Yoga Trails among the Trees

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Yoga grabs at me in mid run. I cut across a field, kick off my shoes, and stand in eagle pose for as long as I want. At first, I teeter when trying to focus on a leaf in the river. I blame the river for flowing. For moving. How can I become still in a posture if I can’t focus on an inert wall in a house or yoga studio? I focus on the tree, and the leaves rustle, so I topple over.
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Everything is moving, trembling under the surface, even if it holds a stagnant appearance. Tiny vibrations and changes are happening all the time. I plant my foot in the soil and feel the slight tremble. I don’t tell my foot to be still. I work with my body’s subtle, natural movements. My toes anchor to the soil, and I slightly, oh so slightly, waver constantly in the pose and breathe and forget I am moving and the river is flowing and the trees shake. I realize that there’s no way to stop the motion that’s constantly inside of living things, myself included. Sitting still most certainly feels bad to many people. Cells rattle.

I notice the turkey tracks in the dirt around me. The deer imprints her motion in the mud. She brings her babies, and I see the hoof prints all around me as I sun salutation and balance in half moon pose. I look up–the tree is growing and changing all the time, shifting, adjusting to the sun and soil and water. We only think the trees are still, but they aren’t. Life is moving in them, through them, not just around them, all the time.

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I began a new practice with old habits in order to free myself. Trail running has been part of my routine for almost seven years. Yoga has been in my life, on the side, since I was in eighth grade. I would pick it up enough to learn a little more each time and then toss it aside without complete devotion. I didn’t stick it out, but it has never gone away, and I know more than the basics to the practice and way of life. Until last year, there were days when my practice was only a sun salutation. Most days, I tried crow until I popped my nose on the floor. I learned new ways to stand in tree pose. I became brave with a headstand and handstands against a wall.

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Yoga and trail running give me glimpses of nature I would otherwise miss. Both of them allow me to enjoy movement and change. Not sticking with a specific program but truly flowing through my daily life offers the most creative freedom.

"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." --Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

Going into the forest, into nature, has been fun for my family, especially my children. I learn more about stretching, meditating, breathing, laughing, and being from the children, when I follow along with their natural play, which includes all of those things. They choose their own places in the forest that seem even more enchanted once we finish. We look for shapes in the trees, the shadows, the filtering sunlight, the riverbank, and we try to imitate those forms with our yoga poses. My husband takes our photos on the trails he clears. Sometimes, the results are beautiful.

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Other times, we simply have fun and fall over and laugh and enjoy being together.

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Our changes opened a new way–like the trails we have been blazing this summer.

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Some days, I see the turkey stretch and know it’s time for me to bend and flex. In the afternoons, the young deer race one another out of the trail heads and sprint across the fields. We share.

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I go out every day to imprint the paths and pack down the new ones. At first, my line was soft and barely noticeable, but my daily devotion to the trails and my practice reveals the deep meaning of my intention. One step at a time. Back in the spring, my oldest daughter took the first steps by planting some seeds about a young adult book centered on nature and yoga. I’ll be sharing more details with you soon about the new projects evolving out of our new practice.

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In my observations, the turkey have taught me a lot about yoga, too:

"Why they always make serious face in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile." --Ketut Liyer, Balinese healer from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Smiling when I practice close to the wild turkeys in my backyard--they stretch & sun salutation too.

“Why they always make serious face in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile.” –Ketut Liyer, Balinese healer from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Smiling when I practice close to the wild turkeys in my backyard–they stretch & sun salutation too.

Reverse warrior

Reverse warrior

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A Child’s Joy for Skates, Pizza, & Cookies: Part 3 to What is Service? What is Generosity?

image“Roller skate! Wheeee!” Words I hear often. Day 6, I decided to implement an initial phase for several projects because many require planning and coordinating with other organizations and people. Zo cleaned out her clothes and toys, making donation piles. We went to the mall and picked out an angel from the tree. Zo chose a girl her age who wanted roller skates.

We began shopping for the roller skater’s clothes, and Zo needed pants since she had outgrown all of them. (Already, I noticed the timing was working out in magical ways.) In the first store, a woman asked if Zo liked a pair of pants and explained that she, too, was shopping for her angel and the girl wore the same size. Zo shriveled her nose at the pants the woman had chosen. “Good thing I asked you,” she laughed. I wasn’t satisfied with the store and suggested another to Zo. We continued to shop and bumped into the woman again along the way, and Zo helped her choose a couple of shirts for her angel. We said goodbye again, and decided to finish some Christmas shopping. After a round of receipts with survey offers, we circled back to finish at the same store and met the same woman as she tried on a jacket–“finished shopping for my angel and decided to give myself a little gift, too,” she said. We laughed. “Merry Christmas,” I told her, waving goodbye in disbelief that I had enjoyed the shopping experience (usually, one of my least favorite things, & I didn’t have anxiety, or feel like I needed to run out of there–it was a holiday miracle!). Imagining the roller skater in her new kicks was the perfect motivation.
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“Let’s go already!” Day 7, Zo woke up and asked if we were still going to serve food that evening. She asked all day. She made us crazy until we threatened not to go. (Wait, we realized that punishment wouldn’t work if we wanted to encourage generosity.) On the way to serve food to the homeless at a local church, the trees were heavy with ice and sparkled in just the right light. The sky was becoming grayer and it absorbed the outline of the ice. Photos were difficult to take. Zo tried to take them in the car–blurry trees, pavement in motion, reflections of her frustrated face on the window.

I was concerned about the forecasts for an ice storm, another round, that evening and early morning. I coached myself to find joy. Find inner joy and, without being shrill, emit that with soft, helpful energy.
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Making up beds at the church, Zo and I took one room of small, wooden-framed, twin beds, low to the ground. A group of teens made up beds in an adjoining room. As we spread on clean, white sheets, pillowcases, and comforters, I thought about blessing the future sleepers with good dreams, safety, and warmth. On a cold night such as that, (or, any night) I wouldn’t want to consider sleeping on the street, under a bridge, on a bench, slumped against a tree, in an abandoned home or car. Zo placed care packages of body care products on each of the beds. Though it didn’t turn out to be much of an ice storm, it was cold enough to keep the trees frozen in a slick bubble layer, & that’s too cold to lie down outside to rest.

In the kitchen, preparing meals, talking to Boy Scouts, packing lunches, frying okra, moving out of the way, saying thank you, laughing, bowing my head, eating with everyone–all of it contained a lighthearted ease. The people serving food emitted it–kindness–all of them, and that will make anyone joyful. Their bowls overflowed with homemade foods they had prepared to share.
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My Dad and I stood by the ovens and heated slices of carry-out pizza. We didn’t think much about the pizza since there was so much local food prepared in family kitchens and delivered while still hot. We placed the pizza in the boxes and covered them with foil, then a woman wheeled them to the end of the line. The pizza was an afterthought, and my Dad even wondered aloud, why the pizza? The homeless men arrived from Nashville. The Boy Scouts, Zo, and other people served all the homemade foods and filled the plates, but the men saved space for or placed the pizza on top. They commented on the pizza more than anything else. Several asked if they could return for seconds. It caused me to realize the value of carry-out pizza to someone living on the street. When these men are served in shelters and church kitchens, I’m sure it’s often homestyle foods. The pizza is different– the buttery garlic bread-tomato-pepperoni-onion-sausage-oregano scent drifting along every corner, down almost every city block, and you need $5 or $10 to get one.
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I love pizza–barbecue chicken is my favorite.

Days 8 & 9, when plans aren’t what you’d expect, the point is that you tried. This was the lesson Zo was getting on Sunday, when the “ice storm” changed our original plans. We decided to deliver our wrapped gifts to the mall for the roller skater angel. When the office doors were locked, Zo said, “Great,” sarcastically, “change of plans again. I guess she won’t get her presents.”
I encouraged her to visit other stores with me, and we found a security guard who let us in the office to drop off the gift.
“Kind of surprised that worked out after a day like today,” she said.
“That’s a little negative, considering…” I looked at her.
“I know, I get it. I have more than that girl,” she said.
“Wow. I was going to say, considering we got our Christmas tree today.”
“Oh yeah, that, too,” she said smiling.

Another childhood joy–cookies! Day 9, she tried. She baked chocolate chip cookies for our neighbor who is elderly and recently had surgery. Zo bundled up in her coat and ran to deliver them. I watched and shivered in the cold. When our neighbor never opened the door, Zo shouted, “Can I leave them on the porch?”
“Too cold. They’ll freeze. Maybe she’ll be there tomorrow.” I waved her back over to our house.
“At least I tried,” she declared when she came inside.
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Learning to Give: What is Service? What is Generosity?

My seven-year old daughter asked me about “service.” What does it mean “to serve others,” “to be generous,” as in helping others and giving back… I told her these types of definitions, but she still didn’t fully understand, even when I provided examples from our life. I decided to use the month of December to teach her about service by showing her examples myself and allowing her to help when she can. Each day, she learns about another type of giving and/or service. In some instances, she can contribute or participate, while for others, she can only learn about it (like serving food at a shelter since she isn’t old enough to participate).

That first day, I had already put a couple dollars from my pocket in the Salvation Army bucket, so I allowed it to “count” as Day 1, even if that meant Zoe only learned the concept and began applying it the next day (on Day 2, she put money in the bucket for herself).

For Day 2, I chose something simple. I was already making purchases for my nephews on CyberMonday. Zoe helped me choose their gifts and we added a small donation to Marine Toys for Tots. We talked about that organization and what they do for children. Her observation about Day 2: “Donating money is easy if you have some to donate.” We talked about other ways to help others, like donating your time and/or skills or talents.

For Day 3, Zoe wrapped presents for children and took them to her school, where teachers and school officials put together care packages of food and toys for local families in need. She enjoyed wrapping the presents, and they were a mess! of wrapping paper, but we got them wrapped without the gifts peeking through the paper.

This type of giving started a discussion about gender-defined toys. The school asked us to label the toys for boys or girls and list an appropriate age. We were going to label the volcano-making kit and science toys as boy’s—Ah! in a flash, we realized what we started to do. This was a perfect mistake to use as a way to talk about gender-defining conformities and assumptions. “Yeah, ’cause Lava Girl would want that volcano-making kit.” We circled both girl or boy, so the teahers can decide which child, girl or boy, would enjoy it the most. We did the same for most of the gifts she donated.

On the way to school, Zoe said, “I can donate some of my stuff I don’t want anymore.” I explained my plan to do exactly that for some other organizations that take used items and resell them or give them away. She already makes Goodwill and AMVETS donations with us sometimes, so she understood. I was relieved to know that she was already thinking of more ways to give.

One of our conversations was about giving a lot versus giving a little. On Day 2, Zoe asked why I didn’t give more money to Toys for Tots. I explained that some people do choose an organization and donate a lot of money and/or time to that one organization. And, by a lot of money or time, I explained to her that I mean “a lot” in reference to what they have to give, not what other people define as “a lot”. It’s not a comparison or competition. I choose to give a little here and a little there. I spread out my giving, especially right now, as I want her to see the different ways to give and the variety of organizations and opportunities that are out there to help others.

I’ll update my blog throughout this month with the ways we give and/or serve others, the observations we make about ourselves and others, and the organizations and people who inspire us with their generosity.