“How you perceive reality is how reality will bounce back.”

With my eyes closed, I chant my aums and sing the mantras. After pranayama breathing exercises, one of two things will happen. Either I will think about what I’m going to eat for lunch, or my mind will clear and I will see myself free falling head-first into darkness.

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“People are afraid to go upside down. You need to give them all of the options.”

 

Lily is instructing us on how to teach headstands. I love headstands, but I haven’t done one in weeks. Suffice it to say, I’m feeling slightly uneasy in this pose.

 

It’s okay, though. Apparently my subconscious is feeling it, too.

 

I’ve been at Yoga Camp for two weeks now. The past couple weeks have been filled with moments of struggle, but time has started to move quicker. Lessons have become more enjoyable. I’ve found myself with little free time to do anything much more than feel exhausted. Meditation has even become less difficult(sometimes).

 

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After a few hours respite in civilization on the mainland last Sunday, I felt like I wasn’t stuck in the Bermuda triangle anymore. I came to a realization while standing on the beach, staring at the stars and waiting for a taxi boat.

 

 

I can take everything I’m learning right now with a grain of salt. Although that may sound simple enough, being inundated with information for twelve hours a day amid a complete life transition can sometimes feel a bit daunting.

 

 

I can choose to learn as much as I possibly can, internally process it, and enjoy it in the moment. I have always believed some of what I’m learning in this course to a small extent; however, I have the choice every day to take the good, the ridiculous, and the absolutely insane, and I believe what I want. I can laugh along the way. I can open my mind and heart and just choose to love the whole experience.

 

 

 

Lily told us we were all meant to be here; it’s our karma. In the end, I know why I’m here. I know it was no one else’s ideas, influences, or hard work that got me here but my own. Maybe it was written in the stars; perhaps I am meant to be here. Any way around it, I know my own reasons for doing yoga, and I know I don’t need to follow anyone else’s agenda.

 

 

There are no rules to yoga. I can make up my own rules along the way. Heck, I can make up my own dang asanas if I want! I’m doing this because I love it and as long as what I’m doing makes me feel good, then that is what is right.

 

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I stumbled through the past week, half zombie-like, with this realization. It wasn’t until Thursday when, in a bout of sweat-drenched exhaustion, another great moment of awareness washed over me.

 

 

I had locked my keys in my hut.

 

 

There’s a window that has refused to close in my hut for the past two weeks. I stopped trying to shut it and shoved the curtains in the cracks to prevent mosquitos from coming in. I was by no means a disbeliever in any of this karma stuff that my teachers have been going on about; however, everything seemed to make sense in this very moment.

 

 

Reception gave me an extra key that didn’t work in my padlocked front door. In my mind, there was only one option: I was going through that window.

 

 

In class over the past couple weeks, we’ve been talking about this “zipping up” feeling in our core, or central channels. Your central channel needs to “snap in,” giving you structure; balance. In order to get into a headstand, your energy needs to be in line. Your toes reach up to the cosmos and your hands, head, and the trunk of your body root you into the earth. This is how you feel grounded. Unyielding.

 

 

Maybe it was the ayurvedic herbs I had taken that morning; maybe it was the serotonin being released from standing on my head all day; maybe it was just an adrenaline rush; but I felt that internal zip when I pulled myself through that window.

 

 

My window refused to close until that moment for a reason. Perhaps it just needed to be pried open in order to shut properly again. Or maybe – just maybe – it was karma (yeah… karma). Maybe the Universe knew that I would be completely mentally and physically exhausted and I’d lock my keys in the hut at some point. That I’d need to jump up, grab on, and use all my strength to hoist my leg through and pull myself into the only window that refused to lock in my little wooden box. Whatever it was, I said a little prayer of gratitude to the universe after the ordeal and I truly felt it.

 

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The window in question, to the left of the door. Yuuup… that one waaay up there.

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And the aftermath.

 

 

I’m taking everything day by day – and some days are harder than others – but that afternoon, it all seemed to come together. A feeling of this is where I’m supposed to be washed over me. I was able to simply be and enjoy that moment.

 

 

I realized while lying in savasana today after asana class and another round of meditation: perhaps what I’m seeing when I close my eyes is not myself falling. Maybe I’m giving into gravity – letting go – and I need to just trust that the Earth will be there to catch me, whichever way I land.

 

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If Running Is My Aum, Then I Don’t Wanna Be Right

My yoga teacher training manual notes that the purpose of asanas is to “allow the body to sit still for long periods of time in meditation.” I do believe there are great benefits physically, mentally, and spiritually to meditation; however, I have some personal moral qualms about sitting still for “long periods of time” in any state and expecting the world to heal itself through positive vibes or energy. That’s topic for another day, though.

 

 

 

We were not put in these physical bodies to disregard them. As humans, we were made to use them. Our bodies are capable of so much and it seems like a very selfish notion to only use our bodies to sit still for “elongated periods of time” and say that all our highest potential is within our minds. Can’t I use my body and mind to do other activities and still gain these mental and spiritual rewards which the yogic tradition speaks of?

 

Lately, I’ve been using my second two-hour break mid-way through the day to run. I’ve very quickly realized a few things this does for me both mentally and physically.

 

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Sometimes a rooster gets in your way along the path.

 

My body was extraordinarily sore for over a week after arriving in Thailand. I wasn’t sure if this was from so much traveling, the humidity, my body’s way of acclimating, or just some kind of internal resistance to being here. I summed it up to a combination of all of the above until last Thursday when I finally decided I needed to just move. All this sitting on the floor, attempting to meditate for hours a day business was just hurting.

 

 

I’m a very active person in my normal life. I work out in the morning, run around teaching kindergarten all day, and go to yoga class at night. When I came to Thailand, I thought I’d be practicing asanas all day; that it’d be the most grueling thing I’d ever physically done to my body. I was not prepared to simply not move here. The hour and a half of asana class each day was not cutting it. My body was hurting because I was simply not using it. Not only was this inactivity affecting me physically, but mentally, and to a huge extent.

 

 

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Did you know? Coconut husks are good for traction on steep hills. Fact.

 

I’ve been having a big problem with meditation since starting my teacher training program. Although I’m going through a huge life transition at the moment, I’m supposed to be able to drain everything from of my mind and simply think of nothing. Be in the moment. “That is yoga,” say both of my yoga teachers. Well, my knee-jerk reaction is resistance and I’ve had a hard time doing anything but. I close my eyes, “aum” with the group, hear the man next to me pass gas several times, or I inhale a bug, and everything goes to hell. Suddenly my to-do list creeps in; I think about my student loan bills; I wonder about my future after Thailand; my friends; my family; if I’ll ever be able to find a real job; the petting zoo in my room (probably crawling through my bed at this moment); what I’m going to eat for dinner. This is my meditation time, twice a day, every day.

 

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Good practice for trail running in Colorado.

 

Running is different. It’s just me, my music in my ears, and the road in front of me (except in the case of today, in which two dogs ran alongside me half the time and then a monkey ran by).

 

I’ve discovered, rediscovered, and found solace in running when I feel a need to escape from life. I don’t need to think about anything except going. If my path starts getting too difficult or I reach a steep hill and don’t know if I can make it any farther, I push myself that little bit more, and once I feel accomplished – triumphant – I just stop and I dance to my music. Yeah, I do that. Then I keep going.

 

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One of my break-it-down spots.

 

Running is my meditation. If yoga is “just being,” then running with music drowning out the world must be my yoga. My body feels lighter, my thoughts seem clearer, and I am more at peace with myself and the world. In Sanskrit, So Humor I am. This is one of the purposes of silent, seated meditation.  At the present, neither my body nor mind have reached this point of passive strength and devotion. That’s not to say that one day this won’t be the case. In fact, I hope for my own sake that I get this whole meditation thing real soon. For now, though, it’ll just be me and the road on a daily respite – despite what my yoga teachers say about the “physical body.”

 

imageIn England I ran along a highway. In Thailand I run on an uneven dirt road in a coconut grove.

 

With all that said, I’m not running today. At least not yet. My body is finally the good kind of sore I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. Instead, I’m sitting on a log, staring at the ocean, with my feet buried in the sand. The waves are washing over the music in my headphones. I’m feeling completely content with my iced coffee and coconut milk. Life is good in this moment. This is my lunch break on a Saturday in Thailand.

 

Anatomy, Aliens, and Canadian Tree Huggers! Oh My!

This story is all about how Lauren got used to living with ants in her bed, dirt under her finger nails, a lack of easily accessible internet, fresh produce, or contact solution, and was forced to drink instant coffee. She was required to stop thinking, going, and doing, and just “be”. You can imagine especially how hard that last bit must be for this young padawan.

I’m currently chilling out on my bed, covered in Tiger Balm. My eyes are stinging from the mosquito-repelling coconut incense burning across the room. I’m sipping on a bottle of hibiscus tea while the sounds of blasting fireworks and techno music blare in the distance past the slow, creaking rotations of the fan above my head. Crickets are chirping outside, completely out of sync with the blaring electronic drum beats. On Saturday I went to sleep and woke up to techno beats. At 4pm on Sunday, they finally stopped. This is supposed to happen twice a week, every week. It must be my new meditation music.

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My new porch pet. I named her Shiva. We chill out while I eat fruit.

It’s not even halfway through the first week of my yoga course, but it has been quite the experience so far. My “school” days start at 7:30am and typically end around 7:30pm.

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To give an idea of what the course has been like so far:

The first day was full of disappointment, shock, and mental struggle. I tried to wrap my head around the fact that I had chosen a yoga school – after months of research and preparation – that was hounding on the fact that anatomy was completely irrelevant and asanas [yoga poses] were not going to be our focus. Instead, I’d be focusing on my energy. Over the past few months, “exchanging energy” is something I’ve joked with my friends about, while asanas and anatomy are things I’ve put an extreme amount of focus on. You can imagine my disappointment at this news. Oh, and aliens from another galaxy had passed their knowledge of yoga onto Hindus 10,000 years ago. This was going to be my life for the next month. What had I gotten myself into?

Since this particular day was a certain celebration in the Hindu calendar in which “vibrations were high,” the class performed a special ritual. We placed personal prayers in Hibiscus flowers which were then collected, laid in front of a statue of Shiva, then lit on fire. One of the teachers, Ramananda, put bracelets on each of our wrists, uniting us for the month. We then chanted several mantras together as a group.

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The biggest spider I have ever seen in my life. He lives in my bathroom.

The next day’s curriculum was more promising. Each day starts with meditation and pranayama [breathing] practice. Ramanananananadada was instructing, so I felt a bit at ease. I knew I would like this skirt wearing, beard-toting yogi the moment he gave me a new bracelet to put around my wrist (I frickin’ love bracelets, if you didn’t know). I knew I liked Ramanadadadadabababa even more when, during a lecture on deities and symbology, he mentioned how much he loved ice cream, then joked, “Canadians love to hug trees! They love them like a God!”

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We practiced Breath of Fire – something the other teacher, Lily, said we would not be learning for “safety reasons” the day before. During asana class, our poses were corrected – also something Lily had told us she would not be doing the previous day. We were focusing on the spine on this particular day, and had a workshop with demonstrations, lots of corrections, and lo and behold – an anatomy discussion (because oh hey – go figure – anatomy is actually very important when teaching a class using the body).

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Today’s class was much the same, but with a focus on balancing postures (some of my favorites). I’ve been learning the Sanskrit names for each pose and how to both perform and cue them correctly while teaching. We focused on more anatomy today with Lily harping on the fact that the “subtle body” and “energy” is what is important, not “anatomy.”

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There’s a lot to say about the course and quite a lot I can nitpick about. Many of my own mental blockages are things I simply need to work through during the month in order to “just be,” as the entire focus of the course promotes. I’ve gone through my entire life so far working against simply being and trying to always be busy. I’m finding it quite difficult on my breaks from class to simply go to the beach, color mandalas and meditate, or even learn how to play my ukulele. I use the time instead to read, write, and be busy. While the whole reason I came here was to improve my asanas and gain teaching credentials, I am aware that my challenge lies mentally and “spiritually”. I know it will be difficult, but I am willing (albeit begrudgingly) to try by not trying. Although, y’know, I’m not quite sure if that whole alien theory will ever mesh well with me.