Cat From The Mat

The Calm Before The Play

I love being productive.  I feel satisfied when checking things off of my To Do list.  But I wonder.  Do I wear my exhausting productivity as a badge of honor? Am I keeping myself distracted so that I don't have the time or space to address bigger issues?  Might busyness equate with feeling important?

 

Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection addresses how we interpret exhaustion as a sign that we are doing well, while putting naps on the back-burner. Brené says, "If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth."  She has collected data over years of research proving that play, calm, and stillness are key ingredients of a meaningful life, as illustrated below.

"Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation,"  writes Brené.  Play is purposeless, on purpose.  Through play, we can find joy and satisfaction in any work we do.  Ironically, we become even more productive.

Brené defines Calm as "creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity."  Calmness requires recognizing when we are being triggered, taking a moment to pause, then choosing how to respond.  Breathing is the best place to start this process.

"Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing.  It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question," explains Brené.  Meditation is also this practice of holding a space of judgment-free presence.

In a recent lecture I attended, holistic doctor Deepak Chopra prescribed sleep, meditation, and yoga as a solid recipe for health.  These endeavors are highly effective.  A little bit can go a long way.  He pointed out that as a culture, we drink stimulants in the morning to wake up then pop a pill at night to fall asleep.  No wonder we are deprived of well-being.

I've been practicing yoga for over twenty years.  Compared to recently deceased grandfather of yoga BKS Iyengar (1918-2014), I am a newbie on the path.  My initial access to yoga was through the physicality of asana.  It not only kicked my butt and reconnected my heart-mind-body; it opened up my eyes to a world of awareness.  My consistent and cumulative years of practice have taught me that in order to be more conscious, I need to slow down, do less, and be more.  Easier said than done.

As far as my mileage on the meditation cushion, I am not as well-seasoned.  My human-doership far excels that of my human beingship.  But when I do find time to sit, I find spacious solace.  Besides being thoroughly entertained by my relentless thoughts, nothing really happens during meditation.  What matters is that which occurs from having meditated.  I notice that I don't speed through life as much.  It's like a really good savasana for the mind.  How I do love my siestas!

Brené Brown encourages us to create a list of practical things that make our lives work, called the "ingredients for joy and meaning" list.  The items might include relaxation, exercise, healthy food, time off, quality visits with family/friends, cooking, dancing, singing, or walking the dog without your cell phone.  Then compare it with your usual To Do list.  You might be surprised in how little downtime you schedule in a day, how much sleep-debt you have accrued, or maybe how disparate your doing and being have become.  

 

Carve out more time to rest, to play, to practice yoga/meditation, or to just breathe mindfully as you enjoy moments of dynamic stillness.  Shift the intention of your To Do List from completing future tasks to qualifying your daily choices in the here and now. To do or not to do…that is seldom the question.

Cheers,
Cat


Cat From The Mat

September 2014

Embracing Paradox

Every July 4th, I contemplate my definition of freedom.  I usually connect that word with the agency of choice or a sense of ease around a busy schedule or a difficult situation.  Recently, I attended an Empathy Intensive as part of my Non-Violent Communication (NVC) training.  To my unexpected delight, I tasted a new realm of liberation.  I felt free from evaluation of others and more importantly released from self-criticism.  

I am a critical thinker.  All of my extensive education has helped me hone those skills with a healthy dose of discernment.  In doing so, my judgment muscle has gotten so strong that it often likes to choose for me.   I am so good at judging that I even judge myself for being judgmental.  So I ask myself, which form of acuity brings me peace?   

We discriminate in different ways.  We have value judgments as a way to express preference, like whether or not we like the taste of something.  Judgments as assessments are also helpful, when figuring out if an item will fit into an allotted space.  Then there is the world of moralistic judgment, where we weigh right from wrong.  This shrewd ether is omnipresent, and yet the universe itself is not ethical.  As humans, we attribute meaning to the world and prescribe our perception.  I myself often wake up into the domain of "something’s wrong," which edits and limits my experience.   It's exhausting and can disconnect me from others and from myself.  

During the Empathy Intensive weekend, I was surprised to wake up into judgment-free ease.  And I stayed there for three days straight with amazing appreciation.  The pressures to be “the responsible one,” “the comic relief,” “the helpful support,” or the desire “to be liked” were completely off the table.  We were having a different conversation all together.   This was not only liberating, but my shrewd self took a much-needed vacation, which made more space for my true self to play.  Rather than analyzing between good and bad, I explored whether a specific need was met or unmet.  I was and still remain empowered.

Moralistic judgments are not bad.  They are just indications of unmet needs.  I am learning to welcome my critiques, for they contain golden information.   I can therefore witness my default pattern, be highly entertained, and see the message embedded within.  I now walk myself through the inner dialogue and notice, for example, that when I feel frustrated, I need to be heard and understood.  When I feel distant, I look for ways to connect.  Feeling alive and rejuvenated tells me that my intention of self-care has been met.  This is the path of compassion. Empathy and self-empathy are two sides of the same muscle that get stronger with practice.

(For NVC information, visit: http://www.cnvc.org or http://www.nycnvc.org)

 

Yoga is about embracing the paradox of you.  Steeping in the fulfilled (formerly known as "good") feelings only offers half of the picture.  Unfulfilled (aka "bad") feelings offer the same gateway to excavating the need beneath.  By digging into all feelings, you get the full Monty, the works.  Your judgments become allies as various entry points within.   Yoga invites you to embody disparate feelings all at once and to choose how to meet your needs in any given moment.   Often defined in Sanskrit as independence, "Svatantrya" means self-sovereignty.  When you are sovereign unto yourself, you are celebrating your freedom of choice, while welcoming all limitations as a gift to know the whole you.   

Happy freedom from and within judgment!

Cat

 

Cat From The Mat

July 2014

Basking in the Blossom

Back in the day, when yoga first began with the Indus Valley civilization, there was ritual.  In order to transact with the rough environs, these rituals were a way of participating in keeping the world going.  There was no meaning to the ceremony.  The focus was the process itself.    

Ritual is defined as "a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone."  Today, every culture has ritual, known as "puja" in Sanskrit.  Whether we attribute meaning to it or not, it still continues…like making coffee in the morning, the way you get to work every day, removing your shoes at a threshold, reading/writing a monthly blog, or placing your yoga mat in a specific way.  In doing so, like the ancient yogis, you are propelling the narrative of life.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to experience rituals of two very different cultures, both embracing nature.  In March, I held a weeklong yoga retreat in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.  We were taken to the edge, where the paved road ends and Mother Nature begins.  It was tropical, not tranquil.  Forget about blaring car alarms at 4am, when you have howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, and deafening cicadas to wake you up.  Welcome to the coastal rainforest containing 2.5% of the world's biodiversity.

We pushed our edges by climbing a 70-foot tree barefoot to see as the monkeys see, by rappelling a 150-foot dry waterfall trusting the support of ropes over empty gravitational space, and by exploring our inner obstacles on the yoga mat.  My visit was book ended by staying at my friend's wall-free jungle home.  Talk about transacting with the natural world!  Who needs walls when you can have 24/7 free entertainment by all walks of life entering and exiting your humid domain!

In contrast, one week later, I arrived in Japan just in time to witness cherry blossom (Sakura) season, which delineates the beginning of spring as well as the national school year.   The Japanese are known for their customs, from pristine presentation to pride in whatever they do.   As Bruce Feiler decribes in his book Learning to Bow, "the Sakura is the national flower for this reason: the blooms come and go, tantalize and evaporate in a single moment of brilliance that transcends time."  As we walked through the various cotton-candy arcades of cherry blossoms, we observed locals taking pictures to document the concurrent beauty and elegy.  In such an urban environment, there is an admiration of nature, with elegance as fleeting as any text message.

Rather than trying to prolong the inevitable floral demise, the sakura season represents the practice of savoring the fullness of life now. This Japanese observance basks in the fact that nothing lasts.  The snowflake flurry of petals that fly in the air and fall to their death on the ground are equally celebrated as part of life.  Endings bring beginnings, beginnings mark endings, and the middle, which connects these two contrary compliments, keeps life going.  In any given moment, we are always in one aspect of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yoga invites us to become aware and fluent in this simultaneous cycle.

Summer is here, which punctuates the end of spring.  The longer days will begin to wane on the Summer Solstice.  The end of June also signifies the closing of Virayoga, my yoga home of twelve years in New York City.  This studio has been my anchor since its inception.  With the support of my Virayoga family, I ventured off to help rebuild the yoga communities in my hometown of New Orleans and the gulf coast region after Hurricane Katrina.  Since then, my yoga travels have expanded across the globe.  It's been the nourishing cord back to that studio that has fed me and kept me going.

Like the sakura, Virayoga has blossomed and now some of its petals are releasing to the ground.  With gratitude for this rite of passage, I embark on an exciting new chapter.  As one says before and after a meal in Japan, "Itadakimasu" (I humbly accept the food) and "Gochisosama deshita" (That was a feast).  My heart is deliciously full.  Thank you for the ritual of the feast.  Happy Summer Solstice! 

Cheers,
Cat

 

Cat From the Mat

June 2014 blog