Community Matters

     This past month I have been reading about the ideas of belonging and community. I just finished revisiting a wonderful little book titled “If I Live to Be 100″, by Neenah Ellis. It relates a series of interviews with people who have lived to be 100 years old or more-centenarians. The author wanted to learn what they each felt had made their lives worthwhile after living such long, full lives. Their individual stories are very different and yet all included a common theme-the importance of personal relationships and belonging to some kind of community in order to feel loved, fulfilled, engaged, and happy. They found within their 100+ years of life that they needed to communicate as well as listen, give and share as well as receive. They knew the value of developing an interdependence with others, of being part of some type of positive “community”. Spiritual leader and activist Thict Nhat Hahn calls this concept “interbeing”.

     Being part of a community is critical to living a full life, but so is being alone. And what is amazing is that we learn and practice these two ideas within our yoga community. In fact, a yoga class is a great example of both… when we practice, we share space with others yet we sit alone on our mats, each with our own intentions, focus, and feelings. As we are led through the poses and meditations we feel the support of each other. We are both alone and together. True community. The energy we each brings supports ourselves and transmits itself to the larger whole.

     Neenah Ellis writes of a “glow, a magnetism, a “vibe”  that she felt when interviewing the centenarians. She said she felt a deep connection but learned that it also had a scientific explanation. Scientists call this vibe a “limbic resonance”, or “the innate ability of mammals to feel one anothers’ emotional state”. It is a major source of human happiness, In fact, experiencing this connection with others helps us all to slow down, listen, and learn from one another.

     As you enter the transition period between summer and fall, sending children off to their own school communities, joining community groups yourselves, filling time with new projects and tasks, think about what you involve yourself in. Does the group you are in nurture you, expand your sense of self and connectedness and make you happy? If not, find the one that will. This is what matters.

Namaste, Ann                                                                                                                                                                                             

Hidden Gifts

Moving into a new yoga pose that has eluded you for months can be exhilarating. Sometimes it just happens, other times you work toward the pose as a goal. When the pose or goal is accomplished, it’s time to celebrate! Most likely it did not come without some form of discomfort. In fact, that is often where the true celebration should rest…. the realization that you chose to walk into and through discomfort to get to the gift inside.

Yoga often asks us to “sit with our discomfort” as we practice poses, working into and out of them. Think of a pose that is more difficult for you, or a time that you tried to meditate, or a decision you needed to make in your life in which you moved from your comfort level to a level that caused you to want to back away. This is “our edge”. The edge is that place where you agree to sit with the uncomfortable feelings you may have and then move into, rather than away from them. You decide that you are ready for change and growth, ready to address feelings or patterns of thinking that may no longer serve you. The edge often feels scary, insecure, and uncomfortable.

It takes courage to address our edges, in yoga and in our lives. Our human nature wants things to feel good. Why would we knowingly encourage feelings of inadequacy, pain, anxiety, or frustration? The compelling reason is that without some form of disequilibrium, some investment in the unknown, we may never experience new growth. We may become adjusted to our patterns of avoidance or anxiety or discomfort and never find what might be waiting for us on the other side.

Each situation, pose, or decision brings its own gift, in different ways. In fact, the unwrapping of those gifts may be the final reward, but the journey is the true accomplishment. You may find a new pose, new way of dealing with a relationship, renewed self-confidence, and a deeper knowledge and acceptance of yourself and others. In other words, crossing the edge takes you to a new way of being. What a wonderful gift.

Opening Our Hearts

July 2014

The heart is am amazing organ. Hidden inside our chest, it maintains life, pumping blood through the body, regulating and rhythmically guiding the forces that keep us alive. This is the physical heart, the one that we cannot live without. Yet there are also two more levels to our hearts, and many believe that these are heart aspects we also cannot live without. The emotional heart, our epicenter for compassion, empathy, wisdom, and intuition is the center of what makes us human. Even deeper, we discover our spiritual heart. The connections deep inside this heart offer us a link to all other beings, here and beyond the borders of our physical world. Ancient sages called this the core of our consciousness, the “hrdya”. In Sanskrit, “hrt” means innermost being. Thus “heart” is the innermost aspect of who we are and part of the first of yoga’s guiding principles for living-Ahimsa. Through Ahimsa, we attain connections, compassion and love for ourselves and others.

Many physical yoga practices begin and end with poses guided by the heart. As we move onto our mats and prepare to engage our physical bodies, we expose our hearts. We may experience a greater feeling of openness by stretching, moving shoulder blades down our backs or by placing a block or blanket between our shoulder blades. These adjustments bring greater awareness and openness to our hearts. We then begin to soften, slowing our breath and breathing into our hearts as we move into physical practice.

Any pose can serve as a heart opener, as long as it brings awareness to your heart space. A slight change in the position of an arm as it moves overhead in side angle or triangle can open space into the heart. Forward fold with hands clasped behind the back and you open even more possibilities. More intense heart openers such as camel or bridge pose take us into physical postures that energize and challenge our hearts as well as our strength and flexibility.
Heart openers may often open other awarenesses, some comfortable and some not. In an intense heart opening practice, emotions may surface that surprise you, bring fear or disappointment as well as joy and happiness. If we think of our hearts as three levels of being, this makes sense. In yoga, we move from the outside in, physical postures help us reach our inner core where our most basic feelings reside. By physically moving our bodies, we move into a place where we can begin to recognize, acknowledge,and experience the full range of emotions, or what it means to be human.

We close physical practices with a final acknowledgement to the heart, raising our arms, folding hands at heart center, thanking ourselves and others for who we are and what we have. Our hearts have opened and led us to new possibilities and new awareness. Our lives will follow suit.

As we open our bodies, minds, and hearts…we awaken to the wonder of awareness and possibility.

Namaste,
Ann

Go Play!!!

 “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”     Plato

I love watching children play outside as the weather turns warm again, turning sand into castles or tunnels into hiding places. Children get lost in their make-believe, immersed in creativity. So I was excited when I came across a website that gave me more to think about. The National Institute for Play, ( http://www.nip.org) researches and promotes play for children AND adults. Play, they find, can generate optimism, creativity, problem solving, healthy relationships, and strong immune systems. It can lengthen our lives and build our brain power. 

Play is great for children…. but adults?? Who has time for that? If this is your reaction, you’re not alone. Play is something many of us feel removed from once we no longer have children at home. Kids are expected to play, but how many adults do you know who openly talk about playing?

Yoga can be a place for adults to play. When we try an unfamiliar pose, we may not know what to expect. Will we fall on our nose in crow? Wind up on the next person’s mat as we launch into half moon pose? With a playful attitude, what does it matter? We laugh and try again. These playful attempts at something challenging is actually a great way to reconnect with our own childhood play. I loved being upside down as a child, and I still love doing headstands in yoga. I also hung on the monkey bars and climbed trees. My cousins and I built rafts and tree forts every summer. These memories come back to me during some of my yoga practices. When they do, I feel lighter, a smile breaks through, and my attitude shifts to “play mode”. Our yoga poses are all part of a process of discovering, and uncovering, ourselves.

The same thing happens when we play creatively with no other purpose than to enjoy what we are doing. It could be walking in the woods and singing outloud, flying a kite, or running down a wooded path feeling the wind on your face. With a playful attitude, we can learn to take life less seriously, to laugh more and complain less.

Play doesn’t involve a “to-do” list, a schedule, or a specific set of materials. It can be nothing more than our imaginations. Play is about experimenting with new ways of being and seeing the world in which we live. In fact, there is no “right” way to play-it is “exploring without fear of consequences”. Just like yoga. Play can open us up to new possibilities without fear of “failing”.

Try on some playtime soon! Go to a park and swing. Go down the slide. Skip. Chase your child or grandchild around the house, or play hide and seek. Let yourself go in something that has no other purpose other than to bring you pleasure. Then sit back, smile, and reap the benefits of bringing play back into your life.

Until next month…. Namaste.   Ann

Letting Go

” In the end only three things matter; how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of those things that are no longer meant for you.”  Buddha

I took a road trip back in time this weekend. My mother recently moved to Northfield to live, but completion of her move has been delayed due to winter and time constraints. So, on a beautiful spring Saturday at the end of March, she and I make our way back to her home in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Our mission is to bring back more pieces of her life-plants, papers, paintings. This snow-free, sunny trip feels good, but we both have mixed emotions as we drive. Those of you who have been on this journey know that it can be emotionally charged, draining as well as cleansing. Either way, it is also a chance to weave together past and present.

My parents were both musicians so my brother and I grew up around many instruments. The baby grand piano was the cornerstone of them all, however. It stood, shiny, black, and stately, in the front window of our home and on it my brother and I learned to play; my mother played or gave lessons to others. As young children we felt the grace and beauty of music woven into our lives.

This piano has been in our family for over 50 years now, but it will not be coming to Northfield. On April 1, movers will take it to a new life, this time at a memory care home on the edge of Menomonie. Over the past few months my mother has decided that this instrument, bought in the early days of my parents’ marriage, is no longer meant for her, it needs to move into the lives of others. Very soon, the piano that brought our family such joy will bring music to elderly patients living within the confines of dementia. Without knowing it, my mother has arrived at the place where Buddha says we should be. She is gracefully letting go of something no longer meant for her. She is sharing her gift of music with others in a new way. What better ending for this well-loved instrument could there be?

Decisions like these cause us to think about the objects in our lives. More and more often now, as I clean closets and come to terms with the pieces of hobbies I may not continue or uncover clothes that no longer fit, I give thought to the question- who else could benefit from these now? What may happen to it when it is no longer meant for me? Through questioning I come to decide-is this a passing, perceived need or, like the piano, a lasting gift to be passed along to someone else sometime in the future?

Things we own can reflect our true nature or they can represent the power of desire and submission to societal pressures of advertising or conformity. We do not need more “stuff”, we need more empathy and compassion toward each other and the world in which we live. Maybe now more than ever it is important that we continue to think about the wisdom Buddha proclaimed thousands of years ago. Reflecting our love from and for others, living gently on this earth we share, and letting go gracefully of those things that we are no longer meant to have is how we become whole within our lives and the greater universe in which we all inhabit.

Namaste,  Ann

Regaining Balance

In one of my regular yoga classes at Heartwork last week we focused on balance poses. As many of you already know, balance poses can be tricky and totally different from day to day. Probably more than most other postures, they are influenced by time of day, stress level, worry, and anything else that interferes with concentration. It’s hard to stand on one leg with arms raised when your mind is worrying about another aspect of your life. In may case this evening, I didn’t even realize I was out of balance until I started balancing! I tried everything-moving into the pose slowly and deliberately, focusing on the corner of the wall ( my immoveable drishti!), deep breathing. Nothing helped. Over I went, more than once. I finally accepted the fact I needed to just laugh and keep both feet on the floor.

Tipping over in a pose can be frustrating and humbling. “Tipping over” in our lives can be even more so. It makes us feel off balance and angry and all sorts of other destructive emotions. It often makes us want to push harder into whatever we are doing, rather than step back, reflect, and regroup. Yet often, the harder we push through something that may not be ready to happen, the more off balance we may get. It is often said that what we do ON our mats reflects our lives OFF our mats. Here are some “on the mat” lessons that could apply to daily living.

Embrace the fall.

I had to finally embrace the fact that I was going to fall that night. My typical strategies were not working so I could either give up, become more frustrated, or laugh. Balancing requires a person to think about various options and make choices. It requires us to accept a certain amount of “falling out” of something in order to learn how to better stay in. And it also requires us to remember and apply old lessons to new ones, always ready to accept a certain amount of change. A fall is not a failure, a fall is a learning experience. Accept it and the lesson it brings and move on.

Find Focus.

No matter what happens, on or off the mat, we need to be able to focus on something in order to develop, nurture, and maintain it. We are a society with many distractions. We can’t even pull up our computer screen without ads invading every available space, demanding our attention ( and our money!). Now, more than ever, we need to chose those things that have long-lasting meaning for us and give them our complete attention, just as we find our focal point during a yoga class to help us center. The pervasive “clutter” imposed on us, and often unknowingly embraced by us, has the potential to destroy our ability to focus on what truly matters. Make caring for yourself your first focus. Then you will be ready to give quality attention to other parts of your life and ignore what no longer works for you.

Create a safety net.

My safety net the other evening was the wall. I knew it was there, rock solid, waiting to hold me up if I needed it to. I could reach out with my fingers, guiding myself back into the pose, righting my off-balance posture. In our lives we need to have something or someone we can count on when we feel out of balance. We gain strength and connections in relationships. What do you need when you are off-balance? A walk in the woods with a friend, a weekend away, extra sleep, more yoga? Time alone? Figure out what you need and give it to yourself.

Learn and move on.

As you work through the imbalances in your life, try to think of each one as a learning experience. Maybe they happen for a reason, a wake-up call for needed changes. Talk to a friend who may be able to see your situation from a different vantage point. This can offer a more complete picture of what the lesson may be. And remember, just the act of awakening to a need, thinking it through, realizing something needs to change, and then  making that happen is a huge learning experience.

An imbalance that feels out of control can eventually turn into more of what you truly need for your life. As you learn to face this need, be good to yourself and do what my 5 year old grandson told me last weekend-give yourself a big kiss! How?…”just blow one into the air and then walk through it.”

Namaste,

Ann

 

 

Finding Space

Fiinding a variety of indoor activities to replace outdoor ones can be a challenge this time of year, especially when the stretch of cold and snow is a long as it has been lately. While we all know it does no good to rant about the weather, there are only so many movies to watch, family games to play, closets to clean, and healthy food to convince our children to eat! The urge to get out of the house tugs at us but the weather prevents action, leaving us feeling trapped and less-than-mindful. As winter narrows the space in which we live, we need to ask ourselves- what can we do to make this space more expansive and rich, not just during the cold sequestration of winter but also the rest of the year. How can we realize the danger of space-clutter- when we narrow our lives with to-do lists, email, tweets, twitters, and other daily agendas?

My antidote to combat these winter blues and blahs was to attend the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert last Sunday. I grew up in a musical family and am not a stranger to classical music concerts but this day I was unexpectedly transported far away from any weather concerns into a world of beauty and clarity. As I listened to music written two and three centuries ago, performed by masters of their craft, I was reminded that there is so much more to life than the snow outside our windows, the inconveniences of living in the Midwest, and the narrowness we often impose upon ourselves.

With eyes closed, I moved into a place where space existed for the pure enjoyment of an art. There is  a term for this-sukha, or “good space”. How was it possible for composers and musicians in much more difficult times to express themselves so exquisitely when their living conditions today would be considered unbearable? Forget the Polar Vortex, they had no running water, electricity, central heat, snow plows, or smart phones. How did they survive? Or maybe, because of the lack of these common conveniences, they were able to make space in their lives for the things that brought them joy…. artistic expression and room for their own innate talents and gifts. They were giving Sukha priority rather than second billing.

My daughter Emilee, a very wise young woman, has a 20 month old daughter, Olivia, who is a curious, delightful child. But even so, Emilee found herself giving daily chores like laundry, cooking, cleaning, and running errands more attention and priority over time with Olivia. Her daily space, once spent painting pictures of suns and stars with Olivia was being consumed with mundane chores. One evening she realized that she “was not going to remember doing laundry but would always remember coloring pictures at the kitchen table or making guacamole with her daughter”. She started to change her space and create precious time with Olivia again. Their sukha  is once again blossoming.

So as we work our way through this winter season and move into spring, think about how you can create space in every day for something that may be dormant in your life. How can you give yourself back the sukha you need to become the creative, thinking, and curious person you once were? We may not write symphonies or paint art that lasts for centuries, but we sure can be just as important to ourselves and our families in our own way. Create your space and see what you can do!

 

Namaste. Ann

 

The Company of Others

A few weeks ago my husband and I visited a long-time friend of the family in her new home in a care facility. The visit with her is never easy, since conversation is getting more and more difficult for us all. Her memory moves in and out, and with it the ability to talk about anything at length. As we drove into her neighborhood, I noticed the sameness and sterility of it all. Every building, for several blocks, was new and orderly and exactly alike-equally spaced in its yard, windows closed, curtains pulled, exact same colors, exact same yards. It would be easy to lose ones’ way in this neighborhood where individual differences were not apparent, at least from the outside.

Inside the memory care unit where she lives, twelve women were seated in a circular arrangement on a variety of chairs and couches. They sat closely, two or three to a seat, yet not one of them was looking at another. The silence was deafening. These women of differing ages, backgrounds, and health were just sitting. There was no joy in the sitting that I could feel, no words, laughter, or good smells of home cooked food. Just silent, barren sitting.

We learn in yoga that sitting with oneself is important, yet this was so completely different. Sitting alone by choice gives us time to reflect and tune into our own thoughts and processes. But this was a different sitting. This was the sitting of isolation within a group. There was no energy, no discovery of self or of others here. Only waiting, for something undefined.

I wondered how to reach a person  who is locked into a journey into themselves without the ability to make that choice. We are a social people and need others to share with, care for, and communicate with. Words and thoughts bind us together. Even for those with dementia, the give and take of language is critical to well-being and connecting.

We sat at a table with our friend, still struggling to find common ground, when suddenly one of the care providers turned on some music. Hymns from long ago, probably when most of these women  were young, filled the room. I was reminded again, as I so often am, of the power of music. What words can’t do, often music can. And so it was here. Slowly, one or two voices at a time, the women began to sing, first with deliberateness and soon with more joy. Their voices filled and warmed the room. The language of their childhood music was still inside each one of them. The young care worker sat between two very elderly women, not sure of the words or tunes but sharing the music book and singing along. She too had a smile on her face. Music was giving all these women connections with their past, their present, and with the young care worker-the future generation. The transformation in the room was palpable. We joined in as well and I was reminded of my early years, sitting with my grandparents in their small church in rural Herman. Then I listened to unfamiliar verses, today I knew them by heart. I was getting as much as receiving here in the place.

We are in the most social, family centered, contemplative time of the year. We struggle to keep our lives meaningful and calm. For many of us, our yoga practice and inward reflections are what keeps us grounded. With our practice we are more available to others. As we honor the longest day, celebrate the darkness that provides us a path inward, and make our pledges to uncover our own inward needs and strengths, remember that it many not take much to share who you are with others. A song, a family game around the kitchen table, a special meal from an old family recipe. These are the pieces of our lives that connect us to each other.

And as we begin this new year, think of someone you many know who lives in a “sterile” place right now. How could you reach out to them, and receive in turn the gift of sharing? Is there a small bit of joy you are overlooking in your life that would grow by sharing with another person? Is there a new place you can turn something from sterile into joy? Take time for yourself-to sit alone in silence to find your own joy. Then take this outward, into the light, and the company of others.

Here’s to a joy-filled new year!

Namaste,
Ann Christy Dybvik
December, 2013

Through Child Eyes

I just spent four days with my 19 month old granddaughter, Olivia. I haven’t seen her for three months and in this time she has learned the power and purpose of language and uses it very effectively! In addition to the wonder of talking, holding, and playing with her, ( and the joy of watching my own daughter become an awesome mom!) I quickly realized one again that children seem to get it right… while we adults struggle to find balance in our lives, to focus and center ourselves, children just do it.  A child can find joy in a simple smudge on the floor, a stuffed animal that fits just right in two hands,  a bug on the sidewalk, a new word. They see what they want, hold it, play with it, then let it go and move on to the next big adventure. What wonder there is in the littlest of things.

Since the weather in Tulsa is still sunny and warm, we spent much of our time outside. As we explored  parks and museums, Olivia showed me what was important. She found two sticks of different lengths, a small round stone, a deceased bug, and later that evening a full moon in the sky. During all of these discoveries there were no distractions from the object of her attention. One thing at a time. True focus. The sticks took turns going down a playground slide. The small stone fit nicely in her hand so it went for walks with us. The bug, thankfully, stayed in the grass. Later, she found a great saving place for her stone-inside the (rental) car door ( to be removed later by Grandma before returning the car!) Olivia proudly placed it there with care and loving kindness, then moved on to her next joyful activity. The stone was not discarded, just given a good place to be. Isn’t that what we all want? A good place to be?

Children also navigate each other with beauty and ease. Olivia met a boy about her age at the playground. He spoke no English, she spoke no Spanish. But that didn’t matter. We watched them perform the “play with me” dance before climbing together up the slide steps. No words were needed, they were talking with eyes and faces and some hidden instinct. They were experiencing the joy of sharing with another human being. Could we as adults take a lesson here?

Yoga teaches us what children already know, that we need to find time to focus on the small things, the discoveries that are truly important, –nature, the eyes and faces of friends, secret spaces that hold hidden treasures, and the ability to be quiet, move in a dance with others with kindness, focus and purpose.

As we “wiser” adults move through our  too-stressful days, remember what things completely captured your attention as a child, what connected you with yourself. This was your beginning, the start of your true nature. It is as valuable now as it was then. Lose yourself in something you did as a child. Swing, run, skip, stare at the stars and moon or the morning sunlight. Find a really great stick or stone to hold, then give it a good place to be.  If we all keep our small things front and center we might not need to work so hard to find focus and comfort within. It will be there for us whenever we want it.

 

Namaste, Ann Christy Dybvik

Rituals and Balance

So many pieces of our summer lives seem to “pull in” at this time of year.  Patio tables and chairs are stored in the garage, plants are cut back or covered with straw, the bird bath is dismantled and feeders filled as we tuck our outdoor living away until spring. We, too reel ourselves in as we close windows, bring out extra blankets, and harvest the last of our garden crops. Homes become more cozy  but they can also create a less-than-positive feeling of closeness. There is less space into which to expand our daily living, as the outside becomes colder. This can feel comforting and safe at first but over time can lead to feelings of unbalance.

Rituals also seem to increase at this time of year. There are the rituals I already mentioned and there are the societal rituals such as the beginning of a new school year, holiday gatherings, and the change to seasonal foods.

Yoga has a sister science called ayurveda, which pertains to healing, or “the science of life”.  Developed, as did yoga, over five thousand years ago, it outlines a comprehensive approach to wellness and good health. In fact, it is thought that ayurveda is the oldest system of healing in the world. As in yoga, ayurveda encompasses body, mind, and spirit into a lifestyle of good health and well-being. So what does this have to do with our fall rituals?

Ayurveda proposes that there are three main body constitutions that “rule” everything from our type of energy to sleeping and eating patterns. Specifically, these constitutions are known as vata, pitta, and kapha. In ayurvedic descriptions this energy is described in relation to air, water, fire, earth, or ether.  We all have aspects of each type within us, but most of us have a greater proportion of one dosha over the other two. When we feel out of balance in our lives it is thought to be the result of a disconnect between our true nature, our dosha, and the forces that are operating within our lives.

This is important to think about at this time of year, whether you subscribe to ayurvedic teachings or not, because one of the best ways to re-balance your life and return to your true nature is to understand what’s out of balance and then create rituals within your life that help re-gain physical and mental health and well- being. If you are prone to anxiety, a calming warm bath every evening with scented bath salts and quiet time with a book or music, may be what you need. Or maybe you feel sluggish and unable to focus at times. Then daily walks in the brisk fall air and a change in diet could help you re-balance your life, allowing time to energize your body and bring new awareness to your senses.

A knowledge of ourselves, what we need in our lives to feel balanced and those things that put us off-balance, is critical to lasting good health and well-being. Once we are aware of what shakes us up and tips us into inbalance, we can begin to create the routines and rituals for ourselves we need. Ayurveda has many tools with which to do this, including diet, excercise, breath work, spiritual practice, and daily routines.

As you enter the next few months of closeness and containment, think about how it feels for you. Do you welcome this time of year? Or dread the closed in feeling and inability to spend more time outdoors? Do you relish the foods that we are drawn to now, or wish for the fruits of spring and summer? Take note of your feelings, make a list, mental or written, of what brings you back into balance, and then plan for these things to be a regular part of your life. You will find yourself looking forward to the part of day you have opened up to yourself, and will find yourself re-gaining balance.
Namaste.

Ann Christy Dybvik

Ann needs to spend outside time daily as well as keep a soy candle burning in the evenings as she reads. She welcomes any feedback from readers on their own rituals for keeping themselves balanced. Feel free to email me at: anndbvk@gmail.com with your comments and ideas!