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With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I hear the moans and groans of the season. Moans from those who are single and disgruntled about it and groans from those who are coupled up and feel the pressure of doing something fantastic for the holiday of love.
I know. It’s easy to complain about the hype or the commercialism of it all. Everywhere you turn, you can’t help but see red heart-shaped boxes stuffed with chocolate, shiny pink heart-shaped balloons floating around the grocery store. You can even order heart-shaped pizza in some places. I know it can seem like over-kill, whether you are coupled up or not.
Personally, I have always loved Valentine’s Day for the simple fact that it’s my birthday. Booyah!
Let’s face it, as a child, it kind of rocks to have most of the western world all jazzed up on your birthday. Everyone seems to be buzzing around, thinking about love, flowers and candy. And instead of doing math you get to make Valentine’s cards in school. It definitely adds to the fun of your birthday if the people around you are also celebrating in some way or another.
Then you grow up. People get jaded. They have all these expectations that weigh them down or they fall into the depths of despair over what they feel is a miserable reminder of the lack of love or romance in their lives. I can’t tell you exactly how many times that I’ve heard someone say, “I HATE Valentine’s Day.” And even though it must be hundreds of times by now, each time I am horrified. Hate Valentine’s Day? What?!
Setting aside the the fact that it is my birthday, I still find Valentine’s Day one of the best ‘holidays’. What better reason to designate a day as a holiday than LOVE? Isn’t that what every day should be about anyway?
Familial love, romantic love, brotherly love & sisterly love, love of mankind, love of the earth and the animals that inhabit it. Love of your self. Are these not worthy of just a day of our thoughts and energy?
I know. What’s all this yoga-teacher, woo-woo got to do with the giant, furry, stuffed pink and red beast that has become Valentine’s Day? Well, perhaps finding reverence for this day requires a reshaping of your head more than another heart-shaped box of treats delivered to your door.
Perhaps, we remember that love isn’t just something you ‘get’ but it’s something you create. In each moment we have the opportunity to love and be loved. With a kind smile to a stranger. Bringing a co-worker their favorite coffee drink. Telling a friend or family member that they are wonderful. By accepting a compliment graciously, by honoring our own talents and beauty, by looking in the mirror with reverence and compassion instead of judgment. These are all seemingly small things, but can be incredibly potent ways to allow love to move through us.
We don’t need to relegate showing love to only grandiose productions of the romantic kind. There is love all around and within, waiting to be set free. It could be a simple word or look or thought that unleashes the love within.
Look, I’m no Pollyanna. I’ve had my fair share of heartbreak. Literally. Less than 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with an aortic coarctation. The aorta is the largest artery in the heart and my aorta started normally but then collapsed down to 4mm in the middle and then opened back up to normal size. My aorta was shaped like a dumbell, a weight. Essentially, my heart was broken. And, in case you hadn’t heard, it’s kind of important to have a fully functioning heart.
I didn’t see this a merely a physical condition, however. I saw just how my life was being reflected in my body. As I thought back to painful times in my life, to moments of despair, I remembered how during those times, I often felt such pain in my chest that I sometimes doubled over. Not just a little flutter or ache, but sharp physical pain. I knew then that the weight of unresolved conflicts of the past as well as fear, doubt and unhealthy relationships were literally breaking my heart.
After my heart surgery, I knew something had to change and it wasn’t by the hands of doctors. Something had to change in the way I thought. How and what I thought of myself, of others, of the world. If I didn’t change in my head, I was surely going to break my heart to the point of no return.
I continue on that path today. Finding the ways I block myself from receiving and giving love freely and moving through those barriers. It’s not always easy. There are times my thoughts lead me to feel heart-achy about the state of the world, or about aspects in my own life. But I persevere. Asana, meditation, pranayama, along with surrounding myself with good people, give me the fortitude to remember a deeper love: Unconditional Love…for myself and others. Sometimes it comes in the form of softening, sometimes it comes in the form of challenging ourselves, whatever form it takes, unconditional love leads us to the knowing that we are all worthy of it and that it is always abundantly available. It only requires us to remember it, for us to start living it.
So as February 14th rolls around and I see bins of heart-shaped boxes of candy, or stores filled with pink & red balloons and flowers, when I hear the moans and groans, I don’t think of commercialism or Hollywood ideals of love, or what love might mean or not mean to anyone else. Instead, I am reminded that on this day, many years ago, I was born. And that inside this body, I have a heart that even though has been broken and banged up along the way, still beats strong. So amidst the scowls of the jaded or the tears of the lonely, I choose to use my heart and share in the love as best I can, in as many ways as I can.
Maybe this Valentine’s Day, in any seemingly small way, you will choose to do the same. This year, I’m not wishing that you have a Happy Valentine’s Day. This year, I’m inviting you to begin creating the love that you long to be living. XO
The day will come when, after harnessing space,
the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness
for God the energies of love. And, on that day,
for the second time in the history of the world,
humankind will have discovered fire.
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
We don’t get many opportunities to ice skate down here in Savannah, but for the holiday’s the Civic Center opens its doors to reveal an icy arena for all to enjoy. A few weeks ago, with some friends, I buckled up into some skates and headed out on the ice. It wasn’t long before I remembered that I really I only like the idea of ice-skating and not actual act of ice-skating.
As a Yoga Teacher, I do have some fairly developed balance skills, but I am just not keen on the cold, or sliding upon ice on what are essentially knives strapped to my feet. It is just not my cup of tea. Not to mention, I’m simply a menace to society out there on the ice. That being said, I completely appreciate the beauty, grace and dexterity required to skate well and the exhilaration that an adept skater must feel gliding and whooshing along.
So as I retired my skates and I sat on the bleachers to cheer on my pals, I took the opportunity to watch the other skaters in the rink. I witnessed everyone from young children to seasoned Savannahians attempting to find their own groove on the ice, but one particular little boy stood out to me. He was maybe four or five years old. He was with his parents and a small group of other little children and their parents. While the rink was full of people young and old, flailing and flinging their bodies across the ice in sheer desperate hope that the physics of hurling oneself along would somehow equate to ‘skating’, this little boy did something different. He paid attention.
I saw him watch someone who skated well and take mental notes. He looked at their feet and then his own and proceeded to try for himself what this skater was doing. He pushed off with one foot and then the other, wobbly at first, but with each stride he gained strength, balance and confidence. He was mindful of those around him and he was smiling and having fun. In 20 minutes, I witnessed an evolution of sorts. This little boy was now skating with more ease than most in the rink and with pretty good form.
Watching this child, I couldn’t help but think of yoga, of asana in particular, and how it is easy to forget the importance of form. Not in the sense that we become slaves to an ideal, but the importance of mindfulness in each pose and each breath. After all, form is really just the manifestation of intention.
The next time I got on my mat, I asked myself, what is the intention behind this pose? This breath? Is it to challenge myself? To nurture myself? Or perhaps it’s to appease my ego into thinking I’ve mastered a pose that in reality, I need to back off from for it to be the right pose for me in this moment. Like those skaters hurling themselves wildly and carelessly across the ice in hopes that “skating” would happen by accident along the way, we can often play the same sort of mind-games in our asana. So, can we practice and still challenge ourselves without blasting past our edge? Can we allow ourselves to practice the appropriate form in each moment, for any given pose or breath?
Yes. We can. It requires us to pay attention, to be mindful and present, to dig deeper than the surface appearance of a pose, deeper than the flood of emotion that we may feel while practicing, and to find our intention behind it all.
Off the mat, attention to form, or lack thereof, is evident in each moment. What form do our actions take? Our words? Our thoughts? Do they serve to enhance our lives or do they sabotage us and others? What is the intention behind those actions, words and thoughts? Even the seemingly kindest of deeds can, at the heart, be devious if the intention behind them has dark under currents. And yet the smallest of thoughts, words or gestures of selfless kindness can positively change a life forever. Form becomes powerful only when intention is potent.
Perhaps in the days to come, as we begin to move deeper into this New Year, we spend a little less time on the showy and grandiose resolutions of the past, and begin notice the form of things and the intentions behind them. Though our yoga practice, in our daily comings and goings, we are given the opportunity to notice and ask the questions: Is my life taking the shape and form that I want it to? In my body, in my work, in my relationships? What are my intentions in the actions I take, the interactions I have and the thoughts I think?
Instead of flinging ourselves wildly & mindlessly across the ice rink of life, in desperate hope that our lives will somehow accidentally happen the way we want them to, perhaps we take a more mindful approach. Maybe we take the time to learn how to form and shape lives of grace, strength & beauty by cultivating potency in our intentions. In each moment, in each breath, is the opportunity to create a beautiful life. With even the most modest seed of intention, today can be the day that we begin to grow something beautiful.
Thanks to all of you who have shown an interest in the Yoga Dedications at the beginning of my classes. I’ve created a Category off to the left on this Blog for Dedications. In the weeks to follow, I’ll post dedications/intentions that you can not only bring into your home asana practice, but into your daily life in general. Stay tuned…
Much love, Dawn!
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Jalal ud-Din Rumi
I read this quote and the in the days that followed, through conversations with friends and within my own experiences, I began to see just how potent it really is. We are so quick to look outside ourselves for love and validation. We look for love, for the ways to acquire it, conquer it, to make it ours.
What if we changed the way we look at love? What if we don’t need to conquer anyone or anything? What if we didn’t feel the need to prove our worthiness for love? What if there isn’t some Holy Grail that we need to find that makes it all OK? What if the only thing we need to seek out are the ways that we resist and barricade ourselves from the natural flow of love and perhaps start to soften those barriers- even just a bit- to allow for love to naturally flow through us?
I’m talking about BIG LOVE here, not just romantic love. Big Love flows through us and around us at all times. It allows for health, wealth, kindness and purpose in our lives. Even in tough times, Big Love sustains us. It has no preference for climate, circumstance or mood. It is always accessible even in the darkest of hours. It is our resistance that keeps us from it.
Easier said than done, right? When times are tough, it seems difficult to feel connected to Big Love. It is much easier to resist, to contract, to retreat, to get angry or distract ourselves. Today’s dedication isn’t a proclamation to eradicate all the years of walls and barriers we have built up. It is simply to start noticing.
Notice the script we have in our heads that reinforce our barriers: “I’ve never been lucky with romance.” “I’m always so broke.” “It’s easier for other people, they have it made.” Or false bravado: “I’m way smarter/more attractive/more successful than them, so I must be better than them.” We may not say these things out loud but our choices reflect this dialogue we have with ourselves and they are all ways we keep Big Love at bay. We all have ways we resist, whether through self deprecation, inflated ego, or distraction, they are all the same thing at the root.
Where in your life do you feel blocked? Where do you keep finding the same scenarios coming up? It may be a different person/place/thing, but it’s the same situation at its core. Notice the patterns that you may have created that keep you from flowing and experiencing life and love. Notice your reactions to situations. Reflect on these tendencies without beating yourself up. Just notice.
And maybe just for today, create a little bit more space were there was once constriction and resistance. You can start with something you already do: BREATHE. Inhale slowly. Exhale slowly. Take time throughout your day to notice the expansion and spaciousness of your inhale and the soft release of the exhale.
Practicing conscious breathing (pranayama) sheds light on when we are expansive or when we are constricted. Use your breath as a reminder to remain expansive. We cannot ‘win’ our breath, or conquer it or prove to anyone that we deserve it. The only way we can breathe freely is to let go a bit. And when we do, the breath flows in naturally.
For today, seek no further than your breath to find your barriers and when you are ready, perhaps let go a bit and see how easily and naturally that luscious breath flows in and fills you up.