Reliable Support

Eric Stewart

Over the years, due to home ownership and business expansion, I’ve stumbled my way into a number of demolition, construction, and reconstruction projects. While I’ve done a lot of this sort of work, I’m very aware that it’s far from what I’m best at. I’d say it’s more on the side of what I’m worst at.

Still, it’s good to stretch oneself, and sometimes venture into tasks that lie outside of what’s comfortable.

On the other hand…

Relying on one’s limited skills to pull off a big project without support is asking for trouble.

So I am beyond grateful that my brother, Michael has been along for the ride through all of the Solaluna restorations we’ve done over the years. Because of his knowledge and experience, we’ve saved a lot of time, money, and heartache.

There’s a parallel with yoga: developing a personal practice involves learning to draw on one’s inner resources; it necessitates not always relying on the help of others. This is a vital, essential part of practice.

Yet when unknown, uncharted waters emerge on the journey, it sometimes helps to have a guide, someone to ease the way.

Seeking Support?

If you are looking for some support on your path, check out our schedule of classes here. We can offer guidance and resources whether you’re just beginning or you’ve been venturing awhile.

The Overlooked Satisfaction of Incremental Progress

Eric Stewart

There are times when progress with a project happens in dramatic bursts. At other times (and I would say, much of the time, actually) progress is incremental, slow, and more difficult to detect. This is as much the case with learning and refining a yoga asana as it is with restoring and rehabbing a space or a house.

Sometimes, it can even seem that things go backwards for stretches.

It might be easy to see the dramatic developments and the incremental plateaus as separate states, disconnected from one another. And it can also be tempting to want more of the big, noticeable changes to happen more often.

Most anyone who has ever learned a skill (such as playing a musical instrument, learning to ride a horse, or learning to swim) can understand that plateaus build and lead to the more obvious developments.

Slow progress that’s harder to detect is still progress (and still detectable). What gets in the way of seeing this progress is often just mental noise and impatience. Letting go of these can lead to a simpler, deeper satisfaction. Satisfaction that’s embodied in taking the many small steps that support the big changes.

The Yoga of Restoring a Space

Eric Stewart

Solaluna has gone through three major renovation projects. The first was in the fall of 1999, when the studio opened. The second was 10 years later in 2009, when we renovated and expanded into the office and the little studio. Now we’re in the middle of the third, working in the lovely space on the north side of the building.

With each project, there have been periods that can best be described as uncomfortable-waking-up-moments: instances of becoming aware that the scope of the project is more than imagined. In 1999 when Solaluna hadn’t yet hosted a class, we struggled to find a solution to the gaps in the studio floor, which delayed the project for several weeks.

In our current project, the past few days have involved mulling over options with the ceiling and the walls. While the scope of the renovation has grown bigger (and therefore I’ve felt a few checking-with-the-gut-moments) I’m happy to say we’re getting a clear picture of what’s involved, and what we’re going to end up with. Overall I’m super excited for the Solaluna community!

Different Sorts of Discomfort

I’m struck by the similarity between the discomforts I’ve encountered in the renovation process and those I sometimes encounter in practice. The discomforts I refer to here are not the sort that indicates I’m losing support or straining joints. Rather, it’s the discomfort that arises because a status quo is being challenged. Inertia is being challenged. Preconceived expectations are being challenged.

Many people encounter a period of initial resistance at the beginning of a practice. By meeting the resistance and moving through it, the resistance itself leads to a greater opening, and it can be a signpost for the direction to head (i.e. to stay with the practice).

This is also true when someone is just beginning the journey of doing yoga, and it can happen when people return to practice after being away from it for some time. Resistance is often churned up in these moments due to the recognition of what the practice asks of us, and the differences involved between doing yoga and not doing yoga.

I look at this kind of yoga-generated resistance as a sign of an internal conversation. The conversation goes something like, “OK, if you’re going to do this, do it fully. Otherwise, we’ll just stop now.”

With the renovation of the new space, the parallel is that we want to do it right. It doesn’t make sense to do a sloppy job and put band-aids over the blemishes. While that bigger commitment can stir up apprehension and questions, those things can sometimes be a sign that it makes sense to move forward, to commit to the bigger thing.

So we’re looking at early May as a rough opening date. Projected openings are always tricky with projects such as this, but I think we’ve got a good chance of making it. We look forward to sharing the space with you when that time comes!

Namaste,

Eric & the Folks at Solaluna

Yoga in Times of Tumult

Hello everyone,

This week I have learned a very basic lesson. It’s a lesson I’ve encountered before, and it might be more accurate to say it’s something I re-learned (especially so, given that I had to re-learn this particular thing a few times in the span of the last seven days, and I’ll no doubt find a need to absorb it again in the future).

The lesson is that yoga is a great giver of perspective, and a great disperser of tumult and overwhelm.

The divisions and hurts churned up in this election have had a way of pulling hard on the strings of emotion. And emotion has a way of pulling body, breath, and mind in all sorts of different and disparate directions.

Yoga is miraculous in the way it can knit jumbled and fractured elements back together. It just requires the attention given to doing it. When we give to the practice, it gives back, offering insight, perspective, clarity, coordination.

Wherever you are, whatever changes and uncertainties are pulling at your life, try some yoga and see what it has to offer. Or if you are nearby, come on down to a class at Solaluna. Here’s our current schedule.

A Sad Day at Solaluna

It is with a mixture of sadness and deep gratitude that I write to you about the life and death of my mother, Geraldine Stewart.

She died in the care of her family, with the love and songs of her family, in her home, on Thursday evening, the first of October.

It has been a long trip. She had a good run.

She had her share of suffering and hard times, her share of tangled days and anxious nights. Yet the plainest thread that runs through all, evident and indelible, is her love in the world. That is the thread that remains.

What remains is the care she instilled in her children (all 8 of them), and her affinity for the trees and flowers, birds, butterflies, and frogs of the world.

If you began coming to Solaluna after 2008, you may not have ever met my Mom (at this point, she took to doing her yoga at home). Still, it’s possible you could’ve bumped into her at the Oberlin Farmer’s Market, at IGA, or other spots around town, walking, or driving a maroon Subaru station wagon.

Especially if you did not know her, I want to tell you something about her because there is so much of her in this yoga studio, and so much insight to find in her life.

Mom began doing yoga in the early 1970’s after giving birth to the last of her children (me and my twin, Ben) at the age of 42.

Describing her pregnancy and our birth as difficult would be an understatement (we were a month overdue). Yoga was a balm. It opened up a new world for her.

If you were to ask her about yoga at any point over the last 45 years, she would tell you that it was essential to her life, that in several senses it saved her life.

Mom didn’t see herself as especially adept at asana, yet when she was attending classes at Solaluna she inspired so many people younger than herself with her practice.

And it was among the most constant things in her life: ginger tea in the morning and then yoga with her blue mat on the blue wool rug in the living room.

Over the past two years, different ailments took a toll, but she adapted her practice to serve her changing circumstances.

We had a really challenging summer that involved multiple hospitalizations, frustrating coordination among different arms of the healthcare system, and finally a confirmation of cancer in her abdomen.

Mom opted not to pursue treatment, and her clarity with this choice seems to me directly connected to the gifts she found in yoga. What she found beyond flexibility, strength, and even beyond the sense of calm was the possibility to meet the certainty of her own demise with grace and acceptance.

Even as formal asana practice became shorter and less active, even as it eventually ceased altogether, there was yoga. Caring for her became a familial and a communal yoga, with Mom as the heart at the center.

My good friend, John Seyfried took the photo below in the fall of 2003. It is a picture that speaks for itself.

So Geraldine, my Mom, my teacher, my student, my friend, you are deeply, achingly missed.

When it comes to conducting classes in moments such as this, I’ve found for myself that there is a solace in sharing the practice. This is to say, I will teach my usual 9:00 and 11:00 AM sessions on Saturday, October 3rd.

I may be a little rough around the edges and I will shed tears, but I don’t mind. If you’re ok with that I hope you’ll attend.

The Antidote to Perfectionism

by Chelsea Doohan

Are you a perfectionist? Do you know one?

Do you struggle with self criticism or beat yourself up over things big and small?

Do you get tired of telling a friend or partner that they are okay, that they are good enough?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be interested in some tools that yoga and Buddhism have to offer, tools are available to you even if you are not a Buddhist or a yogi.

If you are not a perfectionist, you probably know one.  And if you work with one or live with one, you feel and deal with the effects of the perfectionism, even when it is not your own.  Either way, could you use something to soften the sharp edges of perfectionism?

Take this from a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist: If there is an antidote to perfectionism, it is metta.  

The translation of metta says most–if not all–of what you need to know about it: it is loving-kindness or loving-friendliness.

I remember sitting in a corner of the big studio at Solaluna one evening when I first learned about metta.  The instructor led us in silently saying to ourselves phrases like “May I be well” and “May I be happy.”

For this conservatory student, accustomed to rigorous discipline and unforgiving self-criticism, the idea seemed almost alien.  Sure, I was used to being kind to others, but to myself?!  My mind revolted… There were self improvements to be made!  Shortcomings to overcome!  Deficits to make up for!

Saying kind things to myself was so radical compared to what I was used to, I ended up weeping that day.

But interestingly, this experience wasn’t a put-off.  Rather, I felt strangely opened, almost cleansed by the experience.  And I wanted to explore it more.

Practicing metta over time has revolutionized my relationship with myself, and if you struggle with perfectionism, it might do the same for you.

Metta comes from the Pali word for friend.  My guess is that you know how to direct love and friendliness to your friends.  You tell your loved ones how you feel about them, you wish the best for friends, you are probably exceedingly kind to animals, etc.  You can start your practice by recognizing that you already have metta inside you.  For some of us, the tricky thing is directing to ourselves.

Below I share a practice that can help you cultivate the same kindness towards yourself that you already give to others.  Try it out, or share it with the perfectionist in your life…

Start Small.

If your initial experiences are anything like mine, it might be a tall order to fully accept yourself with complete kindness.  That’s hard for almost everybody!  A lot of complications can arise from trying the wholesale approach, so start small and start simple.

Choose one part of yourself.

Gently offer metta to your bones, to your breath, or to your blood.  Or you could try sending metta to a body part like a “bum knee”.  Alternatively, you could give metta to a psychological part of yourself, like the voice of criticism.  You might imagine it like the voice of a person who is hard-edged but will soften a bit when shown kindness.

Use Simple Phrases.

These are some of my favorites:

          “May I be well.”

          “May I be happy.”

          “May I be free from suffering.”

There is no rule about sticking to these phrases exclusively.  If other phrases come to you, use them!

Take It into Your Life

You can try out these phrases while you are lying in bed before sleep or in the quiet moments of morning.  If you have a meditation or yoga practice, that is a great space for metta.  There are infinite opportunities to practice, including while driving, riding the bus, walking, running, waiting in line, etc.

In Oberlin right now, there are a number of ways you can get support and instruction in metta.  First, there is an eight-week course in Mindful Self Compassion at Solaluna taught by Martin Thomson-Jones.  For more information, go here.

If your schedule doesn’t allow for the eight-week commitment, there is also a weekly metta meditation at Solaluna on Mondays at 8:30 PM, which uses a drop-in, pay-what-you-can class structure.  There you can benefit from some instruction if you are new to the practice, and everyone can participate in the group sit, which is followed by questions and discussion.  No matter your experience level, you can always benefit from building community and support around your meditation practice.

You can also get a taste of metta in many of the yoga classes at Solaluna.  Metta is an essential component of Simple Yoga, and Audrey also uses it in her classes.  By including such practices, we at Solaluna want your experience in class to be nourishing to your whole self, so that you are practicing more than just physical exercise.  Our hope is that we can help you toward a state of larger kindness, one that includes yourself in the breadth of its circle.

The Yoga of Making Your Bed

by Chelsea Doohan

Do you make your bed?

As someone who has never been a habitual bed maker, I would like to think that it counts for absolutely nothing.

And at the same time, I recently began to suspect that my unmade bed was contributing–albeit in a small way–to a larger sense of messiness in my life.

I have tried to get into the habit of making my bed before, but in the past when I did so, I always focused on what was difficult about it.

“I’m not a morning person, I feel so tired in the morning….” Or I would fool myself into thinking that I would come back later and do it, once I wasn’t so tired… and I never did.

I told myself I really, really ought to do it… but I usually didn’t. And I would get down on myself because I wasn’t doing something I felt like I should do. Ultimately, I gave up.

But recently, after years of not making my bed, I was turning over a new leaf in other aspects of my life, and I decided to try again.

This time, I saw it as an experiment and a small game. It was less about “I MUST do this” and more about “What might happen if I do?” I see a crucial difference between the two. When I approached bed-making with the former attitude, it simply didn’t get done.

You probably know where this is going…. When I approached it with the latter attitude, I actually began to form a new habit!

I love my new routine. I get a little reward at the end of the day, when I go to my bed and it is tidy and ready for me to climb in. I feel calmer. I feel just a little bit more settled in my life and my space. And I feel a small empowerment knowing that I made that change, I decided to do it, and I followed through. And it took–literally–less than thirty seconds a day.

How does this relate to yoga?

Simple Yoga was developed out of the observation that small, simple things can make a big difference. This is true on and off the yoga mat.

Small, simple actions that lead to big changes go hand in hand with another principle of Simple Yoga, and that is curiosity.

Curiosity creates the best conditions for learning. When I adopted the “What would happen if…” attitude towards making my bed, I was able to learn a new behavior that stuck.

On the yoga mat, the combination of small actions and curiosity can lead your practice along. Following those things, and letting them be the backbone of the practice, makes both burnout and apathy less likely.

For example, if there is a pose that you always struggle with in class, it is very likely that you don’t practice it at home. But what if curiosity took over and you wondered… “What would happen if I practiced this pose at home, in between classes I attend?”

Using the principle of small, simple actions, you could commit to doing that pose every other day for a week. Nothing but that. It would take five minutes–at most–four times a week, so it’s less than twenty minutes out of your week. (That’s about the length of a sitcom minus commercials.)

Do this for a week or two, and I’d be willing to bet there would be some changes.

Five minutes of yoga every other day may not seem like much, but it can grow into something more, especially when combined with going to classes and using the Simple Yoga approach in your everyday life off the mat.

Remember that these structures that we set up are little games. They can be silly, goofy, or dorky. Sometimes when I am in my morning stupor, stumbling around, clumsily making my bed, I laugh and make self-deprecating (and kind) jokes to myself.

Similarly, on the yoga mat, I generally laugh when I fall out of a yoga pose. If I don’t laugh, I try to readjust my attitude… Because people falling down is just funny! And I am no exception.

Whether it is a yoga pose you want to work on or a problem in your personal life (just remember to start small), you can begin to approach it in this way by asking “What would happen if…?” Then, use small actions and curiosity to guide you along. Pick a game. Go and play it.

Insight on the Shoulders

Shoulder Insights

Today we have an audio exploration that investigates movements of the shoulder blades.

Awareness of the different ways the shoulders can move is essential to freedom and mobility in the upper body. It’s also vital vital for maintaining strength and stability.

This inquiry brings particular attention to the relationship between shoulder movement and arm rotation, which is a necessary skill in asana practice (and handy for life in general).

Just click on the image to listen.

Thoughts (and Yoga) on Labor Day

Labor Day in America is a really strange thing.

A holiday recognizing workers gets a little weird when it’s framed more as the last gasp of summer, the beginning of school, the revving up of the National Football League, a chance to sell a lot of stuff, and an opportunity to serve a bunch of food.

Which all means that a big chunk of the working population works on Labor Day.

Describing the holiday this way might put the whole thing in a discouraging light, but it offers a shift of perspective back to the original idea of Labor Day. It’s a reminder to honor, consider, and be aware of the state of workers in America.

Of course people of different political persuasions will view this issue in different ways and will come up with very different answers as to the health and rights and strength of the American work force.

Here I’m less concerned with that broader political back-and-forth. What I can write about is what I see on the ground level, with people’s bodies and hearts and minds.

Work is such an important thing in the way it can give people structure, dignity and a sense of accomplishment.

In my job as a yoga teacher though, I get a close view of the struggles of work, the tangled parts of work that cause pain and suffering.

This is certainly the case for people who have to work in jobs they don’t like (and it’s magnified with people looking for a job), but I find there’s a lot of struggle around work even among people who love what they do.

That being the case, this piece could neatly button itself up with a conclusion along the lines of: “Work in today’s modern society is really hard and yoga can really help you. Don’t forget to come to yoga class.”

Certainly, I don’t disagree with this. Yoga can truly help to mitigate the slings and arrows of one’s work life. This is sometimes as far as it’s taken, but I think yoga can offer more than 5 poses you can do to deal with your shitty job.

If the relationship of a yoga practice to a job is that it only soothes the hurts, it might be tempting to just keep going along with what doesn’t work with work.

Yoga has much to offer to a person’s greater relationship with work because it is essentially a way to be more awake and aware, more deeply true to oneself.

Honoring that awareness might mean in one instance that a person maintains the fortitude to stay in an unfulfilling job for some time because it is clearly the available option that puts food on the table and pays the bills. In another instance, that awareness might reveal a possibility to do something different.

What’s more, the awakening that yoga inspires is of a piece with honoring work that is done, recognizing the energy that’s put into work, and having the presence of mind to lessen the suffering of others when it’s within one’s power to do so.

The forces at play that shape the distribution of income and labor are huge and overwhelming. My experience with yoga is that it can offer a way to live within those overwhelming, sometimes discouraging forces and stay open, stay available, while at the same time being able to question and probe and do what’s possible.

……………………

The other thing about yoga and work is that asana itself can be work (it’s also play, but that’s for another bit of writing). It’s work you can do for free if you have a personal practice. Or you can attend a class and pay someone to guide your work. Good deal, huh?

There’s a reason that it’s worth paying for: it helps people become more resilient to stress. Asana is itself a kind of useful stress that can help people become more adaptable to other stresses.

One of the key factors for this to be effective is that the work of asana is not wholly about quantity. That is, working more in an asana does not necessarily make a person more resilient. Working more than necessary can in fact burn a person out.

Instead, it is about learning to discern how much work, how much energy is appropriate. It’s about working with clarity and coordination.

This increased resilience and awareness can offer some very real benefits in relation to work. Especially when a job is very stressful, mitigating the challenges of work may be much of what the practice supports. This falls under the yogic precept of ahimsa, non-harming.

At the same time, as a person has a clearer sense of ahimsa for themselves, it can be extended to others.

It is in this spirit that right now I am thinking about all the varieties of work in this crazy world and all the people who work. I am thinking about people doing work that’s mundane, inspiring, pointless, nourishing, life-saving, dangerous, physically taxing, and mentally demanding. There’s so much work in the world, and so much joy and suffering that results from it.

Let this be a small offering to recognize the struggles and the fruits of work.

Let this be a small offering to honor work and workers.

namaste.

Take a Walk!

by Chelsea Doohan

Have you smelled the air outside lately? Have you noticed that the sunsets are particularly colorful this time of year? Have you enjoyed putting on a cozy sweater and feeling the crisp, cool air on your face?

These are all pleasurable experiences. The joys of Fall. They all relate to the changes taking place in the natural world this time of year. And they are all fleeting.

Change

For some reason, Fall seems particularly full of reminders that everything is changing all the time. Fall reveals that nothing stays the way it is for very long.

This time of year, when there is a beautiful, warm, sunny day, do you hear people saying “this may be one of the last we get this year”?

People have a heightened awareness of how precious sunlight is because they know the winter is right around the corner, and sunlight will be in short supply.

Another impossible-to-miss change this time of year is the leaves turning. The air temperature certainly changes, and the sounds of Nature do too.

This doesn’t even touch on all the change happening in peoples lives related to school, schedules, family, work, and the demands of balancing it all with the holidays fast approaching.

All of this change can induce joy, but it’s also very likely to cause some angst, whether conscious or not.

My answer to both the joy of change and the angst it can cause is. . .

Take a walk!

Get outside. See what you can notice. See what is different now as compared to other times of the year. Notice with all your senses.

Walk briskly, walk slowly, it doesn’t matter. Walk to get somewhere, walk around in circles. Walk alone, walk with a loved one or friend. Just walk. See how it changes your day, your mood, your outlook.

There are lots of good reasons to take a walk. One of them is that it is a pleasurable way to practice yoga. I don’t mean asana (poses), but yoga in a larger sense.

Taking a Fall walk presents an opportunity to practice staying in the present amidst the change that is happening all around you. That’s yoga.

If you would like to try some walking practices but aren’t quite sure how to get started, here are a few ideas:

Use errands as a way to get outside and walking around. Granted, this isn’t possible everywhere, but it certainly is possible in Oberlin! Do your errands at Watson Hardware, Ben Franklin, and the Library, and then add a loop or two around Tappan Square as a little reward for yourself.

Especially with all the construction and congestion in downtown Oberlin right now, walking is much less of a headache than driving.

I just discovered that where I live now, I can walk to the Post Office in about 10 minutes, which makes for a lovely 20 minute loop (and I complete an errand in the meantime, killing two birds with one stone).

Look for opportunities like this. Or, if you are doing an errand in your car, simply parking farther from where you are going gives you a mini walk and a little time to feel the air and/or meditate, which brings us to. . .

Combine walking with meditation. If you have a sitting meditation practice, take it outside once a week, or every other day. You can do everything walking that you can do sitting on a meditation cushion.

If you are new to meditation, walking is an accessible way to begin training your mind. As part of teacher trainings and intensives at Solaluna, we do a fair amount of “metta walks.” It’s great to do in a group, but you can also practice on your own.

Simply walk quietly (without talking) and offer metta (loving friendliness) to what you encounter. This may include people and also can include trees, animals, landscapes, the wind, the town, or anything else. When your attention strays (and it will), simply come back to the practice of offering metta.

Find a buddy. I’ve had many people tell me that it’s easier to do exercise–or any practice–when there is someone else there who is expecting you to show up. It makes a lot of sense. That’s one of the reasons why the early morning practice sessions at Solaluna are so great–you know someone else is going to be there, so you are more likely to get yourself there too.

I remember sometimes when Eric and I would be walking around Tappan Square, we would encounter Joan Webster with her walking buddy. It always brightened our walk to see them, to know that someone else was out besides us. In other words, it made it feel communal.

Busy people take note: You kill two birds with one stone with this one, because you get to have a visit with a friend AND get outside AND get some exercise all at once. (Wait, that’s THREE birds!)

Try one of these approaches, and as always, we’d love to hear from you about your experience when you do.

I wish you a happy Fall, and happy walking.