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Practice

This week’s post and art are from a couple of years ago. I found the approach to be helpful to revisit. I hope you do, too.

~~ Originally posted October 11, 2015 ~~
The first time I hear the phrase it pops me awake in a 615am yoga class at Kripalu . I’ve been on the road for a week. I haven’t slept well for days. It is, as I mentioned, just after 6am. I am fuzzy foggy at best but as soon as the instructor says it, I snap to attention:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

She says it and I think, Wait a minute, no, wait. That’s not right. Is it? We have only just started the class. I am only in Child’s Pose. How is it possible that I am doing Child’s Pose in the same way I do Wheel pose or teach my classes or hug my husband or write my blog?

For an hour, it ricochets around in my head: my argument about it couldn’t be true that how I do anything is how I do everything.

A few years later, I hear it again in another yoga class with an added phrase that also wakes me up:

How you do anything is how you do everything. Let your practice be a metaphor for your life.

The intervening time — that has included a sabbatical from and then a reinvigorated return to teaching and an equally reinvigorated yoga practice — has me more receptive to the idea. I begin to get it that the qualities, the intentions, the habits I bring along with me onto the mat are the same ones I bring everywhere else.

But not just that: Let your practice be a metaphor for your life. I have a choice about how I do everything I do.

The whole concept is intriguing enough that I want to investigate. It seems that the laboratory of the yoga studio is a good place to start. My first step is a down-to-the-bones honest observation. When I think about my yoga practice in the abstract when I’m off the mat, I go quickly to the distortions of I-suck-beat-myself-up or well-hey-I’m-pretty-darn-good-at-that – which is neither accurate nor helpful. Instead, I honestly observe myself as I’m doing my practice and ask myself How do I do this?

This is what I find:
1. I put in a good deal of effort – sometimes more than necessary.
2. I am dedicated to the point of obsession.
3. I am easily distracted until I get in the groove and then I’m focused.
4. I love learning but can get frustrated at the beginning when things are awkward.
5. I compare myself to others (especially in the distracted stage of #3).
6. I am strong and open in some ways, weak and resistant in others.
7. I tend to rush through and want to get to the next part.
8. For better or for worse, I easily fall into habit.
9. Interruptions (especially once I’m in the groove of #3) and the unexpected can upset me.

I’m sure there are other things that are also observable and true about my practice but Yes. That is how I do yoga. But is it how I do everything? Really?

I take my How I Do Yoga list and start running through my life: Writing, teaching, meditation, relationships, art, cooking. Gosh, would you look at that? Spot on. Every one. Every. Single. One.

Dang.

This is somehow simultaneously humbling and comforting. There I am. On the yoga mat, on the dance floor, at my desk, in my kitchen, in my life.

So the question is, what do I do with this metaphor for my life? I look at how I do yoga and ask, Is this how I want to do yoga? Is that how I want to teach? And write? And draw? And make dinner? And love people?

Some of it yes and some of it not so much. The truth is I can take the current metaphor and I can edit it. Just like I rework sentences and paragraphs in my posts so they are in closer alignment with what I want to say, I can choose to adjust my practice to be in closer alignment to how I’d like to live. And those edits on the mat will expand into everything I do.

Aritostle, widely remembered as an extremely clever guy, said [2019 NOTE: Turns out that not Aristotle, but Will Durant said this. More on that here.]

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I have a choice about the habits I cultivate on the mat and in my classes and in my writing and everywhere. As I make even small changes to doing anything, how I do everything will change, too.

It’s like an essay that I am reworking or a routine I’ve taught many times: Observe. Edit. Repeat.

So. (And you knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

How do you practice? How do you do the chores? How do you drive? How do you talk to people? What are your habits? Are they what you want them to be? Observe. Edit. Repeat.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

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Years ago, I saw a cartoon that has stuck with me (and darn it, I cannot find it now for the life of me even with The Google). It is a father and son sitting in a field looking at the night sky. The boy asks, “Dad, what’s the most powerful force in the universe?” and the father replies, “The force of habit.”

The very fact that you are reading this post indicates that you are interested in mindfulness. At some level, you want to stop sleepwalking through your time and be conscious of how you are living. You may practice in class with me or another teacher and you may have your own practice to support your longing for awareness.

Whatever your practice is, use it as an opportunity to wake up. Use that awakening as an opportunity to practice more.

As much as I want my practice to be my habit, it’s amazing how quickly I lose its thread. After an hour of yoga, I’ll be all Zen and peaceful and Om-shakalaka but nine minutes after walking out of class, I’ll be impatient and irritated in traffic. I’ll absorb the wisdom of a lovingkindness meditation but all it takes is one headline and I turn into a hater. I’ll take a mindful walk by the river, but as soon as I get back in the house, I’m not paying attention to anything but my river of thought.

Use your practice as an opportunity to wake up. Use that awakening as an opportunity to practice more.

Little by little, waking up begins to spill out beyond the formal practice times and spaces. I can choose to practice and choose to be awake and that awakeness leads to more like it. Once I experience aliveness and presence, the more I endeavor to expand that into other areas of my life. I can be present and awake while I’m making dinner or folding laundry, having a conversation with a friend or discussing finances with my partner. The more I can wake up in those situations, the more I am inspired to practice so I can stay present when I feel upset or angry or afraid. The more I practice the more I want to wake up and the more I wake up the more I want to practice.

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!” ~ Rumi

Regular practice slowly begins to shift long-held patterns. Regular practice softens our lizard brain edges and connects us to our humanity. Regular practice allows us to expand what we do in the studio, on the mat, on the cushion into how we show up in our work, our homes and in our relationships. And ultimately, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Use your practice as an opportunity to wake up. Use that awakening as an opportunity to practice more.

If you’ve taken a class from me in the past few years, you might notice that at the end, we offer this dedication of merit:

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

I’ve been practicing mindful movement for 20 years, but I don’t practice to get better at moving. I practice to get better at living. I don’t practice to be a better dancer or to be able to do Bird of Paradise pose. I practice to get better at being human. I practice in class and on my mat and on my cushion so I can go out into the world and live more skillfully. Dedicating merit is an acknowledgment of this deeper intention behind the physical movement and form.

The idea of dedicating merit is that by practicing, we are doing something beneficial, something wholesome, and that we can then choose to take that benefit and offer it into the world. While my personal practices definitely offer me personal benefit, dedicating the merit expands my view of it. Rather than making my practice all about me and the good things it does for me, I can choose to send it out to where it’s needed. This broadens my view not just of my practice but of my place in the complex web of the world. (Lama Palden Drolma wrote a wonderful piece on dedicating merit that articulates the desire to expand the goodness beyond the self. I hope you’ll read it. You can find it here.)

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

They are interesting questions, aren’t they? What are the seeds and roots of happiness? What are the seeds and roots of suffering? I might say swimming in the ocean or dancing with my friends or a square (or three) of dark chocolate make me happy. I might say that an achy low back or witnessing the abuse of power or losing someone I love cause me suffering. But those are just specifics. What are the seeds and roots?

Buddhists have been thinking about these questions for thousands of years and they identify greed, hatred and ignorance, or The Three Poisons, as the root causes of suffering. (I love this down-to-earth post by Kaitlyn Hatch about this.)

While it can be intellectually interesting and enlightening to explore Buddhist philosophy on these questions, I am a simple woman who can easily get lost in the weeds of thought. Here’s how I think about it: suffering is simply wanting things to be different than they are. When I want things to be different than they are, I either want more of something or less of something. The seeds and roots of suffering are grasping (wanting more) and aversion (wanting less). The seeds and roots of happiness are letting go of wanting more or less and being with whatever is happening just as it is.

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

Dedicating the merit is dedicating ourselves not just to our own betterment, to our own well-being but to the betterment and well-being of all. All people, all creatures, all beings everywhere. Given the state of the world, this is insanity, of course. Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, recognizes the enormity of the undertaking and calls it making the warrior commitment. Pema writes

It’s said that when we make this commitment, it sows a seed deep in our unconscious, deep in our mind and heart, that never goes away. This seed is a catalyst that jump-starts our inherent capacity for love and compassion, for empathy, for seeing the sameness of us all. So we make the commitment, we sow the seed, then do our best never to harden our heart or close our mind to anyone.

We’ll fail, of course. We’ll get caught in wanting more of this and less of that and being greedy and hateful and ignorant. Oh heck yeah, we’ll fail over and over. That’s why we practice over and over. And why, at the end of our practice we dedicate whatever merit we might have gained toward nourishing happiness and dissolving all suffering.

What does dedicating the merit mean to you? What do you experience as the seeds and roots of happiness and suffering? It would be a gift to share your thoughts in the comments below.


The practice of setting an intention is a way of consciously making a difference in our movement, our lives, and in the world. We make a difference whether we realize it or not. Setting an intention is a way of choosing the difference we want to make. (Check out last week’s post for more on this including a genius quote from Jane Goodall.)

What’s interesting, of course, is that we are human. Even if we set an intention, we won’t be able to stay with it. Not all the time. (Even though we know that it’s impossible, writer Leo Babauta suggests aspiring to that goal in his post Mindfulness All The Time. It’s a good read and I recommend it.) We’ll get distracted, get pulled into habit, go on auto-pilot. We’ll get pulled or pull ourselves away from our intention. That’s just the way it goes…for everybody.

The cool thing is that getting off track is not a bad thing. It’s actually fantastic. The moment that we find ourselves no longer connected to the intention we set is what Sharon Salzberg calls The Magic Moment (read her wonderful blog post about it here.) In her post, she’s talking about following the sensation of the breath in meditation as the intention. She writes,

if something arises — sensations, emotions, memories, plans, whatever it might be — that’s strong enough to take your attention away from the feeling of the breath, or if you’ve fallen asleep, or get lost in some incredible fantasy, the moment you realize you’ve been distracted is the magic moment.

It’s in that magic moment that we have the opportunity to really practice. We have the chance to begin again and to choose our intention again.

Stephanie Bennett Vogt teaches the A Year to Clear course that I’m taking right now (you can check that and other offerings at the Daily Om). She says that when creating a new practice, changing a habit or endeavoring to make any change, it requires four things:

Intent
Action
Non-Identification
Compassion

Her approach is that we need all four in order to create real and lasting change. If we only have Intent and no Action, the thought or desire just stays in our head. If we just have Action and no Intent, the action is unfocused, and arbitrary. If we have intention and action but don’t have non-identification and compassion, we’ll beat ourselves up when we get distracted and we’ll tend to quit.

I see it as a cycle more than a list. I see Intent as being the first step, knowing what we want to happen. Then Action is essential for embodiment and manifestation of what we want to occur. The Non-Identification (or as Buddhists would say, Non-Attachment) is not getting hooked on the outcome. Non-Identification is an allowing for things to unfold as they do without fighting against it. And then Compassion is the recognition that we are human and that we’ll forget and mess up in any number of ways and that’s just part of the process. I see it this way:

The Magic Moment happens with the Non-Identification and the Compassion: it’s when we realize we’ve veered from our intent in some way and that it’s time to return to it and make another action.

This mindful practice that we do together is impossible. No one can do it. And that is the whole point. It’s not about being perfect or never messing up. It’s about realizing we’ve lost our intention and then gently, kindly, beginning again.


If you’ve been a Focus Pocus Follower for a while, you might remember a post from several years ago called Be An Ant. It’s a favorite of mine in that it explains a core philosophy that I learned from my husband, Frank. “Be an Ant” is a powerful approach that I do my best to apply every day: do what’s in front of you, little by little, one step at a time. Be an ant. (If you don’t remember the post, do go check it out!)

In the intervening years, I’ve watched Frank “be an ant” over and over. Most recently, I’ve watched him take on the enormous project of building a house with that “ant-y” perseverance. He has a vision for where the project is going and every step of the way, every single day, he moves in that direction. Whether it was building the foundation, framing the walls, hanging the siding or making 15 hand-papered lanterns to hang in our new dining room, he has plugged along without letting the enormity of it all overwhelm him.

And now we have 13 hand-papered lanterns drying all around the house!

 

These days, I can find myself quickly overwhelmed by the enormity of the suffering in the world. And yet, I can apply the “be an ant” principle to the state of the world just as we did to making lanterns. When I am talking to a bullied gay teen, or listening to a woman stuck in an abusive marriage, or reading the relentlessly hopeless headlines, I can choose to do whatever little thing I can do to help.

Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg says, “Do the good that’s in front of you even if it feels small.”

Step by step, little by little, we can make a difference. That’s being an ant for a hurting world.

CLASS NOTE: This week, Mary Linn Bergstrom and I will be teaching together for these classes:
Tuesday, Nov 6, 840-940am at acac downtown
Tuesday, Nov 7, 545-645pm at acac Albemarle Square
Wednesday, Nov 8, 11-1215pm at acac Albemarle Square
Please join us!


P.S. I can only aspire to his mastery of it, but I’ve used it, too, for big projects and small. Most recently, I used “ant-ing” to create my book, Buddha Cat: Learning Awareness, Presence & Self-Care from a Teacher who Sometimes Barfs on the Bed. Read about my evolving practice of being an ant, in a recent piece I wrote in Streetlight Magazine. Please do take a look.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön

‘Tis the season of March Madness: the thrilling culmination of the college basketball season. March was once my least favorite month given its not-quite-spring-enough-with-the-winter-already damp, chilly grayness. But then I moved to Charlottesville and married a UVA grad and now I’m right there all month in my orange and blue pulling for the Hoos.

Over time, I’ve discovered that during March Madness (and, well, all year) I need to cultivate two things: the courage to allow myself fully into the energy and excitement and the skill to settle myself down.

It’s not just the way of college basketball. Shaking up and settling down is the way of life. Things pull in and spiral out. Our muscles contract and then lengthen. Breath draws in and relaxes out. My heart and mind and spirit get stirred up and then they quiet again.

Despite this reality, I often fear and resist the excitement, the turmoil, the uncertainty. It feels easier and safer to stay in control, in comfort, in habit.

This is, in part, why I practice on my mat, on the dance floor, and on the cushion. I practice getting stirred up and then settling down. I practice literally shaking myself and finding my center and ground. I practice remembering that this is the way of things and that happiness is rooted in my ability to move in and out of both.

No matter how much I want to avoid the tempest swirl, life doesn’t work that way. Inevitably, I get stirred up. Inevitably, I get activated. If not by March Madness or Wheel Pose or the latest headlines, then by a health crisis or a relationship rift or the loss of a friend. And when this happens, can I be in the swirling stirring with skill and then can I find my way out again to a state of peace?

Join me this week to dance with this courage and skill, to shake it up, shake it off and settle down…and then do it again.

 

This is my yoga mat. At the end of every class, I draw a heart. This is a picture of a process. All together, the hearts create not just an image but a practice.

And, would ya look at that? A routine created itself this week. I put together music that focused on the process and taking one step at a time, and this routine emerged. I’m calling it One Step Closer and we’ll keep playing with it to see what happens. I’d love feedback and thoughts from those who danced (or listened) to it this week!

Our variations on the One Step Closer playlist are below. If you’d like to listen to them, you can find almost all the music on Spotify where you can listen for free! Put the music we dance together with other pieces that lift you up, calm you, and challenge you!

But first, here are a couple of things I know you want to know about:

Moving to Heal classes with Sheila Queen Fridays 12:30-2pm at Northside Library
Join Nia Blue Belt and Moving to Heal Instructor, Sheila Queen for a class designed for anybody looking for a gentle movement practice to complement and facilitate healing of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Introductory classes offered at the Northside Libary Meeting room on Fridays, 1230-2pm, Jan 26, Feb 2 & 23, Mar 2, 9 & 23, Apr 6, 13 & 27. Contact Sheila with questions and for more information at squeen125@gmail.com and 434.882.4129.

Freedom to Move Workshop with Life Coach Heidi Shaner ~ Saturday, January 27, 2-5pm
Do you wish you could DANCE WITHOUT INHIBITION like you dance when you’re alone? YOU CAN! Join Edwin Roa, founder of Zabor Dance and Heidi Shaner, Strategic Intervention Life Coach, for an intensive workshop.

You’ve set your new year’s resolution so why not include EMOTIONAL WEIGHT LOSS? Yes! We’re integrating the best of both worlds: physical and emotional for an amazing experience of creativity and freedom.

What’s holding you back from moving your feet, hips, and shoulders freely? What obstacles prevent you from experiencing joy in your body?

We’ll explore the mind/body connection, how obstacles are created, what we really want, and how we can shift resistance through movement and discussion. We’ll create and perform a group dance to celebrate in this 3 hour workshop.

Join us for this self care, self love exploration and find freedom, joy, and connection in movement.

All are welcome, open to everyone.

Get out of your own way! Unleash your soul!
https://www.facebook.com/events/196616744225290/
Nourish Yourself & Live Life to the Fullest in Puglia – Southern Italy
April 28 – May 5, 2018 with Sandra Savine, Balanced Hedonist

Join Sandra Savine and Cinzia Rascazzo for a retreat: “Nourish Yourself & Live Life to the Fullest” in southern Italy (Puglia) at the beautiful 4 star hotel Tenuta Centoporte Resort – Giurdignano (Lecce), Puglia Italy http://www.tenutacentoporte.it/en/home/

Slow down and live life to the fullest: Take cooking classes, eat simple, delicious and nutritious Italian food. Savor the healthiest extra virgin olive oil. Pamper yourself in lovely Mediterranean style. Release yourself from stressful habits that do not serve you as you nourish the self and embrace the beauty and joy that is available to you in every moment.

Price is 2990 euro per person (based on a double/twin room accommodation – only 10 rooms available).
http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/649296/ae6f060099/289604645/9977cedc66/
As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, Jan 22, 2018, 1045am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Walk Into The Sun 5:21 Dirty Vegas
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Bizuru dub (Eccodek Stepper’s Dub Mix) 5:08 Eccodek Remixtasy
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
One Step Beyond 6:06 Karsh Kale
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

Tuesday, Jan 23, 2018, 840am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Walk Into The Sun 5:21 Dirty Vegas
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
One Step Beyond 6:06 Karsh Kale
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

Wednesday, Jan 24, 2017, 11am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Walk Into The Sun 5:21 Dirty Vegas
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? [Rae & Christian Remix] 4:59 Dinah Washington
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
Fanfarra_(Cabua-Le-Le) 4:05 Sergio_Mendes
Things Can Only Get Better 3:56 Howard Jones
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

Thursday, Jan 25, 2017, 840am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? [Rae & Christian Remix] 4:59 Dinah Washington
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
Fanfarra_(Cabua-Le-Le) 4:05 Sergio_Mendes
Things Can Only Get Better 3:56 Howard Jones
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

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