Pause and Feel – Volume One: A True Connection

“Patience is also a form of action” – Auguste Rodin

“Do you teach Vinyasa?” the tourist asked me, as she entered my tropical island yoga studio – my labour of love, custom-built from the ground up. I replied, “Well, the word Vinyasa simply means, CONNECTION, so in essence, I am practicing Vinyasa right now, standing here talking to you, simply by the act of breathing and being conscious and appreciative of it. There is a connection of my lungs expanding and contracting. There is a connection of my heart pumping blood in and out, therefore I am alive”. This response was met with a blank stare. Although there are definitive styles of yoga I have studied and can trace a distinct lineage of my teachers, I really do not like to qualify what “type” of yoga I teach with trendy buzzwords, so I use the very broad term “Hatha”, which is on all my promotional materials. The tourist then said, “I’ve never practiced Hatha Yoga before”. I explain, “Well, Hatha simply means the body – the cuerpo – so if you have practiced any type of yoga that utilizes and moves your body then you have practiced Hatha Yoga”. For the record I teach $6 drop-in yoga classes, so I see no need to negotiate what I have to offer. You either want it or you do not. Give it a try and it is guaranteed to blow your mind. What do you have to lose? $6 and a little over an hour of your time. My list of qualifications and the teachers/paths I have studied under are found on my teacher biography here, if anyone cares to dig deeper into what “type” of yoga I teach.

What the tourist above was really asking me is do I teach a fast-moving, fast-flowing, hard-core, “power” yoga. No. I do teach a very powerful class where the core-muscles are quite engaged, yet here is the paradox – to truly get into your essence and to truly connect with yourself, one needs to PAUSE and FEEL. In today’s fast-paced society where every human whim and pleasure seems to be derided by a sense of instant gratification, when one is forced to pause and feel, it can be uncomfortable. People who are coming from a “rat-race” way of living, come down here to this slow-paced Caribbean island and crave the fast “Vinyasa” because it is nothing more than a distraction from themselves and considered nothing more than a “work-out”, seeking superficial results. There is no time to pause and feel. There is no time to hear your breath, or feel your heart beat. When one is moving so fast, one gets to mentally DISCONNECT which, for me is the opposite of yoga. Yoga means to unite, or to yoke, with one’s true self, so to truly unite with yourself, one needs to pause and feel. Embrace the paradox – the balance of effort and surrender. That is life.

One can pause and feel in the most challenging of poses (asanas). When one is in a pose, even the most seemingly “simple” pose, one can go very DEEP. With optimal alignment I can instruct you into a let’s say “downward facing dog” that will leave you with sore muscles the next morning. One of the reasons I show my body is that…well, not only is it very hot and humid where I live, and the feeling of little clothing just feels freeing, is that at age 46, I feel my body is my best advertisement for the yoga that I teach, when people are looking for just the superficial benefits (the benefits go a lot deeper then superficial appearance, but let’s face it – visual is usually the first impact on people). For tourists half my age to even be doubtful that I can give them an effective practice, look at my body. Does it look like I am not getting enough core strength? Does it look like I do not have muscle? Conversely, does it look like I am not flexible? Fifteen years ago I was thirty pound heavier than I am now, on this 5’4″ frame – quite a bit heavier, so do not even assume this body comes naturally. I work for it…and all I do is practice comparatively “slow” yoga. I absolutely do nothing else (unless you count creating recipes, reading books, listening to music, or watching Netflix as activities). I don’t run, I don’t bicycle, I don’t lift weights, I don’t surf. All I do is this and I am content. There is no need to drive, drive, drive…push, push, push. If I never get into a handstand in the middle of the room I do not feel my life is any less complete either.

Actually, now that I write this, I realize that literature, music, and watching the British Version of “Netflix” ARE activities for my learning post-brain-injury. Words, language I have had to teach myself again, and still to this day, over two years after my near-death experience, I have difficulty following a train of thought reading or watching something. Talk about humbling – when my Kindle Fire tells me I am reading at “learning to read” rate, and then even eventually turns itself off because I stare at a page so long. Music, singing along to lyrics I learned decades ago, practicing harmony, helps jog my lack of memory since my accident. Music connects me to memory, the past, as a fair amount of amnesia has occurred (I measure this my significant anecdotes my family tells that I have absolutely no recollection of). Whereas watching TV Shows such as my latest addiction Stephen Fry’s “QI” is educational, yet in a funny, not boring way, which connects me to the present. Which takes more discipline, effort and hence the greater reward? – physical activity or re-wiring the brain? Ha. And the tourists say they want “power”. My memory impairment thankfully has kept in tact all the yoga teacher training I did up until my accident, but sadly the juicy, fun, new stuff that I spend a lot of money, time, travel and effort into learning (Sridaiva Yoga if you’re interested) is forgotten. Thankfully my teachers are posting videos that help to jog the memory and with each successive workshop, muscle memory takes shape.  I travel to Europe for these workshops, as traveling back to the States seems like a regression of sorts.  Travel to new lands/cultures is in itself a learning, growing, brain-enhancing experience.

Does one “do” yoga? No, one practices yoga. It is a life-long practice of curiosity of oneself, and getting to know oneself. It’s becoming self-aware…a blossoming of sorts. Turning inwards, seeing oneself – both dark and light – and learning to love and have compassion for oneself. This is a life-long journey, where we are all students until the day we die. THIS is why I yearly go to study under my teachers. It is not like we ever reach a point where we are “masters” of life. To pause and feel means embracing a certain amount of humility. Turn inwards, be humble, recognize that the fact that there is breath and blood pumping through your body at as faster rate, while you are in that strong pose, is the universe manifesting itself in you, and that is something worthy of AWE. Yes, you simply standing there, engaging your core, with soft skin, with your spine in an optimal position, your feet to the earth, with your head slightly titled upwards gazing upwards – this is a reason to be awestruck. You yourself connect Earth and Sky. Yes, I can teach you how to do it so that even standing will kick your ass, if that is what you want. Yet, how many people have the patience to even stand still these days, without the crutch of a smart-phone to look into? When life is minimalized into so many characters per “tweet” or text-message, how many people will have the patience to read this entire article? What is the breath of your scope of vision? Maybe it’s time to broaden horizons. To feel part of something bigger than yourself is somehow liberating. Snorkeling is one activity I do enjoy, yet I hardly get the chance to do, ironically giving that I live in an archipelago. The reason I love snorkeling is one truly does get to feel part of something bigger than oneself – the vast ocean, at home with the marine life, and all you hear is your own breath.

Here is the beauty of yoga and connection. It always, invariably transfers off of the mat and into our daily lives. On the mat we put ourselves into challenging poses, learn to be in them and with each breath there in an expansion. To be able to keep from falling over we need to engage our core. Therefore to be in a pose requires not only strength, but a softness…an openness. When in a challenging, strong pose, often the most effort goes into maintaining a calm facial expression, and a relaxed jaw. If we can react with calm acceptance to even falling on our arse, onto the mat during yoga class gracefully, then this is often an indicator of how we react out in the “real world” to difficult circumstances. Do we curse, shout, get angry and shake our fist at the sky…..or do we accept we are human, be grateful that we have learned where our “edge” is, get back up and try again? One can not be afraid of making a fool of oneself. We all fall – it’s human. How we get up is the key to even attempting to figure out this mystery of how to traverse this life with a relative amount of dignity. This is why it is called “practice” because every single day there is a new “edge”. The very definition of “Flow” is that you can never step in the same river twice. Every day we give it our fullest potential, whatever that is on any given day. When you take time to pause and feel, and really listen not only to the cuerpo (the body, muscles, bones, etc.) but to your emotional/mental state, check your mood, then you become more aware of yourself. Aware of your capacity to grow, to be enhanced, to tap into your pure state of awesomeness. Aware of your capacity to be courageous. Aware of your willingness to look like a fool, and not care. Aware of your strength and flexibility. Most importantly aware of the compassion you so desperately deserve. Perhaps this loving acceptance and compassion is not something you were given as a child. Does that mean we should be resigned to a life without it forever? Should we keep punishing and shaming ourselves forever, and living in a state of guilt and self-blame for traumas we’ve incurred? Or should we take the bold, not always easy, step to learn how to give forgiveness and love to ourselves, and then armed with that gift, we are even more powerful when we give loving acceptance and compassion to an other.

Take time to turn inside and learn to love what you see. Easier said than done, I know, I know all too well – again this is why it is a life-long quest. Anyone seeking instant gratification is going to be disappointed. In an era when faster is better, it is all the more needed to slow down. One can slow down and still be powerful and effective. The faster one moves on the mat, I would remiss if I did not point out, the more likelihood of injury. With fast motions on the mat, one doesn’t have time to really focus on optimal alignment of the body, or feel if one is pushing too hard or opening too much. Injury can occur if one does not pause and really feel what the fuck is going on. Again, this transfers off the mat and into life. I see a lot of injuries walk in my door, from various sports. It is not to say those sports are “bad”, but without mindful awareness injury is likely to occur. There is no real health-care on this island so all the more reason to take care of ourselves.

You can apply this to your mental state as well – when one is constantly mindlessly moving forward the next goal, or conversely numbing oneself from feeling by using alcohol or other substances that keep one from really feeling, then we are likely to get ourselves into reckless situations that end up causing us grief in the long-run. This is what is key – the long-run, even if you were to die tomorrow. What is the point of pushing oneself so hard, you’re going to be injured and have pain for the rest of your life? I have injuries from my exotic-dancing days (hips and knees injured). In that job, for five years, I pushed my physical and mental limits, and numbed myself with Vicodin to get through a working day/night – this was obviously not healthy. I do not regret that job – it taught me a lot, and yes, that job went to build my yoga studio and current dream job, but I have permanent injuries as a result dancing that hard. Yoga manages the injuries to a point I am actually physically pain-free now (and Vicodin free). Only if/when I push myself beyond my limits on the mat, do the injuries flare up. When they do flare up, I don’t curse them (anymore – there were times I cried into my mat) – I simply accept them now, and have learned where my “edge” is, and therefore am more in-tuned as to how to play that delicate edge.

Connection in interpersonal relationships is an ongoing exploration, as well. In dealing with family and friends, are you quick to react in the same conditioned way you have your whole life? Or are you willing to explore patterns that have been buried in the subconscious in an effort to experience something higher, something deeper, something more meaningful? Are you able to set healthy boundaries (being able to say no to negative influences), at the same time be open-minded to new, positive possibilities?

In sexuality, this same notion of to pause and feel can also be applied. Hey, of all people I admit, in the past I have been “fast”. Thanks to my natural state of paranoia I have made it through three decades of sexual activity without an unwanted pregnancy or an STD, however my otherwise reckless abandon has led me into some very precarious situations in the past, in ways that were not honoring myself. Hurtful situations. Toxic situations. Complicated situations. Even quite dark, dangerous, life-threatening situations. These were hard, yet great, learning experiences, as they taught me what I no longer want or deserve. When I woke up from a coma, in the very “third world” hospital wearing nothing but a diaper, having no identification, no money, no phone, jewelry stripped of me, and no family around me, it changed my view on how I need to treat myself. Now, after all this time, managing of the depths of depressions, to have tasted something sweet when it comes to a loving sexual relationship with another person, I have no tolerance for anything less.

We see in Hollywood movies new lovers rush into each other – quite contrived and faking it – rushing, grinding, banging up against the wall as soon as they see each other. I think this is what society deems as “passion”, and yes, that has it’s place. I do still love me some kink and some up-against-the-wall on occasion. However, now, for me to reach that point, it takes time to really connect with someone, to learn how to love myself and then another, and only THEN be able to truly appreciate some heated no-holds-barred sex. There is a level of trust and understanding that needs to occur before true freedom arises. Take time, in bed, to pause, and really look, feel, listen, taste, touch, smell – utilize all your senses in order to truly appreciate the connection between you and your lover. Yes, people who cleanly TASTE better. I now treat my body like a temple with whatever I allow to go into either end – only the best will do, because at long last, I deserve it.

It is no coincidence that at age 46, that after reaching some level of self-acceptance and going through some severe growing pains with my partner and I getting to know each other, that I was able to “achieve” my first vaginal orgasm. No I will not say “achieve” like it is some illustrious goal. We need to move away from this goal-oriented pursuit of life. I will say “experience”. I am grateful I got to experience my first vaginal orgasm this year and I do believe with 100% conviction that it was a result of what I have learned about myself on the yoga mat. Being able to attain that balance of courage and vulnerability. Of strength and flexibility. Taking time to feel one’s breath and beating of heart with the magnificence of awe. Of being with oneself – in the dark and the light – and coming out the other side more self-aware and full of compassion. To be humble enough to recognize one’s partner also deserves love, respect, understanding and compassion is also a very big endeavour….a ongoing exploration of body, mind and spirit. Two bodies vibrating and pulsating as one. My lover and I live on separate continents, yet I feel more connected and in “relationship” than ever before. THIS is true CONNECTION. This is true growth and transformation for the higher. This is true “Vinyasa”. Is it fast and easy? No. Is the patience and practice worth it? YES.

If you – male or female – are interested in learning how to go about this, or want to learn a deeper level of self-acceptance, or simply have an objective, non-judgmental ear to listen to you, or a shoulder to cry on (so to speak), I do offer professional, private nude-yoga lessons either in my studio, or viaSkype. However the focus in on YOU, as it should be for any yoga class. Same with the massage I offer. The focus is you, not me. It is your time to receive. Your time to share deepest secrets and/or fears in order to release them.  No shame. It is YOUR time to pause and feel…yourself.

Laura Kay