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The photo above is of a group of writers whom I adore in Cleveland, Ohio. We would get together once a month and read what we had written from a prompt assigned the month prior. The group was modeled after another local writing group that had been together for over a dozen years. Prior to forming our group, I asked one of their members, a dear friend of mine, what the secret to their cohesiveness was, and she said,

“No critiques.”

If you’ve ever been in a writing critique group, you might know how brutal they can be. Those who argue the virtue of critique groups say, “You’ll never get better if you can’t take criticism.”

I say, you’ll never get to the heart of what you’re needing to write if you do not feel safe.

So, the rule was no critiques. BUT, if you wanted to have your piece workshopped by one or more members of the group, you could do that outside the monthly circle. The circle would be sacred.

The writing that came out of this group was exquisite. I remember feeling buzzy, just surrounded by incredible talent, and held in sacred space. That writing group counted as one of my biggest losses when we moved from Cleveland. I’ve missed it/them dreadfully.

Very shortly after moving to Florida in 2013, I became a yoga teacher. Like writing, it was a practice I’d loved for a long time and the transition point in my life made it possible to take the plunge into teacher training. I absolutely love teaching yoga and count it as one of my greatest blessings.

This week, I am THRILLED to begin a new adventure combining writing and yoga. I honestly don’t know why I have not done this sooner. When a friend recently suggested it, I felt my heart do a happy leap. It was a “Hell, yes!”

With the COVID-19 “great pause” upon us, there could not be a better time. We all have a lot to process right now, and what better way to do that than through yoga and writing?

Flow Writer, Self-Discovery Through Yoga and Writing will begin with a gentle yoga practice, suitable for beginners. We will move some physical energy through for about 45-minutes. Then we will write to a prompt. Students will have the opportunity to read their work out loud, (if they choose to) which can be a profound and healing experience. Feedback will be very specific, directed, and short. No critique.

This is an ongoing class. People can drop in any week. You do not need prior yoga or writing experience. All are welcome. You are cordially invited.

It starts Sunday, May 3, at 1:00PM EST on Zoom, sign up via Sattva Wisdom Center.

I cannot wait.

* A portion of the proceeds from every offering at Sattva Wisdom Center goes to the Palm Beach Food Bank. So, while you fill your own cup, you are also giving to those who truly need it at this time. It is a very special center, and I am honored to be part of it. Check out   the many offerings, including two free Wisdom Lounge sessions here.

** First week was a great success! The students who showed up were open and brave.

 

 

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The other night there was a worldwide meditation. People from all over the globe visualized an end to the corona virus. It was so late on the east coast, I had a hard time staying awake, but I did it. The teens were pulled from their bedrooms, and our whole family flopped on the sectional sofa at the designated time and closed our eyes and imagined a better world for all.

Prior to the meditation, Todd and I listened to spiritual teacher Matt Kahn who was giving a FB live talk. The one thing I remember from it was the question he suggested we ask ourselves, “With this choice, whose life am I improving?”

It reminds me of the often cited teaching, which suggests before we speak, asking ourselves four questions:

Is it helpful? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

With this choice, whose life am I improving? 

With this choice to stay home, whose life am I improving?

With this choice to call and check in with friends/relatives, whose life am I improving?

With this choice to criticize my spouse, whose life am I improving?

With this choice to continue to pay, if we can swing it, those who work for us with no benefits and no income right now, whose life am I improving?

With this choice to let the teenagers sleep til’ noon, whose life am I improving? (Mine. Yes, today I will allow it. Quiet time alone is improving MY life today and that is good for all involved). lol

With this choice to post whatever I am posting to social media, whose life am I improving?

With this choice to consume (food, media, whatever, _________ fill in the blank), whose life am I improving?

It is about mindfulness. About making conscious choices. About doing no harm, if we can.

I look out the window behind my desk, and see a blue-jay, flitting about. I see the tree branches sway in the wind, while the trunk is solid and unyielding. I note the overcast sky with the sun peeking through.

I make a choice to hold the suffering of the world in my heart. To not look away. I make a choice not to sink. Most of the time.

“I do not know what I am looking at, so I must not judge what I see.”

This line from A Course in Miracles buoys me.

I make a choice to be “willing to consider” there is a bigger picture here, one I am not yet capable of understanding.

Just the “willingness to consider” burns off an outer layer of despair.

This breath in.
This breath out.

Choice, by choice, by choice.

 

*I am teaching gentle yoga ONLINE at Sattva Wisdom Center, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4PM. During this time of crises, a portion of of the proceeds from each class will go to a local food bank. If you are inspired to, I would love for you to come take a breath with me, from the comfort of your own home.

 

Trust

Ilonka Michelle O'Neil

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This week’s theme at Sattva Wisdom Center is trust. Is there someone in your life you trust? Someone that loves you no matter what? Someone you can lean on and feel supported by even at your most ugly, most vulnerable? If you don’t have that now, is there someone you’ve ever had that with? Someone that has perhaps passed on? Or maybe someone you otherwise can’t physically get to right now? Can you bring them to mind and feel their essence all around you?

Do you trust in unseen forces? Are you a believer in something bigger than yourself? Do you believe you were Divinely created?

Perhaps you trust that the moon will come out this evening, and the sun will come out in the morning. That gravity will continue to hold you to the earth. Those are forms of trust as well.

When the world suddenly comes to a screeching halt, but at the same time information is flooding into our brains faster than ever before, it is disorienting. It feels a little like whiplash. Am I really slowing down? Or am I being asked to take in more information in a day than my ancestors did in decades?

How can our human bodies cope?

We come back to the breath, back to our hearts, but even one day those will stop. All of us will eventually cease breathing. Our hearts will one day beat their final tha-dump.

All we can do is trust. Trust that the force that brought us into existence is a loving force, and is carrying us. It made your eyes so beautiful. It made the ocean, and the mountains and the sunsets. It made babies, and puppies, and trees, and laughter and music. Love, made that heart beating in your chest.

Trust that Love is the thing holding the planets and the stars in place. Trust that there is a reason each one of us is here, right now, at this time in history. Trust that even now, especially now, when there is so much uncertainty, we are expanding. Unfolding.

Trust that even if when we and/or those we love get to the very end of this life, we don’t know the end of the story.

Trust in the mystery that is everything.

Hands on heart.

This breath in.
This breath out.

We can consider the possibility of finding, something to trust.

* I will be teaching gentle ONLINE yoga Tuesday and Thursday at 4PM EST this week at Sattva Wisdom Center.  I welcome you from the comfort of your own space, wherever you are in the world.

Please visit the schedule. We have many seasoned teachers holding space for you during this time, a portion of the proceeds from each class will go to local charities during the corona virus shut down. We raised over $1000 for the Palm Beach Food Bank last week.

 

 

 

 

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I had a conversation with sorrow today.

She’d been taking up so much space, so heavy, all around.

Asked her what she wanted me to know.

First, she said, not with words but with energy,

“You’re not the only one with sorrow.”

She didn’t say it to reprimand, just acknowledging.

 

This breath in.
This breath out.

 

Second, she said, not with words, but with energy,

“Now that I have your attention, we can work together.”

Sorrow winked at me, just like my grandma used to do. As if she was saying,

“There is a purpose,

you’re on the right track,

I got you.”

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One of my yoga students, a retiree, told me she fell last week while out on a walk. She said she lay there on the ground, upset and confused. She didn’t know if she’d tripped or if she’d fainted. Her phone had fallen out of her reach. She wanted to call her husband for help, but couldn’t get to it.

After a bit of panic, she had a “wait-a-second” moment, and remembered,

“I do yoga.”

And she thought,

“Ilonka has me getting up off the floor from my belly all the time.”

So she took a breath. And she did what we do in class.

And she was able to get up, and she brushed herself off, and was able to make her way home.

A few days later, she’s got a bruised knee, and a sore hand.

But otherwise she’s fine.

Yogis, wouldn’t it be great if the next time we were in a tailspin we were able to do as this student did? To wait-a-second, take a breath, remind ourselves, “I do yoga,” and THEN…

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Having a child on the autism spectrum has helped me be a better yoga teacher. In fact, if I hadn’t a child on the spectrum I likely wouldn’t be a yoga teacher at all. During the very stressful early years, yoga helped me. I’d go to a yoga class frantic and in despair, and leave with a calmer nervous system, feeling like I could do it for another day.

And when an autism mom in Michigan broke mentally and did the unthinkable, that was my cue to take my first teacher training. No longer could my internal dialogue tell me I wasn’t young enough, bendy enough, thin enough, enough enough to be a yoga teacher. I could no longer hide behind my fears. I knew yoga had helped me as an autism mom, and I wanted to help others. My first classes as a teacher were for autism parents, and I cherish those classes and those students to this day.

In addition to that initial motivation, I believe the skills I have learned as an autism mom have helped me be a better teacher as well. One example:

When my kids were little, I might say something like this,

“Kids! We have to leave in five minutes! I want you to get your shoes on. Make sure you turn out the lights in your room. Make sure you brushed your teeth. Did you take your supplements? Is your hair brushed? Where is your book bag? Make sure you tell your teacher x,y and z…..”

I’d be exasperated when five minutes later, I’d find my child in her room, oblivious, playing with her toys. Too many words resulted in overwhelm/tuning out.

A better instruction for her at the time was simply,

“SHOES!”

“SHOES!” resulted in kids in the foyer getting shoes on and us getting out the door in a timely fashion. Cutting the fluff, less was more.

Now, as a yoga teacher, I do not bark out orders like “SHOES!” But I will be succinct. I might simply say,

“Downward facing dog.”

I don’t talk non-stop for the sake of filling the silence. I do not chitter-chatter for the sake of hearing my own voice. The information I want students to take in comes from meeting the sensations they are experiencing in their own physical and emotional bodies with curiosity. How can they hear themselves if I never shut up?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am hilarious (just ask me). I might crack a joke, or tell a funny story at the beginning of class, but once students fully drop in, my words become more measured.

Simple instructions.

Come back to your body. Come back to your breath. 

This breath in. 
This breath out. 

Anything much more, is overkill.

Pause.
Take a breath.
Tune in.
Listen more.
Talk less.

I learned that, from my kid.

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Approaching my six year mark as a yoga teacher my heart soars over the endless continuing ed opportunities to learn more, go deeper, and serve my students better. I love it.

Lately, I’ve been immersing myself into the study of aqua yoga, using videos, books, and my own body. While getting into a bathing suit is one of my least favorite things, I am willing to do it, for the benefit of my students. It’s been so rewarding to be able help those who can’t “do yoga” traditionally, move into a beautiful practice in the water.

And by “those,” I mostly mean, my guinea pig, er… husband Todd aka Hot Toddy. He loves when I call him that (not really). But I only do it on line. I don’t walk around the house referring to him as Hot Toddy. That would be weird. Or would it?

Anyway, in his younger days, HT tore both ACLs playing sports and had surgery on each. His knees are stiff as can be, and very sensitive to weather. There are good days and bad days for those knobby suckers which have scars that look like zippers down the front of each one (see photo above). So much of what we do in a typical yoga practice, even a gentle one, is out of reach for him. And it bugs me because I know yoga is so good for him.

In the water it is different. A pose, like dragon that is not typically accessible to him without pure misery is now right there, using the pool stairs. Standing facing the steps, he places the right foot flat onto a stair, his hands press flat on the step inside the right foot. The left leg is straight, ball of foot on pool floor. Voila! He can even turn out onto the outside edge of his right foot, opening the right hip.

Child’s pose on land is miserable for him, but with knees bent, shins pressing on the wall of the pool, arms straight on out, palms flat on the pavers, a variation he can take is born, no problem. He’s been able to do complete, full practices with no pain, and he feels great afterward.

There is something so special about shavasana, one noodle around the neck, arms resting on top of it, and noodle under the knees, floating in the water. I cradle my love’s sweet bald head and guide him to relax his body, part by part, then give him a kiss and let him float away. BTW, he is the only student I will ever kiss before/during shavasana. Well, maybe my kids.

Do you know, that when I was in nursing school twenty + years ago, HT let me practice IV starts on him? That’s the kind of guy he is. He is a constant support, always willing to help me learn and grow, always wanting what is best for me. I feel much better about subjecting him to yoga, than I did about stabbing him with a needle repeatedly.

Anyway….if you live locally and know anyone that might benefit from trying yoga in the pool, have them call me. I’m really excited about bringing this to private clients who are seeking more freedom and movement in their bodies.

This breath in.
This breath out.

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I could be having a bad day. I could be heartbroken about the state of my country. I could be tired, I could be hungry. I could be temporarily off coffee. I could be worried about my kids or a myriad of perfectly acceptable things to worry about.

But stepping into the role of teacher, those things fall away and being present with my students is all there is.

As I instruct them to breathe, I breathe too.

It’s really quite a gift.

To have an occupation that encourages breath. That encourages presence. That encourages fluidity and movement, and stillness.

Each one in front of me, a Divine spark.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

 

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I am a stalker of sunsets. I will drop everything and hop in my car driving five minutes to a nearby lake if I think I might catch a two-minute glimpse. Driving down a rural highway, I will make a U-turn and pull my car over for the right sunset. I don’t understand why everyone around me isn’t doing the same. Are they blind?

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Sunsets also frustrate me. Sometimes my timing is off and I miss it. I’ll be making dinner, and look up and it’s dark already. Dejection! Or sometimes I am chauffeuring kids around and by the time I get them dropped off and head back to the lake it is over. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel resentful.

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But here’s the most frustrating thing. I get there. The sunset happens, and it’s pretty good. The sky, the lake. I think it’s over. I wait a few extra minutes just in case. Finally, I get in my car and leave. Then, on the way home the sky gives one last shocking hurrah of PINK! But I’m in traffic, and can’t really admire it the way I’d like to. The way it deserves.

WHY DID I NOT WAIT FIVE MORE MINUTES? I was sure it was done. I did wait a little, but not long enough.

One time at a Buddhist retreat center, the teacher was talking meditation. She said, sometimes, right when you get the urge to come out of meditation, if you stay a little longer, if you just give it a few more minutes, insights or breakthroughs will happen. Not that they must, but sometimes our impulse to leave the meditation is actually fear of our own growth.

There is a saying in the yoga community, “the pose begins the moment you want to leave it.” I don’t know about that. There is wisdom in listening to your body if it is telling you to leave a pose. If you are at your limit. If you are in pain. But sometimes, there is wisdom in staying just a little bit longer.

Why am I so often in a hurry to get to the next moment?

What beauty might happen if I learn to wait?