Yoga for Men; Translating the Goddess

I was taking a class at one of the studios I frequent.  As the class is moving through the flow, the voice of the instructor drifts into my consciousness.  She is going on about feminine power, releasing the female goddess inside and such.  I’m not really the inner goddess type.  But there was still a good message in what she was saying.

Image courtesy of wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com.

What the message needed was translating.  Unleashing the inner goddess to sustain a posture means nothing to me.  Run it through the translator and I get dig deep and don’t move.  That means something to me.

I understand symbolic speech is great for bringing images to mind as a way of relaying information, messages or lessons without explicitly stating them.  The reason for this is that if I say something directly, what is communicated is limited by my vocabulary or the vocabulary we have in common.  If I use symbols instead, it opens a means to a deeper understanding.  However, both parties need to understand the references, or the whole scheme falls apart.

One easy example is “That piece of wood is as hard as a rock.”  Pretty much everyone gets that and it seems straightforward because everyone knows the reference.  But if I go a little out of the norm with “Stand as a dragon upon the mountain,” it becomes less clear.

Image courtesy of cirquedumot.com Page by Susan Silver.

Image courtesy of cirquedumot.com Page by Susan Silver.

The key to understanding these symbolic statements is to understand the reference.  Some will be easy, some a little on the fringe but understandable, and some are just so frou-frou that I just stare blankly and hope I get the meaning later.

Here is a list of things heard at yoga studios and how I think they translate to guy speak.  As you read through, if you have other translation ideas, or better, if you have other phrases in need of translation, please let me know.

  1. Release the inner goddess to sustain your posture – as stated above, dig deep and hang in there.
  2. Shine your light – Be all you can be.
  3. Take a moment to embrace your pricelessness – Congratulate yourself, job well done.
  4. Experience the delightful beings around you – Look around, be friendly, you might make a new friend.
  5. Live in your own authentic experience – Don’t do something just because the person next you is doing it.
  6. Transformational joy and delight – Honestly, I haven’t got a clue, so suggestions welcome…..
  7. Surrender to the universe – Leave your stress at the door and go with the flow.
  8. Gratitude for sharing your practice with me – Thanks for coming in today.
  9. Blessed inner light – You seem like a decent person, welcome.
  10. Namaste – Thanks, sometimes good bye (sometimes something a little less pleasant?)
  11. Om – Universal sound and typically the first chant new students hear.  Not scary and no one cares if you are tone deaf (at least they haven’t objected to me, and I *am* tone deaf).
  12. Honor the shining light within you – Good job, be happy.
  13. You are the love of your life (contributed by my wife) – Stop waiting for someone else to make you happy.
  14. Doing anything from a pure and loving heart – Do your best, don’t hurt yourself and don’t worry what the bendy person next to you is doing.
  15. Embrace your magnificence – Let your freak flag fly.

When I first started yoga I was frustrated and sometimes irritated by the flowery speech.  Over time I have come to understand the benefits it brings.  Being able to share an idea in a fashion that leaves room for interpretation engages the listeners and allows them the space to fit it into themselves instead of forcing them into the idea.

Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

Over time the symbolic speech has become easier to understand as I have gotten more familiar with the references.  I invite and welcome additions to this list.

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Benefitting from Surrender

I was enjoying a yoga class recently, and the instructor lead us into Shivasana.  She queued it in terms of surrendering our body, our minds and our emotions as a way to integrate the practice that day.  I love a good Shivasana, so I made a mental place holder and dived deep into that posture and experience.

 

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson  / Flickr.

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson / Flickr.

When I picked up the mental place holder it was because the thought I had was the queuing of the posture had been very emotionally vulnerable.  Words like surrender and open being used in yoga is very common, but what is the impact on men?

 

 

 

 

 

From a very young age, I had it drilled into my head that real men don’t cry, don’t show weakness, don’t show pain (except if a limb is removed, then real men swear) and most of all, real men never back down or surrender (The Duke *never* surrendered).

 

Courtesy The Green Berets (1968)

Courtesy The Green Berets (1968)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it can take a lot of work and it challenges our (at least my) cultural identity.  To be clear, I’m not lobbying for a generation of men who cry at AT&T commercials or when they stub their toes.  What I am saying is that as men we need to acknowledge that we have a range of emotions that is wider than what I see as the big four:

 

  1. She/He’s hot
  2. I’m hungry/thirsty
  3. I’m mad, must break things
  4. I’m happy

 

This stereotypical thinking has gone a long way in making things like yoga more difficult for men to approach.  It has been my experience that surrender in this case isn’t about giving up.  Surrender is so much more about strength; being brave and staying with our endeavors when we don’t have the upper hand or are vulnerable.

 

Surrendering isn’t about being weak and running away or hiding from a challenge.  Surrendering is about letting go of that which is safe in order to explore newer, deeper meanings or emotions in life.  For me, the toughest concept to work on has been surrendering the illusion of control.  Hearing Oogway explain it to Shifu in Kung Fu Panda really hit home for me.

 

Image courtesy of UpcoRaul.

Image courtesy of UpcoRaul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Control over things is an illusion and the source of great stress in life.  You can choose where to plant a plum tree, how much water to give it and even build a shelter to regulate the temperature.  But in the end, you can’t control the weather.  Nor can you control the seed.  No matter how much you may want an apple or peach tree, the plum seed will always give me a plum tree.  And there is nothing you can do about it.

Image courtesy of ForestWander Nature Photography.

Image courtesy of ForestWander Nature Photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The take away for me is that trying to enforce my will (control) over something that I can’t control (pretty much anything outside of myself and my emotions) leads to frustration (a lack of contentment) and if it continues, could lead to anger and resentment.  If I allow myself to give up the notion of trying to control things outside of myself, a whole domino effect happens.  I have less stress and frustration.  I am likely to be happier and more content with my life.  I have mental and emotional space to use on other pursuits.

 

Surrender is about giving up what doesn’t work for you.  It is about letting go of things, situations and even people that are of no benefit and that more likely drain us of time, energy and emotions.  Surrender is giving up the illusion that we can control everyone and everything around us.

 

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a question to ponder.  Knowing that surrendering is giving in or giving up, but freeing yourself from something or someone who isn’t good for you, what are you willing to surrender today?

Appreciating Being “Present”

One of the benefits of yoga is the idea of moving into a state of mind of being “present” or in the present.  As a definition of being present (for this post at any rate) I propose ‘a state of mind where I(or you) are completely focused on the situation that is occurring as it occurs without the distracting thoughts of past, future or what’s for dinner.’

 

Being present is a big deal in yoga and meditation circles.  It is viewed as a gateway to moving to a higher level training and concentration.  On top of that, there are articles, blogs and research that all tout the benefits of practicing this present mind.  Better concentration, less fatigue, more happiness, stress reduction, boosting the immune system and so many more.

 

Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD h.koppdelaney \ flickr.

Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD h.koppdelaney \ flickr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But being present isn’t easy.  Especially not in today’s gadget filled, always connected world.  The opportunities for distractions to take us away from the present are increasing daily, and the distractions themselves are growing more invasive.  It takes a great deal of planning to avoid these interruptions to life (cell phones, television, tablets, social media, etc.).  For example, I look at cell phone coverage maps of the United States to find places with little to no coverage and then plan a vacation there just so I get enforced down time.

 

Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

That has become less practical since I first started doing it as cell coverage has gotten better across the country and what is left uncovered is most likely someplace I don’t want to visit.  However, there are things that can be done every single day to help us find and stay present.  Even if it’s not throughout the whole day, I find tiny bits of presence to be welcome.

 

One way I build presence into my day is to set aside and guard ferociously time with my family.  During that time there is a self-imposed gadget black-out.  This black-out has a few benefits.  First, it is together time where we all focus on nothing but each other.  Second, since it is a scheduled activity, we know that anything that needs attention needs to be done beforehand.  This allows for a natural transition time from the hectic life to the present life because no one likes feeling rushed so we wrap things up early, just in case.

 

Another is to disengage my cell phone from my hip.  This happens when I work out, have family time and sleep.  My cell is in another room entirely overnight.  There is no chance of the buzz, flickering light or ring of distraction to suck me in.

 

The last way I wanted to share today is one I practice with my daughter (well, I try to practice with everyone, but I put the most effort in with her).  That is to give her my complete and undivided attention when we are together.  This could be a conversation in the car after picking her up from school, over dinner, or my favorite time of the day, which is breakfast.

 

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This dedicated, focused time of active listening allows us to talk, share ideas and thoughts and to feel truly heard by the other.  If there is any single benefit that I believe men can take from yoga, above improved health, flexibility and all that, is the ability to connect with our families in a deeper and more meaningful manner.