May we somehow be of service

“We rise by lifting others.” 
~ Robert Ingersoll

My daughter and I took a little road trip last weekend and headed for Sedona as an early birthday celebration for me. It’s tradition for us to bless our road trips before we pull out of the driveway, and we did that on the morning of our travels.

In our road trip prayers, we always give thanks for the opportunity to travel. We humbly ask for safety for all those sharing the road with us, and I’ll usually throw in a little request for patience with each other – just for good measure. On the morning of our Sedona trip I also added, “May we somehow be of service to others.”

My daughter looked up. “Service?” she contemplated softly. I shrugged and said, “You never know…”

We had safe and happy travels all the way to West Fork Trail in Sedona. It’s a favorite hiking spot for us, and we had plans to create a few nature mandalas along the path.

Not only was it fun to gather and arrange little bits of nature, but it was so fun to hear others as they came upon our mandalas, stopping to appreciate them and take a few photos.

After we had arranged the mandala in the photo above, a couple came along on the path. My daughter and I loved hearing the man say, “Hey! Here’s another one! Do you want to take a photo of this one too?” We smiled to ourselves, neither of us revealing ourselves as its creator. I loved that!

And as we headed back to the parking lot to leave the trail, we saw the man in the next photo, stopping to photograph the first mandala we’d left on our way in.

“This,” I told my daughter, “Sometimes this is what it looks like to be of service to others.”

She looked at me knowingly and understood. In our own simple way we had helped to raise the vibration of others.

Sometimes “being of service” doesn’t mean going far out of our way. It doesn’t mean spending a lot of time or money – it needn’t require great sacrifice on our part. A genuine smile in the right direction, a soft touch on a shoulder, leaving bits of whimsy for others to appreciate… Sometimes that’s enough to lift a spirit ~ including our own.

When we ask to be shown how we might be of service to others, we’ll be amazed at how our calling is revealed.

The other side of surrender

It’s said that we teach what we need to learn, so carrying the same theme for the yoga classes I lead throughout the week has been a great way for me to grow. I’ll introduce the theme in my Tuesday evening class and by the time I reach my Friday morning practice, I’m practically an expert at it. {ha!}

I recently had the opportunity to share the lessons of surrender.

So what does it mean to surrender anyway? To just give up? Throw your hands up and proclaim, “I’m done!”? Well, maybe sometimes it means that…but that wasn’t my lesson plan. My point was more in line with the beloved serenity prayer. Here’s a refresher:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When we surrender to things we cannot change, we move into a place of peace and harmony within ourselves. I find this to be true on and off my yoga mat.

As we surrender to yoga poses we allow healing on a deeper level. I loved leading my student’s yoga practice with the theme of surrendering to poses; scanning the body for the places where tension is held, and then consciously releasing those holds in order to come into the pose with ease instead of struggle.

Perhaps you’re in a yoga class and the pose that’s being offered just isn’t right for your body. Do you take the shape anyway? And do you hold the shape and struggle in your body and mind for the duration? Or, do you surrender in the kindest of ways, backing out of the pose a bit or taking child’s pose to enhance your practice rather than enduring it?

So many times I’ll witness a student holding poses with so much intensity. I’ll notice tension in their shoulders and arms, and a tight grimace in their facial expression. The desire to create the appearance of strength causes us to overcompensate when, really, our physical strength is already there in the most beautiful and subtle way.

When I witness this physical struggle, I usually offer the simple cue of “relaxing the facial expression” or “allow the feeling of contentment to be reflected in your expression.” By relaxing the face the body usually follows. When we surrender to our current predicament, we are able to come into the moment with more ease and grace. Of course, there’s still effort being exerted, but we approach it in a completely different manner.

Yoga follows us even when we roll up our mats and tuck them away until our next practice. When we struggle with life events – wanting them to be a certain way that they may never be – we create unnecessary tension in our body and mind. When we surrender and let go, we redirect our focus toward peace and contentment. We begin to trust in our personal strength that is already there in the most beautiful and subtle way.

Yoga teaches us to take the right action at the right time. Perhaps surrendering is an action we could all explore on a more regular basis. We learn to change the things we are capable of changing, and we surrender to the things that are beyond our control.

God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

Focus on what’s going right.

Keep on the sunny side… Remember that song? I know it sounds like a lofty goal – always keeping on the sunny side – but it’s a habit I’d like to cultivate.

It’s in our human nature to focus on what’s going wrong. And let’s be real, sometimes we must address the challenges amidst the blessings. We notice the things that aren’t going so well as a natural defense mechanism – it’s how we’re designed in order to protect ourselves from danger. We were born this way.

The problem arises when we focus only on what’s going wrong, distorting our vision from the many good things also in the mix.

Do you know someone who always looks on the sunny side of life? I’m fortunate to know a few myself. I have an 8-year old nephew who was born with this gift. He’s always up for whatever the plan is, and has more fun at the most mundane activities than anyone I’ve ever known.

My young nephew recently had a simple surgical procedure done on his ear. His mom {my sister} prepared him for what would happen during the surgery, explaining what to expect in hopes of alleviating any fear he might have. Instead of being apprehensive about the procedure, he had one enthusiastic question. “Do I get to wear a hospital gown?”

He was so excited to wear a hospital gown that he didn’t give the procedure a second thought. My sister sent a photo of him and my heart burst with joy. There he was, stretched out on a gurney in his little hospital gown, surgical cap atop his head, smiling from ear to ear.

What a blessing to be able to automatically focus on what’s going right!

Humans are the only species on the planet that can intentionally change their posture, breath, expression and thoughts. May we use these gifts to our advantage, keeping on the sunny side, always on the sunny side…

Life can be hard and easy and tough and wonderful.
What’s going right in your life?
Where’s your focus today?

Santa Mandala Yin Practice

Greetings, yoga friends!

We’re only a few days out from Christmas, and I hope this finds you calm, cool and collected. Standing tall and breathing deeply, yes?

One of my favorite yoga teachers posted a timely video yesterday about creating a yin practice in the midst of holiday yang energy. It was timely for me because I’d found myself feeling the things he described for this time of year – a little burnt out and kind of resentful. With so much on our to-do lists, maybe not eating as healthy as we’d like, rushing from one activity to the next…well, it had begun to take a toll on me.

As I listened to my teacher’s words, I paid close attention to his suggestion to do something exquisite for myself. He encouraged listeners to find an activity with yin properties – something to relax and soothe the body, mind and spirit. When called to think of way to relax, my mind goes straight to mandala drawing. So I pulled out my sketchbook, mapped out the base of a blank mandala and began.

And the next thing you know, I’d drawn a ring of Santa faces and felt myself settle in. I love how the Universe provides what we need at just the right time. My teacher’s video, a reminder to return to my mandala practice, sitting quietly and allowing creativity to take the reins…it was just the shift I needed.

Perhaps you could use a little time-out yourself. What feeds your soul when you need a little yin time? I uploaded a copy of my Santa mandala that you can print and color if you’d like. (Find it by clicking here.)

And if you’re still caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday rush, do take good care and be kind to yourself. I believe you’ll find the results well worth the effort.

Merry Christmas, yoga friends!

See all the hearts

see_all_the_hearts_myyogafrienddeb-2

My husband, Doug, and I have the good fortune of having a young person in our lives. Aaron is the 7-year old son of our daughter’s boyfriend, and we’ve taken him under our wings with much joy and affection.

One of the things Aaron loves to do when he visits our house is play pool with Doug. We have a short cue stick that Aaron uses – it’s “his” stick – and Doug is teaching him the proper way to play the game. They’ve worked on hand placement, cue stick holding, rules of the game and terminology. Aaron will tell you, “I won from Doug one time because he scratched on the eight ball.”

Last week Aaron created a homemade birthday card for Doug, complete with a drawing of our pool table and a picture of Doug wearing a shirt with a deer on it. (Makes me smile to even type that!) You’ll notice that the pool table is surrounded by many hearts.

As Doug opened the envelope containing Aaron’s card, the sweet little boy covered his face with both hands and said, “Don’t see all the hearts,” suddenly embarrassed by the fact that he was expressing affection toward Doug.

Doug said, “I like the hearts” and I added, “You don’t have to be embarrassed, Aaron. Doug really likes you too.”

When Doug confirmed, “I do,” Aaron dropped his hands from his face. His entire little body relaxed and opened, softening into a space of safety and acceptance for his kind gesture. All those hearts!!!

Having a seven year old boy express, through his drawing, the depth of his admiration for Doug was such a sweet and selfless gift. And as if all those hearts weren’t generous enough, Aaron also included a nickel from his own piggy bank, taped to the side of the card. What a little treasure Aaron is to us.

How often do we miss the opportunity to express our love and affection for someone because we are embarrassed to show our hearts? We hold back out of fear and habit, resisting the vulnerability of sharing freely. Yet when we take the risk and let our feelings be known, both parties benefit. There is validation that we are here for each other, that we care and we are making a difference in someone’s day, week, life!

When we allow ourselves to generously express our love and appreciation, we are taking the time to validate to someone that they matter. I can’t imagine a greater gift.

So draw hearts for your people! Let them know the ways they are special to you. Give them the gift of love and affection and let them see all the hearts!