300 More Hours of Yoga Training, Part One

A year ago, I completed my RYT®200 training, which officially made me a yoga teacher. It’s been an interesting year – I’ve been surprised by how easily a “career as a yoga teacher” materialized, allowing me to do super cool things like pay my half of the mortgage, and keep gas in my car. Yay, monies!
I experienced a very short period of overwhelm, shortly after I started teaching last year. Fortunately it didn’t last long, and for the most part, I really enjoy what I do. Sometimes I work seven days a week, but that may entail only several hours of work some days. As a habitual desk hamster, it’s been a challenge to adapt to such a fluid schedule after so many years of 8-5, 5-day work weeks. But, I’m learning to make it work by taking long lunches involving cappuccinos and an episodes of Longmire on Netflix.

This year, I have an amazing opportunity to attend Everyone Yoga School’s 300 Hour Teacher Training. When I have completed it, in a year, I will be an RYT®500 teacher. Whoa!
I am doing work/trade for part of my tuition fees. I have the honor of doing the copywriting for EYS. Right now I’m working on revising their web site copy, and I am writing their blog. The latest post, which you can read HERE, went up this week. It got me thinking.
The blog post discusses some of the “Whys” behind signing up for the 300 hour training. They are all good reasons (because I wrote them, duh), but I realized that none of them are my own personal Why. Mine requires its own blog post. So, here’s my Why.

Practicing and teaching yoga are a huge part of my life – there is no denying the billions of ways they’ve positively impacted my life. But I would not necessarily say that teaching yoga is my main purpose in life, nor is it my huge burning desire/life passion. I don’t eat, breathe, and sleep yoga (well actually I do end up teaching yoga in my sleep, after particularly long days). OMG, does that make me a bad yoga instructor to admit that?? No, it makes me human.
Yoga has helped me listen better. I’m better at listening to my own body, and I’m better at listening to my own thoughts. Studying the teachings of Abraham Hicks has also helped immensely. And I’ve come to realize and accept and admit and say out loud that my main passion in life is not yoga, it is to write.
More specifically, my desire is to connect thoughts in interesting ways – looking at things, understanding, processing, relating, expressing. Writing all of it down is the easiest way for me to get it all together.
I can’t help but feel/know/think that there is a connection between my writing, and practicing and teaching yoga. To be able to deepen one’s knowledge, even if it’s just knowledge of one’s own experience, leads to fuller expression. So as I begin another 300 hours of study, I know this will make me a better writer.
Part of the 300 hour training is a “final project.” For mine, I have received permission to blog about my training over the next year, documenting my experiences and how I am incorporating them into my life. So this is the first one in that series. I’m so happy to be writing for my yoga training.

Every path we are led to, each person we are attracted to, each choice that we make, connects to everything else. And it all comes together to create our experience. Here’s to the next chapter.

photo i took during the 200 hour training, 2016

Fiction: Three Lovers

Three Lovers

I have had many lovers throughout my life. At times, I was too self-absorbed to understand them well, and the ending of these affairs left me feeling bad. Other times, my lovers did not understand me, resulting in the same things: sadness, bitterness, anger, regret. I am happy to say, this no longer happens. Now I have it figured out.
Now I have three lovers.

My first lover experiences the world through his sense of touch. If he can’t touch it, it doesn’t exist. What exists is only what he takes in through his hands. He takes things apart to build them back up again. With little use for things like feelings, and little patience for emotions, everything comes down to how something feels when he touches it.
When we lay together, he runs his hand along the length of my body, feeling the curves, slowing down to notice the change from bone to muscle under the surface of my skin. He holds me, feeling the warmth of my body alongside his, the angle of my jaw, the lines of my shoulders. He says nothing. I feel his body on mine, I revel in the heat and the sensation of his hands moving across my bare skin. It is a sensual world, we are sensual beings.

My second lover lives in a world of words and sound. His prose flows like poetry, set to music that plays in time with the beating of his heart. He makes sense of what he experiences by speaking it, singing it, playing it. What he feels, he translates into vibration, thought, words, notes. He reads voraciously, ravenously, devouring thoughts and stories, with each new word the universe expands.
In the silent darkness of a moonless night, he comes to my bed, his breath warm in my ear, speaking in low tones of love and desire. He wants to know what I’m feeling, he wants to know what’s in my head and my heart. He lays by my side, talking slowly and quietly, the curls falling from his forehead tickle my neck. His melody is sweet, with each note I am softened. He has sung his way into my heart.

My third lover sees life as story. He sees stories everywhere he looks. He tells me, with a combination of passion and wistfulness in his voice, that stories find him, wanting to be told. He sees meaning in actions, as well as the pauses in between them. The unspoken sometimes says more than what is said. Every story in the world can be told this way, he tells me softly.
He takes me on a trip, to a house overlooking the grey stormy sea, and lays me down on a feather bed, his body behind me, holding me up, protecting me. We gaze out the window at the world he has created. He says he wants me to see the story he has written, can I see it just there, on the horizon? He asks. Yes, I can see it, beyond the rocks and breaking waves, that sunny patch of blue. I lean back and let the plot unfold.

Original fiction copyright 2017, Andrea C. Neil


Balancing For Beginners

I love yoga balancing poses. Not the arm balancing stuff like handstands or arm balances – I’ll leave those to people whose elbows actually straighten, and who can support the weight of their body with the help of their bones (it’s true, I can’t straighten my elbows but somehow still manage to be a functioning human).
I’m talking about standing balancing poses.
Vriksasana (tree pose), Ardha Chandrasana (half moon), Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (hand-to-big-toe pose) – these are some of my favorites.

We don’t use our balancing skills much in everyday life, save for reaching up to the top shelf for the chips and coming off one leg in the process. Or maybe if you’re really feeling sassy, you put on your socks while standing up. But other than that, we sit, stand, walk or run…
When was the last time you took 5 breaths standing on one foot?

Many of the people I teach are new to the practice of yoga. Their feet and legs hurt when doing standing poses, as they begin to engage muscles they didn’t know they had. Their shoulders are tight and scrunched up around their ears. And when we start balancing poses… invariably I hear sighs of frustration and wobbly feet hitting the floor.
Because when we don’t practice balancing – it’s hard.

As a yoga teacher, I facilitate classes for students, creating a space for them to experience their own practice. It’s my job to watch, and to adapt the poses and cuing to fit what I’m seeing. I rarely practice yoga with them, because I am watching and helping. But when it comes to balancing poses, all that often flies right out the window, and I get on my mat, and play along with everyone else, because I love them so much. Please don’t tell the yoga police.

Sometimes, I’ll put as many as four to six balancing poses together in a row, moving from one to the other without a break in between. I could stay in balancing poses all day. Sometimes when I’m in tree pose, I completely zone out, coming into a state of bliss, and I actually forget how long we’ve been standing there.

I’ve known for a while that I’m in love with balancing poses, but until recently I couldn’t articulate why, except for the idea that they keep me in the present moment. But in the last few weeks, I’ve finally found the understanding and the words as to why this type of practice floats my boat so much.
You guessed it: they’re a perfect metaphor for how I live my life.

In my view, the process of learning to balance can be done by following a simple process. In class, we go over the following steps and use them as guidance. Some parts are written in “yoga teacher-ese” but hey, phrases like “root to rise” aren’t just trite sayings, they’re TRUTH.
I’ll let you fill in the metaphorical bits, because I know you are good at that.

Step 1: Listen to the feels
Stand tall. Can you stand straight, bringing the earth’s energy up through your body, while still feeling relaxed? Notice what you are feeling, and where. Close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground. As an experiment, slowly begin to take yourself off balance – moving from side to side, front to back. Can you identify what muscles engage and compensate for your movement?
I get lots of different answers when I ask what muscles people feel as they move. Your muscles are accustomed to keeping you upright. But if you take yourself off center, they don’t have as much practice at this. They aren’t as strong. You will feel them more.

Step 2: Find your center
Stand on the ground, feet a little narrower than your hips. Your knees are soft – not bent, just soft. Your hips are aligned, your spine is long, shoulders are back and down, the palms of your hands face forward. Notice your feet on the mat, notice how the mat feels under all 10 toes. Balance your weight so it’s distributed evenly between both legs. Feel the strength of your core.
How often do you simply stand up tall, in stillness? How long can you do it before you get fidgety or your mind wanders from the present moment? This in itself is a great exercise. Hint: you may want to master it before moving on to balancing poses…

Step 3: Take off
From your place of strength and centeredness, take off. Fix your gaze, try tree pose. Stand tall, add some branches to your tree. How long can you balance? Can you move from tree pose into another balancing pose?
Yoga is the ultimate multi-tasking discipline. Whoever said “multitasking doesn’t exist,” never tried yoga. Can you remember to stand tall, keep your gaze soft, keep your hip open, breathe – and still stand tall – and stay in tree pose? And where are your thoughts? As soon as your mind wanders, guess what happens…

Step 4: Fall out
Your tree pose looks beautiful! Let’s try a twist. Or a backbend. How about hand to big toe? Warrior 3? And balancing pigeon? How about all of them in succession, one after another, without a break?
Keep playing. You will fall out. It’s OK. It’s fun! And look how strong you are becoming! The muscles in your feet are getting better at keeping you balanced. Your hips are stronger, keeping your balancing leg steady. Your core is rock solid.

Step 5: Do it again
If you fall out of a balancing pose, take the time to find your center, before beginning again. Bring both feet to the ground, find your center, then take off. Play. Fall. Repeat.
So many people try to hop right back into a balancing pose when they fall out. They don’t take the time to stop, recenter, and restrengthen, before they begin again.

If you don’t have a strong foundation before beginning again, if you aren’t truly centered, how will you ever have the strength to take off and fly?

And no, I’m not really talking about yoga anymore.


The Yoga of Experience – Beautiful Flowers

Coming up in a few days, it will be the sixth anniversary of the death of my mother. Without getting into it too much, I’ll just say that it was a tough, tough time, those thirteen months in 2010 – 2011.

Some days I find myself dwelling on it, those thirteen weeks between her diagnosis of metastasized stage 4 lung cancer (she never smoked) and her transition. But those days are much fewer, and much farther between. And when the memories do appear, it gets easier to gently give them a little hug and a pat on the head and send them on their way, down memory lane, where they belong.

Some days I find myself wondering though, if I did a good enough “job.” Did I make the right decisions regarding pain medications, did I cause her any unnecessary suffering? Everyone kept looking at me to make decisions that I could only use intuition to make. Was I right?

As I learn more about the teachings of Abraham Hicks, I understand more fully the meaning of the word “resistance.” And I think of my mother’s passing in terms of resistance. She was so resistant to making her transition. She held on, much longer than she should have. But I myself had a huge amount of resistance – resistance to her impending “death,” and resistance to having to make decisions that I didn’t feel qualified to make, and having to see things that I was definitely not courageous enough to witness without becoming unhinged on some level.

So did I add to her resistance, did I make her experience more difficult by being so resistant myself?

I may never know the answers to these questions.

Except that’s not true.

I know the answers to all these questions. It’s the same answer for every question I could think of asking about that experience. The answer is “it doesn’t matter now.”

I did the best I could, and so did she. And it’s all OK now.

I still miss my mom, in the way we typically think of when we say we miss someone. I miss hearing her voice on the phone, or meeting her for coffee. I miss her telling me what the weather forecast is. I miss looking at her beautiful hands, and I miss her girlish laugh. But I miss those things less and less, to be honest. Because she is with me more now than she ever was when she was alive. And she’s damn funnier now, too.

I notice her around me a lot – usually when I’m not looking for her. This morning, I was driving to the yoga studio and I was slowing down at a stop sign on the road outside our neighborhood. Each corner is an empty lot, filled with trees and tall grass. I noticed a small bunch of beautiful yellow daffodils growing under a big old tree. And immediately I knew, there she was. She was the flowers. She is all around me – in the leaves of the trees, on the breeze. She is the rabbit that basks in the sun in my back yard. She is the sunshine.

We are all connected; what happens to me, happens to you. Where I go, you go. Everything we do affects the whole, and becomes part of our collective consciousness. She is wherever I am.

It used to bother me to think that my mom was everywhere, because I didn’t want her in my business anymore, and I wanted the experience of being completely independent. I no longer wanted her judgement. But the more I become comfortable living my own life, the more I am able to let her come back around, and the more I enjoy her presence, and know that she is always loving me, never judging, never sad, never resisting.

Sometimes, when I’m least expecting it, I catch her looking back at me from the mirror. It makes me incredibly happy. I sometimes tear up a bit, but I always smile. Because I know she is OK. And so am I.

walden pond, where we scattered my mom’s ashes 3/13/12 (one year anniversary).

The Yoga of Experience – I Just Lost My Good Excuse

I often come up with snippets of ideas for stories. I’m not exactly sure how to categorize these stories though. I guess they are children’s stories? I mean, the protagonists are often mice or cats or other small furry creatures (with the occasional bird or turtle thrown in the mix). The plots are fairly straightforward. So maybe the best way to describe them might be “stories for children of all ages.” Yes, that sounds about right.

Usually, these stories write themselves. I start out with a little bit of an idea, and I sit down and write. And the story writes itself. When this happens, I know I’m onto something – that the story comes from somewhere else besides my brain. They are mine, but it’s like I’ve “written” them somewhere else and it’s just a matter of tuning in and downloading them through my fingertips and into my computer.

When a story is jagged or somehow irking me as I write it, or if I feel frustrated, I know that its time hasn’t quite come yet. I back off, leave it alone and try again another day until it’s ready to show up. It’s a really satisfying process. Sometimes when I go back and read the finished product, I’m surprised. In a good way.

Many times after I’ve written a story, I think, oh now this needs some illustrations! Yes, wouldn’t this be so much cuter or more fun or whatever if there were some cute little sketches that accompanied this story!

A few times I’ve tried to illustrate my own story (in 2014 and 2015 I released Christmas books that were stories accompanied by little sketches I drew), but usually when I try to do something “artsy” I get really frustrated and everything comes out looking like a potato with a bad hairpiece. It doesn’t work. Maybe I’m too critical of my own art. But whatever. I CAN’T DO IT. Nor do I want to, because it’s not my thing.

But I so often wish I had illustrations to go with my supacute stories. So a few times I’ve asked friends who are amazing artists (because I know a lot of them!) if they would be interested in illustrating one of my stories, they are all very nice and usually say yes. Hooray! Except.

Except they are very busy people and don’t have time to work on a small project like mine.

I don’t blame them at all! I get it. I really do. But I am still sad because my stories go un-illustrated. They are naked little stories.

After a while, I started saying this to myself: “I can’t find an illustrator to make my stories come to life so why bother writing any?”

And so I stopped writing stories. No more tales (or tails?) of below average intelligence partridges. No more spinning yarns about birds who teach their friends to knit. No more nail-biters about worms who save fancy dinner parties from being overrun by ants.

Until now.

As I grow up, grow older, and grow wiser, it finally hit me today. Screw the illustrations!

If I wait till everything has a drawing to go with it, I’ll be waiting a long time. I would rather share these stories without illustrations than to have them just sit as a bunch of 0s and 1s on Google Drive. I would like you to read them. And hopefully enjoy them.

You’d think I would have realized this before today. But I am a slow learner. A late bloomer. A conformist, apparently. OH GOD NO! NOT THAT!

Well, better late than never. It’s time to get them out into the world.

So I’ve started going back through some things that I’ve written. Some are finished, some are not. But I’m getting back to them – and there are more coming. About a cat with special sleuthing powers who travels all over the world flying his own plane. And another cat who lives on a farm on the Russian Steppes. And a bird who can’t decide what book to read next.

You’ll be able to draw your own illustrations to go with them.

This is an illustration by my amazing uncle, Jan Zaremba, which he did for my story “The Thunderstorm.” We published it in 2014 and it’s available here.