In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb...

 Happy March, Yogis!

Winter is winding down, days are growing longer, and birds are chirping just a little louder. There’s something about March in New England that feels triumphant, almost celebratory, in its meaning that we endured another harsh and cold season.

This winter was the first one I’ve spent outside of Boston in about 8 years, (save for last year when I threw in the towel of fighting over shoveled-out parking spots, and fled to Costa Rica). Winter on the seacoast showed me a new kind of beauty to the dark. While watching blizzards churn the ocean, experiencing the shimmer of a fresh coat of snow on trees and mountaintops, noticing how cleansing cool air can feel in February…it reminded me that this time is just another necessary part of the cycle. Winter, the cold and the dark, is essential for nourishment. It holds a sort of “underground” space for things to cultivate. Without winter, we’d never have a spring - just like how without the dark, we’d never see light.

In my yoga teacher training, during a discussion about loss and hardship, one of our teachers offered that “We need the dark places. The dark places are where stuff grows.” In light of yoga’s teachings that the only way around hardship is through it, this sentiment stuck with me. Winter and its incubation facilities escaped me when stressing in the city about scavenging, shoveling, and saving parking spots as though it were the last piece of food on Earth. (Boston, I love you, but you are stressful as hell in the winter.)

No matter my geographic location, though, this new perception is the one I choose to embrace. Whether in Boston or Bora Bora, moving through the natural cycles of Mama Gaia is just another magical privilegeof our one miraculous life. So, cheers to you, Winter, and sorry for the hate this past decade. Thank you for showing me the light of the dark, the soulfulness of the snow, and for the gift of hearing the birds chirp just a little louder these days. 

Happy March, and NAMASTE!  

-Carrie

 

*This blog post is from our March newsletter. If you want more, be sure to sign up at the home page! No spam and good vibes only, guaranteed.

You cannot write a new chapter if you keep re-reading the old one

Happy New Year yogis!

So, I was never big on the whole Setting-New-Year’s-Resolutions thing. It always felt contrived and gimmick-y, as though we had one pressure-filled day to magically become the best versions of ourselves. That’s not reasonable, and that’s not how I operate as a human, yoga student, or teacher. Learning and growing are anything but linear. They will not happen overnight, and certainly not because society tells us they should.

What I am big on, however, is self-acceptance, exploring outside of comfort zones, making mistakes, and learning from them in order to navigate, with love, our lives and relationships. I believe we - ALL of us - are innately equipped to create whatever life we want, whenever we want, simply by freeing ourselves of old habits of thinking.

We write stories every day, complete with a lineup of characters telling us how to react to every situation. Your kids catch a cold, the Mother in you tells you you failed, to rush them to the doctor and nurture them back to health. You bomb a presentation or flunk an exam, the Judgmental jerk in you will rear its ugly, doubting head. Your car shits the bed and costs you tons of money, the Self-Doubter will remind you of how financially limited you are. Life is sometimes a smorgasbord of shit, and we have a cast of characters in our heads making up stories about each and every situation. And that’s ok, that means we’re human…but it’s nice to remember that we are the writers, not the characters. We can replace those voices with ones that better serve our true soul’s purpose…better yet, we can take a minute to breathe, meditate, and tune out the crazies all together. :)

Stressful stuff happens, but you are not the stress. You are not your frustration, your anger, or your sadness. You are not your emotions, you are not your thoughts, and you are most certainly not that crazy person in your head doubting your every move, instilling fear, and shattering your self confidence.

You are love. And you don’t need to set a resolution for 2017 to remind yourself of this simple and deep-seated fact. You are also the writer, so write! And re-write, and re-write, and re-write…every minute of every day, for 2017 and beyond.

Happy manifesting, and a very happy New Year!

Carrie

*This blog post is from my January newsletter. If you want more, be sure to sign up at the home page! No spam and good vibes only, guaranteed.

Ecdysis

Two to four times a year, a snake sheds its top layer of skin. This process is called ecdysis, which means "the act of molting or shedding an outer cuticular layer." Ecdysis doesn't actually mean shedding skin, but rather sloughing off the outer layer of cells, in order to remove parasites, free up mobility and enable growth. Apparently, just after a snake sheds a layer, they’re visibly healthier, vibrant and clear. Their new skin, free of restrictions, allows them to grow and move how they should. 

When snakes are young, they shed more often - every two weeks or so. Maybe this is simply because they grow quickly, or maybe it's because they are so often something's prey, and so are in constant evolution. Baby snakes are vulnerable and trusting, moving without inhibition but adapting to circumstance. When they outgrow their layers, (the human equivalent to a toddler outgrowing a race car bed), they simply shed, and continue on. 

Snakes and seasons live in cycles, encountering and adapting to every obstacle. Each peak and valley seem higher and higher, easier each time to trek. Rainfall feel heavier to a small body, parasites attach quicker to young blood. Baby snakes bear the weight of the weather and predators, grow tougher skin for survival, then slough it off when it becomes too heavy and tight. When they become trapped in their outer shells, they don't wait for the environment to change - they change their bodies, and continue on. The old skin gives itself to the earth, waiting somewhere in nature, fertile to become something else's material for something else’s purpose.

In the first grade, our class pet was a Ball Python. I remember noticing the snake's abandoned skin collect in the tank over time, and he would move about, shining in his new, rejuvenated body with ease and freedom. I remember feeling jealous of this ability. How badly I would have loved to leave my parasite-ridden, restricting physical body. How beautifully instinctual it was to shed a layer when it was no longer needed, to uncover and expose the purer, healthier, cleaner self.

Childhood health problems made me anxious in my skin, malnourished and reactive to culturally "normal" foods my classmates could eat regularly. I had an intestinal bacterial infection which caused physical tension and emotional instability, tics and mood swings and symptoms such as the one now known as “restless leg syndrome,” because our culture likes to confuse symptoms for the causes, but I digress… :)

Thanks to my incredible parents and a team of nutritionists, biochemists, and physicians who helped us conclude that Candida buildup was the root cause of my symptoms, I have the good fortune of living a relatively healthy and "normal" adult life. Sometimes the swells of tension come back, mostly when I indulge in toxins, which unfortunately include sugar, dairy, and other processed foods commonly found in our society. Sometimes I recall my childhood inability to relax physically or mentally, and a chaotic wave of pins and needles washes over my midsection and skull. Sometimes, even now as an adult, I want to shed like a snake and leave the old shell behind. I catch myself resenting the skin I’ve often felt so stuck in.

In addition to dietary changes and a cocktail of vitamins and herbal supplements which cured (and still keep) Candida at bay, I’ve tried many methods to slough off this experience: Holistic chiropractors, acupressure, Reiki, massage therapy, cognitive therapy and family counseling, aromatherapy, the list goes on. If it reads "personal development" or "holistic body work," I've probably explored it (or become licensed in it). One thing I was hesitant to try, however, was yoga. This is mostly because I am, by Bostonian nature, a perpetual cynic. Despite my genuine love and passion for all things holistic self care, I'm guilty of having a baseline of “Daria”-esque sarcasm. Humor is how I cope, I admit, but my point is, (or used to be), that yoga was for privileged white women looking for fitness and weight-loss trends. I thought it required expensive clothes and a size 0 waist - how ELSE could one fold into “Mermaid Pose” like the blonde beauty on the cover of Yoga Journal?

So, I initially tried yoga for the same reason I tried Reiki and acupuncture and all the other ancient practices: I needed a tool for stress relief and was desperate to explore all angles. I was working a demanding job with chaotic hours, and the emotional stress eventually manifested as physical pain. I was desperate for a way to slough, and I needed my body and mind back - even if just for an hour a week. I tried a “Gentle Restorative” yoga class first, and was beyond content with its predominately grey-haired demographic. I particularly enjoyed the part where we lied on the floor on bolsters, gently twisting and wringing out the workweek. I became a pro at Savasana, "corpse pose," or what I endearingly refer to as the “yoga nap." 

It took just a few classes to realize that gentle, restorative poses could churn up fervent feelings and insights I didn't know were there. The class began to feel like my weekly acid trip, to be frank, going in and in and in until the information I didn't know I needed became uncovered. And the more I dug and twisted and rinsed out the stress, the more joy and calm began to surface. I noticed myself approaching work with less anxiety and more efficiency, I started to choose better eating habits, and I started to notice unhealthy relationships and built boundaries accordingly. I realized I was carrying this dead weight of old anger, anxiety, and resentment that just didn’t need to be there - and certainly wasn’t serving me or my loved ones. 

The best part was realizing that this information is always in there - self awareness and joy aren't outside of the body, they're just sometimes buried under stress and skin. Our culture doesn’t encourage us to dig below those surfaces. In fact, it encourages quite the opposite. Media and popular culture tell us to band-aid our problems with distraction by booze and sleep aids and selfie sticks. Definitely don’t explore it, we're told, definitely don’t get vulnerable - because pain hurts, waahh! But yoga truly helped me realize that the only way out of the pain is straight fucking through it. The pain was telling me information, I just wasn’t listening close enough.

Over time, my yoga practice naturally evolved, and I tried more advanced Vinyasa, heated classes, and countless workshops on yoga therapy, transcendental meditation, Yoga Nidra, you name it. The more physical my practice became, the more emotional skin I shed. More movement allowed for more shedding, which led to more movement, and herein lies the ever-evolving cycle of yoga. The exploration just never, ever ends. Every day brings a chance to dig and play and unbury myself, untie the knots, un-fuck my life and relationships and every experience. I can move, physically and emotionally, without the weight of dead and useless layers. 

I read that "ecdysis" comes from the Greek "ekduo," or, "the act of getting out." I'm grateful to be a young snake who can shed often, vulnerable to parasites, but brave enough to let go of my too-small skin and build upon my innate resources for strength. I’m grateful for the chance to grow up and up and out, by going in and in and in.

 

 

Yoga BEATS

BURSTING with gratitude for teaching in places that foster a wonderfully weird and creative yoga practice...too often yoga is unfairly regarded as a stuffy practice, reserved for dimly lit rooms, expensive candles, and Ravi Shankar music, at most, (not that there's anything wrong with Ravi!!!) However, sometimes you need to do some sweaty yoga to loud music. Sometimes you need some bass-y sound therapy to go deeper, inviting in the chaos of the world and working WITH it, instead of shutting it out and hiding away...sometimes a little bass therapy is just the way to start your Saturday.

Long story short, I want to express how stoked I am to work with Mission Portsmouth , teaching Yoga: BEATS every other Saturday at 8am!!! 

Be sure to check Facebook.com/carrieingrahamyoga for schedule updates...see you there!

Always Somewhere to Go

You know the drill. Some days, you just don’t want to go to a fucking yoga class. Maybe it’s winter, you’re cold and tired, coming off a long work day, wanting to go home to the shelter of your living room couch and cable tv. But you know you should go to yoga, you know it’s so-called good for you, so you drag yourself halfheartedly to the studio. 

You check in with the teacher at the front desk, forcing yourself to match her bubbly enthusiasm. You kick off your shoes and enter the dimly lit room, and plop your mat somewhere towards the back of the room (it’s not a first-row kind of night). You sit crosslegged on your mat but quickly remember how sick of sitting you are - maybe you’ve done it all day today at your desk behind a computer, or in your car in rush hour traffic. So you shift to lie on your back, trying to ignore the twinge of annoyance/genuine hatred you feel towards the 90 lb Laker Girl next to you, who’s casually floating herself up into a size-0 blur of a handstand. You close your eyes, and still somehow manage to roll them, acknowledging yet not caring how un-yogi you are in this moment.

You close your eyes and breathe, breathe, breathe, looong inhales and looong exhales. You want to be anywhere but next to the Laker Girl. You feel gravity pull your shoulders, hips, and ankles towards the floor, releasing the weight of the day. You notice your face muscles are tensed, and that there’s a slight ache in your lower back. Looong inhales and looong exhales - you visualize yourself "Living Carefree" like Oprah and Deepak Chopra. After a few breaths, you eventually start to go somewhere else, and you welcome the transition. Your breath moves you away from the rush hour and the office and the Laker Girl. Gravity moves you down and down and in, in, in...

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When I first started yoga, I focused on nothing but the tension, and how much the tension sucked. In a standing split, all my attention was on the weight and discomfort in my standing leg. In plank, I'd feel only my weak, shaking arms, hating the pose with everything I had, waiting for it to be over. I chose to let the unpleasant sensations guide my practice and dictate my mindset - which limited my thoughts to “Fuck this, fuck this, FUCK THIS…when will this pose be over..."

…We are conditioned to avoid discomfort. We label it as bad and painful and do everything in our power to mask it and ignore it. Yeah, that standing leg will feel super uncomfortable in standing split - especially if you refuse to acknowledge every other part of your body which is supporting the pose as strongly as your standing leg.  

The word "yoga" basically means “union,” or coming together of body and mind. So, in some interpretations, yoga is the union of different physical parts of your body - quite literally the working together of your arms and legs, your abdomen and your upper back, your spine and your heels. Years ago, a teacher asked my yoga class a simple question that shifted my perception forever. While miserable and sweating in plank, She asked us “where can you release, where can you go?” I was flabbergasted. Where can I go? Nowhere, I thought. I can't leave the burning sensation in my arms and shoulders. I can't leave the shakiness or my spinning thoughts. ...I can’t leave my job, my home, my relationships, even if none of them serves me nor I them. I am here, stuck in this uncomfortable space. Where I can go and where I want to go seemed to be, in that time in life and in that plank pose, very different options. 

But i tried it anyway. I tried bringing my attention away from my shaky arms and to my feet which felt strong and ignored. I focused on the possibility of strength in my feet and legs and hips, then actually tapped into that possibility…I used the muscles down there to shoot my heels back and out, which, (like the teacher magically predicted), took tension off my arms. I forgot I had other systems of support, just because I chose to focus on the painful part…WTF... mind, blown. Touche, yoga. 

So I realized it wasn’t about “letting go” of the pain in my arms, but instead about “going in” to another part of my body which is always there to support and guide movement. How fucking empowering that was, to know I’m free to move and travel when a circumstance no longer serves me. Don’t let go of the discomfort, embrace it, look where else can create space for it, and use your resources to transition and grow profoundly stronger.

There is always somewhere to go. What can happen when you realize how big your body is, how expansive your consciousness is…”how heavy are your bones when you allow them to be as heavy as they are?” (Amba Stapleton) How free you can be when you realize you’re allowed to be free…?

And the epiphany, for so many, is just that: that you are free. You are free to travel, to move, to leave and return, to be you, you, you, the purest, heaviest, the shakiest and mobile-est, YOU. So maybe the next time you just don’t want to go to a fucking yoga class, go, and then go somewhere else.

http://www.badyogiofficial.com

http://www.badyogiofficial.com