My Path of Seva: How may I help you?

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There is a yogic practice called seva, which just means service. It’s the simplest thing in the world, but it can be life-changing. All you do is serve others. Make it your job to help people wherever you can, however you can. Think about how you can help your coworkers. How can you be a beneficial presence in your loved one’s lives? How can you be the most use in the world? In my opinion, the ideal seva practice is one in which you are able to give much yet feel fulfilled and joyful about giving.

I was doing my yoga teacher training while working as a project manager, and that’s when I started to seriously apply seva to my life. I did not particularly love my work (although my coworkers were all wonderful people), but I needed to keep that job. I wasn’t the best PM ever, but viewing my job through the lens of seva made me pretty decent at it. I felt the most satisfied when I could help my team complete a project quickly and do the job well, but I still wasn’t helping enough. I was not making the world a better place by being there. Nothing happened at that company that couldn’t happen without me. My service was not essential, and I knew I could accomplish more elsewhere.

Since becoming a yoga teacher, I’ve spent most of my time looking for the ways I could do the most good for other people. In my relationships, in my yoga classes, and in derby, I look for the ways that I can be of the most service. The other night, I was getting ahead of myself thinking about which roller derby team I would like to be on. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all made up of incredible athletes. The truth is, I would love to be on any of those teams, and if there’s a team that could use someone like me, I want to be on it. To me, that’s part of seva: send me where I’m needed, and I’ll find joy in the work.

The strangest part about seva is that while it opens up all kinds of opportunities for me, I never feel like I’m giving nearly as much as I’m receiving. If I do volunteer work, I feel humbled by the chance to serve other people. I learn more from my yoga students than I could ever teach them. And though I strive to hold up my end of the deal with my husband, I owe him more gratitude than I have words for. In other words, the more I focus on giving, the more I seem to receive.

That’s not to say I don’t look out for myself. It’s become more and more important in the past year for me to take care of my own health and monitor my own stress levels because serving all the time is exhausting. I require time for myself. I have to take long baths, lounge in the sun, eat good food, do my yoga practice and meditate — all those things that help me be happy and function in the world. And through the lens of seva, even those things become more joyful because I know that when I am well and happy, I can help spread wellness and happiness. Seva is becoming a positive cycle in my life.

It’s said that you can reach enlightenment through total dedication to any form of yoga, including seva. Let me be clear: I don’t know what enlightenment is and I’m not all that interested in reaching it. I’m more interested in learning to be a happy human being here and now, not some kind of radiant embodied deity (which is how I imagine enlightened folks). But I can testify that the pursuit of seva has changed my life. When I worked as a PM, I felt like my life had been hijacked. Now, the more I serve others, the more confirmation I get that I am on my right path. I think being on my right path and finding peace in the here and now is far more valuable than the endless pursuit of gloriously useless enlightenment.

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Announcing a New Chakra Class Series and a Special Sunday Class

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This Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11:30, I’ll be leading a chakra-balancing yoga practice to introduce you to the concept of the chakras and invite you to explore them more deeply through my upcoming chakra class series.

The on  Monday (4/14/14), I’ll be leading a 7-week yoga series focused on the chakras from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. at Shakti Studio in Arnold, MD. Each class will focus on a different chakra, we’ll talk about the symbolism around it, how it relates to the body, how it affects our lives, and how we can use asana practice and meditation to improve our overall health (mental, physical, and emotional).

If you’ve ever tried yoga, you’re likely at least faintly aware of the concept of chakras, but most people really don’t know much about them. The chakras are part of an elegant system through which yogis approach health on every level rather than separating the mind, body and emotions from one another. We often think of ourselves as just brains walking around inside a body, and we even create an adversarial relationship between the mind and body with our constant dieting and endless self-criticism. The truth is that without the mind there’s no use for the body, and without the body, the mind doesn’t have a home. So yoga uses asana, meditation, and concepts such as the chakras to help us create a state of integration and wholeness. In that state, we can experience the richness of life in a profound and life-changing way.

Our goal with this series will be to explore each of the chakras in turn to see what it can teach us about ourselves and our lives. My hope is that by the end you will have gained a new set of tools to practice self-awareness and cultivate the kind of wisdom and joy you want. Drop-ins are welcome in this series, however you will get the greatest benefit by participating in the full series of classes. Advance registration is recommended — just go to Shakti Studio’s online registration system and sign up for the Monday morning 9:30 class. All levels are welcome!

How to find us: Shakti Studio is at 530 East College Parkway, Suite E, Annapolis, MD. Do not use GPS to find the studio as you will get incorrect directions.

Coming from Rt. 2/Baltimore: Take Ritchie Highway into Arnold, then take a left onto Parkway. Stay on College Pkwy. until you see the second turn for Bellrive Rd. Make a left turn onto Bellrive. You will be able to see the studio from the street. It’s on the lower level of the College Parkway Professional Center.

Coming from Rt. 50/Annapolis: Take the exit for Bay Dale Rd. and veer right. Follow Bay Dale until you see College Pkwy. Take a right onto College Pkwy., then a left onto the second turn for Bellrive.

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How Derby is Teaching Me to Let Go of Fear

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This is the year I let go of fear. This is the year I push myself. That’s what I determined at the start of 2014. There is no path laid out ahead of me: no promotion to work for, no boss to please, no raise to negotiate. It’s up to me to determine where I go this year and beyond. Total freedom is very similar to total lack of direction, and the main difference between the two is having the ovaries to take action. And that means I cannot be frozen by fear.

Trying out for derby was a pretty big challenge and a good way to practice facing my fears, but it was only the beginning. Getting into the league is one thing, but sticking with it, practicing even when you’re tired and sore, reaching out to new people, and challenging yourself physically and mentally with every practice … well, it’s hard work. It’s especially hard if you’re naturally an introvert who’d rather stay home and think deep thoughts than sweat or meet new people.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this, and the answer seems to be: Because I want to see if I can. The challenge is satisfying in a way I’ve never experienced before. What I get from derby that I haven’t had in the past is a particular sense of accomplishment. Unlike my professional accomplishments, what I achieve in derby directly benefits me first and foremost (later I hope it will also benefit my team). Unlike writing or artistic accomplishments, there’s no questioning whether other people will like or appreciate it — I’m not doing it for an audience. And whereas my yoga practice is very personal and private to me, derby is something I can share with a vibrant community of people who want to help and cheer each other on. It turns out, derby fills a hole in my life I didn’t know was there.

As for the fear? Yeah, it’s still there, but I’m working on it. During practice this weekend, Mr. Pistol (one of the coaches) kept talking about committing to your movements. If you don’t commit, you’ll always do it half way, and you’ll never really get there. And what stops me from committing? Fear, of course. So I started telling myself to let go of fear and commit to doing the falls, stops and various techniques we worked on. I did not instantaneously became awesome at them, but it felt good to make a sincere effort, focus on my work, and see improvement.

I’ve also noticed that what I learn from derby often relates back to my other love: yoga. Just the other day, I complained about being afraid that I’m not a good enough yoga teacher. Yep, there’s that fear again. I have to let go of the fear of failure and commit to teaching with my true voice. If I try to please everyone, I will end up pleasing either no one or everyone but myself. Neither option is acceptable to me. If I teach the yoga I love, there’s a chance that the folks at the gym will decide I’m not their right teacher, but there’s also a chance of real success.

And what does real success mean to me? It’s pretty simple: Doing what I love in a sustainable way that adds to the overall good in the world. I’m pretty sure that’s not asking too much, and all I have to do is get the fear out of the way.

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The Gym-Phobic Yogi

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I’ve developed a bad habit of only writing about positive things. That means when things are tough, I don’t really have an outlet for my thoughts. Please bear with me, as I’m about to tell you about some of the harder parts of being a yoga teacher.

Even though teaching yoga truly is my dream job, it’s not always easy, and sometimes I doubt my ability to do it well. I’ve been having some frustration with my classes lately. By all external measures, they’re going well. The students keep coming, they say nice things about me, and I get offered new teaching contracts. All these things would suggest I’m doing something right. But something feels wrong.

I recently began teaching at a gym. During teacher training, I heard a lot of negative talk about how bad it is to teach yoga at a gym. Not just my teachers but their colleagues and my fellow students talked about how gym yoga is stripped of its spiritual and philosophical core. They’d say all the students want is hot vinyasa and hand stands and if you tried to put them in savasana for more than a minute you were doomed. Considering that I’ve been too self-conscious to actually set foot in a gym for most of my life, it’s possible that I’ve embellished on their negativity with my own.

This new contract involves teaching at a corporate gym for an amazing company, and it’s a great opportunity for me to branch out professionally. Plus, it pays more than studio classes do. Being a yoga teacher is not just physical work, but there’s a ton of mental and emotional energy involved, and there are times at studios where you earn less than $5 an hour. No matter how wonderful your neighborhood studio is, it’s really hard to earn much of an income if that’s the only place you teach.

I thought I’d outgrown my fear of gyms, but it seems it’s not entirely gone. I get nervous going in to class, forget my plan, stumble over my words, and skip through the centering too quickly when I see someone fidgeting — because I assume they’re annoyed we’re not sweating yet. I find it very hard to teach authentically because I’m worried about what people must be expecting of me. I’m aware as I write this that the solution here is to stop worrying and just teach. But it seems I’ve forgotten how.

I’m not giving up. I know I will figure this out. It just takes a while to figure out a new group and how to relate to them. Until I get it properly pinned down, I’ll be teaching a lot of gentle vinyasa. Finally, I am reminded that every time I meet a new challenge, the answer comes in the form of my own yoga practice. The more I teach, the more I have to focus on my own practice. I have to keep learning and improving if I want to be of service to anyone else.

And with that, I guess I better go get back on my mat.

 

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My Yoga Super Heroes

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I used to think my yoga teachers were super heroes. Now that I teach, I’m constantly tempted to compare myself to them, and the comparisons are not always favorable to me.

I want to be like them because their work changed my life. Maybe even saved it. I know I’m not exactly the most with-it grownup on the block, but can you imaging where my life would be without yoga? I can’t.

At sixteen, I didn’t have the patience to just sit and be quiet. I was anxious about everything. My brain never quit chattering. I would regularly tear at my skin until I bled. And I hated everyone and everything. Yoga became the moving meditation that allowed me to find some quiet within myself. I have Janet to thank for that.

At twenty-seven, in a panic about the grey cubicle farm that was my daily life, I turned to yoga again, this time with a different need. I had learned to make peace with my body, but could I make peace with the rest of my life? This is when Elizabeth introduced me to the real power of the breath, which gave me the ability to be present in this moment. Notably, many of life’s worries drop away when you’re living in the present rather than stressing about the past or the future. I learned to work on my problems just like asanas — one moment at a time, letting the breath be my guide.

Now that I’m teaching, I wonder if I can give my students the same things my teachers gave me, and I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s not my job to give my them precisely the same lessons but rather to introduce them to their own inner teacher. We honor certain great teachers with the title “guru,” but the true guru for each of us is the wisdom that lives within us. Finding that divine spark within yourself feels a lot like how I imagine super powers feel. Now, if only I could figure out how to give people that.

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