The Living Yoga Blog

You Are SO Loved

loveWelcome to February, the LOVE month. As the month progresses, we are going to explore what love means in many different ways, to many different people. Our first blog was written by long time volunteer, Laurene Mullen, on her experience of giving love in the simplest of ways. 

There are 10 men facing me. Some are painfully youthful and cute; I can’t believe they have already gone so astray that they are in a residential rehabilitation center. Some are older, been through it all, done it all, seen it, and seen it again. They’re back again to try and clean up their lives and purge the toxic stuff that they have drunk, smoked, inhaled, and injected.

A few of these men have been couch potatoes, some have been gym rats, and they are all in yoga class right now. It’s halfway through class; we’re doing hamstring stretches. The men are lying on their backs with one leg up in the air. Me: “Straighten your leg gently, only go to the point where you feel a resistance and then relax into your stretch.” I look around, pretty good, except Joe is pulling on his leg so hard that he is grimacing. Joe is about 30, a buff guy with about a thousand tattoos.

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Cultivating A Loving Presence

picPaul Cheek, one of our volunteer teachers at Columbia River Correctional Institution, shares what he values most from his teaching with Living Yoga. Thank for for all you do, Paul. 

Every Wednesday, the students at the Columbia River Correctional Institution (CRCI) make their way to the Chapel for Yoga class at 2 pm. They never know who will be there to teach they just know that someone will be there. They count on this consistency and it takes the loving effort of many Living Yoga volunteers who teach and manage the programs. But without the students our effort would be for nothing. The only reason to show up to teach or to help coordinate these classes is for the students.

 

Teaching, learning and living the philosophy of Yoga is often left out of the West's body centered, exercise based Yogas. Yoga is often looked at as a "work out", when in reality it is a "work in". The philosophy of Yoga teaches us to not be attached to the fruits of our efforts. In sharing the gift of Yoga it is imperative that we maintain this value. The students at CRCI work very hard to learn skills that will help them reintegrate into daily life once they are released. Through Yogic practices we learn from our own experience that our innate state is one of Love. The challenge as a teacher is to teach the students how to connect to this innate state of being. Learning about our innate state, through our own experience, is one of the most essential tools for making it on the "outside".

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Namaste: When the Student Becomes the Teacher

balanceTwo of our volunteer teachers, Caitlin and Becky, share their experiences teaching at one of our newer sites, SAGE Youth Residential Program. SAGE is a long term residential facility that provides support to females between the ages of 11-15 who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.

The SAGE class immediately caught Caitlin's eye when she was perusing the list handed out at her training in June. Something about the sensitive nature of the Morrison Child and Family Services program that provides long-term stabilization for survivors of sexual exploitation for females ages 11-15 resonated with her. For Becky, when she was asked by the Living Yoga team to help start this class, she had no hesitations. Her “day job” as a professional counselor, experience working in residential treatment with teens and trauma survivors, and interest in learning more about how to use yoga as a way to heal from trauma made the idea of working with this group of girls especially exciting. We were also both drawn to consistently having the same students in class so that we could get to know their unique personalities and develop relationships with them and liked the idea of working with young girls, remembering the challenges and opportunities of being that age and how vital positive relationships with older females were for us.

 

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Joy, Acceptance, & "Enoughness"

world“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
― Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

As we continue to explore the idea of "radical" self-acceptance this month, our Executive Director, Michael Faith, shares his thoughts on how to view yourself from a place of loving-kindness:

For many, this time of year marks an annual ritual in which they examine their lives, at least for a moment, and begin to think through all the things they want to bring forth into the new year through intention and goal setting.

Many of us begin practices such as intention or goal setting with the premise that we are not good enough. This approach often creates a mindset that change is necessary to correct deficiencies within us, which can be harmful. Even if we accomplish the goal we set out to; there will still remain a part of ourselves that still won't accept and love the self we have just created. There will remain uneasiness, an undercurrent of discontent that will drive us to seek out more ways to change because we believe that we’re still not quite good enough.

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Radical Self Acceptance

beautifulThis January, we are focusing on what it means to forgo a New Year's Resolution and instead practice radical acceptance of ourselves. One of our teacher trainers, Angelina, shares some ways to let go of self-criticism and begin to love completely.

I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s “resolutions”. Are we problems that need to be resolved?  The word lends itself to a particular mindset that I feel belies our lack of acceptance of ourselves and our truest capacity. It’s my belief that if we want to make real, meaningful, lasting impact in our lives, we ought to set intentions to love ourselves more fully, to embrace all of our parts, as we are right now, and to do SMALL things every day that represent these intentions of self-love.  Self-love involves acknowledging our shortcomings AND setting out to do what we can, today, to evolve ourselves and share our true gifts. It’s recognizing our unique spin on the world and our work in it. It’s an attempt to hear our own heart, its joys and its pains, so that we can connect to and have empathy for all beings around us.

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A Time to Go Within

solsticeIn honor of the winter solstice our inspiring Executive Director, Michael Faith, sheds his light on the internal and external shift taking place:

I got a text from a friend of mine the other day and out of the blue, he said, “it’s starting to feel like the end of the world.”

My friend’s sentiment seems to be shared by many right now as the heartbreaking news keeps stacking up all around us. And, depending on the day, I’m tempted to adopt this view too. On those days when my own reserves are spent and I am feeling hopeless, I too wonder if it’s all really going to work out in the end.

This train of thought seems right on time, not only with the state of the world, but with the approaching winter solstice. This time of year is a symbolic reminder of the cycle of light and dark. The solstices are an opportunity to reflect on the idea that the potentials of each are within all of us. And it’s up to each of us to decide how we harness those energies. The winter solstice specifically reminds us that it’s at our darkest moment, when we feel so far from the light, that we are in fact all that much more closer to the light’s return. 

An idea that I find helpful in navigating the complex cycles of these times is one from Kashmir Shavism with the concept of the five acts of Shiva: Creation, Sustaining, Dissolution, Concealing, and Revealing. According to this philosophy everything that has form in this world whether it is a person, a thought, or a tree follows the progression of this cycle.  

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The Gift of Presence

yantaOne of our amazing volunteer teachers offers to teach her usual classes over the Holidays-wow! She shares her experience below:

“I have been looking forward to this class all day”.

That was the first comment I heard from one of our students at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility on Christmas Eve last year. It’s a simple statement that, taken out of context, is just a casual comment. But context is everything.

Two years ago when I taught on Christmas Eve at the medium security unit, I remember clearly that one of the correction officers was stunned when he saw me come through. “What are you doing here tonight? It’s Christmas Eve!” And I also remember my response: “That’s exactly why I am here, it’s Christmas Eve”.

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Be Here Now

be here nowThe following is a meditation practice created by Liz Eisman, one of Living Yoga's Teacher Trainers:

I recently read an article by Anne Cushman in which she described receiving a round yoga mat as a Christmas gift. She noticed how it inspired her to find freedom in rounder movements. This holiday season I suggest you take Anne’s advice: Experiment with getting round!

The holiday season (along with the end of a year) is a time of reflection, social gatherings, and often, emotional mayhem. For many it triggers feelings of lack as advertisers send the message of “not-good-enough” and “buy more”. Many people return to their families of origin and wonder why they revert to former ways of being. Although you may not feel “at home” in the presence of a particular person or in a particular environment, there is a way to be “home for the holidays”.

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Humble, Gracious Volunteers

20130903 DePaul Youth LY 0086The following blog was written by Annie, one of our volunteer teachers and long time supporter, on her experience teaching at Outside In, an organization which helps youth and other marginalized people experiencing homeslessness:

 

I am grateful to be a volunteer for Living Yoga and to teach at Outside In. I completed my training in August of 2011 and chose to teach at Outside In because I have two nephews who struggle with drug, alcohol addiction and homelessness. I am sensitive to this population.

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Seasons Givings

giving treeThe following is a blog post written by our beloved friends at Santosha Yoga (located in Bethany Village). They are spreading their kindness and generosity to our students experiencing extremely difficult times:
Each year Santosha Yoga has a Giving Tree for a local non-profit's wish list of items that they need for their programs serving others in the greater Portland community. This year, Santosha Yoga is holding the Giving Tree for Living Yoga whose work brings yoga to shelters, youth experiencing homelessness, people experiencing incarceration, and treatment facilities. In the work that Living Yoga does, they are bringing yoga to people in significant transitions and challenges in their lives. The yoga helps to provide them a sense of peace, calm, resiliency, and hope. 
We're asking you to help us fill this tree with gift tags of your donations. You don't have to run out to the store and find the latest yoga accessory. We've got a list of the items they need and would use most in their programs - things we might be very used to having: yoga blocks, eye pillows, straps, etc. In fact, last year Living Yoga staff shared with us that often the eye pillows were the most valued prop in their youth in-treatment facility classes because it gave the teens a chance to have quiet and darkness in a place that is often busy with lights on and noises in the halls. 

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