Sunday, August 25, 2019

Radio silent


Lately I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping. 
It’s become a challenge these past few months.  My oldest cat has her days and nights mixed up, so I’m often awakened to the sound of books being knocked off the bedside table.  Sometimes she stands by the door that leads to the dormer and hollers, “Hell-ooo…hell-ooo”, thinking my significant other, Steve, will magically appear.  What used to be my yoga studio has been transformed into his man cave and Jhoti thinks he should instantly appear whenever she calls for him, but more often than not, she’s met with silence...and that’s a very good thing.

Silence has been something hard to come by this year.  Since last November I’ve been busier than I’ve been in a decade, teaching yoga and taking care of twin five-year-old boys who at one time were selectively mute.   They would speak at home with their parents and older siblings, but would freeze with strangers or in public.  At first I tried cajoling them by talking myself or asking questions that always went unanswered.  After a couple of days, I decided to just be quiet, to let silence fill the room and see what happened next.  It didn’t take long before the floodgates opened and I couldn’t get them to stop talking…not that I wanted to as they are both charming, witty little boys.
So for nearly eight months, when I wasn’t on my mat teaching sun and moon salutations, I was encouraging the boys to speak when I took them to the playground, to order and pay for their own food at Chick –fil-A, to ask for assistance at the library.  At first, they were hesitant, but it didn’t take long before the boys became more confident.  After a couple of months, I forgot they were selectively mute as I marveled at the way the chatterboxes used their charming wit with cashiers, other children, even the mailman. 
Sure, there were days when I longed for five minutes peace (and grew to have more compassion for parents everywhere), but it was a joy to encourage, then stand back and watch the boys as they experienced the freedom of speaking for themselves.  Yes, it was demanding and sometimes overwhelming to take care of incredibly active young children, but they started kindergarten this week and I hope that the experiences we had together prepared them for a lifetime of learning.

In early June, my time with twins came to an end…and so did my yoga business.  After twenty years, it was time for a change.  I thought I’d have a few weeks to rest, but with Steve moving in shortly after, and then starting a new job as a physician’s assistant in July, there wasn’t much time to relax and renew.   Summertime has been in full swing with buzzing lawn mowers, humming air conditioners, and outdoor noise galore, so silence has been a hot commodity. 
For more than thirty years I lived alone, spending hours on end in a quiet house that I often took for granted.  Now that my life has changed forever – and for the better – it's been strange getting used to the sounds of another person walking around or watching TV in the space above me.  While I’m no longer startled by Steve’s footfalls on the steps or the clatter of kitchen utensils when he’s cooking later in the evening, I’m often kept awake long after my bedtime.  Still, the weekends that were once Productive Saturdays and Silent Sundays have turned into quality time with someone who used to be the boy next door and is now the man of the house.
As summer winds down, I’m establishing a new normal.  Steve and I have settled into a comfortable routine.  The intensity of diving back into the professional world has transformed into calmness as I find my own confidence in managing an office that was once completely baffling.  I take advantage of quiet mornings like this one when I can enjoy a cup of coffee on the back porch or meditate in the garden.
Or make the time to write again.

For nearly three years, that part of my life has been radio silent, as I’ve not had the time, focus, or motivation to put anything on paper.  There hasn’t been consistent quiet in which to once more get used to a blank page or screen in front of me and trust that words will come…eventually.  In some ways, I've allowed the writer inside to be selectively mute while I dealt with a host of real-life issues, some mundane, some incredibly intense, yet all of it grist for the mill. Now I’m ready for a change of seasons -- both literal and literary.  While I have no idea what novel idea will emerge in the days and weeks to come, I’m thankful for the fertile ground of my new foundation that will hold the space until it’s ready to surface.
Sometimes silence is golden, but lately I’ve found that silence feels more like my garden in late summer…in full bloom yet ready for the transition to come.








Friday, June 21, 2019

Long time sun

Long time sun
Originally published on June 17, 2013

As the days grow longer and the sun wakes me earlier each morning, I'm reminded that this weekend is the summer solstice.  In 2011, I began a seven part yoga series in which my students and I focus on one energy center, or chakra, of the body for twelve months.  Each year builds on what came before, integrating the lessons of each chakra and allowing that energy to expand throughout the whole of our being.  In 2011, we started with our roots, then last year, integrated the experience of the pelvis, low back and hips.  This year, we're focusing on the solar plexus, the home of our "inner sun."  
The solar plexus focuses on courage, self-worth, healthy personal boundaries, and individuation.  In my experience, this is perhaps the most challenging energy center to heal in the human experience, for entering the fire of the ego can be terrifying, but it's through this very profound burning that we can rise from the ashes, reborn and newly whole.
           
I've made some very radical choices in my lifetime and was often called "courageous" while in the midst of intangible transitions.  I didn't think so at the time.  To me, starting over again was easier than staying in a situation that was arduous and exhausting.  When I left Washington Local Schools, the human resources manager asked what I planned to do next.
"I honestly don't know," I replied. 
He lifted his brows.  "Aren't you afraid?"
I gave him a sad smile.  "I'm more afraid of what will happen if I stay."
That wasn't the first time I'd made a choice with little to no safety net, (and it certainly wouldn't be the last) but through it all, I discovered that I am indeed one brave lady.

Five years ago, I put my house on the market and drove west to start a new life in Big Sur.  What I remember most about that time now is not my time in California, but the trips to and from a place that would indomitably show me what I'm made of.   I drove by myself from Toledo across 80-90 in a little tin can that, in the seven years I'd owned it, made only a three hour road trip.  Now I had only five days to drive nearly 2,000 miles across desolate plains and through winding mountains, often with no cell service.  I had flown to California before, but had never driven further west than Indiana, and wasn't prepared for the paralyzing fear that gripped me every morning as I sat in ramshackle motel rooms willing myself to get out of bed. 
On the second day of my trip, I awoke in Wyoming to an April morning filled with grey clouds and a light snowfall.  I lay beneath the stiff white sheets and cried, terrified to get out of bed.  What if I got lost?  What if one of my tires blows?  What if the engine overheats because I've over-packed the car?   What if I've made the wrong decision and I'm totally screwing up my life?  But somewhere in the fog of anxiety, a clearer voice rang through, "Get up, Katie.  You can't go back now...so just get going."
And so I did.
As I packed the car, the sun rose over the horizon.  A woman came out of the motel room next to mine, hauling a heavy suitcase.  We said "hello" to each other and our breath hovered in the chilly air.  As she turned her face to mine, I noticed one of her eyes was blackened and her jaw was purple and swollen.
"Are you alright?" I asked
She nodded. 
"Do you need help?"
She shook her head. "I'm fine, darlin.'  Just heading to my daughter's house.  I'll be safe there."
"Are you alone?" I asked, glancing toward her room.
"Yes."  She explained that she'd just left her husband the day before and this time, for good.  "I can do it now.  I'll be fine...thank you for asking."
 As I drove onto the highway, she was ahead of me for a while, then disappeared around a bend.  It was then that I began to understand the different kinds of courage we all must manifest to create changes.  Heaven knows what that woman would experience in the days and weeks to come and I prayed she'd continue to rely on the strength that had at least gotten her that far.
           
 One my friends from Esalen, a wise woman named Chie, taught me many things while we weeded the gardens and harvested herbs.  Chie was fierce in her insistence that I ignore the drama around me and continue to move forward in my own way.  Before she left to go back to Japan, her last words to me were, "You be you...you keep going."    
A simple, yet profound statement, and one I continue to explore on my yoga mat, in relationships, and through the very complicated journey of writing a memoir.  How to be authentically myself and keep going in a world that often baffles me?  It takes stamina and faith that, while I may not know what's around the corner, I can stand on my own two feet and meet whatever comes with clarity.
Like anything, building courage is a lifelong process.  Once we meet what we're afraid of, we find out what we're made of...until the next lesson comes along and tests us some more.  While I no longer take blind leaps of faith, I have been known to strap on a parachute and do some emotional and psychological sky diving now and then.  I've learned that time and experience are beautiful things, especially when they light the way onward.
This summer solstice, I hope you discover the "long time sun" within each one of you.  May all love surround you and may the pure light within you guide your way on.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Come as you are


It seems everywhere I go these days there are new yoga studios popping up on street corners, in strip malls, and office buildings around my hometown.  My friends have shared stories about practicing yoga with goats and alpacas and even yoga classes on floating boards  at Olander Park.  Since  yoga hit the big time, I guess there’s something exotic for everyone.  But since I started practicing more than twenty years ago, I’m more content with a secluded corner spot in a quiet studio, preferably my own — sans any animal except for a cat or two.

The word “yoga” simply means to yoke, to connect.  So practicing yoga can be as simple as have an intimate conversation with someone or taking a long walk at Wildwood.  Hatha yoga is the style most often practiced in our culture.  The physical poses and movements have become so popular, even Shoebox cards depict yogis in all shapes and sizes.  I saw one this afternoon while perusing the birthday aisle and almost bought one for my friend.  But I didn’t think Barb would appreciate the woman on the front saying, “Namaste Bitches” then justifying her hostility on the inside by snarking, “It’s not your age, but your attitude that counts.”

Then again, maybe despite the sarcasm, that card held some good advice.  

I’ll be fifty-two in less than a month and since being hospitalized last September with sepsis, I’ve noticed my body has been aging.  Maybe it’s because of the recovery process.  Maybe it's the fact that I’m stepping into my fifth decade and the length of time gravity has been pulling on my body is becoming all too evident.  Maybe it’s just life and no matter how much I exercise, no matter how often I get on my yoga mat or change my diet or use sunscreen, time takes it’s toll.  Oh, well…it happens to us all if we’re on this planet long enough.  

Lately I’ve come to accept that the state of my mind is often more important than the state of my body.  Recognizing my attitude is everything, especially when I’m mired in anger or frustration.  I learned a long time ago that everything I do is a choice.  Everything I say or think or believe is a choice as well.  So when I make a snippy comment about how stinky a studio would be surrounded by a herd of alpacas, it’s my choice to be judgmental.  When I lament about how difficult it can be to run a private yoga studio when the market is super-saturated, I’m choosing to lose sight of why I decided to teach yoga in the first place.  When I struggle with the realities of aging as a yoga instructor and wonder how many good years I have left, I forget about Ethel Mercer, one of the very first yoga instructors in Toledo who taught until she was well into her eighties.

Actually, I wasn’t supposed to teach yoga this long, rather it was a wonderful way to earn a living while writing books and working my way into the publishing world.  Like everyone I suppose, my life didn’t turn out as planned.  I’ve had to learn infinite patience while meandering my way through writing, editing, self-publishing, and seeking a new literary agent. There have been years when I wrote book after book after book and there have been years of drought when I could hardly think about reading a book, let alone write one.  Through it all, my yoga practice has been a stalwart presence, a constant in an endless ocean of uncertainty that I’m still navigating.  

But the destination doesn’t really matter.  I’ve learned how to come as I am to the mat, no matter how the day has been.  No matter the challenges and changes.  No matter the outside noise or inner chaos.  No  matter if I am with a host of students or by myself, being present with whatever is happening in the moment is the surest way to find peace, even if my life’s circumstances are far from tranquil.   

Long before I took my first yoga class, I had a long couch placed in the northwest corner of a place that would eventually become my home studio.  Nearly every day I retreated into silence of that dormer to rest, to cry, to draw or sing or journal.  That quiet space became a haven, a tiny sanctuary where I could meet myself without judgement, without others judging me.  I could simply be myself.  Now I teach in that little corner and over the years have welcomed hundreds of students to come as they are, to bring whatever they are experiencing in the moment, to know that for the next hour and a half, they are safe with me.   

Like nearly everyone I know, it’s been a struggle this year to walk through the unknown in many areas of my life, so in the midst of the mystery, my yoga practice has been a true constant.  I don’t always like the person I am in each moment, but I value the person I am becoming, on my yoga mat and off, for I know I’m doing the very best I can to be honest, to be authentic, to be with life just as I am.  

Oddly enough, my favorite yogi was mostly silent and taught by example how to be a peaceful, incomparable soul.   Forest, one of my yoga cats, passed away a few weeks ago, and his presence in the studio has been truly missed.  Always knowing when a student needed extra love or attention, Forest made a beeline to him/her, gently curling up on their feet or rubbing his leathery nose on their head.  Consistently calm, eternally sweet, Forest welcomed everyone and often slept near my mat, completely content with whatever was happening in the moment.  He was Zen personified in a cat suit.

So maybe I don’t practice with goats or alpacas, but that’s okay.  I’m more comfortable hanging out with my cats who often cuddle during relaxation and purr me to sleep. Perhaps that’s the ultimate form of yoga…being connected to a source of unconditional acceptance and loved simply because we exist.



If you're interested in more information about semi-private yoga classes, 
please contact me at ingersoll.katie@gmail.com.


Forest and his friend, Doris, connecting at the  close of yoga class.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Relax and renew yoga

This September, summer weather is sticking around for a while and the living should still be easy.  Unfortunately, not for me this time around.  Since early April, one thing after another has taxed my nervous system, overly-stressed my body, and made meditation nearly impossible.  By early July, I found myself spiking a 102.8 degree fever with the worst migraine I've ever had.  Two weeks later it boomeranged back again and my temperature went even higher…up to 103.8.  A trip to the doctor was in order and I literally cried when I stepped on the scale which revealed I had lost a good deal of weight in less than three weeks.
While on vacation at Posey Lake, I was just fine and it seemed I was on the road to good heath.  Then the Friday before Labor Day weekend, I ran a temperature of 105 so Steve took me to the ER where I was diagnosed with a kidney stone that was blocking a ureter causing sepsis.  After an emergency surgery at two in the morning, I spent three days in the ICU followed by another three days in a step down room where I slowly regained my strength.  I've been told I'll make a full recovery, thanks to my age and having been healthy for most of my life.  These days, I simply need to be mindful of taking step by step choices toward finding a new kind of balance.   So I’m spending the rest of 2017 taking care of myself, walking my talk, and eventually making my way toward a healthier future.  Yes, it’s often two steps forward, one step back, but I’m enjoying simple blessings every day, which includes a gentle, restorative yoga practice.  
Here’s a sample of what I’ve been practicing during this unintentional hiatus...with a little help from my yoga cat, Forest.
Enjoy!

         
Awareness Exercise
Spend a few moments relaxing on your back, using a support beneath your knees and/or neck.  Feel the earth holding the back of your heart and shoulder blades, letting go into the support of gravity beneath you.  Feel the back of your head and let go into the space behind your eyes.  Feel the length of your spine and drop your sacrum into the earth, softening the pelvic floor.  Let go through your legs and feet, then soften into your shoulders once again.  
 As you soften into the heart, relax your chest, abdomen, and belly.  Watch your breath move all the way in…then all the way out.  If you would like, place one hand on your lower abdomen and one on the solar plexus.  Continue to watch the breath and if you would like, practice deep breathing...inhaling through your nose and exhaling though your mouth.  If your mind is busy, practice slow, deep nasal breathing.  Follow your breath all the way in...then all the way out for a few minutes.
 Now relax into silence and watch your mind.  Does it wander into the past?   Play in possible situations that may or may not happen in the future?   If you're aware of the present moment, notice what sounds, sensations, or feeling rise up.   See if you can allow whatever is happening in your mind with no judgment or expectation that it be different.  Awareness exercise gives you the opportunity to tune into the present moment with greater clarity.  


Knee Flopping

Knee flopping is a wonderful movement that stretches your ribs, elongates the spine, and allows your lower back to gently adjust itself.  Start lying on your back with your knees bent, hip width apart.  Gently rest your hands on your abdomen or lace your fingers together and rest your head in the palms.
Take a gentle breath in, then as you breathe out, slowly flop your knees toward one side only moving as far as your spine is comfortable, making sure your shoulders stay on the ground.   Breathe in as you bring your knees back to the center, then reverse the movement on the next exhalation. 
Repeat as often as you’d like.
Supported Child's Pose

When I practice supported child’s pose, I use a bolster, but if you don’t have one, you can use a couch cushion or a folded blanket.  Starting in table pose (on hands and knees with hand beneath your shoulders and knees beneath the hips), widen the stance of the knees so you can tuck a bolster, cushion, or blanket between your upper legs.
Take a gentle breath in, then as you exhale, relax forward and rest your body on the support beneath you.  If you need to, you can always add height to support challenges in the hips, knees, feet.  Rest your head by turning your neck to one side.  Just remember to gently turn it the other way to counter-stretch.  Let your arms soften into the earth and breathe.  Let gravity hold you here as long as you’d like.

Reclining Buddha
Lie on one side with your head supported by a pillow or yoga block.  Make sure your knees are stacked so that your hips stay in good alignment.  I place a folded pillow between my knees to keep my hips stabilized and to soften the pressure in the joints.  The arm that is on the floor can rest perpendicular to your body or bend at the elbow, whichever is most comfortable.  The other arm can rest alongside your body. 

Rest and breathe, feeling your body sinking more deeply into the earth.  Stay here for as long as you like, then gently roll to the other side and repeat.

Reclining Spinal Twist
For this pose, you can use one or two bolsters.  If you don’t have a bolster, you can fold up a thick blanket.  To begin, sit with your right hip next to a bolster that is perpendicular to your body.  Make sure there is at least a fist’s width between the bolster and your hip (you can scoot away from the support to create more room for your belly and low back if you’d like).  Gently turn your body to the right and rest your rib cage, shoulder and right side of your head on the bolster.  The right arm is behind you with the elbow bent; the hand is palm up by your hip.  The left arm can rest on the floor or on another bolster.

Again, allow gravity to hold you while you gently breathe into the twist.  When you are ready, gently move your right hand so it is beneath your shoulder, then us your upper body strength to push up out of the pose.  Repeat on the other side.  

Supported Back Arch
For this pose, you’ll need two bolsters, two bricks, and a pillow if you wish to support your head.  Place one bolster length-wise on your mat and the other one width-wise about a foot and a half away.  Place two bricks parallel to each other below the width-wise bolster.  Lie back on the lengthwise bolster, making sure there is at least a fist’s width between your body and the support.  You can place a pillow beneath your head for more neck support.  Then, rest your legs on the other bolster, placing your feet or calves on the bricks.  You can also place your feet on the floor or let them float…whatever feels the most natural for you.

Breathe deeply and let go into the supports beneath you.  If you're comfortable, you can rest here for at least five minutes.  Many of my students use this pose for final relaxation at the end of their practice.

Legs Against the Wall
This is one of my favorite poses…and I’ve been practicing it for more than twenty years.  It’s great for after work or when you’ve been on your feet a lot and is one of the most relaxing, cooling poses you can choose before bedtime.  My friend, Christy, calls this pose “Butt Against the Baseboard” because that’s how you begin.  Lie on your side with your glutes right up against the baseboard and your spine perpendicular to the wall.  Then gently roll onto your back and lengthen your legs against the support behind them.  The knees can be bent if you’d like.  Ideally, your glutes should be touching the wall, but that’s not always comfortable. 

Stay in this pose as long as you’d like.  It’s wonderful for relieving low back pain and releases edema in the legs and feet.  This is my go-to pose after a long day in the garden.  When you’re ready to come out, bend your knees and walk your feet down the wall, then roll over to one side and rest there for a few moments before you sit up.  

Savasana/Relaxation

Many people practice relaxation by simply lying on the floor with their arms relaxed out to the sides.  This modified version is great for softening the pelvis, low back, and spine.  One of my students shared this with the class last summer and we often practice “Stonehenge” at the end of the session. 

Place two bricks on the floor at any height you choose, then stack a bolster on top.  Lie on your side (like you did in the previous pose) and roll over onto your back, resting your calves on the bolster.  You can rest with your arms out the side as pictured, or with your elbows bent, hands resting on your body.  As this is a cooling pose, you may want to cover yourself with a light blanket.    Breathe deeply and relax into the earth, letting go more and more with every exhalation.  
Studies show that over time, fifteen minutes of deep relaxation can be equal to three hours of sleep! I practice relaxation for at least fifteen minutes, and on more stressful days, even longer, especially if a black cat or two is cuddling with me. 








































Monday, August 7, 2017

Welcome to peace...love...yoga

Yoga has been an integral part of my life for more than twenty years.  It’s been a respite, a source of recovery, and an incredibly heart-opening way for me to earn a living.  When I arrived at Lotus Yoga for my first class in the fall of 1996, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would I be able to do the poses?  I wondered.  Would I be comfortable in a room full of strangers?  Would I find a source of peace in the midst of the chaotic life I had been living?  It was a slow process, but in the end, the answer to all three questions was a resounding “yes”, and over time, I discovered that to practice yoga from the inside out is a gracious blessing.
Last week one of my yoga students suggested I weave together my love of yoga and my passion for writing.  While I’ve often been asked over the years to make a video or an instructional CD, I’ve always been hesitant to teach yoga without being able to observe my students and notice what they might need in the moment.  Because I only work with five or six people at a time, our classes are highly individualized, based on each person’s energy level, the challenges they bring to the mat, and their intentions for the session.  
When Katie suggested, “You could write simple yoga practices designed around a word…an intention...and include five or six photos that show the poses with detailed instructions on how to modify for individual needs.”
"What a wonderful idea," I smiled.  "That's exactly how I've been practicing these days."
Later that night, I thought about what yoga has given to me, especially during this incredibly challenging summer.  What I need to practice now is not a host of planks or headstands or scorpions.  These days, I’ve come full circle to that chilly Tuesday night in November when I entered a yoga studio for the first time seeking peace…seeking love…and needing a deeper connection with myself.  Now, more than ever, I’m striving to walk my talk…and am delighted to share the journey with you.
Welcome to Peace…Love…Yoga. 
I’m so glad you’re here.






Radio silent

Lately I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping.  It’s become a challenge these past few months.  My oldest cat has her days and nights mixed...