way my life has changed to witness the dualistic nature of my thoughts and emotions. For as I settled into quarantine, I oddly shifted gears. I got more sleep. I ate better as I had time to prepare food and be mindful. I began to find humor in the absurdity of the situation and let myself relax. From that place, I became creative. I began to recreate how I worked. From that open place, I picked up new skills quickly.
 
Since that point, I have dipped back into fear when my daughter became ill and bounced back to feeling warm and happy again as she began to improve. Gratitude rewarmed my heart with the generosity of the community in their encouragement and support. Back and forth, back and forth…I will have a negative thought and my outlook and feelings follow. Then, it shifts with a positive.
 
Now, I understand full well the power of neutrality. What I mean is first I change something I consider negative into positive by finding good in what might be a dark situation. That’s a great first step but then I get attached to feeling good and ultimately fear losing that feeling so swing back to the other side. Ultimately, my peace comes in being neutral and simply witnessing what is before me. From that neutral place, I simply live. In recent years, this has brought me such a sense of freedom. That said, the circumstances of the last few weeks have made it clear I am not quite enlightened yet. I jest a bit in that comment. I am going to go ahead and admit I am human. But, the time feels so ripe to grow…to learn to fly.
 
So here’s what I am taking a long time getting around to saying. For every thought and feeling we have right now the opposite is true. I feel distanced from my friends but I feel closer to my daughter. I feel unsettled by my schedule being off but I feel recharged by my schedule changing. I feel fearful of the future yet excited too by the global shift that can happen due to all our lives being disrupted. Yep, we were thrown out of the nest big time and could collectively learn to fly if enough of us catch on.
 
I say “we” now because I do not believe that even in isolation we are alone. We are connecting now in ways we have not before. We are becoming more and more creative. Something is happening. If you have a moment of fear, know you are not alone and like me you are probably just human. I will tell you what works for me. I keep starting over with a deep breath and then steadily like we do on the mat in yoga class meter my breath. Slowly, I feel my heart that had constricted in fear begin to open in courage again. Somehow my eyes clear when my heart opens. Those friends you miss on the mat beside you are still here. Our mats are just set up a little farther away. Your open heart though is connected to them and to me. And, our physical studio we love so much, if we suspend our belief that it resides in physical form, we can see that it is alive and well virtually.
 
I miss all of you in one moment. Yet, in the next moment, I do not because I feel you and see you online and realize it is just my attachment to the physical that makes you seem like you are not there. Dear yoga community, now is our time to practice in the deepest way. Until we sit around the big table at Oya drinking tea again, know that I pour my cup at home as you pour yours and a part of us shares it just in a new way. Neutrality. Our current situation just is and yet our truth is the same. We are connected.