Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Permanent Changes

I just finished presenting my Masters project at our final seminar. My project involved designing an innovative pre-college program for adult international students, based at an ESL school. I won't go into all the details, but I will say that it involves using yoga, meditation, breath awareness, and mindfulness to combat stress related to school and culture shock. Wow. When I thought of it, I thought someone should be doing this. Suddenly I am the one doing this. I am the perfect person to be doing this. My whole life has led me to it. Exciting, scary, amazing, surreal.

I was not nervous during the presentation. I felt mindful. After, many of the comments said that I had both a calm and engaging presence. I was deliberate and authentic. I spoke from the heart.

Recently, I heard my classroom presence described as "zen". Calm, soothing, zen. I've been hearing this a lot lately.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure I didn't hear these words being used to describe me a few short years ago. I'm pretty sure then it was things like intense and emotional and passionate that came out. OK, I guess I still am those things but also I have this new dimension, this calm woman with the soothing voice and the poise and the precise speech. Where did she come from?

What has changed? I meditate twice a day now. And so ~ she was in there all along.

Deep changes. Now I stay more connected to what is, cling a little less to myself. I am afraid less. I am upset less by change than I used to be. Not all the time, I am not saying I am anywhere yet, I am not saying I have this down. I am just saying ~ people seem to describe me differently than they used to.

As part of my research, I looked at Transformative Learning Theory, originally described by Jack Mezirow in 1978 (coincidentally the year of my birth) and which has been studied extensively ever since. This theory suggests that when we encounter a situation that does not fit with what we believe about the world, we are disoriented. This may inspire us to make a permanent and irreversible change in the way we see things, and this in turn will change our actions, our words, our relationships with others. This is not a surface change - it is a change to our beliefs, our values, our worldview at the deepest level.

And isn't this what happens on the yoga mat, on the meditation cushion, when we take our practice out into the world? Disorientation... and then maybe, something shifting inside. Something moving over and permanently making room. Making the heart a little more expansive.

I am told that for academic work, we must connect theory to practice and practice to theory. Practice. I once understood the practice of education and the practice of yoga to be different. Now I think I understand - it is all the same practice. My heart smiles.

Monday, May 3, 2010

At the core of practice

The muscle you need isn't what you think it is.

I first learned this lesson as a runner. When you're exhausted and you think you can't run any more, the muscles that carry you through are not in the legs. It's your upper body - arms and shoulders - that will keep you moving. When I started doing yoga, I thought that arm strength was needed for all sorts of poses, from plank to arm balances, when the key muscles are in fact in the core. Inversions? Yep, there are those abdominals again. Having trouble balancing? Try some ujjayi pranayama. Don't even get me started on mula bandha.

What about the balance between effort and relaxation? Sometimes the key to reaching further or doing something you have never done before is not to try harder but to let go. To stop pushing so hard, or maybe not to care so much. To find somewhere in the body or mind where you can surrender.

How do we know if we are doing the right thing to get where we want to be? I'm not sure there's any single right answer to this question. Remain curious. See what arises. Don't assume that you know what is needed. Be willing to open in any direction. Be willing to be surprised.