Sunday, November 22, 2020 - Against The Dam by Lori Russell Edit by Sharidan Russell -
As we near the end of the year, no doubt people will talk about how we will remember 2020--our defining moments, trends and changes. In a way, this feels like a futile effort--more than how we will remember 2020 I wonder how we will ever forget it? To say the least, this year has been unprecedented, difficult and stressful. For many it has been tragic and frightening. To me, this year feels like being pushed up against a dam--a behemoth of things beyond my control, which allows a trickle of water on one side but builds up with unimaginable pressure on the other--those waters containing the emotions of worry, fear and anxiety. This type of stress takes a serious mental and physical toll; such a toll often leads us to naturally want to shut down, just at the moment when--more than ever--we need to take care of ourselves and our bodies through exercise, fresh air, and nourishment. When we are up against a dam--pressures internal and external--it is a time when our self-care should take precedence, but when we often neglect the things that keep us healthy. Even as a Yoga teacher, who knows the importance of maintaining my daily practice, I sometimes get so caught up by pressure that I forget to make time for myself. It is important that we change our mindsets from feeling like we can barely stay above water to preparing ourselves to withstand the dam bursting, building up our strength to ride the rapids until the water settles and we eb and flow with the current. Another comparison I see between 2020 and the dam is in division. Dams function to separate bodies of water from each other, and it feels that in this dam of a year our society is more divided and polarized than ever. Too often, we are focused on our differences, whether they be economic, racial, cultural or political. These divisions have been forming for a long time, but this year they feel more pronounced, and it is more important than ever to fight against them. In this sense, we must look for cracks in the dam, and seep through them with a mindset for true communication and empathy, rejecting fear that divides us. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “people fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” In this day and age, communication has been commodified--my children use at least 5 or 6 different apps to keep in touch with their friends through photos that last for 10 seconds, memes that represent inside jokes, “text speak” and voice memos. Yet misunderstandings and divisions between people only grow through social media, as it has taught us to rely on a media diet so simplistic we can’t possibly get the full picture. We read headlines but not articles, form decisions based on infographics and memes that leave out crucial context, spend 15 seconds listening to someone and assume we know them. As a former educational interpreter for the deaf community, I know how difficult true communication is. Accurately translating an idea from one community to another includes understanding not only the literal meaning of words, but tone and syntax. When we remove these parts of language, and commodify it through our screens, we lose a great deal of understanding. It becomes easier to forget that every experience and every person has a story. Last month, I loved sharing the book Two Old Women, that had an enormous impact on my life. I believe reading novels and stories from a variety of perspectives is one of the best ways we can combat poor communication and the toxicity of social media, cancel culture, and censorship. We need to open up as much as we can. When thinking about these divisions and my longing for improvement to our society in this country, I decided to share another of my favorite books, Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. This is one of my favorite stories an it is an incredible depiction of society in apartheid South Africa. In the midst of division, characters intersect beyond racial barriers and push themselves beyond fear. One of my favorite quotes from this novel, which is so apt for us right now, is this: “I see only hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only good for their country, come together to work for it.” Dams are not all bad when they serve their function. A dam can transform a standing river into an opportunity for electricity, irrigation, unprecedented development. If we are up against the dam of 2020, we must respond to the hardships by rejecting division and acting with empathy for one another. I am reminded of another Martin Luther King, Jr., quote, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
If you are interested in reading Cry, The Beloved Country along with me email me to reserve your spot. Our book discussion will take place on Saturday, December 19, from 1-3 pm. The book can be purchased at one of our local new or used book stores, or reserved at the local library. I hope to see you there!
Salish-Kootenai Dam Flathead Indian Reservation Montana, USA
“Act your age”- What does that mean to you? We all seem to have a complicated relationship with our age these days, as we strive to look, act, and feel younger. People often say, “you are only as old as you think you are,” or “age is just a number.” Well, my number is 52 and until these last few very stressful months I never felt my age. Stress takes a larger toll on our bodies than any number, and our mind-set can play a huge role in the ways we relieve or internalize stress. Our perception of age is not only tied to the number of years we’ve been alive, but to both external and internal factors such as societal standards, cultural expectations, and physical and mental health.
I was talking to a student yesterday who said she is always struggling with her balance. She joked that she wanted to come to the Youth Yoga classes to re-learn balance with them. I laughed with her and told her at any age, we need to practice our balance. Ultimately, balance is not about whether you can stand on one foot for a long period of time, or transition from Tree pose, to Eagle pose to Warrior III without putting your foot down. It’s about moving one foot in front of the other, shifting your weight safely, with strength, for your lifetime. That is what keeps us from feeling our age! A yoga practice will help you work on your balance, strengthen your supporting muscles and improve flexibility to help you take each step with confidence. Yoga has also helped me with my mindset, combating the cultural lessons we learned about aging. It has allowed me to really appreciate what my body is capable of doing. When I am present with intention, my body, my feet, my breath continue to move me forward toward a strong and healthy life.
When I was working as a sign language interpreter in Montana, my student and I read a book together for his English class. The book was called “Two Old Women” by Velma Wallis, based on an Athabascan Indian legend; it was assigned as part of Montana’s Indian Education for All initiative. The story is about two elderly women who are abandoned when their tribe faces starvation brought on by a harsh winter and a shortage of food. The two old women are left behind and struggle to survive through the winter, despite being deemed too “weak” and “elderly” by their own tribe. This book changed my outlook on aging and gave me insight on how keeping my mind and body healthy I can continue to be a productive member of my community. We are not limited by the number of years that pass us by, only by our mindset and and the choices we make during those years that help promote health and wellbeing.
I have shared my love for this story with many friends, especially my women friends who happen to be in my “age group.” Sharing and discussing books is something I really enjoy, and a practice I would like to introduce to this community. For the month of October, I want to invite you to join me in reading the Book “Two Old Women” by Velma Wallis.
I have 9 copies available for $12 at the studio on Wednesday, October 7th. On Saturday, October 31st from 1-3pm we will meet at the studio to discuss the book. We can have 10 people in-person with a live-stream option.
Below is an excerpt from the book:
Each day after cutting wood we would sit and talk in our small tent on the bank at the mouth of the Porcupine River, near where it flows into the Yukon. We would always end with mom telling me a story. (There I was long past my youth, and my mother still told me bedtime stories!) One night it was a story I heard for the first time - a story of two old women and their journey through hardship. What brought the story to mind was a conversation we had earlier while working side by side collecting fire wood for the winter. Now we sat on our bedrolls and marveled at how Mom in her early fifties was still able to do this kind of hard work while most people of her generation long since resigned themselves to old age and all its limitations. I told her I wanted to be just like her when I became an elder.
I am looking forward to re-reading this book, and introducing many of you to this inspiring tail. Don’t be afraid of its young adult label. Some of the most moving and life changing books I have ever read are in that genre. I hope you will join me!
Reserve your book by calling 406-214-1362 and schedule a time to pick up your copy with me at the studio! Cost: $12 (I only have 9 copies available but the book can be found at any book store, online or audio.)
September 20, 2020 Interpreting Dreams
I had a dream the other night. Usually I don’t remember my dreams, but this one was so vivid that it stuck with me long into my waking hours. I dreamt that I was in a busy underground train station. It was loud and I was disoriented; the place was unfamiliar and I didn’t know why I was there. When I turned I saw an old friend from Montana and her family. I worked with her son, Kadence from the time he was in pre-school - 7th grade as his sign language interpreter. As I approached them, I wondered why they were in the same train station as me.
Kadence reached out for my hand and I held it while his mom told me they were going on a trip across country. All I could think about is how is hand felt in mine, it felt safe. That is when I noticed that the sign on the station said North Conway, NH. Behind me I could hear the train approach and sense a lot of movement. I turned to look at the train pulling up to the platform. As I turned back to let them know that my train was here, they were gone. The crowd approached the train and just as I was about to step on, it moved away from the platform and left me behind. I looked down at the ticket in my hand and approached the ticket booth. The man behind the glass told me there would not be another train to Boston until 3 am. Rather than waiting what my subconscious considered an insurmountable amount of time, I decided to walk through the tunnel and try to meet the train at the next stop. As I started walking I became anxious. There were fewer people in the tunnel with me, and all I could sense was darkness. I was thinking if I follow the tracks in the direction the train went and as long as I kept moving I would be ok. Fear began to take over as I approached the darkest part of the tunnel and I realized that Boston was hundreds of miles away. I could never walk there. But the thought of staying alone on the platform for hours was equally frightening. I just stared into the tunnel until I suddenly startled awake.
The dream was on my mind all morning and as I walked to the studio I carried the sense of unease with me. I was distracted and anxious as I taught my first class, I just couldn’t shake it. And then as I brought the class down onto their mats for Savasana, it hit me! I could have just rented a car! I wasn’t stuck in that tunnel and I didn’t need to wait for another train. I could go up out of the tunnel and rent a car and drive myself home. It seemed so simple. I felt a rush of peace and calm, as though solving my subconscious representation of fear and anxiety helped rid myself of that uneasiness in my waking life. My day got better and I felt more clear and productive.
I don’t usually spend much time trying to interpret my dreams, but this one really stuck with me. I think the meaning of this dream is related to the idea of letting go. By releasing an expectation, and responding to the present moment instead of reacting to something not in my control. When action is needed ask yourself what is it you are trying to create, and with attention, hard work, and intention, you will find your own path forward.
Sometimes in life, we find ourselves on a good set of tracks: strong and reliable, with well-lit tunnels and comfortable compartments. But life can take us in a different direction at a moment’s notice. When COVID hit, I think a lot of people felt (and still feel) that things started to go off the rails. I personally started to fear that my own life, my set of tracks, that I had worked so hard to maintain, was slipping through my fingers. The train was coming to a stop and I wasn’t even driving it anymore. I had a few choices: I could stay on board, deny the need to adapt, and do what I had always done until I ran out of track or I could switch gears, take the wheel and follow a new path of my own creation. If there is one thing the last seven months has made clear it is that we have to be flexible as conductors and resourceful as engineers. In the case that our old tracks become aged or broken or otherwise corrupted, we have to be able to change and rebuild for ourselves. The good news is we don’t have to stay down in the tunnel, we can get up out of the tunnel into the light of day! It may not look exactly the way we thought it would but with a lot of hard work and flexibility we will arrive at our destination and that promise of abundance on a path we laid down for ourselves.
When we are overwhelmed, feel trapped by the challenges we face we might develop tunnel vision. Instead, we need to be open to letting go, let go of the past, let go of the future and be present in this moment, take the wheel and our direction will become clear.
What messages are your dreams trying to tell you?
My Best to you, Lori Russell
September 6, 2020 Flexibility has dual meaning./Flexibility in Yoga and in Life
I feel like I have been saying “we have to be flexible” a lot lately! I am sure I am not the only one. I say it to myself often when I am trying to figure out how best to serve our yoga community. I feel like I am constantly juggling a forever changing schedule, new classes, and new times. WE are all learning that what worked for people pre-COVID doesn’t necessarily work for us now.
It has me thinking about the dual meaning of being flexible. How it pertains to our physical bodies and our social/emotional states. People come to yoga for many reasons, the most common reason is to become more flexible. If your goal is to reach down and touch your toes, then you need to practice the poses that will support that movement. Most don’t consider the process or the “journey to the toes.” For others it is about strengthening the muscles that support the joints due to hyperflexibility. Some people can reach well beyond their toes, without considering how overextending can destabilize the joints. In social situations, too, we can be stiff and unmovable or bending over backwards to please everyone at the expense of our own self-care. When you practice yoga to improve flexibility you just may find balance on your way down to your toes.
I first came to yoga strictly for the way it would support/compliment my triathlon training. I needed to stretch more. Some of you may already know my story, I had a heart condition that caused me to pause all physical activity while I waited for a life saving procedure followed by a long recovery period. The only “exercise” I was allowed during my recovery was yoga. I had no idea at the time how my yoga practice would change my life, but it led me to become a yoga instructor. I wanted to share what I learned, connect with people and see the progress that comes from practice. Yoga improves your immune system, builds your physical, mental and spiritual strength, and brings balance into your life. Yoga has given me more easy and joyful moments with my family, friends and community. Yoga has become somewhat of a metaphor for how I approach my daily life. Yes, I can touch my toes, most days. Although, some days I need to bring a bend to my knees and rarely do I reach beyond my limits as I am more present with how my body feels.
This month, through my blog, I thought it would be fun to share with you my thoughts on the dual meaning of being flexible. I am using an Acrostic Poem, to honor all of students going back to school. Talk about having to be flexible!
F Find your yoga:Pranayama, Asana, Savasana - Breath - Move -Rest. This has been my recipe for my best life! In Yoga there is no final destination. There's also no time frame that you should be meeting. There is no competition, no judgment, no awards and no “Super Bowl” of yoga. There's only constant self-improvement and small achievements along the way. This is why we refer to yoga as a practice.
L Learn about your abilities, strengths and weaknesses: be curious, ask questions, leave behind the judgments and create a support system. Become a part of a yoga community.
E Ego: “No Pain - No Gain” disinvest from the beliefs, the time and energy on thinking that will produce a painful response. Instead, invest in making changes, taking a step back or moving out of a shape that has pushed you beyond your "edge," from an uncomfortable sensation to painful one.
X eXtra Care for yourself: Take the time to clear your mind, find support, stay in savasana longer, schedule a massage, CST and Reiki. Be proactive for better health and wellness. As is commonly said, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Those who are hyper flexible may give too much of themselves and become “weak in the knees” by saying yes to often to others and neglecting themselves.
I Increase your range of motion: loosen up, try something new, even if it is a little uncomfortable.Step outside your comfort zone and push yourself to find your full potential.
B Be supple:sup·pleadjective 1. bending and moving easily and gracefully; flexible.Start grounded, root down to rise up, move with your breath. “Trees may bend but they don’t break” adapt to the changing, constant and sometimes unknown pressures that you are facing. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Find something or someone that makes you laugh with a full belly. Move through life with ease and grace.
L Listen to your body: Find the ability to “play with your edge,” that place of mild to moderate discomfort. Bring awareness to the discomfort,” in the here and now.” Allow for the awareness to inform your actions as you begin your journey (“to your toes”.)
E Energy: Keep it positive, set an intention. This could be a simple word or phrase, a prayer, dedication or sentiment of gratitude that is important to you. Be inspired, be present, be grateful, accept change and be open to possibilities. Share your energy with those around you who can use some positivity.
My Best to You, Lori
Things you can do at Yoga Moves this month to improve your "Flexibility" and continue your journey to your toes:
Make a commitment to your yoga practice again by choosing Live-stream. Indoor or Outdoor classes and getting reconnected with your teachers and community. Click for Schedule & Registration
I just dropped my youngest off at Coastal Carolina University to start his freshman year of college. Under any circumstance it is difficult for parents to watch their children head out on their own, even though that is exactly what we raised them to do. Fly on their own! In fact my son decorated his graduation cap with that very quote, “Look mom, I can fly.”
2020 challenged all of our situations dramatically. I had my son home (in my home) every day since March. He took his classes online, lost out on spring sports, prom and all the pomp and circumstance that we expect with a traditional graduation. We developed a new routine of comfortable togetherness, and the expectation of physical and emotional support, safe at home together. When CCU emailed to say move in and classes will go ahead as originally planned, he breathed a sigh of relief. He had been planning for this day for months. We did all the shopping for dorm necessities, coordinated with his roomates, and bought our plane tickets. I went down to help him settle in, and then came the goodbyes. We had a contest to see which one of us would cry first. He said “it will be you mom.” But I couldn’t cry! We hugged and I said “I love you, be safe, work hard and have fun!” Seth invited me to be his friend on Snapchat ( I am in the inner circle now) and still I couldn’t cry. I got on a plane and came home. I wanted to cry, I felt like crying, I feel like I still need that “good cry.” It is a conflicting feeling, as sad as I am to be far way from my son, I am relieved that he will get this experience when so many other kids will not. I am excited and proud that he felt confident enough to go even though there are no guarantees. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder, does he know everything he needs to know, will he ask for help if he needs it, will he get lonely or scared when faced with inevitable unknowns? All triggers for me to cry, and yet I still can not cry.
Of course, I also might be held back just because I simply don’t have time to cry! I have a business to run, classes to teach, social media to post, emails to send, etc. I worry that if I cry now, will I be able to pull myself together to meet my obligations? I need to give myself permission to cry. Afterall, allowing ourselves to release our emotions is all part of the overall wellness—self love—we sometimes deny ourselves. Self love means finding ways to let go, refresh, renew, rejuvenate and restore, and often these opportunities are right at our fingertips. If I spend just 15 minutes in a supported reclined butterfly pose or half pigeon, that ought to do it! Taking time for self-care supports our busy schedules, allows us to give of ourselves more deeply and be more present for those we love and support. Wellness practices are not only for post-trauma rehabilitation, but are also important for the maintenance of our overall well being by strengthening our positive responses and reactions. Sometimes, we have to give ourselves permission to be present and feel deeply—even to cry—knowing we have the fortitude to overcome whatever it is that brought us to the edge.
Things you can do in the coming week at Yoga Moves to love yourself enough to have that “good cry” or any thing you need to support your overall wellness:
August for me has always been that slippery slope from summer to Back to School. A combination of a desperate rush to do all those summer activities I didn't get to and preparing myself and my kids for the school schedule. Well, this August is not your average August. Our worlds have been turned upside down due to Covid-19. The stress of running my studio with all the uncertainty and the unknowing of how and when schools will reopen have left me in a state of insecurity.
I am not comfortable when I am not in control. The stress to my physical and mental wellness shows up in all my daily interactions. I have had trouble sleeping, I stopped walking to the studio every day and drive more often. My personal Yoga practice has been less consistent even though I am teaching more. I wake up tired from worry and feel unsure how to make the most of my day.
The little bit of routine I have kept for myself has given me some sense of control. I have committed myself to do at least one thing every day to be available to the Yoga Moves Community. Some days it is enough and other days I am afraid it will never be enough again. The growing and diverse needs of the greater community can be overwhelming.
That is why this August I am going to make it all about self-care and wellness - and I am encouraging all of you to do the same. Let's take care of ourselves, take time for ourselves, and be kind to ourselves. Maybe I will make it to the beach - but maybe not. I might make a list of all the back to school items my kids need, or I might get only half way through it. Either way, I am going to concentrate on the things I know will make me happy and (side benefit) healthy!
Things we can do to take care of ourselves during this "Not So Average August":