New from Cindy: Adaptive Yoga Classes

Cindy, a certified adaptive yoga instructor, is teaching a class on Thursdays from 12:30-1:30 pm at Purna Yoga 828 geared for individuals with spinal cord injuries. The first class was held on November 18. The next three will be on December 2, 9, 16; these will be the only classes of 2021 due to the holidays. Classes will resume January 6. The classes are free thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association (NCSCIA).

If you know any folks who would benefit from these classes, either as a student or a helper, please have them email Cindy.

Participants must wear a mask inside the yoga studio. Mats and other props are provided by the studio at no charge, or participants can bring their own.

The studio is sanitized and air purified, following pandemic safety guidelines. Purna Yoga 828 is located in west Asheville at 697 D Haywood Road.

Attitude of Gratitude

Although it’s December and the official Thanksgiving month is in the past, thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation can be everyday opportunities. For me, this year’s Thanksgiving took second place to the birth of my grandniece on Saturday. She is healthy and robust at 8 pounds, 7 ounces. As of this writing, I haven’t met her. Her big brother had first dibs. I’ll get my turn. I’m willing to share. 

Baby girl wearing a pink knit hat with a big bow, swaddled in a striped blanket.
The new grandniece!

I’m a big fan of saying “Thank you” when I receive and of saying “You’re welcome” when thanked. Giving and receiving go together and we can experience both aspects at the same time. When both come from the heart, there is an exchange you can feel.

One definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” As you might know from your own experience with gratitude, we can train in this practice like we train our bodies and minds on the yoga mat. 

Although I usually think of gratitude as an opportunity to be thankful for what I receive, I can also be grateful for the opportunity to serve and to give. Let’s start with receiving. What are you thankful for in these three areas: People in your life, experiences, and places? How does the memory of your gratitude feel—physically, mentally, and emotionally? For me, I’m thankful for my family; for the ability to walk; for my home and safe neighborhood; for the yoga students who show up for classes with me; for the sunsets I witness from my front deck. When I turn my attention to the feeling of gratitude, I experience my body and mind as spacious and free, without boundaries.

What about the opportunity to give? I’m thankful for the teachings of yoga that I’m able to pass along. I’m thankful for the medical education I received that helps me offer health insights to others. I’m grateful I can help my niece with childcare. I am thankful that I can direct my mind to appreciation instead of deprivation. The feelings that come with giving are similar to those of receiving—namely, open joyful expansiveness.

I was surprised to learn that some people’s ability to experience gratitude is blocked by feelings of obligation, deprivation, indebtedness, or even entitlement. Are there moments when your ability to receive or give is blocked? How does that feel? Go to the body for information. For me, the expansive joy of giving and receiving far outweighs the feeling of constriction from withholding.

The practice of gratitude, of both giving and receiving, can be cultivated. Simply put, when we give or receive with gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives and our interconnected with all beings. We can make the world a better place when we act from a thankful heart.     

Let’s practice together. It’s simple, although sometimes not easy. Neither is downward dog, yet we persevere. We practice. 

As soon as I am invited, I’m going to welcome a new baby girl. I’m grateful.

Navigating Turbulent Times

As the month draws to a close and autumn leaves remind us of the change of seasons, many are hoping that cooler temperatures might lower the heat, not just on the thermometer, but on the disturbances that seem all around us: the on-going pandemic, effects of climate change, social discord, and the rising cost of food and gasoline, to name a few. Mercury retrograde has caused other types of agitation. Yes, life can feel fraught for us humans these times.

Tree with yellow autumn leaves.
Autumn Yellow Tree © Pascale Parinda 2021

During these times, self care is a high priority for me. I look forward to my early morning walks with dear neighbors. I treasure delicious meals and conversations with family. I value my time on the yoga mat, both teaching and practicing. And massage—if you haven’t treated yourself to a massage in a while, schedule one now. Maybe dark chocolate is your thing. Or perhaps a hike in the mountains with a friend. Pet your dog. Snuggle with your cats. Cuddle with a beloved. Smile at strangers. Practice kindness to yourself and others. Yes, these are challenging times. And I take comfort in acknowledging that we are all connected.

As one translation of Namaste describes it, “The Divine in me honors the Divine in you.” Even with my mask on, I hope you see I am smiling at you. I see and honor you. Namaste.

In-Studio & Zoom Workshop — Sunrise Yoga, November 5-7, 2021

Stay Put to Open Up
 
If you have been feeling a little down and out or stressed and anxious recently, this is the workshop for you! Join us for a weekend filled with asana, pranayama and meditation to help settle the mind.  To achieve this, we will turn our attention into the body which can only be done by being present in the moment.  Asana helps to alleviate physical stress while pranayama and meditation draw the mind into quiet contemplation. You’ll leave with your mind and body feeling refreshed, renewed and revitalized. 
 
This workshop focuses on using asana, pranayama, and meditation to settle the mind by turning the attention into the body, which can only be in present time.  Asana helps to alleviate physical stress while pranayama and meditation draw the mind into quiet contemplation.
 
Friday 6-8 – Asana / pranayama/ meditation
 
Saturday 9:30 – 12:30 Asana
 
Saturday 2-4 –  Restorative + rejuvenative asana
 
Sunday 9:30 – 12:30  Asana / pranayama / meditation
 
Full workshop $210 (or $190 before 10/22)
Individual Sessions $45-$65. Members of Sunrise Yoga receive a 10% discount. 
 
Click HERE to register for this workshop.

Ground Down and Open Up

I recently read one of my journal entries from May 2021. I had written “The pandemic rules and regulations are changing, becoming less stringent. The world is opening up.” That didn’t last long. After a welcome time of freedom that invited travel, dining out, and other in-person gatherings, the pandemic numbers rose. The guidelines changed—again— reflecting the spread of the Delta variant. The masks we wear can camouflage our grief and disappointment, but there it is. 

Close up of dewy leaf on pavement
Photo © Pascale Parinda 2021

In addition to the pandemic, there are other local and global challenges that may cause us to be worried, depressed, anxious, or angry. Many students and friends tell me they feel lethargic and unfocused. One friend shared that she was avoiding her yoga practice because she was afraid it would open her up to emotions she was afraid to feel. Another told me she felt guilty about having such a joyful life when so many others were struggling. These are stressful times. I am concerned that we are shutting ourselves down, steeling ourselves for the next disappointment, afraid of feeling our very human emotions.  

Although we can work in ways to change external factors, it’s important that we turn our attention to managing our thoughts and accompanying emotions before they take root in our nervous system. Medical experts tell us that over time, continued strain on our body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses.

Here, then is the medicine I’m prescribing—and it doesn’t come in a bottle: What if we could accept the physical, mental, and emotional predicament of living under stress without wishing it were different? Can we accept our own situation for now exactly as it is? Yes, that means being fully present to life as it is…right…now. For me, that means allowing each bodily feeling, and every thought and emotion to ride its course. According to Jill Bolte Taylor, brain scientist and author of My Stroke of Insight, the physiological effects of an emotion last 90 seconds. The thoughts replay the storyline (pandemic, global warming, family issues) and that starts us up again. 

If we accept this “medicine,” how do we proceed? One mental practice that helps me is to recognize that everything, including thoughts and emotions, comes into form and moves on. When I allow sensations to arise and subside, I release the storyline as well. A physical practice of mine is asana; as I move in and out of poses, I accept how the body feels, whether tight or loose. Taking a walk every day, even if I just venture up and down the driveway, can loosen the grip of dark emotions and thoughts. Outside, I plant my feet in the earth, and look up. I open up to a bigger view. How about that night sky?

My friend’s husband, Gene, decided that watching the news in the morning didn’t help his stress one bit. He now sings happy songs at the top of his lungs; “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” is one of his favorites. His wife goes along with this new behavior as long as it occurs after her first cup of coffee. Acceptance.

Adam, still in prison, uses prayer and gratitude. He cleans the bathrooms there for 40 cents a day. He is thankful to have something to occupy his time and mind. Acceptance. 

Rebecca reports that she can only contemplate one difficulty a day, whether the devastation caused by the hurricanes, the pandemic, or her own chronic pain. She allows herself a few moments to consider that situation and its accompanying distress, lets herself ride the emotions, and moves on by calling or texting a close friend. 

Angie, Paula, and Susan play word games and dance around the kitchen to cheer each other up. Me, too!

Little boy wearing a bright yellow rain jacket.

My grandnephew David, now two, finds joy in his yellow slicker and rain boots. He looks like a ray of sunshine to me!

 I’ll put in a plug for online social gatherings or classes when in-person ones aren’t available. Connection is vital. Please find a way to connect with others, whether you sing your heart out in the shower, wave at your neighbors, walk your dog, pet your cat, or write a letter. Reach out as well as in. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own wellbeing. That may mean talking to a therapist, changing our habits, taking a prescribed drug, or a natural remedy. 

Yes, we can work for peace, show up for neighbors in need, and do what we can to alleviate another’s suffering. However, when we show up for ourselves, we show up for others by being a loving presence in the world. I think that’s a good start. Don’t you?  

Firsts

I went car/motorhome camping a few weekends ago with some girlfriends. We experienced a lot of “firsts” so were able to use the Hebrew word Shehecheyanu many times. The word is part of a Jewish blessing that is traditionally recited the first time you do something each Jewish calendar year, such as light the menorah the first night of Hanukkah, or celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, as well as mark joyous and special occasions.  

Six women standing with life vests, helmets, getting ready to go rafting.
Ready to Raft!

I used the word to commemorate my first time driving a motor home. Another friend used it to celebrate her first raft trip down a river. I also believe the blessing is meant to recognize the miracle of arriving in the present moment. I may be giving Shehecheyanu my own spin, but I appreciate the spirit of the practice. Acknowledging my first motorhome driving experience gave me a starting point to observe myself awakening to new, and maybe not-so-new, moments in a different way.

Isn’t each day unique, even if we go to the same places every day or do the same things? We’ve never woken up on Thursday, July 9, 2021 before today. (I’m posting this on the first day of July 9, 2021.) We have arrived on this day after waking on countless other mornings.

As we gradually emerge from the pandemic’s lockdowns, we may have many “firsts.” The first time we eat inside a restaurant since April 2020; visit and hug our far-flung or right-next-door family and friends; attend an in-person yoga class, church service, book club, or gym. Each day will have its special firsts, different for each of us. How exciting! And maybe a bit challenging!

One of my dearest, closest friends had a stroke a few weeks ago. I spoke with him and he is in wonderment at living in a rehabilitation facility. “It’s like being on a yoga retreat,” he exclaimed. “I take three classes (therapy sessions) a day. I receive healthy meals in my room. I rest every afternoon for a while.” His recent firsts include taking one step without assistance, learning to use his left leg, and holding a spoon. This is a man who was playing on yoga ropes two days before the stroke. He sounds like a three year old in his excitement. His perspective is of wonderment, not depression, although he does have those moments, too. 

Where does this discussion of firsts leave us? For me, I intend to be open to what I’m experiencing in the present moment, rather than in reconstructing what I felt in a prior experience. For example, the “first” time of post-pandemic restaurant indoor dining, I felt weird, a little scared, and a lot happy. Those emotions were part of what was happening in that moment.  I wasn’t the same person as I was pre-pandemic. The restaurant had changed its policies. Nothing was the same in what used to be a normal occurrence. Remembering that nothing is ever the same the second time and beyond, I aspire to meet each breath, yoga pose, walk, and experience as a first. I aspire to be fully alive.

I encourage you to pay attention as you safely emerge from the way your life has been since March 2020. As you greet old friends, can you meet them with open eyes and ears to acquaint yourself with how they are now, today, without the overlay of prior knowledge? None of us is the same. Let’s join together in gratitude for our arrival at this place and time for the first time.

Expanding Equanimity: Southern Dharma In-Person Retreat with Cindy, August 4-8

According to yogic and Buddhist philosophy, there are four noble qualities, known in the Buddhist tradition as the Four Immeasurables: loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, and sympathetic joy. We are all born with the seeds of these traits, and with practice we can cultivate them to develop strength, steadiness, and openness in any situation—independent of external conditions.

Although these four qualities are inter-related, in this workshop we will explore Equanimity as a means to remain openhearted during times of tension and strife, whether personal or global. Equanimity is freedom from powerful reactions, positive or negative, to another person or an event—the ability to be even and open-minded toward everyone, no matter how they behave. This practice brings clarity to situations where we may be moved to react from passion or bias. Expanding our view to one of engaged impartiality allows us to respond to life’s challenges with wisdom—even at times with a sense of humor.

Over the four days, we’ll explore Equanimity through yoga poses, meditations, mindfulness exercises, and breath awareness.  

Although this annual workshop with Cindy is now full, it’s always worth it to put your name on the waiting list. Cancellations do happen, and you might get lucky!  And if this retreat doesn’t work for you this time around, check out all the other amazing retreats you can enjoy at Southern Dharma over the coming months. 

For more detailed information, pricing, and important vaccination requirements, and to put your name on the waiting list, click here.

[Cindy will be assisted on this retreat by Tammy Kaousias. Tammy teaches yoga in Knoxville, TN, and has studied with Cindy for over a decade.]

Letting Go and Wanting to Know

As mask wearing and social restrictions ease now that vaccinations are slowing the spread of COVID-19, I’m concerned about the changes to the rules I was used to following. I feel like we went from very cautious to wide open. I’m not saying that this is so. I’m saying that it feels that way to me. Yes, I’m happy to be able to gather with friends out in the open. It doesn’t matter to me if they are vaccinated or not. Yes, I’m concerned about being with those same people inside in close quarters. It just feels weird. 

As I write these words, I realize that my skin has been tight for more than a year. Although internally I feel open, on the outside my physical form has been guarding me from an unseen virus. Even my pores are tense. I just stopped writing and took a breath. I consciously released my skin. I feel better. This to me is what yoga is about: conscious awareness of the present moment experience. The physical form is always in the present. The mind wanders and wonders.

Photo by Alexey Murzin on Unsplash

One of my favorite images of mind is that of a still lake. A quiet lake reflects the sky. A quiet mind reflects pure awareness, our true nature.  When the lake or the mind becomes disturbed, there is no clear reflection, only turbulence. This is what happens when we bounce around trying to make a decision. This or that? Should I or shouldn’t I? When we are in “either/or” we are smack in the middle of duality and not in a place of clarity. Yet, once we see theses waves as passing thoughts, we can dive deeply into the quiet stillness below the surface, or we can watch them from the stable shore of awareness. We practice asana, pranayama, and meditation to prevent getting caught in the storm to begin with. At any moment that we recognize the fluctuations, we’re out of them. How to stay there? Cease to give them your attention. Easier said than done, I know. 

Once you realize that you’re engulfed, give your mind something more wholesome to do, something to focus on. Feel your body. Is it tense? Where? What’s happening right now? Say a prayer. Chant om. Get upside down. Sit still. Go for a ride. Call a friend. Breathe. Consciously relax. Accept that you don’t know the future. Look up and out. These all work for me.

Where does all this musing leave us with decision making as many gyms and yoga studios open up to in-person classes? Honestly, I don’t know. We each must make our own decisions from a place of clarity. What should I do, as a student and as a teacher? Part of me wants to know exactly how to act. Give me some hard and fast rules. Ha! I’m the one who wants some flexibility, some leeway to adjust both on the mat and in life. Moment to moment, I observe and respond. I don’t have to know the future. How I am now determines my future. I can’t know what the world will be in two days or two months. Sometimes I feel we humans think that if we know the future, we will be safer or at least feel safer. As we learn to negotiate not-knowing, we deepen our understanding of being authentic and available to ourselves in the present moment.

Right now I know that I’m not ready to open my home studio to groups of students. The space is small and I feel like we would be too close together for the comfort of all. I don’t know how long I will feel like this. I will let you know when I am ready. In the meantime, I’ll continue with Zooming from my home studio and through Zoom classes hosted by Sunrise Yoga. Although virtual classes are obviously less intimate than in-person classes, please know that I do see you “out there” and feel connected to you.

If an “in-person” group is what you’re in need of, please consider joining me at the yoga and mindfulness residential retreat at the spacious Southern Dharma Retreat Center in August. Read about it here.


Reflections on the Present

Yesterday I received a four-page letter from my friend, Adam. He spoke of getting a job in the prison, feeding the crows in the yard, meditating while living in a barracks, and getting up at 5am to find a quiet time for his yoga practice. He recounted in detail his gratitude to be earning money, his excitement of hearing the raucous caw of the crow, the feeble light at 5am, and the expansion of his body on the yoga mat.

Image © Pascale Parinda 2021

I sat down to write back to him and wondered how I could find any events in my life to fill four pages. All I’ve done is teach yoga classes on Zoom, meet with students privately (and masked), walk, meditate, watch my husband cook, eat, and clean up. That doesn’t seem like much. Oh, and I’ve zoomed with friends for happy visits, taken some online philosophy and yoga classes, played and laughed with my grand-nephew. I didn’t even drive very much except for that one two-week motorhome trip to Florida to national parks. That about sums it up. What is there to say about that? Hmmm. Seems like I should have more going on, even during a pandemic.

So I sat and pondered. I took the time to reflect on my life during this past year since March of 2020. What I realized is that although I feel like I haven’t “done” much, I’ve observed quite a bit. Not doing has opened me to sacred idleness, momentary snippets of awareness during the day. How often do I look at the big picture of doing and miss the divine details of being alive? When I stop to pay attention, I see the ladybug on the windowsill. I notice the breeze wafting through the window. I smell the fresh cut grass. I’m present to now rather than getting something done— although the windowsill does get dusted. The ladybug moves along and the breeze lets up.

Image © Pascale Parinda 2021

I suspect that many of us wake up and get on with the day. Perhaps the routine is wake up, eat, work, exercise, tend to the family, make dinner, watch TV, and go to bed. Repeat. The routine might not change, although the details certainly do. What did you eat for your first meal today? Did you taste your food? Was it sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, or pungent? What was the texture of the food?

While writing this essay, I talked with a dear friend of mine who deals with back pain on a daily basis. She spoke of present moment awareness, of living fully regardless of her circumstances. She said that although she often cannot move around because of the pain, she lives her life in “sound bites” of activity when she can. Those sound bites are wonderful, she asserts. She refuses to let the pain rule her emotional wellbeing. She, like Adam, accepts the situation and makes the most of the circumstances. What arises in you when you can’t do what you want to? Can you take a breather and be still long enough to be alive to the world around you? Perhaps this is all you need to do right now.

Suggestion: Take five minutes now to do nothing except sit and notice. Simply observe the world around you, whether inside or outdoors. Become aware of sounds, sights, tactile sensations, tastes, and smells. No judging. Simply notice. No narrative. Feel your body. Use this sound bite of time to reset your clock to now. Then do what needs to be done. You may discover that you’ve already done enough.

May you be fully present to being alive as you go about your day of doing.