Monday, January 20, 2014

Yoga in your Macaroni and Cheese: Yoga Lost, Yoga Found, and Listening to your Yoga (or How not to Lose your Yoga)

Yoga in your Macaroni and Cheese:
Yoga Lost, Yoga Found, and Listening to your Yoga
(or How not to Lose your Yoga)

This post is about three things: (1) finding yoga (integration of mind and body), (2) losing yoga, and (3) listening to your yoga (or how yoga can let us know when we need to clear a space for our practice).

1. Yoga Found

Yoga can be found almost anywhere. I am not talking about formal yoga classes, per say, just yoga in its truest form. In its essence, yoga is the integration of mind and body in service of the soul. The asanas, or yoga postures, are a phenomenal  container for yogic integration (I use the word ‘phenomenal’ very purposefully). Yoga, you see, is embodied, a deep and mindful embodiment. It is phenomenal (i.e., known through the senses rather than through thought or intuition; I have contemplated which practices serve this role (yogic integration) most effectively. It seems to me that yoga can be found many places, maybe even in the making of a bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Some practices, such as yoga asana, may work best for some. In its traditional form, yoga asana has been refined for thousands of years to do just that.  Still, I believe that I have seen folks displaying yoga (integration) in its truest form far from the yoga mat. In fact, this week while snorkeling in Aruba, feeling my body glide through the salt water, over the coral and white sand, seeing the many colored fish, I was in complete integration. I felt my mind and body working together in service of one intention. I felt alive, wonderful, and in a state of yoga. Similarly, I have seen yoga in soccer, lacrosse, weight lifting, scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, and even in cooking.

No matter what we are doing, when the mind and the body integrate, our souls flourish. It is a universal truth, a part of being human, we seek out integration. Like getting by on bread and water, sure, we can eek out a life, more or less, without it. Yet, like the sustenance experienced by a little girl eating her Aunt Jasmine’s specialty, our souls want, crave, and thrive within the integration of mind and body—in the yoga of it. 

2. Yoga Lost

Where there is sun, inevitably there are shadows. Yoga can be lost almost anywhere as well.

I believe that in many practices, including the yoga asanas (postures), you can be far, far away from the practice of yoga. I am witness to this. I have experienced the holding of Warrior II for minutes with my mind tracking my day, reliving interpersonal experiences, judging and evaluating each aspect of my day to come or the day before. I was doing Warrior II in terms of the physical aspects of the posture. I was not—doing yoga. The holding of the Warrior II posture might trick one (even me) into believing I was.

Yoga practice (the postures and sequences) without mindfulness, is exercise. It is good stretching, strength building, and healthy for the body. But yoga asana without mindfulness is not the true form of the mindful, embodied practice that allows for integration and service of the soul.

You, me, we are the only ones who will ever really know how present and integrating any practice or experience is. When I was in Warrior II, I may have fooled an unskilled observer (had there been one). But, I would not have fooled a seasoned yogi and I did not fool myself. The truth is that given the motivation (that of which we are aware and purposeful about [e.g., drinking to forget] and that of which we are not aware and struggle to acknowledge [e.g., pretending that the asana sequence we just finished was anything close to yoga]), anyone can find the way, a way, to not be present, to escape, to pretend, to look as if—to not be in yoga.

3. Listening to your Yoga (or How not to Lose your Yoga)

How do you know when you are losing your yoga?

Your yoga practice will tell you when its time to clear things up in your life- it will tell you when you are losing your yoga. In order to be able to practice yoga asana or any other mindful, embodied practice (we will call yoga), your body and mind need to be relatively clear and open for integration. Like fire under the boiling pot, secrets and unprocessed or unmanaged life experiences can get in the way of practice. As the obstacles grow, the practice becomes increasingly more about tamping down the stress and less about of neurological integration and healing. With the fire on and growing, no amount of practice can take the pressure off and your practice loses its yoga.

This can be a little tricky to explain. Let me show you. You can see how this works in Zuri’s Story (for more about Zuri, see the About Zuri link from the home page of this blog).

Zuri and Secrets

Being a 13 year-old girl isn’t easy in the first place. We can all agree on that. Worse, Zuri has had it hard and lately it seems as if things are getting harder. Her mom is essentially out of control. Zuri is in a constant state of fabricating stories to explain why her mother can’t talk on the phone, can’t be at teacher conferences at night, can’t pay for school fees, and won’t respond to teachers’ emails.

Zuri has had to write checks and sign credit cards. Sadly, she has learned how to get one credit card to pay for another so that they never quite get caught in the billing cycle. Zuri is smart enough to know that all of this is wrong, not just wrong, illegal. Her mom has been drinking so much, she barely remembers anything. Zuri has been lying to her mom, telling her mom, “Yeah, I remember when you signed up for that card to pay off the other card so we could get groceries. Remember Mommy?”

Sometimes Zuri would blend in the real stories with the lies so that her mom would say, “Yeah, yeah, I remember.”

The bills were piling up and the more her mom had to avoid, the more she avoided (i.e., drank). Things were seeming like there were going to reach boiling point, that point when your boiling water runs up and over the pan and the stove looks like it might catch on fire-- that point. Zuri needed someone to grab the pan by the handle and save the day. Thing is, there was no one. And the lies kept growing.

The lies, all of the untruths, the layers and layers of stuff she had to make up to get through the day were overwhelming. It was so much easier before her Aunt Jasmine got sick. She had her Aunt to confide in, her Aunt to buy them groceries when her mom took off, her Aunt to pick them up and take them to her house when her mom went missing in action.

Zuri keep up the image that everything as fine even to her best friend Emily. Zuri was terrified that social services would take her away and she would not see her Mom, her brothers, her school, or her best friend again.

The higher the pile of lies got, the more yoga Zuri had to do to cope. She was deep breathing, meditating, and going to yoga nearly everyday after school. However, the pile of lies kept taking over her mind. She found herself standing in Warrior II, tears running down her face, unable to clear her mind. Thank goodness she was sweating. She wiped her tears away like they were sweat—one more lie.

She wondered if there was any amount of yoga that could fix this.

I wonder this too.

Zuri knew the alcohol, pain killers, gambling and all that didn’t work. She saw how completely miserable her mother was. Sherece, her Mom, was happy the first hour or two she started using, then the anger came, and then the leaving. After her mom left, days would pass. Then, the coming home. Her mom shook as she tried to drink coffee, spoke as if she were dreadfully ill, and cried over stacks of bills. Sherece, Zuri’s mom, acted like Zuri and her brothers were a burden to her. Yeah, Zuri was sure, the drugs and all that didn’t work either.

Zuri’s yoga was speaking to her. It was telling her that it was time to do something.

Zuri needed to feel better. She needed to clear out the lies and get things straight so that her yoga could work. Even though her Aunt was sick, Zuri knew she had to reach out to her.

She grabbed her phone and dialed. “Hey Aunt Jasmine it’s Zuri, I miss you. You okay?”

“Hey baby.” Aunt jasmine was smiling. She hadn’t heard from Zuri in weeks. She’d been too tired from her treatments to call.

Zuri exhaled. “Hey.” She felt better just hearing her Aunt’s voice. “Aunt Jasmine, I need to talk. Things are bad here and I’m sca…” She couldn't finish, Zuri started to cry. She got herself together quickly.

“I’m scared. Aunt Jasmine I need you. I can’t do this by myself.”

“Zuri do you have enough cash to take a cab over, you and Rashan? Can you get here right now?”

“Yes, I have $20.00. I can get there. Can I come over right now?”

“Yes baby, come right now. See you soon.”

Zuri called a cab, grabbed Rashan from in front of the television and dragged him out front to wait. She didn’t want Eric to worry so she ran back inside and left him a note. As an afterthought, she added “and Mom” to the note.

Aunt Jasmine looked tired. She has been through some treatment for her cancer, a surgery and more. Jasmine explained that now she had to take medicine to make sure they killed all the cancer cells. Aunt Jasmine explained that sometimes the medicine had to take the patient down a bit too, to make sure the cancer got cleaned out. She explained that you end up looking tired because of that, but it meant things were working.

Then, Jasmine practiced her version of yoga. She went into the kitchen to make the kids her signature big, heaping bowls of macaroni and cheese. Zuri watched as the macaroni boiled in the pot. She watched as the water was about to boil over the edge. She watched as Jasmine noticed, grabbed a potholder, and artfully lifted the pot off of the burning stove, turned the flame down to a simmer, and placed the pot back on the more effective simmering flame. Zuri LOVED her Aunt Jasmine for this. The pot had to be managed for the macaroni to be cooked just right. It was pure yoga.

For a moment, Zuri thought about her Mom (yoga lost). Zuri’s Mom, Sherece, makes macaroni and cheese a lot. It is affordable and easy to cook, even if you’re drunk. She knows that Aunt Jasmine and her Mom use the same recipe, they are sisters. Still, when Aunt Jasmine cooks it and serve it up, its is nourishes her belly and her heart. When Zuri’s Mom makes it, Zuri is stressed the whole time as she watches the pot boil over. She worries as her Mom presses the lid down. She flinches when her mom grabs the handle swearing as her hand is burnt. Zuri stresses as Sherece adds the cheese too soon and scorches the bottom of the pan. Zuri ends up eating from the large plate her mom has quickly washed to serve up the macaroni and cheese, a macaroni and cheese that now tastes slightly like dish liquid.

Zuri knows that the same recipe can lead to very different meals-- one nourishes one does not.

At Aunt Jasmine’s, they all cuddled in on the couch with their big bowls of macaroni and cheese and ate until they couldn’t eat any more. Rashan fell asleep full and happy. Then it was time for Zuri and Jasmine to talk. Zuri told her Aunt about it all—the credit cards, her Mom’s drinking and drug use, the days her Mom was gone, the checks Zuri had written and credit cards she’d opened. Zuri talked with tears running down her face. She told her Aunt how her yoga wasn’t even calming her down like it used to, like her yoga was barely keeping a lid on things. Like everything felt like it was just going to boil over. She explained to Jasmine that it was like her yoga was telling her to get help. Jasmine held Zuri and told her that they would figure this whole thing out.

Jasmine knew it was time to go to social services. She knew about kinship placements and it was time to petition to courts for these kids. At least Rashan and Zuri. She wasn’t sure if she could handle Eric. She hated to do this to her sister, Sherece, but things had gone too far. She didn’t tell Zuri any of this, because she wasn’t sure how it would all work out. She did tell Zuri to stop writing checks, to stop using her mom’s credit cards, and to go through her for any money she needed for food and school. She told Zuri to stop lying and to do only the stuff kids are supposed to do, like go to school, and play with Emily, and go to her afterschool program. She told Zuri that she and Rashan were going to stay with her for a while until she was able to sort things out with Sherece.

Zuri felt like a million bricks had been lifted off of her shoulders. She felt like the pot had been lifted from the stove. She felt her head and heart clear.

From this clear space, just before bed, Zuri did her mini yoga sequence that always helped her feel better and got her ready to write in her journal and fall to sleep.

Child’s pose
Down dog
Low lunge right and low lunge left
Half pigeon right and half pigeon left
Down dog, walking her feet through her hands and taking a seat
Forward fold both feet extended
Right foot to left thigh folding to left foot
Left foot to right thigh folding to right foot
Forward fold
Sukasana and a 5-minute meditation

Her mind was clear. She could breathe into her body and be with her body, feeling herself relax and center. Zuri felt her heartbeat. She felt peaceful and collected, yeah, collected, like things were falling back into place. Her yoga was telling her that everything was going to be okay.

The Process

Your yoga talks. No matter how much yoga you do, if you are holding on to-- secrets or big piles of stuff that has happened to you or that keep happening to you, that you have not created a space for-- your practice will be experienced differently. It may feel like Zuri’s serving only to tamp down the lid on a boiling over pot.

For effective practice, to experience true yoga, you need to clear your space (*see note below). Some people use the practice (or abuse drugs and alcohol) in an effort to tamp down or to erase secrets or the unprocessed. It doesn’t work like that. Sure, it helps to do yoga, to breathe, to meditate. It does help. But it can’t fix lies. It can’t make unresolved secrets go away or the fix the undone. It is like trying to build a house on sand. It’s like trying to hold the lid down on a pot of boiling water on high flames.

So practice, yes. Use your embodied practice, your asanas, as a guide. Your practice will help you know. For me, I learn from my yoga when I need to clear space and take care of things. I can see in my practice and my meditation when there is too much that intrudes and many obstacles present. As I work to manage the working of the mind and attend to my practice, I also take note. I note that I may have some work to do outside of my practice (a conversation I need to have, a journal entry that needs to be made, a space that needs to be cleared).  Then, I bring my mind back to my practice.

Yoga, Zuri, and Aunt Jasmine’s recipe for macaroni and cheese- they teach us. It seems that:

·      First, yoga can be found and lost, anywhere (from your Warrior II to your macaroni and cheese).

·      Second, if you listen, your yoga speaks. It tells you when you are getting lost and when its time to dig out.  

·      Third, if you want to make the best macaroni and cheese out of your yoga practice, your relationships, or this one life you have, it is not the recipe that matters so much as how you make it.

Go find your yoga!



*Please note, for some it is good to process this stuff with a therapist or good friend, create a space for the memories, create a ritual to honor them, or a memory box in which to keep them. The processing can be triggering and should only be done if you are in the right circumstance with the right person/people to support you.

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