The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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Saying Yes to My Heart, Saying Yes to the Trail

hiking

Poplar Stream Falls, summer

 

I wanted to share with you a little bit about what’s been going on in my life over the last few months. My husband and I have decided to quit our jobs, and spend the summer thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Then we will relocate to the Pacific Northwest, looking for jobs that better suit us.

So how did we come upon this crazy idea of ours? When we finally realized it was crazy not to.

A little before Christmas, we headed out into the woods to get away from the world, as we often do. We were heading to the falls we got married at. We hadn’t done this trail since that day, when we hiked in as boyfriend and girlfriend, and out as husband and wife. On this winter day, we reminisced about the wedding, and talked of how much had changed in the surroundings. The trail and falls looked completely different, covered in snow and ice, than they did five short months ago on that sunny summer day. Everything was different.

PCT blog

We began to talk about what we wanted our life to look like, which often begins with wild and crazy ideas, then narrows to more realistic (and boring) ones. We’d been talking about moving, either back to Portland (Maine) or to the west coast. My husband, Jason joked that we should walk to wherever we move instead of drive, and we got caught up in this fantasy of walking across the country. This has been our go-to fantasy when our jobs are feeling really tough, and we want an escape. At some point on our way back on the groomed snow trail, I asked aloud, “Well, if this is something we really want to do, why can’t we do it?” (This may have been more of a revelation to me than Jason, who was quicker to jump on board.)

Back home, the fantasy got a little more concrete as we began throwing around ideas of walking for a cause, and researching others who have walked across the country. We discovered it would take a little longer than we maybe wanted to be walking, and the routes weren’t always that scenic.

Then we began to throw around the idea of hiking a long trail. Jason had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, so that was out. It would have to be something new to both of us that we could experience together. I had just read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and threw out the idea of the Pacific Crest Trail. We also looked at other trails like the Continental Divide Trail (a little more than I was ready for), or the Pacific Northwest Trail (a little less than we were looking for).

From that night on, our fantasy revolved around the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, for short). We didn’t commit to any more than just toying around with the idea, but the more we both thought and talked about it, the more excited we became. In an attempt to shake a real answer out of me, Jason began telling me tales of how hard thru hiking is, what it is really like. I think he did this because he really wanted me to say yes to this, but wanted to really make sure I meant it, and wanted it.

I wanted it. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And when I say sense, I mean I felt it. It felt so right. During all of the previous thinking and planning out our next steps, ideas of places to move, jobs to apply to, I was riddled with indecision and anxiety. But with this plan, there was none of that. It settled into my brain so snugly, and then stretched out and relaxed there, until we both finally admitted this is what we had to do. We would quit our jobs, spend the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, then stay out west at the end of it and see what will happen next.

I truly believe that one right decision leads to another. All my previous anxiety fell away, because those previous plans were not the right plans. I so strongly believe that if we continue saying yes to what our hearts want out of life, we’ll continue to be led to doors, and more doors we hadn’t even thought of will open up. So far, this has been true. Things are falling into place quite magically.

We also dropped the idea of doing this for some kind of cause –doing this because it is something we want to do in our life is the cause. This is another reason our plan feels so right. Jason and I are both coming to realize, for both separate and similar reasons, that neither of us are that suited for a “normal” life. (Let’s just admit it, neither one of us is that normal.) And I am finally completely ok with that.

This hike, then, is not an escape from “the real world.” This is the real world, lived out how we want to live it, not how convention dictates we should. We are both finally actively figuring out how we fit into the life that we make, rather than trying to fit into lives that society makes for us.

Since this decision, I have settled into feeling like myself in a way I haven’t felt for quite some time now. (It feels so good to be true to yourself.)

I’d like to leave you with one last thought –this lovely piece I came across while making the decision.

So, in the next six months I will be taking a break from The Approximate Yogi (unless inspiration moves me), and spending my writing time at my new blog (where a version of this post first appeared), documenting our new adventure. I know my yoga practice will be one of the things that supports me through this journey.

If you’d like to follow along, join me at http://goingwhereveritleads.com/

I hope to keep in touch with many of you there!

Here’s to saying yes!

~Catie


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Curating Silence

I’ve noticed in the last year that the word curate has become quite a popular one in our collective consciousness, especially online. Curate was once only reserved for museum directors; now anyone can curate. People are curating all kinds of stuff –everything from Rumi quotes to smoothie recipes, to bumble bee prints to workout music to favorite talk shows.

But sometimes all this stuff needs a rest.

I would like to create a space to curate silence. You can think of this blog post as just that space –a museum of silence. If you think about one possibility of a museum –a history museum, a place of antiques, or things that have become extinct; curating silence makes even more sense.

If I were to take silence out of the world to curate here, these are some places I might extract it from:

The car: When I turn off the radio, or CD player, or podcast I’m listening to, it is quite quiet in my car. It’s amazing how much more of the world outside my car I notice in this silence.

The living room: When I turn off the TV, shut down my laptop and Internet, the living room silence and snowbecomes a very quiet space. It even opens up space for conversation with others.

The forest: There is a lovely silence about a forest. Although the more you quiet there, the more you may hear.

In a cup of tea: You have to be silent when sipping. Tea is a liquid that somehow creates a hush of mind and body. With hands grasped around warm mug; stop talking, stop breathing, stop thinking even, at least for that one little sip.

And then another.

The predawn morning: There is nothing like the quietude when people, pets, machines have not yet awoken. When I can muster the courage to pull myself out of my cozy bed for a little extra me time in the morning, I never regret it.

I love doing my yoga in the space just before sunrise. The darkness there has this way of enveloping me, squeezing the thoughts to stay in their place. Squeezing my body to stay centered in the pose. The daylight expands my thinking into all that I will be doing for the day, and my mind gets carried away with the sun. But this soundless time before all that is priceless.

The night: Nighttime is made to be a quieter time. Darkness has a way of silencing. Too often, we shut out the darkness. Extract darkness to extract the silence from the night.

silence and snowSnowfall: Falling snow, like darkness, seems to have a way of winding down the earth into silence.

In our minds: This is sometimes one of the hardest places out there to find silence -but it is there. I find that meditation is an active work in progress in muting my mind. Some days, the task seems near impossible. Then there are those other sweet, sweet days when merely focusing on a few deep breaths draws that silence up like a spring.

I found this passage I had written a few years ago about a first snowfall that explains what I’m getting at. It encompasses three of the best places for me to find silence –snow, darkness, and morning:

The house is still quiet, still dark, only lit by the white from outside. I am sitting at the dining table looking out into our Christmas tree farm backyard; the snow falling now, slowing, but it’s there, stuck to the trees, laying on the ground, clinging to the browned leaves still on the cherry tree, even to the little cherries that no birds are feasting upon this morning. Everyone snuggled into some cozy nook, hopefully. And now all the movement of falling snow has stopped. So much energy falls from the sky, impregnating the air all around; only to bring complete stillness that lays heavy on the land. All that energy stops on tree branches, ground, roof tops, pressing into us, creating a vast silence; opening up some space for it; a quieting. Brown leaves remain on trees covered in snow, stilled in their process of dying. This silence here, creating enough space for my voice to come back.

You never know what you may find in the silence.

And lastly, this blog post: Yes, even here. My gift to you all is a moment of silence.

Sit in front of the screen. Close your eyes, if you are able. Shut off the TV. Insert your earbuds, then don’t turn on any music. Bring your laptop or ipad to a quiet spot in the house. You can even pretend you are still reading, pretend you are being productive. Go ahead, it’s worth the fib. Then let yourself experience a moment of silence, or two, or three, if you can spare more. The thing about silence is once you find it, it tends to multiply. You tend to find more pockets of quietude in the day to add to the space.

Ok. Ready? Go …

silence in snow


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34 Reasons I Love Yoga (for my 34th Birthday)

Last year at this time I post 33 Reasons I Love Yoga, since today is my 34th I thought I’d add one more. Here is the list again +1:

Tom's Thumb, Arizona

Tom’s Thumb, Arizona

34 Reasons I Love Yoga

  1. Yoga keeps me honest
  2. Yoga clears my head in the morning –the best and fastest way I know to get those sleepies out of my eyes
  3. Yoga keeps me limber and flexible (body and mind)
  4. Yoga makes me less cranky (yes, my husband has on occasion asked the question on particular grumpy days, “Did you do your yoga this morning?”)

    chilly tree, Lake Tahoe, NV

    chilly tree, Lake Tahoe, NV

  5. Yoga makes me eat healthier
  6. Yoga strengthens my core
  7. Yoga strengthens my arms
  8. Yoga makes me laugh
  9. Yoga keeps me humble
  10. Yoga helps me release negative emotions, like sadness and anger
  11. Yoga helps me forgive
  12. Yoga calms my worries
  13. Yoga’s always got my back (It is always a Plan B in tough situations, even when it should be Plan A)
  14. Yoga never judges me
  15. I have met some wonderful souls through yoga

    Picture 091

    a hiking buddy and me treein’ it up at the Grand Canyon

  16. Yoga opens my mind to its more creative places
  17. Yoga makes me a more patient person
  18. Yoga makes me a better speech therapist
  19. Yoga makes me a better lover
  20. Yoga gives my lungs and body endurance when I’m doing non-yoga things like hiking big mountains
  21. Yoga taught me mantra. Mantra helps me get through really tough physical challenges or really scary times
  22. Yoga gives me commitment

    DSCN2824

    Poplar Stream Falls, on our wedding day

  23. Yoga made me a teacher
  24. Yoga helped me conquer loneliness
  25. Yoga took me to a place inside myself I’d never been
  26. Yoga keeps life light
  27. Yoga is fun
  28. Yoga is versatile (I truly believe there is a style out there for everyone)
  29. I get to wear comfy pants while doing it
  30. I don’t have to wear any pants while doing it
  31. I can take yoga anywhere with me
  32. Yoga helped me get through grad school
  33. Yoga gave me the idea for this blog
  34. Yoga waits for me

 

Did I miss anything? Why do you love yoga?

If you enjoyed this post, as a birthday present to me, will you share it with someone?

Namaste!


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My Evolving Practice

As those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been a less frequent blogger over this past year and I’d like to try to explain why. After my knee surgery, I stopped doing yoga as I recovered. This was unexpected, as I often like to tell people that anyone can do yoga, no matter what the physical (or mental/emotional) limitations are. I still believe this to be true, but I now also see that it is a bit more complicated than that.

While my body weaned off pain medications (not a very long process), and then my physical body, along with the other 9 bodies, slowly recovered (a much longer process than I ever realized), I found that my yoga practice just did not fit into the current space my life was in. This did slowly change as I started to add a few poses to my day. But I still found that Kundalini yoga was still not a style I was interested in accessing.

After knee surgery, which may or may not be related, I began to process some emotions, and began a journey into my emotional state, through therapy that was intense and exhausting. While I still think Kundalini yoga can be a wonderful tool to process through emotions, for some reason it was not right for me at the time. I really needed a gentle approach to life. I continued a sporadic and almost luxurious hatha practice, in which I indulged my body in doing only the poses that felt right for it, without pushing myself. My knee was still healing, so many of the vigorous Kundalini poses, as well as many hatha poses still did not feel right, or I was incapable of doing them. I swan dove into sun salutations, and my practice mainly revolved around that, and the occasional silent meditation when I could muster it, for a long time.

I continued to take a break from teaching, because, since I am only certified in Kundalini, I felt I wasn’t qualified to teach the yoga I was practicing, and couldn’t honestly teach a yoga that I was not practicing.

This past month I decided to give Kundalini a try again. It was no coincidence that emotionally and spiritually I had finally come out of a place of turmoil and was now feeling strong again. I felt that I now had the space (and courage) in my life to begin to dabble back into Kundalini. I’ve been trying a few of my favorite kriyas, which are different for me now, with my new knee and less in-shape body, but also feel good in a new way. I have been especially drawn to the heart opening kriyas. I feel that New Lungs and Circulation is going to be an important one for me in the coming year. This vigorous (but not impossible) kriya works on opening the heart chakra, cleansing the lungs, and freeing up emotions, which seems to fit well with the space I’m in now.

letting go of shouldMy practice is a lot less rigid than it was before. I am only doing Kundalini probably every other morning, or less, and still indulge in those feel-good hatha sessions with some silent meditation on many mornings. Some mornings I don’t do yoga at all, but instead go for a run or a swim, or read or write.

This rhythm of practicing less yoga isn’t new, what is new (at least since I’d gotten more serious about my practice,post-yoga teacher training) is that I let my body dictate where my practice will take me. I listen to how I’m feeling that day, rather than to my mind telling me how I should be practicing. I do not feel guilt for not practicing enough, or not practicing in a specific way, or style, or certain routine.

This holds true for other aspects of my life as well. In other aspects of my life I feel like I am finally saying yes to what my heart and soul want to do, and no to how I think I should behave. It makes sense that my yoga practice is following suit.

In the coming months I will be taking an exciting new journey* that has nothing to do with yoga, but I’m sure that yoga will be a part of it. I have definitely learned through this last year (as I have discovered in other periods of my life as well) that yoga is always there for me. Even if I’m not physically practicing, I am still living the lessons I’ve learned on the mat, and my physical practice is always there quietly waiting for me, just as my mat quietly waits in its corner to be unfurled.

Yoga is not a part of who I am. It is a thing that I do. I think that is something I let go of this year. I had a lot wrapped up in the idea of myself as a yoga practitioner, yogi, yoga teacher. But yoga is not really a part of one’s identity. When I was able to drop that, I was able to drop the “shoulds” I had begun to insert into my practice and, with them, the guilt I felt if I wasn’t living up to what I thought I should be as a yoga practitioner or teacher.

Yoga is a tool that I use to support me in my soul’s journey through this life. I am not yoga. There is no practice I should be doing. There is only what I need to be doing.

As always,

In light and love,

Catie

*My husband and I have decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and continue on living in the Pacific Northwest upon finishing and see where it takes us!

DSCN2789 DSCN2824 Because I promised some wedding pictures too long ago, and because today is our six month anniversary!


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About the Difference between Pleasure & Satisfaction

Here is an idea that I’ve been batting around in my head for a few days and thought it would make an appropriate New Year’s post.

It occurred to me the other day during an act that should be very pleasurable but has lately been only satisfying, that there is a distinct difference between the two and that my life could use a little more of the former.

I have a lot of satisfaction in my life lately –I’m working on a lot of different projects, making progress on them, I have big to-do lists that I get done, accomplishments I continue to accrue –these things are all very satisfying to me, but are they pleasurable? Am I getting pleasure out of them? And, what is the difference?

I would say there is a big difference, yet it is a subtle one. It is a difference you probably can’t see on the outside, an internal one. Although maybe if you observed two people in the same activity you could tell which one is having a pleasurable experience and which one just a satisfying one.

The dictionary defines pleasure thus:

Plea-sure: n. 1. Feeling of being pleased; 2. Delight, joy; 3. Choice; wish

Although the third definition is a different meaning than what I am describing (as in “What is your pleasure?”), for me, I think it is key to the first two. You have a choice about it.

Satisfaction is defined as:

Sat-is-fac-tion: n. 1. Act of satisfying or state of being satisfied; 2. That which satisfies; 3. Opportunity to avenge a wrong or insult; 4. Payment of discharge as of an obligation

Let’s leave #3 out of it, but I like the use of obligation in #4. That gets at the difference I’m talking about.

Satsifaction is an act; pleasure is a feeling. Satisfaction is linked to obligation; pleasure is linked to choice, wish, even.

Obviously there are many cut and dry things in life that give pleasure and it’s great to add those things if they are missing –hanging out with friends, eating an extravagant meal, reading a really good book, making love. But what if you could add more pleasure to the everyday things in life? After all, we don’t live in ancient Greece; we do have responsibilities in our lives.

But I think this can be done. I think there can be a balance between pleasurefinding pleasure in the little things and satisfaction and I think you can have them both.

Take a simple task like watering houseplants. This is a chore I need to do, an obligation I have, since I decided I want to have houseplants. If not on my written to-do list, it is at least on my weekly mental list. I get satisfaction from checking off this task on the list. I have accomplished something that contributes to me having a nice home. But often there is no pleasure in this task. I get it done as quickly as possible and move on to something else before I’ve even given it a fully formed thought. Or maybe I’m even doing something else while watering them, like talking on the phone or watching TV.

I’ve completely overlooked the opportunity for pleasure in that task. I’ve missed noticing the new pink-purple blossom of the African violet, missed savoring the last coral-colored petals of the geranium’s flower, the new growth on the snake grass. I missed the simple opportunity to admire the lushness of green in my home, even if nothing had been new or changing.

And what is at the heart of the matter of pleasure? Of course, something I find myself writing about often here, as if I need a continual reminder in new forms that spark my consciousness in new ways –a slowing down, a conscious effort to be available for the present moment. A choice.

One must choose the present moment. For that is where the pleasure can be found, always accessed to you. But it’s the getting there, the remembering again and again, and then again to choose it.

So my New Year’s wish to you all is that you will remember to find the pleasure in life’s little moments, and then chose to follow them amongst (and not inspite of) the day’s obligations. This daily practice will get us through whatever challenges (and satisfactions) the new year may bring.

Here’s to a blessed and beautiful 2015!

In light and love,

Catie


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Yoga Book Review — Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, by Claire Dederer (2011), is a memoir of a mother and wife, but also of a yoga practitioner (she doesn’t like the term “yogi”), in which she weaves in threads of yogic wisdom she’s gleaned from her teachers over the years.

Yoga Book Review

She also scatters bits of the history of modern yoga throughout the book, yet it never gets bogged down by these facts. The book moves at a fast pace through her present life as a mother of two young children, and wife of a writer. She sprinkles bits of her own history in as well, and the book suddenly turns into an exploration into the modern woman and her ideas on marriage and family life. This was a happy surprise for me as a reader. Reading this book in the days leading up to my own wedding, I was giving a lot of thought to this topic.

Dederer, came to yoga, as many of us do, a skeptic, but looking for a cure for something. (For her, it was anxiety and tremulous nerves.) What she found was not that, yet so much more than that. Dederer offers us her experience of yoga, not from the perspective of a guru or teacher, but a humble practitioner, which creates a really refreshing and honest perspective. In her easy-going and humorous style, I found myself laughing with her, remembering some of my own thoughts and judgments while attending my first yoga class. She doesn’t pretend to be holier-than-thou, openly admitting to the things we all do in a yoga class –looking around to see what everyone else is doing, comparing ourselves, judging, longing, wanting.

These stories are all cleverly organized into chapters revolving around a specific yoga pose that further moves along the theme and/or narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether a yogi or not (in fact, maybe especially not). I love a good memoir that lets me peek into the intimate details of someone else’s life journey, while enticing me to probe into my own. This book does that for me.

I’d like to end with this lovely little nugget Dederer discovers while attempting wheel pose:

It was easy to think of yoga as a cure, a program, a teleology. You were going to end up somewhere really great if you just stuck with it. I often thought about what yoga would give me: yoga butt, open hamstrings, equilibrium, a calm mind, that mysterious yoga glow…The idea was, you got better, looser, stronger while you were at yoga, and then you exported that excellence to the rest of life…What if, as [Boulder yoga teacher Katharine] Seidel said, we just enjoyed the way our bodies and minds were when we were at yoga, and stopped freighting it with expectations? What if the whole point of yoga wasn’t getting ready for the future, but was instead finding whatever pleasure we could in the present?

What do you think? What is the purpose of yoga for you?

Sidenote: Some of you may have noticed my infrequency in posts as of late. I have to admit, my focus has been elsewhere lately. You can find some of my other projects at my other blog, Creating, Cate’s Way. And for the month of November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again, so you may not see much of me then either. But I hope to return to a more consistent posting schedule after the holidays. Hope you are all well. I have enjoyed hearing from some of you and about your own yoga journeys. Namaste.


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Iyengar Leaves This World for the Next

I don’t have a lot to say tonight, but I wanted to at least share something.

B. K. S. Iyengar passed on today.

In looking for a quote to share by Iyengar from one of his books, I came across this passage that I hadn’t remembered underlining in The Tree of Yoga that comforted me:

Death is unimportant to a yogi; he does not mind when he is going to die. What happens after death is immaterial to him. He is only concerned with life –with how he can use his life for the betterment of humanity. Having undergone various types of pain in his life and having acquired a certain mastery over pain, he develops compassion to help society and maintains himself in purity and holiness. The yogi has no interest beyond that.

Iyengar lived this. May we all strive to do the same.

B. K. S. Iyengar was a powerful bright light in the yoga community and will be missed. I, among millions of other Westerns, owe my yoga practice to him. I hope we, as a community, can continue to carry the light in his absence.

This is a lovely personal account by a yogi who happened to be blessed with right timing to attend his funeral rites

NY Times obituary

Namaste.

 

(P.S. This is a quick post tonight, but I will return soon with more. The wedding was wonderful and I am looking forward to share with you)

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