Strength is a trait, it belongs to no one.

This week, the lovely Ms. Emily, the other half to our Playful Yogi team, drew a picture of a little girl as a superhero to represent this week’s theme: “I am strong,” and it was all too intentional. To be fair we planned this doodle weeks ago, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen an increase in posts on social media about instances in which adults, knowingly or not, imposed gender normatives on children, sigh… One of the posts was about an experiment in which researchers, “dressed a little boy up like a little girl, and a little girl like a little boy,” and asked grown-ups to play with the kiddos for some time. 

The study was designed to show that whether intentionally or not, our predispositions tend towards traditional gender roles like: girls playing with dolls, or boys playing with trucks, but what the researchers did by “dressing up” the children was to assign certain items of clothing as only appropriate for little girls or only appropriate for little boys, and really that’s just a little silly, isn’t it? This long standing practice of traditional gender roles teaches us that if we are born one way then we are only allowed to like the things that we were, “born to like,” or act in a way that is “appropriate” for the way we look. Here’s the thing though, that’s nuts!

We tend to think of strength as the muscle tone in our physical bodies, and how much weight we can lift, and that’s certainly a big part of it! But, we’re more than muscle and bone, we’re a whole person, with thoughts and feelings and if we’re honest those things take strength, too. For instance, have you ever heard the phrase, “strong of character?” A strong character is one in which even though the easy thing to do is to stay silent when someone is being picked on in front of us, or when someone we know says something with which we don’t agree, we choose to do the right thing and stand-up in favor of the person being treated poorly. 

It takes a lot of effort to have a strong character, to act on the thing that isn’t easy, and if effort is how we measure strength then shouldn’t we consider those of us with strong characters the strongest amongst us, even if they don’t have a traditionally strong physique, body? What’s more, a strong character is 100-percent without assigned gender norms; anyone can have a strong character, it is a learned skill that lives beyond boy vs girl, and all it really takes is confidence and critical thinking skills. Yoga can help us with both!    

Certainly we can build strong bodies through our asana, postural, practice, and let me be clear both boys and girls can be very physically strong, but we can build confidence, too. When we twist our bodies, or activate our core through poses like high plank (see this week’s yogi stix,) we build strength in our energetic middle, the space in our energy bodies in which confidence resides. We can even wear the color yellow, or meditate on the sun. Further, we can build critical thinking skills by opening up our minds to the idea that anything can be possible. Do this by closing your eyes and imagining floating through outer space, or wearing the color purple. And, above all else, no matter what anyone tells you, there are no such things as boy things or girls things, there are just things.     

“It’s hard [to wish well to] the people you don’t like…”

Our theme this week, at The Playful Yogi, has focused its energy around the phrase, “I am kind.” Kindness is a tricky thing; we can go from being kind to mean in a matter of moments all because we inadvertently reserve the act of kindness for those we believe to be worthy. And, in-part, we do so for good reason. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve witnessed too many instances (because let’s be honest, in this case, even one instance is too many) in which hate and violence have taken to our streets under the guise of the right to freedom of expression.
The freedom to speak, up and out, was intended to create a feeling of safety in challenging wrongdoing, not in an effort to enact it. Unfortunately, though, in the last year or more a door has been opened to a subset of our population, allowing them to speak up in anger and in favor of hate. This is devastating, and yet, an invaluable lesson: we were convinced that we were on a path to eradicating the despicable, inhumane and entirely incorrect(!) belief that any one group of people are better than any other. And now, our collective eyes have been opened to the very real fact that these kinds of feelings are very much still alive in the hearts of far too many. Of course this sentiment is merely an echo, billions of people have been saying this very thing for several months now, and I could not be more pleased that as a community we are finally starting to be awake to it.

I ask myself daily, “What if?” What if those of us who hate so deeply could find a way to be kind to those on the receiving end of their hate? What would it look like to be kind to the people we care very little, if anything for. This isn’t a plea necessarily to like people for whom we hold strong, or even mild disdain, that’s probably not a realistic goal for anyone, but to choose to be kind, is that out of the realm of possibility? And if so, do you remember that last week we quoted Walt Disney in writing that, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” I should pause to say that I am not asking you to be kind to any hate group! In fact, don’t be kind, be eager and vigilant in standing up against them (peacefully) and doing your best to change their minds. 

I do hope that we can all begin to recognize our own biases, which are informed by our circumstance and experiences, and actively choose to be kind to the people we don’t like. In many instances, fear is what stops us from being kind, the fear that what we have will somehow be less or taken away if others have the same opportunities that we have, and it simply isn’t true. We feel as though we are on the receiving end of microaggressions, and as a result we react, often in haste and anger, to those aggressions and we forget to be kind. Here’s where the yoga comes in…

Have you heard of, or practiced, Metta Bhavana, loving kindness meditation, before? Metta meditations are the act of visualizing loving kindness in several parts: first to yourself, second to someone for whom you hold pure, un-possessive love, third to someone you have neutral feelings for (someone who you don’t really know), fourth to someone you dislike and finally to all beings everywhere. According to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society the following are commonly used Metta Bhavana phrases: 

May I be safe from harm.

May I be happy just as I am.

May I be peaceful with whatever is happening.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I care for myself in this ever-changing world graciously, joyously. 

With each progression to the next person on your list of Metta Bhavana, add their names (or the phrase all beings everywhere) in place of the word, “I.” 

Consider giving it a try, and remember to choose to be kind. 

“I want to see you be brave”

Walt Disney is credited with saying, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” and we believe that truer words have never been spoken. Everyday we wake up with the capacity to get an inkling, which turns into a thought, which turns into an idea, and bam(!) a dream is born. Dreams are our truest desire made real, giving us an opportunity to act on our dreams to create a new world. Sometimes our dreams seem unbearably big, so big in fact, that we let them go without ever having given them a try. Have you ever heard the phrase, “pipe dream?” A pipe dream is a plan or hope which seems unrealistic or fanciful, something, dare we type, impossible… 

But, look at what Mr. Disney was able to accomplish; he created dozens of characters and an empire built on fantasy which grows everyday, even though this dreamer is no longer with us. What’s more, look at Mr. Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, and see someone who worked hard every day of his life to become one of the most powerful people in this world. He is the first (and to-date only) Person of Color to be elected to the highest office in our (for those of you reading this in the US) country. And of course we won’t forget how important women are to our country; Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American, Muslim women to be elected to the state legislature, how cool is that? And how courageous are these three for taking chances of following their dreams?  
It takes courage to believe that you can do something, when your experience of the world tells you differently. Yoga teaches us that we are responsible for and capable of ignoring experience, and breaking patterns that hold us back, keeping us stuck. Many people believe that karma is the Universe’s way of providing for us (reward), as a result of past good behavior, and taking away from us (punishment), as a result of past bad behavior, but really, karma is simply action. It’s movement, either forwards or backwards, depending on our state of mind, at any given time. We build patterns, or samskaras, which create deep indentations in our minds. These indentations, paths, are so ingrained in our understanding that they create our perception and personality. 
Sometimes samskaras create pathways in our minds which are inherently wonderful and we act in a manner that supports positive change not only for ourselves, but for the world around us. Unfortunately, there are samskaras which may have benefit (at least outwardly) to us, but cause pain to others, leading us down the path of negative karma. Again, karma is simply action so ultimately our patterns have driven us to do something innately wrong, like hurting people, causing harm. It is our responsibility to break these patterns, to create new pathways, so that one day all of our actions are good, not only for us, but for humanity as a whole. Maybe today that seems a little impossible, but what seems impossible today, can, with intention, be absolutely surmountable just by being brave enough to try.     

Space…the final frontier

There is something to be said about space being the last place anyone will discover. Space, ether, is the fifth (and final) of our Earthly elements, the Pancha Mahabhuta, from there we move on to the places where intuition and enlightenment live. Intuition and enlightenment, are our higher purposes, the places we go beyond ourselves, beyond what is known to us and into what is universally known, and while wonderful aspects of existence, we need to be entirely open before achieving such heights. Enter space…

Space is vast and scary, and being entirely open brings both the greatest potential for love and kindness and the greatest potential for pain and suffering. And, it is necessary for us to be open in body, mind and soul in order to advance into wherever these higher purposes lead. We can be closed-minded and live a fulfilling life, we see people do so every single day. In fact, many of those people believe in the power of what lies beyond our individual lives, and sometimes those same people don’t realize that how accepting of others we are in this life helps to determine what happens to us when it’s time to move on to these higher planes of purpose.

The vastness of space offers us freedom, and in order to access that freedom, we need to share our space with everyone. In order to be truly free, we must first be vulnerable, and therefore unaffected by fear. Fear has crippling consequences to us on our universal path, it stops us from connecting with people and that connection is what helps to ground us before setting us free. When we feel grounded we can more easily enter into space because we trust that we are safe, safe because we’re not alone. And yet, time after time we sever those connections because we fear that by helping people get what they need we will have less so, we confine our space to support just us and the people that we love.

But, there is another way, we can choose to be fearless and embrace space and each other. In doing so we gain perspective and insight, truth; we find out that our resources are only limited by our inability to work together to make drastic and profound changes. One way to open your capacity for space is to practice Lion’s Breath: Inhale through your nose and open-mouth, stick out your tongue and exhale loudly through your mouth. When you feel open and ready to communicate, find a common ground with someone with whom you didn’t think you had anything in common and go forth, explore space!