The Yoga of Quitting (or Future Suffering is To Be Avoided – Sutra 2.16)

Two years ago I was holding it down as a mother to a 5 year old, a yoga studio manager and yoga teacher, a full time safety professional, a part time housekeeper, a sometimes Pintrest mom and I started losing my hair. It fell out in clumps. I was doing way too much and my body was clearly communicating the flashing red sign of STRESS. So I quit doing it all. I QUIT.

c6a2cad04bd5924188ad918b5a512219I didn’t quit all at once, because I still had the wrong headed modus operendi of achieving. I quit small things first – like I quit having fun or I quit socializing or I quit enjoying life. But as my hair kept falling out, and I looked at a big clump of it one day, I decided to quit trying to be all the things. Because WHY? I was bringing suffering into my own life, caused by my own wrong efforts, and exacerbated by a need to always be more.

It was more than hair loss – it was also manifesting as infertility.

After years of struggling to achieve conception and dealing with what I thought was infertility – it turns out I was dealing with stress. Stress was leading to hormone imbalances and medical issues and what I discovered was I wasn’t allowing the joy of living to filter into my body – I was actually blocking life. I was doing that to myself; I’m sure I’m not the only one.

If you read this because you Googled “fertility, yoga, stress, pregnancy” or something similar – what are you so busy doing that you could quit? What’s blocking your life force?

I’m 36 weeks pregnant, about to birth a baby in a month and the busy-life is here calling me again. I’m not answering it. I’m cocooning. My meditative focus is simply on my family. What does this have to do with yoga?

I still look to the Yoga Sutras for those answers:

  • Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind – 1.2
  • When that is accomplished, the yogi abides in their own true nature – 1.3
  • The changing states of our mind can be harmful to our focus – 1.5
  • Yoga practice is the effort to be fixed in concentrating the mind – 1.13

I could go on and on with the sutras supporting us to assume a role in life with full force and focus. I can rewrite these sutras to suit my circumstances and goals. Personally, today, I want to still the mental fluctuations and focus them onto birthing and raising this new baby. Right now, my true nature is mother and life vessel. If I take on too much, I might harm my primary focus, which should be a healthy baby. The effort to stay focused on this process is challenging.

Yoga is never the poses you are doing, it’s not a physical exercise, it’s a mental way of living. The Yoga Sutras can teach us about motherhood or painting or dancing or postures or meditation or anything we wish to do well. And yes, we can indeed do more than one thing well,  but we can’t do ALL the things well, ALL of the time, ALL at once. Something will always break down.

If you discover that you begin to do some of your tasks poorly or that your health begins to suffer, you cannot really be truthful to yourself that you are living your life well concentrated – you are then bringing harm to yourself and ignoring what is one of my favorite yoga sutras:

  • 11849790_1642484662630447_540587482_nFuture suffering is to be avoided – 2.16

Bottom line, don’t be afraid to quit something that isn’t serving your highest good. Listen to that nagging voice in your head that is asking you why you struggle – maybe that something doesn’t matter as much as you think. Maybe you can let it go and let yourself be ok without it.

Takeaway: Settle in and take stock of what’s not serving you in life. Make a commitment to quit ONE THING – it can be small, but declutter your life of unnecessary tasks, people, things, or feelings.

Rediscover Joy.

To My Readers and Students: Thank you so much for sticking with me in my absence. Thank you for finding ways to practice and keeping connected even while I’m on a break. I never forget you, I never quit you, and you always inspire me, even when we aren’t face-to-face. 
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What Happened When I Held Hands With Death

I held hands with death today. The grip suprisingly strong around my hands which were closing so gently around skin, paper thin and velvet soft. In the yoga sutras, Pantanjali tells us that the one suffering no human can escape is a fear of death, or a clinging to life. This hand to hold, clinging to life, I felt that desire in waves not only from a wizened hand – but shuttering throughout my whole body. Tears sprout and I cannot be sure if they are for the fear of death in a loved one, or my own fear of death that lives within me. The hand holds mine and I feel a soft caress, in the repose, I know we connect.

United in this moment, there is love, anguish, and a sharp flash of ego, which haunts the end of a life. Not the ego of the dying, but the ego of the left behind. Ego telling us to hold tight, complete that bucket list, time is short. That’s not it either. There is a space to live between clinging to life and letting it go. The saying is, “You only live once,” but that’s not true.wpid-instaquote-20-03-2015-23-16-45.png

You only die once. We receive life every day we open our eyes and in that moment, opportunity to fully awaken presents itself.

In yoga there is the practice of dying called Savasana. At the end of every class, we allow death for our hurt, our pain, our suffering, and then we reawaken into our potential and possibility. B.K.S. Iyengar says:

Savasana is about shedding. We have many skins, sheaths, thoughts, prejudices, preconceptions, ideas, memories, and future plans. Savasana sheds all of this….threads of tension…like Gulliver imprisoned by the threads of the Lilliputians…to cut tension is to cut the threads that bind us…to find out who we are not.”

Savasana can be scary in this way too. No one is clear on what happens when you cut all that binds you from the material, physcial world. There is a thread of tension that will always linger, tying the soul to the body here on the earth. Since no one can know what happens after death – there is fear in the letting go, slipping into the void. Many master teachers will agree that the practicing of many little deaths, many letting go’s, prepares for the ultimate letting go, the body death.

I find Paramahansa Yogananda’s quotes on death to be helpful in times of death awarenss, I espeically feel drawn to this one on this day:

Natural death—that is, in old age, or whenever the soul is ready to change its mortal form—is just like the falling of ripe fruit from the tree, of its own accord, without the resistance that green fruit exhibits when being pulled down by a storm or other great force.

Final Rest and Relaxation, Practice for Death, Art by Felipe Ikehara

We can use the little deaths of savasana to allow us to release the ties that bind us, then tensions of living, so that we can float through our life aware of the experience, never missing a heartbeat. In that, Savasana is the most important and the most difficult asana in our practice.

I give thanks and honor to the many teachers in my life. Without the shared practice, the shared wisdom, and all the shared love – I cannot hope to progress in yoga or in my life. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. May the peace of the practice shine through my teachers, through me, and into you dear reader. This one light may and must shine in all of us – Namaste.

Overcome Bullying with Yoga

I was bullied. I was threatened, shamed, and physically abused through bullying. Now, 33 years old, the pain and disquiet of being bullied lingers. Being bullied can make you feel that someone is watching and waiting to poke a big hole in your balloon, hoping to deflate you.

Inflated/Deflated Project

Inflated/Deflated Project

Enter yoga.

Yoga means union. Yoga is a community. Yoga makes a person feel like it is ok to be different; it’s ok to just be you. We find an acceptance in all the yoga-speak about being non-attached, forgiveness, offering love, compassion, and self-care. Yoga class is the place one can go to make mistakes, to fall down and get back up, to practice overcoming obstacles and find inner potential.

We strengthen our bodies so that we strengthen our spirit. We practice strength so that we can share that strength with others who might not be as strong, so we can support and lift up the other folks who are having a hard time.

Bullying is something that makes a person feel alone. Yoga is a practice to unite and overcome isolation. You become strong enough to forgive and shift perspective, which opens up a new space within you, a space you can fill with your potential to create, to share, and to love.

The magic of the practice is in the journey. As you work your body, you find you have a new script, your own personal inner life coach that tells you that you are capable, that you are strong, that you are beautiful – just the way you are.

I did not have a context for inner strength until I found the practice of yoga. Bullying is not personal, it is one person transferring their negative shit onto your negative shit and making a giant shit pile. It stinks, but manure makes great fertilizer. Keep practicing your potential and see what can bloom for you.

Out of the Muck Grows The Flower

Out of the Muck Grows The Flower

 

Have you ever been bullied? Feel free to share your story with me in the comments, or direct message me on Facebook at Kirsten Hedden Yoga. I know you can feel alone – sometimes it helps to reach out to someone that cares – I’m here to listen.

4 Practices to Try Right Now:

Protect Your Inner Child

Protect and Strengthen – A Downward Dog over Child’s Pose

Happy Birthday Baby Belly.

5 Years Ago my body was injured – slashed through with a surgical knife.  Abdominal walls severed in two by a bulging baby boy in a torso too short to properly accommodate him.  These battle scars the belly carries are from war zones called C-Section and Diastisis Recti.  I have the unfortunate appearance of someone still pregnant (which sometimes people ask!) and as a yoga teacher, it is highly unlikely that I will ever be mistaken for having “nice abs.” And to have people judge me for it still hurts.  diastasis-recti

It’s all well-meaning what people say after such a battle of pregnancy and labor and hospital stays.  Be thankful – that’s proof you had a baby.  Well thanks – my son is actually proof that I had a baby.  I can be thankful for him without loving scars and muscle weakness.

They placate a new mother with platitudes like, “thank goodness for modern medicine,” and “your child’s smile is all you need.”  But they don’t know – they don’t live in this body, they don’t have  to look at themselves naked with these sobering reminders of what, quite frankly, is a traumatic experience, albeit one with a beautiful ending.  They don’t understand the toll it takes on a wife and a marriage when you don’t love your body.  Even when your husband says you are beautiful.

I didn’t even accept that I had a certain trauma.  I covered and hid my feelings because, really, I am grateful and I wasn’t one of the moms forced to a C-Section.  I wasn’t put on the clock.   After 54 hours of trying natural labor (24 hours), of trying an epidural and medications, sifting, showers, puking, crying, I decided to agree and tell the doctor I’d had enough. Then in a mere 20 minutes, there he was.  The light of my world, the soul of my soul, my whole new purpose for even being alive.

I can even remember the very exact moment before  we went to surgery.  I asked my wonderful midwife, who I will love until my dying day and beyond, what would have happened to us in the days of old (seriously, laboring mothers say weird things!) and she very honestly told me that I would have died.  Logically, I totally know that I did every single thing possible to have that natural experience.  But somehow I had failed and here is this damn belly with a C-Section Shelf staring at me in the mirror reminding me that I couldn’t open enough to allow my son to live.  What on earth is wrong with me? I mean, I did YOGA, I did BREATHING, I did ORGANIC, I had a DOULA!

Like most things in my life, I pushed it away.  I focused on this happiness of new life, I made every effort to positive spin my C-Section story, how I had the freedom of choice and didn’t have that trauma that other moms have, THEY needed the group support, THEY deserved the kind words, I didn’t even deserve to be comforted because after all – it wasn’t that bad, other people have it worse.  I live in the now, not the past…..right?

 

But I closed down completely on a physical level.  That emotion lived in my very hormones, my body knew there was a trauma.  My desire knew there was a trauma.  My fertility knew there was a trauma.  My core strength knew and you can’t deny a weakness in an asana.  No epic arm balance or handstand selfies for me (yet!).

 

And still I clung to the denial of a happy emotion of acceptance and non-attachment.  After all, I’m a yogi.  I’m supposed to practice letting go, letting be, and becoming free.  But what I’m not supposed to do is LIE.  Satya, the second of the Yamas, the ethical guidelines.  That includes lying to yourself and denial is a bit of a self-lie.

So here it is, 5 years post partum.  I just celebrated the 5 glorious years of my own motherhood and my son’s beautiful life. Time to forgive my body.  I’ve been working up to this for a while and this post, is a catharsis, I can’t possibly be the only woman with a story like this and just maybe this reaches a woman with this issue and she knows that she is not alone.

So here it is.

Body, I’m sorry I blamed you for not being enough.

Body, I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize that you were hurting.

Body, I’m sorry that I ignored your messages and didn’t listen to your pain.

Body, I’m sorry that I made you carry this burden of emotion for so long.

Body, I forgive you for not opening up.

Body, Thank you for carrying my son.

Body, Thank you for birthing this new understanding 5 years later.

Body, Do you think maybe you can forgive me too and we can try again?

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I have my yoga practice to thank for this realization.  Something happens when you sink into your practice, all that time on the mat evolves into something.  It’s a spark of awareness, you begin to reveal your truth.  Yogis say it’s like shining up a cloudy glass so that you remove the residue of experience from the window of your soul.  After all, I’m a yogi. I’m supposed to practice letting go, letting be, and becoming free – but you don’t have to practice that at all, as you practice on the mat with asana and pranayams, this becomes a spontaneous arising of a feeling of liberation or Moksha.

Resources for Diastisis Recti

Checking for Diastisis Recti:

Yoga for Diastisis Recti:

**I have done this video, I like this teacher, I think she is accessible to every mom.  I only wish I had found this earlier.  No one told me I had a diastisis recti until about 3 years out – so I did further damage, but I have hope and I’ve been planking and working achieving results.**

A Bag Full of Pennies Bought a Lifetime of Shoulder Pain

There she stood at the teacher’s desk, must have been in 4th or 5th grade.  She held a plastic sandwich baggie full of pennies. She couldn’t even afford a Ziploc. The teacher made her count them out loud, in front of the whole class.

One, Two, Three……One Hundred and Nine, One Hundred and Ten. Lunch money.

They all laughed.  They all pointed.

The teacher announced loudly that the next day the girl needed to bring a dollar bill.

An awkward child figure, with big curly hair and a big nose with second hand clothing, hung her head and silent tears rolled down as she shamefully walked back to her desk without a friend in the world, knowing without a doubt that at 10 years old, she was poor, she was different, and no one really cared. Her shoulders hunched a little more that day as she learned to close off her heart and protect herself.

This is one of my earliest memories of trauma and I found it in a yoga class. It has sat inside my body, inside my muscles, creating an unknown tension for many years.  The memory of it just sort of popped up one day, in an intense shoulder opening.  Like an unwelcome visitor in the body, knocking on my mind to say, “you need to deal with me.” And just like that, the shoulders relaxed a little more and that bit of tension was forever gone.

Many people walking around in your life have untold stories of trauma. It isn’t just one story, it isn’t just trauma from abuse or war, any experience that leaves you feeling shamed, unloved, unwanted, abandoned can give you a traumatic shock in your body system. We get very good at hiding our stories from others, we get very good at getting small and unnoticed, and we call that “fitting in.” Except even if you never talk about it, never remember it consciously, your body knows and you can’t lie or hide from it forever.

Maybe your trauma lives in your shoulders and neck as a sort of tension you can’t seem to let go, no matter how calm and soothing or sweaty and hot the yoga class. Maybe it’s digestive issues that no medical doctor can seem to explain or they tell you “it’s all in your head.” Perhaps it is an intense desire to eat your emotions.  This is the power of yoga practice, the awareness it brings to your body and mind so that you can be open and available for true deep healing.

This is also why some people don’t like yoga – it makes you face things that perhaps you aren’t sure you want to dig back out, so you think, I’ll just outrun it – maybe with a marathon. Except that as you age and you stop being able to run, the body catches up and it still holds the tension of those traumatic lessons you chose not to deal with in your earlier years.

The point is, everyone has a story to unravel and a yoga mat is usually a safe space to reread and release your story so you can feel less trapped by your body. The next time you are in a yoga class and you feel the urge to leave a pose you don’t like, try staying and see what comes up. Keep a journal so you keep aware of how you feel and what you might purge. Be OK with shedding some tears and having catharsis.

Not every pose is beautiful and not every yoga class is joyful – you need to know that it’s OK to release and feel angry or sad, don’t suppress those emotions any further, they are physical expressions of fear from your life lived and all the accumulated experiences, but to heal you have to wade through them. You need to know where they live in your body. To know they exist so you can let them go. The final limb of yoga is joy – not the first. It takes a lot of hard work; trust the process, it’s time tested for at least 3,000 years.

Yoga is NOT entertainment, there is no doubt that you can have a rockin’ good time in a great yoga class with high volume music and that’s OK too, not every yoga session needs to be a huge release of some trauma. But if you want the real meat, the real healing, you have to do the real work and it’s not balancing on your head – it’s going into the deep unknown, exploring the abyss and that can be scary.

Find yourself a teacher that has been there and come back, not necessarily enlightened – for the ones that claim enlightenment are usually false gurus. Find the ones that don’t judge you, that allow for quiet, that make you feel safe. As Pattabi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.”

I give thanks to my own teachers, to my own students, and those that have walked the path of life with me.  I am the person I am because of life’s traumas and my work in overcoming obstacles.  Thank you, dear reader, for spending a little time in my world.  You are loved.

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