Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Rejuvenation

Have you ever been exhausted? I do not mean the after-the-workout exhaustion. I mean the kind that makes it so you wonder how you remain upright each day. We live in a culture that not only expects people to be exhausted, but glorifies it. Some days I feel like it is a race to prove you are more exhausted than the next person. Do you ever feel that way?

I see it around me all the time. People are expected to do everything. We are expected to be on-call 24/7. Did you hear that France recently prohibited checking work email after 6pm? It was not actually true – there was no legislation banning work. Nope, everywhere in the Western world, we are expected to work, work, work. And even being at work is not enough. We have to volunteer, coach our children’s teams, and still post to Pinterest. Basically, we are expected to work until we collapse. And collapse we do.

Dis-ease is running rampant in society. And even the very things that are supposed to be healing, such as yoga, have become a way to get a yoga butt and not to relax and rejuvenate. And then there is the even more interesting phenomenon where we only realize how tired and stressed we are when we give ourselves a break. Have you ever gotten sick your second day of vacation? Do you always get sick your second day of vacation?

Today is the summer solstice. Summer is a time when people tend to break out of their shells and get out into the world. Interestingly, this is less true in Tucson where it is over 100 degrees nearly every day. But the energy of the Earth shifts in summer. Whether it is in June in the Northern Hemisphere or December in the Southern Hemisphere, those around us have a different take on life. Everyone seems to talk about what they are doing over the summer, even those of us who have not had a summer break since we left school.

Summer is, therefore, a chance to rejuvenate. It is when the Earth itself is blossoming, warm, and inviting. It is when we all want to get into water to cool down, but what we do not realize is that water has healing properties all its own. Even the pop culture of summer is one of relaxation and rest – we see people laying on the beach, we talk about summer movies and books (those that do not require much brain power to watch and read), and in the United States, although summer really begins today, the mentality of summer goes from the bar-b-ques of Memorial Day to the bar-b-ques of Labor Day (neither holiday, of course, having anything to do with partying, but we have made them that way).

Even if you do not honor the Solstice as such, how can you honor summer? How can you give yourself time to rest and relax? Here in Tucson, a lot of people complain about summer (with good reason), but the reason is because summer can be unbearable at times. That just means we need to rest and relax even more.

Summer is a strange dichotomy. It is full of light and warmth and yang energy, but that can be unbearable. The summer solstice is the day of the year with the most light. It is the day that reminds us that no matter what is happening in our lives, or in the world, the sun will always rise, and it will shine its strength and power on us. And so, the solstice is the reminder that too much of a good thing can become troublesome. 

So when that light becomes too much, when the yang energy feels like there is no balance of yin, we have to find that balance within ourselves because air conditioning is not the answer. Instead of actually helping us handle the dichotomy of summer, it exhausts us more by confusing our system. It makes us feel cool when we know we should be warm. I am definitely not opposed to air conditioning all the time, but it is not the answer to the summer yang heat.

Instead, summer is the time to read books on the beach just as pop culture makes us believe. It is the time to go on vacation to “get away.” Really, summer is the time when the Earth finally exhausts us so much we have to take notice of the fact and move out into something more bearable. Out own exhaustion from the stressors of our daily lives, coupled with the exhaustion summer provides, creates the perfect storm for forcing us to find a way to rest and rejuvenate.

There are so many ways to do this. For me, I am finding that I simply want to lie still and breathe. I find that when the heat becomes intense, it is important just to breathe with it and allow the body to do what it does best – regulate temperature. We are warm-blooded, after all. Our bodies are designed for this. And when we turn inward in this way, we find ourselves better able to handle the stressors of our lives. We notice when our exhaustion becomes too much. And awareness is the first step. We can notice before we become sick. We can notice just by taking a breath and allowing it to cool us down.

By the Earth pushing us to our limits, we are forced to face the fact that we push ourselves that way as well. Hopefully the summer is a time to learn new tricks and tools so we learn to be a little kinder to ourselves as the Earth moves into a more yin space.

Do you find summer rejuvenating? Do you find summer unbearable? What do you do to rejuvenate?

© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, Summer Rejuvenation, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why Yoga Matters

My life has been a bit of a roller coaster these past several weeks. I went to another AFCC conference and taught yoga there. It was my first time teaching a “regular” asana class in over 1.5 years. It was so fitting to be back there teaching again. As very long-time readers may remember, the AFCC conference in 2010 was the first class I taught after teacher training. It is such a special place for me.

And it reminded me, yet again, what I love about yoga, and why it is so important for professionals. It also reminded me some of the problems with the modern yoga culture. For example, there were several people in the class who thought they had to look a certain way to be in the “right” asana. Although I tried to say over and over again how important it is to do each pose with integrity for your own body, so many people just looked uncomfortable in what they were doing. And often, the adjustments fell on deaf ears. That was partly because I was out of practice, but I think it sadly said far more about our culture than my out of practiceness (though there is no doubt that was part of it).

What I see so often both in and outside of yoga classes are people who are completely disconnected from their bodies. I see this in how people sit, stand, and move. I see it in how people talk about breathing. I see it even in how people talk about pain. They push and push and push, take something to intercept the pain, and then they push some more. Then finally the pain or dis-ease is so intense they cannot take anything more. We are asked to ignore the pain and push through it, or there will be no gain. And if there is any sort of pain, for a long time before doing anything serious about it, we are told to just take a pill. We are told to just numb the pain, not heal it.

But yoga can bring us out of that place of numbing before the pain, whatever it is, hits us so hard. Yoga brings us into our bodies. It brings us into our emotions. It brings us into our souls. I was at a yoga class this morning, and at least three lawyers were there. I remember when I started this blog I had no idea how many lawyers actually do practice yoga. But what amazed me even more is that it was a Mindfulness Yoga class.

What I have noticed is that most of the lawyers I know who practice yoga practice styles like Bikram, Ashtanga, and the more intense varieties of asana-focused practice. Some are moving into a more meditative practice, but the truth is that is what so many of us need. We need to slow down. We need to learn to listen to our bodies and what they are telling us.

This need to constantly push ourselves and feel that we need to look a certain way is destroying so many people. We are asked to push and not listen and then to numb away whatever ails us. This is certainly not the only thing happening in the world, but I see it so often I wonder what the antidote can possibly be. I worry that yoga has become as much of the problem as the solution. Today in class, the teacher said he recently read a study where 70% of yoga injuries come from forward folds. This number would have shocked me before, but now that I know more about the body, more about the way people push, and more about the stress the modern world puts on the low back, this number actually now seems low to me.

And yet, as I look to other ways to find solace and peace, I always come back to yoga. I love yoga. It saved me once, and deep down I know it is the answer to my own and so many other peoples’ pain. But that means that we actually have to do yoga as it was intended to be done. The modern asana practice is nothing more than gymnastics. But yoga is an ancient system that heals on every level – physical, emotional, and spiritual. And for that reason, yoga matters. It matters that we learn from its teachings. As I look around and see how depleted society is, how tired everyone I know is, how pained they are (physically or otherwise), I know that yoga may be a path out of their misery.

These thoughts have been percolating for quite some time. As my own practice has ebbed and flowed, I feel this need right now to come back to it with full energy. But the irony, of course, is that full energy means less energy. It means slowing down and tuning in. It means finding the yoga that brought me here originally. And I want to offer that to others. I am finally going to have a regular class – two Sundays per month I will be teaching a Calming and Connecting yoga class. It will not be any specific type of class, but it will focus on breathing, meditation, restorative yoga, and mindful asana practice.

There is no doubt that yoga can heal us from so much. It still matters even when sometimes it feels it has been stolen by the fitness community. That can never diminish that yoga is something far older and something far more powerful. I am curious to know – how has yoga changed you? What has it brought to your life?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, Why Yoga Matters, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.