January 2014

Investigate your experience

investigate.own.experThere are a couple of questions people commonly ask me in yoga class.

“How should this pose feel?”
“Where am I supposed to feel it?”

Beginners ask these questions a lot (and so do more experienced yoga practitioners when learning something new). The questioning of what we’re doing and why is an important part of yoga and I welcome it in my classes.

At first, the practice of yoga seems to be all about the poses. But when yoga is taught with intention, it is WAY MORE than stretching, bending and strength-building.

True, in your first few classes it’s all you can do to perform the asanas (poses) along with the class. But while you are doing this, you are developing other skills that are transferable your life outside of the yoga class. You will be developing abilities right from the start – usually before you even realize it.

Paying close attention to what you’re doing in each pose makes for a great beginning. Of course, there’s the matter of keeping yourself safe and free of injury.

The key is to investigate your own experience — but some of us (including me) need reminding to trust our own experience to guide us.

It’s foolhardy to show up to a new yoga class and bend & twist yourself into all manner of contortions without observing a few things:

  1. Is this good for me?
  2. Do I have any vulnerable spots in my body that might need special treatment with certain movements? i.e. a chronic condition, a past surgery to any of the joints, etc.
  3. Do I trust the guidance of this particular teacher? (Is he/she experienced? Does he/she seem to be observing each person and responding accordingly? Does he/she have the knowledge to be able to lead me well? Does he/she seem to care about how the poses are affecting the people in the class? Has he/she earned my trust?)
  4. Do I trust myself?

Experimentation is a great tool, and it works best when you bring in the right amount of observation and evaluation – pretty much like the scientific method we learned in junior high school science classes.

This is our 2nd ingredient for creating a positive yoga experience: Investigate Your Experience. This concept is called svadhyaya (self-study) in the Yoga Sutras.

We learn this best when we do it consciously and deliberately.

The 1st ingredient of the yoga experience is:
Apply Yourself (click here to read about that)

This 8-week series we are all learning new things about the most important poses in yoga.
That’s what a new year is all about.  We hit “refresh.” We reboot our system. We get busy. We go back to the basics and make ourselves stronger, smarter, better.

In all the classes we are practicing investigating your experience.

When you take responsibility for your own health and well-being, you must become the ultimate authority on you. You make the decisions about what kind of health care you need, what insurance plan will work for you, what vitamins to take, what doctor to go to, etc.

The wonderful thing about 21st century America is that you have so many choices!

You can ask your doctor, you can get a second opinion, you can ask an alternative practitioner, you can consult books, and get many answers to the same question.

You can go for the Google – and end up with 1,247,329 answers to your search for something like “sore tooth” or “hot flash.”

It’s up to you to decide.

Strengthening the muscles of inquiry are just as important in your yoga journey as strengthening your abdominal muscles or your heart.

This takes practice.

This is where our yoga comes in.

After we do a pose, take the time to observe.

How does this feel in my body? When I was in the pose what was I thinking about – was my mind wandering or was I feeling the physical sensation of the pose? Where did I feel extension? What was the level of intensity? Is this level of intensity working for me? Do I need more intensity in order to fully experience the pose? Do I need to back off because the intensity makes me grit my teeth or hold my breath?

I will ask you how you feel after practicing a pose. If you answer good, bad, or fine I will ask you to come up with more words to describe how you feel.

We are going to learn to paint with all the colors in our palette – to use a metaphor. Good, bad and fine are places we starts. But if you are limited to only those three, you end up feeling in black/white/greyscale.

Over time you will learn to name more subtleties of sensation. With practice at naming your experience, you will become more adept at picking up on small clues in your body. You will be able to “listen to your body” as the new agers are fond of saying.

That “listen to your body” imperative will no longer seem impossible. You will no longer be waiting for your doctor to tell you what to do. You will make fewer mis-steps when dealing with the ups and downs of a long life.

Not only will “investigate your experience” be your best health preventive tool, it will become invaluable to you as you go through-out your daily tasks of living.

You will use it and not even realize you are using it. You will rely on yourself to let you know how to interact with others at work, when to seek a new relationship and when to let an unsatisfying one go. What to eat and when. How much sleep and  how much money you need to live comfortably.  The possibilities are HUGE!

You do have to do the work! You have to practice.

The method I’m proposing does not provide vain promises to the gullible or that it will be an easy or always comfortable path.
What it does provide is an intelligent, systematic way to grow and a means for transforming your life for the better.

I can only tell you from personal experience that it is the best way I have found to live in this world – and I’ve investigated lots of other ways.  I will tell you about my own mis-steps and false starts at some point, but those are topics for another day.

In the meantime, get on your mat! And get to class!



Obstacles abounding

Yoga holds the promise that if I practice I can get in a yogic state where I am undisturbed by duality — good/bad, pleasure/pain, high/low.

It doesn’t tell me that I have to be undisturbed to start practicing. And that’s a good thing.

Because I am disturbed.

I’m disturbed by a nagging cold that keeps hanging on, a “check engine” light on the dash, itchy clothes, dog poop in the yard.

I’m troubled by the directions on the cough syrup to “take 20ml 4 times daily.” Just how many spoonfuls in 20ml? And I’m troubled by the plastic packaging on the cough syrup that won’t come off unless I use my teeth to cut through it.

I’m irritated by road construction, and customer service hold times, and that every time I open my hatchback my hand turns black.

And, sometimes I’m pissed off. But that’s another story for another day.

I’m the least likely person to attend a bootcamp of any sort. And definitely the last person who would teach a bootcamp.

But with all the obstacles that keep me disturbed, nagged, itchy, troubled, dirty-handed and pissed off, I figure I need to try something.

The early morning hour has its challenges, but that time of day eliminates all my excuses about conflicting meetings, doctor’s appointment, etc. So here we go……

Facing obstacles. Getting it going.

Yoga nerd – or just plain nerd!

I am a dork. I always have been and I can’t help it.

Even as a kid this was true. I preferred hanging around adults – asking them questions like “Who are you?” and “What are you doing?” and just play “Why?”

A few of my existential greatest-hits questions as a child were, “Are we real?” followed by “Are you sure?” And, of course, “What if this is all a story and we are the characters?”

Yup. And believe you me these topics of conversation did nothing to endear me to the other 4th graders on the soccer field.

Think 9-year-old. Think Goober. All I was missing were a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. But please do not feel sorry for me. I got those later. At age 13, astigmatism sent me hurtling into pubescent geekdom.

As an adult I have developed a few social skills – at least I’ve tried.

I try to break my old habits. But it’s still tough to skip the small talk at social gatherings and go straight into more pressing conversations about the meaning of life. I try not to blurt existential questions to the unsuspecting cocktail partygoer.

My attempt to save my theories on global social implications of pop-culture limited to my most patient friends. (Those Starbucks baristas and Walgreens checkers are lucky I’m now able to spare them the agony of this annoying customer.)

I’ve found some nice, friendly folks who like me enough to overlook these quirks and respond to various non-sequiturs I send their way.

The other day I asked a friend some geeky existential question. She didn’t hesitate to inform me that it’s good she I asked her, as no one else would care.

“We are the nerds of the world,” she told me.

In my case, I’ve learned to accept the reality of my situation. I’ve always hoped that some day I’d find my people who would embrace the un-hipness — until it actually becomes kind of hip.

Thankfully, my most-respected early teachers didn’t diagnose me as “nerd” in the 1980’s when I was a pimple-faced, four-eyed recluse. It might have killed me!

Instead, my beloved 4th grade teacher Mrs. Flynn, picked up on the slightest hint of potential. She awarded me the official blue ribbon for “most responsible student.”

On the last day of school Mrs. Flynn told me that I was “quirky and a little left of center.” She told me she would miss me when I graduated to 5th grade. Then she hugged me.

I can still smell the scent of her long, blonde hair as she pulled me close on the last day of school. The fragrance was a mixture of Breck shampoo and the validation of who I am and the hope for who I would become.  I never forgot her, and learned over time that dorkiness can develop into a one of a fulfilling strength.

Thank you, Mrs. Flynn, for planting the seeds of who I am today. I aspire to be like you — passing that same message to the students who come my way.


barefoot boot camp

barefoot logo.small

Starting January 13!
Mondays & Thursdays. 5:45 – 6:45am

Come join us as we kick off our shoes (and boots) and head into a transformative 2014!

Build strength and endurance.
Develop flexibility in body and mind.
Learn to face your challenges with an equal measure of inspiration & determination.

Leah Nichols will guide you in this intense yet playful practice to start your day off right!  Connecting to yourself through yoga asana practice helps you to cultivate a strong will and a fierce heart – qualities that yoga poses like Warrior Pose, Hero Pose, and Mighty Pose are named for.

Iyengar Yoga is universal, and this class is open to people of all levels. Each person will be challenged according to his or her experience-level.

Teacher Leah Nichols is among the most skilled and experienced yoga teachers in Memphis. She believes that with persistence and consistency every person has the capacity to change.
$80 per month.
Starts January 13.  (January will be pro-rated for partial month @ $60)

Contact Leah to sign up or ask questions.