Be gentle

When I tell my daughter to be gentle, I’m asking her to begin a lifelong practice of kindness, politeness, civility, patience. I’m asking her to start working on the things that I continue to work on in adulthood.

This month, my sweet and silly 11-month-old baby has developed a new habit of swatting. She does it when she’s tired, excited, or frustrated, and it’s her way of communicating that emotion or need to us. Regardless, being swatted in the face isn’t pleasant, so 3-4 times a day my husband and I lightly redirect her hands and encourage her to be gentle.

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That’s a powerful little hand.

Be gentle. I’ve repeated that phrase so often lately: patiently, calmly again and again.

I’m not always the most patient. I don’t always communicate my needs with grace. I can be downright demanding. I can approach a disagreement with a certain amount of righteousness. I’m often quick to judge and quick to speak, and the result is sometimes that I say things I wish I’d said kindlier—or not at all.

When I tell my daughter to be gentle, I’m asking her to begin a lifelong practice of kindness, politeness, civility, patience. I’m asking her to start working on the things that I continue to work on in adulthood. When I think of it this way, I feel humbled. I also feel tremendous empathy for my swatting little daughter at the start of her life-long journey toward impulse control and gentleness. Her lesson—at 11 months—is a lesson for us all. It’s a reminder to cultivate more empathy, more patience. It’s a reminder to continue to strive for kindness toward others.

Be gentle. Be gentle when communicating: your loved ones will more easily remain open to your needs if you tread lightly.

Be gentle. Be gentle in your approach to others. They may have had a hard day, a long day. Give them a buffer, too.

Be gentle. Be gentle with your family and friends. They are the ones you’re closest to.  Don’t take their presence for granted. Treat them with love.

Be gentle. Be gentle with others—and be gentle with yourself, too. The way you treat others often mirrors the way you treat yourself. Whenever you can, be kinder, be gentler, be more loving.

Be gentle.

 

Blame: a five letter word

Many of our biggest, more unpleasant emotions are just facades. We blame because we feel vulnerable.

When things go wrong, we’re wired to quickly and immediately decide why. Us humans: we’re logical creatures, and we want to understand patterns and reasons. Couple that with the inevitable disappointment and frustration we feel when plans change and you’ve hit upon our dirty, might-as-well-be-four-letter word: blame.

When things fall apart, we seek to find someone to blame (even if it’s ourselves) because being able to blame someone for failure makes us feel more in control.

Finding a reason for why things went south gives us the sense that if we just work harder or if others just do what they’re supposed to, all will go right. All the time. If we just stay on top of it all, there will be no bad things. No pain. No loss. No disappointment.

When you hear it like that, it seems pretty ridiculous, right?

When messes get made, many of us see a consistent pattern emerge of either deep self-recrimination (“I messed up! This is my fault!”) or deep anger at someone else (“I can’t believe this happened! This is all his fault!”)

Here’s the thing: when things turn out differently than we planned, we inevitably feel upset about it. Rather than deal with those upset feelings by blaming ourselves or others, we can choose to attend to our own disappointment and pain. It’s much scarier to sit with sadness and loss than it is to turn that sadness and loss into an action: anger, blame, frustration—leveled at ourselves or our loved ones—but being present to the underlying feelings of pain is what we actually need. When we’re upset that things are messed up, we need to pause and take a moment (or many moments) to offer compassion to ourselves.

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Pause. Breathe. Offer compassion to yourself.

Because the truth is that when things go wrong, most often no one is really at fault. Accidents or mistakes happen or unforeseeable problems occur and there’s nothing you or anyone else could do to prevent those things. There’s no amount of control that will keep us safe. (And maybe that’s because there’s no true “safe,” but that’s another post.)

Even when there are causal relationships to unpack, blame is different from accountability. One is a discharge of unpleasant emotion. The other is a mindful, logical, calm exploration of how to solve future problems.

Many of our biggest, more unpleasant emotions are just facades. We blame because we feel vulnerable.

We get to choose, though, what to do when we feel upset. We can take the ugly emotions and throw them at ourselves or someone else. Or we can get quiet. Close our eyes. Breathe. And offer ourselves deep compassion and love for the pain and disappointment that we feel.

Have 15 minutes? Do some yoga!

Neck and Shoulder Release Sequence

  • Standing or sitting, begin by lifting and lowering your arms, bringing your hands together above your head. Inhale as you lift and exhale as you lower, moving with your breath. Repeat this 5-10 times.
  • Next, stretch your arms out in a T position, palms facing forward, thumbs facing up. Reach toward your back-body space, until you feel some engagement in the space between your shoulder blades. Either hold here and breathe, or gently pulse, as if you’re “flapping your wings.” Explore for 10-20 breaths.
  • Release your arms and shrug and roll your shoulders. Let these movements be spontaneous, and follow what feels best for you for about 10-20 breaths.
  • Come to a seat, in a chair or on a bolster or blanket on the floor. Your legs may be stretched out or crossed.
  • Reach your left arm behind your back. Either rest the back of your hand on the small or your back or reach your hand over to your right hip crease. Drop your left shoulder and then tip your head to the right. From here, you can take your right hand and gently pull your head down and to the right. You might need to tuck your chin or lift your chin a little to get the best stretch. Hold for 10-20 breaths.
  • Repeat the previous instructions on the right side.
  • Next, drop your chin toward your chest. Either hold there or, if it’s safe for you, bring your hands to the back of your head, allowing the weight of your arms to help the back of your neck open more. Stay here or slightly move your chin side-to-side. Explore for 10-20 breaths.
  • Finally, take your hands to your chest just below your sternum and press in and pull down. Keep this hold and lift your chin to the sky. You can stay here or start to turn your head slowly side to side. You can even jut out your bottom jaw to intensify the stretch. Explore for 10-20 breaths
  • Finish by returning to shrugging and rolling your shoulders or doing gentle rolls of your head, if that’s safe for your neck.
  • Rest in savasana or seated meditation for the remaining minutes of your practice.

 

Want more yoga goodness?

Find more tips and sequences on yogaforagingathletes.com

Read and subscribe to Yoga for Aging Athletes! I posted this week on the best way to come to standing from a forward fold:

A common cue you may hear in a yoga class is to “roll up to standing” as you move from a forward-folded position back to standing. But for those of us with athletic builds or aging bodies, there are better and safer ways to return to a standing position. Read more…

 

Satya: truth and authenticity

The deeper aspect of satya is being authentic and operating from your place of truth.

Satya is the second of the yamas, the yogic laws of universal morality. It translates from Sanskrit as “truth.” The basic principle is honesty: practicing satya means being honest, not lying, and not omitting information.

But the deeper aspect of satya is being authentic and operating from your place of truth.

Being authentic means that you are who you are, whether people like it or not.

How does that sit with you? Do you feel any deep-belly, queasy sensations?  If you’re having a visceral reaction to the idea of disregarding the opinion of others, it may be because you’ve spent a lot of your life trying to make sure people like you. And that, my friend, is bullsh*t.

Now let’s pause there: I’m not advocating that you make no effort to be connected to your fellow mankind. Community is one of the most important and powerful aspects of our lives. We need others.

But we have to balance our need for community and connection with our responsibility to ourselves. We have to be who we are, authentically. You do you, as the current prescription goes.

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I love this picture because I’m not posing for the camera. The image captures connection, honesty, authenticity, truth. It shows my unbridled joy at my daughter’s smile. And also my hair looks amazing.

When we are ourselves, when we operate from a place of deep truth and honesty, our true community will emerge. We will find our tribe.

But in the interim, it can be scary to speak up, act, and choose things that those around us may be startled by or not approve of. It is an act of tremendous bravery, especially if you’ve made a habit of putting others before yourself. But it’s a requirement of living a full, true life. There is no other choice.

 

 

Let’s talk about your glutes

Your glutes, seat, booty: whatever you call them, the muscles that comprise your backside are a powerhouse. And you need them to be strong!

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The power for this pose resides in the seat.

Let’s talk about your glutes! The muscles that comprise your backside are a powerhouse. For good form in yoga or your sport, strength in your movements, and an injury-and-pain free body, you want these muscles functioning well. I love talking about this so much that I’m teaching a workshop on glutes strength on April 9th at 1:30 PM at Carrboro Yoga Company. You can sign up here!

First, a quick anatomy lesson: there are several muscles that comprise the glutes: gluteus maximus (the largest muscle in your body), gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Together, these muscles are responsible for the movements of your legs—extending each leg and rotating each leg outward or inward. In addition to these muscles, there are also the deep rotator muscles, a group of muscles underneath the gluteus maximus that include the piriformis. These deep rotator muscles help with external rotation—moving each leg outward.

Issues stemming from the glutes arise when the glutes are lacking strength or when the glutes don’t activate as they’re supposed to. The latter issue often gets called “gluteal amnesia” or “inhibited glutes” or —and I’m serious, y’all—”dead butt syndrome.” Yikes, right? But these crazy terms just mean that the muscles aren’t firing properly. The body’s signal to the muscles to move or contract isn’t getting where it needs to go.

Why does gluteal amnesia occur? When we sit too much (and most of us sit too much, even if we’re otherwise active), the hip flexors in the front of our hips get tighter, while the muscles of the glutes (particularly gluteus maximus) get overly elongated and weaker. After a while, these gluteal muscles are so stretched out and “asleep” that the body recruits “awake” muscles to the do the job of the glutes.

Essentially, when the muscles of the glutes stop working effectively, other muscles compensate—particularly the muscles that comprise the hip flexors, hamstrings, or low back. This creates imbalance, and it’s also incredibly inefficient. Remember: the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. We want that muscle doing its job! We don’t want weaker, smaller muscles trying to fill the gap.

Weak or “asleep” glutes get blamed for many issues: tight hamstrings, low back pain, IT band tightness, sciatic pain (from an overused piriformis), and “pinching” of the hip flexors (front of hips). This list is not exhaustive: a quick Google search of “glute weakness and X pain” will reveal that inhibited glutes are the suspected cause of a multitude of imbalances.

OK, OK: So what do you do about it? Try building your glutes strength with movements that isolate the gluteal muscles. Opt out of squats for the time being (although I’m sure you’ve heard they are the go-to glutes movement); instead, try simple yoga poses that get your glutes to wake up!  Here are a few that are helpful:

  • From your back, try bridge pose, lifting and lower the hips with your breath. Focus on engaging your glutes at the top of every lift into bridge pose.
  • From hands and feet, try “reverse table”: come onto hands and feet, with your belly facing upward, knees bent and thighs parallel to floor. Lift and lower your hips, focusing on glutes and core engagement at the top of every lift. (You can also do this with your legs stretched out in upward plank pose, as I’m modeling in the image above.)
  • From a belly-down position, try prone leg lifts. Focus on keeping your lower back out of the equation, by deeply engaging your core.

In time, as you work to strengthen your glutes, you’ll probably notice that your balance practice in yoga will get better, you’ll find more power when you’re walking or jogging up hills, and you’ll experience less tightness in hip flexors, hamstrings, or low back. Maintaining strong, functional glutes matters in the long-run, too; you need glute strength not just in athletic endeavors and movement practices, like yoga, but you also want to keep this important part your body strong and fluid as you get older. After all, the glutes help you keep stability and coordination in balancing and they help you rise to standing from a seated position—crucial stuff for healthy aging. All the more reason to get your glutes on!