ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
Embrace Your Wobbles:
Wisdom From the Yoga Mat
Guest post by Priscilla Shumway
“Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” -Rolf Gates
In the New Year as we begin our practice again and again, we will face challenging poses. Along with these poses we may experience wobbles: those physical and mental challenges that are an unavoidable part of our yoga practice and life itself. Can we become aware of an ongoing inner dialogue of multiple voices, each offering an opinion on how we should proceed when we encounter these wobbles? Here is what you might hear:
“Hey, take it easy. You don’t have to prove anything. This is your practice. Take a break in child’s pose.”
“Oh, no. No breaks. Keep up the hard work. If you keep up these classes, you will build strength and not have these pesky shoulders and elbow problems.”
“Hey, slow down. Don’t hurt yourself. Is it your ego that is pushing you? Are you trying to keep up with the younger students to prove a point?”
“No, no! You always take easy classes. You know you have to build bone mass and muscle as you get older. These harder classes are good for you. The more down dogs and planks you do, the stronger you will get, and your shoulder problems will go away.”
“If I hurt myself I won’t want to come to class. I don’t have to work so hard. I can get just as much out of the gentle classes.”
All of us have multiple voices inside us. They are part of the ongoing narrative of the mind. Each voice expresses a specific opinion regarding how we should respond to a wobble (the challenge at the moment). Sylvia Boorstein, a teacher in the Buddhist tradition, suggests we name these voices. She refers to that first voice in my ongoing dialogue as the grandmother’s voice, the voice suggesting, “Take it easy. Don’t push. In fact, why not sit down and have a cup of tea!” Wisdom is understanding in every moment which voice to listen to and which to ignore. Our inner dialog often vacillates between taking the path of least resistance (the grandmother’s voice) versus the path that embraces the challenge. The issue of trying to discern which voice to listen to at any given moment is the lesson here.
How many voices do you hear when you experience a wobble? Which voice do you listen to, and which do you ignore?
Try to think of a wobble as a call to action, but there are usually multiple options for responding to any wobble. How do I decide which is appropriate for me at that moment, on that day?
From Thought to Action: Discerning Which Path to Take
In yoga, as in life, we are often faced with deciding which path or action to take from among several options that may vary in their degree of challenge. For example, which yoga class to take (easy versus hard) or the decision to use (or not use) external support during a challenging pose. According to Wikipedia, in physics, the path of least resistance is defined as the “physical pathway that provides the least resistance to forward motion by a given object or entity, among a set of alternative paths.” The path of least resistance represents the easiest course of action. It is the action requiring the least effort and resulting in the least upheaval, unpleasantness, or drama. According to numerous psychologists, humans are hardwired to take the easy route. More often, we choose to rely on experience and continue with what has worked for us before or what is most pleasant and less painful. Perhaps the love of gentle yoga classes reflects this hardwired impulse to take the easy route. While taking the path of least resistance may be our default inclination, it is crucial in life, both on and off the mat, to pause and consider if this is the right path.
Choosing the path of least resistance may determine how we deal with a friend with whom we disagree. By not challenging them and stating our truth to avoid unpleasantness, we may be taking the path of least resistance. Staying quiet instead of confronting an issue may be taking the path of least resistance. But it is only by facing our inner resistance, ignoring our grandmother’s voice, and engaging in a challenge that we grow and move forward. Wobbles exist more often on the path of greatest resistance.
“When you are challenged, you are asked to become more than you were. That means creating new perspectives, acquiring new skills, and pushing boundaries. In other words, you have to expand your understanding to be able to overcome the obstacles facing you.” (Thomas Oppong, author and columnist.)
And so, on the mat and off, when faced with life’s challenges and wobbles, it is vital that we pause and ask ourselves, which path should I take? Is this a time to take the path of least resistance or accept the more challenging path? Or is there a Middle Way?
Taking the Middle Way
Buddha describes the Middle Way as the path of moderation, the way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self- denial. Is there a Middle Way beyond the path of least resistance and the path of the most resistance? When faced with wobbles both on and off the yoga mat, can I find a Middle Way, neither avoiding all nor accepting all challenges? I believe I can.
Here are some Middle Way intentions to consider:
To experience wobbles in life both on and off the yoga mat is to realize we are still learning, still growing—and this is extremely important. Each day, each breath brings with it another opportunity to experience the gifts and wobbles of life!
Priscilla Shumway, M.Ed spent 25 years as a corporate trainer, travelling nationally and internationally. She has been a contributing author in 5 books on education and training and was the co-editor on Real Women, Real Leaders published by Wiley Publishing. A yoga student for over 18 years, she worked collaboratively with several others to reveal personal journeys both on and off the mat in the book Embrace Your Wobbles. https://www.embraceyourwobblesyoga.com
An interview with Beth Gibbs
By Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog
Nina: Beth, I’m so excited that you have a new book out! So I thought today we should let our readers know a little something about the book and why you decided to write it. For those who don’t know much about you, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your yoga background and experience?
Beth: My yoga journey began six months after the birth of my son. I was on maternity leave, and feeling overwhelmed by new mom responsibilities so I started looking for help in one of my favorite places, a brick and mortar bookstore.
I scoured the self-help sections, picked up a yoga book by the late Richard Hittleman, took it home and started to practice on my own in true introvert fashion until a friend encouraged me to try a group class. I did and was hooked. A few years later, I discovered Integrative Yoga Therapy. I liked the philosophy, signed up, took the training and began teaching. A few years later I was invited to join the faculty. Now I have over twenty years experience teaching and mentoring hundreds of yoga students, teachers and therapists-in-training from all over the world to implement the five-layer model of self-awareness (the koshas) in their professional work and personal practice.
Nina: What is the basic focus of this book and how did you choose the topic?
Beth: Enlighten Up! describes the five layers, which are:
The book discusses ways of working with them to gain 360 degrees of self-awareness. It’s written with humor, stories, tips and simple yoga practices, and the fact that Joseph
Le Page, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy, wrote the foreword is icing on the cake.
During the early years of my yoga training, my understanding of the koshas was superficial. I could talk about the model but it took months before I could embody it in my life and my teaching. I looked for books on the koshas but found only one by B. K. S. Iyengar. Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom is written in the traditional philosophy and terminology of yoga. I wanted a book that presented the koshas in a contemporary, practical format to share with my students so I decided to write one. My hope is that Enlighten Up! helps students in yoga training programs embody the model faster than I did.
The koshas are a useful tool enabling us to see both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of our reality; to see life as it is, not hidden behind a veil of wishful thinking or denial. When that happens we can consciously choose to make changes, remain unchanged with full awareness of the consequences or find acceptance and peace of mind if change is not possible.
Nina: Can you give us an example of how working with the koshas helped you and/or your students in real life?
Beth: After an emergency hysterectomy, I experienced chronic pain in my low back and right hip. When I explored my physical layer, I noticed that the pain tended to flare up when I was feeling stressed. I saw an integrative positional (and yoga) therapist who gave me one reason for the pain. He said my pelvis was chronically misaligned in three ways: it is rotated, one hip is functionally higher than the other and I have a deep lumbar curve. Next I saw an orthopedic specialist and got an additional diagnosis of spondylolisthesis. Now I knew why my hip and low back were handy targets for stress to manifest physically.
Then I wondered if there were second and third layer issues to deal with. There were. I was anxious, irritable stressed out, exhausted and unhappy with my job, my second marriage and the length of my self-imposed to-do lists.
I called on my fourth layer (intuitive wisdom, the witness) to trace my stress mess to its source and realized that stress, irritation and pain occurred in situations that left me feeling stuck, blocked, and trapped. Digging deeper I found fear, fear of being powerless to control what I found myself facing. That could be as simple as sitting in stalled traffic, or as complicated as navigating a difficult relationship.
Could I unearth an unhelpful thought, emotion or belief that was feeding the fear, sucking my energy and keeping me stuck, blocked and trapped? Yes, I could. I finally traced it back to a fear of calling attention to myself, embarrassing myself in public, being rude, or making a scene. I recognized that as a lamentable hangover from my good girl training as a Black woman raised to be a ‘credit to the race.’
That was a blissful wake-up call. Now that I understand the energetic connection between feeling stuck, my physical pain, and its emotional source, I make one of three conscious choices in any stressful situation. I change the situation, change myself, or leave.
Nina: What kind of audience were you writing for? Is having a background in yoga necessary to understand the book? Or can an absolute beginner benefit from this book as well?
Beth: This quote from Baxter Bell’s endorsement of the book answers that question. He wrote, “Whether you are new to yoga-based lifestyle ‘medicine” or a longtime practitioner, you will be engaged, entertained and, dare I say it, enlightened up!”
The publisher put his quote on the book’s front cover.
Nina: I understand that the book actually takes the reader on a nine-step journey. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Beth: Each of the nine steps provides a way to approach self-awareness, layer by layer:
Step 1. Physical: Body and Environment
Become aware. Learn to pay attention to your physical body and how it moves and feels. Pay attention to your personal environment. Do what you can to help the planet.
Step 2. Breath/Energy
Become aware of your breathing and your energy states
Steps 3 & 4. Mind/Emotions
Steps 5 & 6. Intuitive Wisdom – the Witness
Steps 7, 8 & 9. Bliss
Nina: What is the basic message you hope readers will take away from the book?
Beth: I love good quotes. Here’s one that sums up the core message of the book: “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play is your own will.” — Jawaharlal Nehru
Becoming truly self-aware at all levels is how you play your game of cards. It’s the foundation needed to build a balanced life and find clarity, contentment and resilience in this complicated world we all share.
Nina: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your book?
Beth: I’ll share this recent message from a colleague who is reviewing the book. She said: “I wanted to send you a progress report on reviewing your book. I had thought I would scan it quickly, for the gist and write something up. But truthfully, I have gotten slowed down by the need to read it thoroughly, and carefully, plus making some notes and thinking how I might pass some of this perspective, and wisdom on to my own students. In other words, it is too good, and useful, to do a quick read.”
Enlighten Up! is available at: https://www.bethgibbs.com/enlightenupbook.html. A link to the Big ‘A’ (Amazon) is there as well). Happy reading!
Read more posts on the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog here: http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.