Ageless In the New Year

The above photo is of Tao Porchon-Lynch when she was 97 years old. She was 101 at the time of her death this past February, taught classes into her 100s, and held the Guinness world record as the world’s oldest yoga teacher.

She loved ballroom dancing, wine and high heels, saying the high heels brought her to nature’s most elevated places like Machu Picchu. She is an inspiration even if you don’t have a yoga practice, because her zest for life never wavered.

My birthday is here and I love that it coincides with the new year, a time when new intentions are often set. “Be like Tao” might be my mantra for the next year. I have never been a numbers person and once I hit my 50’s I began to lose track of how old I actually am. You could blame it on forgetfulness, but I prefer to think that I have stopped attaching a number to my chronological age. In my opinion, numbers set limits. Why do I now have to be defined by my age?

Part of this thought transformation started a few years ago after reading “Goddesses Never Age” by Christiane Northrup, M.D. She coined the phrase “Ageless Goddess” and her book is full of ideas of how to more fully embrace wherever you are in your stage of life. She asks the question, “Who would you be if age weren’t a factor? Support your well-being through habits that nourish and delight you instead of habits rooted in old defense mechanisms or shame. Addictions, avoidance behaviors, and people pleasing are common behaviors that become habit for too many women who are afraid of or uncomfortable with the regular expression of difficult emotions. We can push feelings like grief, resentment, shame, and rage back so far into our subconscious that we have no idea what we are holding on to. And these emotions secrete inflammatory chemicals into our bloodstream day in and day out, which causes aging. For a goddess to enjoy vibrant health, she has to learn how to grieve and rage without apology and then commit to experiencing more exalted emotions and experiences. That’s how these old, stale, and destructive energies can be released. And that is how we remain ageless, which is our birthright,”says Northrup.

In yoga there is a term called Prana, which represents your life force energy. Healthy eating habits, yoga, exercise, positive thinking, pranayama (yogic breath practices), sleep and meditation all stoke the fires of Prana. This life force energy then becomes a type of shield to help you deal with whatever comes in a healthy way.. “Whatever you put in your mind materializes. Within yourself, there’s an energy, but unless you use it, it dissipates. And that’s when you get old,” says Porchon-Lynch.

So as I reflect on 2020, and look forward to 2021, I set my intentions with these ideas in mind. This past year has taught us all so much. For me, I learned what I truly need to be happy. The desire for material items has been released. I now know that my joy comes from my family, my friends and life’s simple pleasures. In the new year, I want to be fully aware and embrace each moment. I want to remain open to what comes my way and feel that I can say yes to new adventures. I plan to use my full yoga tool box to stoke the fires of Prana to help me live life to its fullest.

“I don’t believe in age,” says Portion-Lynch. “When people ask me about age, I tell them to look at all the trees around them. They’re hundreds of years old. They may look as if they’re dying at the moment, but they’re not; They’re recycling themselves. And in a couple of months, they’re going to be reborn again.”

Auspicious New Year to each of you. Thank you for the support of this blog and my zoom classes through this past year. I am truly grateful that you supported this step out of my comfort zone. It is my hope that 2021 feels lighter and happier for all of us.

"And now let us believe in
a long year that is given to us,
new, untouched, full
of things that have never been."
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Speed

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My dear friend Jen sent me the perfect text the other day. “This has been the weirdest longest shortest year ever.” It’s hard to believe it’s now December, nine months since everything came to a grinding halt. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we were trying to figure out what this virus would mean to all of us. And in other ways, it feels like years ago. Time has actually gone by just as it always has, but it has felt different this year.

Prior to the pandemic we were a society moving at breakneck speed. Our devices are made to work quickly and efficiently so that information, goods and services, and communications are all at our fingertips. That in turn helps our lives do the same. Then we were forced to slow down. For many of us that has been a difficult thing. Moving quickly can be a way of not allowing ourselves time to dig too deep into what is going on around us.

Being forced to slow down can actually be a great gift. I found a quote relating to this by Pico Iyer in Tias Little’s book “The Practice is the Path,” and I think it resonates with that idea.

“In an age of speed…nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

Tias’ book has a whole chapter devoted to how speed gets trapped in the body. Our bodies have become addicted to the adrenaline rush of speed. According to Tias, “Speed gets trapped in the diaphragm, fascia, gut, arteries, and nerves.” This speed trap results in exhaustion, lack of concentration, high blood pressure, restlessness and lack of awareness. Tias says: “How do we take our foot off the accelerator? It begins in the body by slowing the heart rate, reducing the sympathetic drive (responsible for the flight-or-flight response), slowing the breath, lowering blood pressure, and sleeping longer and deeper. On the mat, we learn to break out of the “habit body” that is compelled by urgency and motivated by acquisition. We must learn the art of being through ease, stillness, and silence. In yoga this is called satchitananda – the joy of just being.”

It is my hope that, as the winter Solstice approaches and the days slowly become longer, we learn from slowing down. That we notice the passing of an hour, a day, or a week. And feel satchitananda.

Gifts

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‘Tis the season to be thinking of gifts for those we love. And along with everything else this year, Christmas has a different vibe and we may not get to be with those we love. I have been struggling myself with the idea of meaningful gifts for those I love and ways to spark some holiday cheer. Here are a couple of ideas I came up with:

The gift of a meaningful compliment Do you recall how it feels when someone gives you a compliment that really hits home in your heart? It’s one of the best feelings there is. For many years, I struggled to really hear and take in what people were saying when they paid me a compliment. I did not have the self worth to acknowledge my gifts. Now, I take them in and really feel them. I was given one this week by a dear friend and it brought me to tears at how heartfelt it was. Sincere compliments are the best free gifts there are!

The unexpected gift Is there someone you know that is typically not on your gift list? Why not surprise them with an unexpected gift. My neighbor just recently surprised us with a beautiful cheese board in the shape of a lotus flower. She saw it, thought of me, and it made my day. It’s amazing how it great it feels to receive an unexpected gift.

The pay it forward gift I love the surprise on people’s faces when their coffee or groceries get paid for by the person ahead of them in line. I just saw this week that the longest “pay it forward” chain started on Dec. 3 at a Dairy Queen in Brainerd, MN and lasted 3 full days. The 900 vehicle chain resulted in $10,000 in sales. I sure wouldn’t want to be the person that broke that chain! While we may not be out in public as often these days, the need is real out there. And what a great way to spread some holiday cheer.

Desmond Tutu puts is beautifully in The Book of Joy. “So… our book says that it is in the giving that we receive. So I would hope that people would recognize in themselves that it is when we are closed in on ourselves that we tend to be miserable. It is when we grow in a self-forgetfulness-in a remarkable way I mean we discover that we are filled with joy. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more and more joyful.”

Gratitude

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Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.
~Rumi

I like Rumi’s ancient wisdom. Because for me, Thanksgiving feels much different this year. It’s harder to find things to be grateful for, and might take more of a conscious effort. It may take looking around and noticing even the most basic of things to begin to cultivate that appreciation. Or it might require wrapping yourself in a favorite blanket, holding a favorite mug, or cuddling with a beloved pet to connect to the idea of comfort. Comfort can often become the gateway to the feeling of gratitude.

So, here are some things I am able to feel grateful for once I have donned my gratitude cloak. My family, which has increased by one this year with a new son-in-law. Friends nearby, and those far away that we are connected to via Zoom. My health and the health of those mentioned above. This blog which has been a wonderful outlet for my thoughts throughout this time. My followers and students whose support nourishes me more than they can possibly know.

I hope whatever your circumstances are this Thanksgiving that you can wrap up in your gratitude cloak and be conscious of some of the treasures that surround you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."  
~Thornton Wilder

Let’s Widen Our Circle

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“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein

This quote is from “Words to Live By, Short Readings of Daily Wisdom” by Eknath Easwaran. The quote feels perfect for the time we find ourselves in. After so much divisiveness in our country, it’s my hope that there can now be healing and understanding. If we can get out of the “optical delusion” of social media maybe we can start dialogues that can widen our circle of compassion.

Stand in your truth

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I had the good fortune recently to spend time with my beloved mother-in-law, Libby. Time with her feeds my soul in a very special way, and she is the impetus for this blog. She said, “Amy, we need people to stand in their truth right now.”

I began reflecting on this after I left her. After arriving home I came across some notes from an online seminar with Judith Lasater and her daughter Lizzie called “Taking Refuge- Finding Peace in the Time of the Virus.” During this talk, the word “overwhelmed” was discussed. We all know the meaning of the word and many of us are feeling that way right now. Judith describes it as being pulled in many directions at once. But, says Judith, it also means disconnecting from ones true self.

My “self” is my highest form of refuge. In this context, refuge is not a location but a connection to your essence, your higher power, or however you define your “inner most knowing.” Refuge is not moving away from what’s happening around you, rather it is running towards what is happening with your own sense of truth. When in doubt, be in your truth and tell the truth as you know it.

What if you aren’t sure what your “truth” is? I suggest taking time for self reflection. Move away from outside stimulus and be quiet. Meditate even if only for 5-10 minutes Take time to not only observe your mind, but love your mind. A dear student sent me this reading recently that speaks to this beautifully:

As She Is
"In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that...
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better, pushing right back. 
 ~Albert Camus

Happy Monday

I’m heading into Monday feeling tall and strong. Let’s practice yoga together. Join me for my public zoom class through Prairie Yoga at 5:00pm CST on Tuesdays. Or reach out to me to set up your own private zoom class. Who do you wish you could practice with? I teach moms and daughters and lifelong friends from all around the country. We can set up your own yoga party! My email is amyluwho2@att.net or https://prairieyoga.org

Wait for the mud to settle

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"Do you have the patience to wait
until your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
until the right action arises by itself?"     Lao Tzu



I like the concept in meditation that when we first sit to meditate our minds are like a jar, filled with water and mud, that has been shaken. As we settle in and become quiet, the sediment starts to sink to the bottom of the jar and the water becomes clear. The constant stream of thoughts that normally bombard us begin to slow their assault, and there begins to be a bit of space between those thoughts. Yoking the mind to focus on breath or mantra allows even more sediment to settle.  

Right now it feels as if the cosmic jar has been shaken, and there is significant mud to wade through. Each day it feels like there is another tragedy or event to try to take in and understand. Lao Tau's suggests that in times like these, we do our best to remain patient. Take in the events and feel all that is going on around us, but then wait before reacting. Step away from all media.  Go outside, unplug and be in nature. Sit and just be, and wait for your own mud to settle.  Start with trying this for just five minutes. Let your mind's eye watch the movement of your breath and be still. See if the thoughts begin to slow down.

 I believe the world would be a kinder, more thoughtful place if everyone would spend a few moments a day in meditation.  The mud is always going to be there.  It's up to us how we choose to react to it. 
 
In the words of one of my favorite teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater: 
"May you be like the lotus, at home in the muddy waters."