Curmudgeon Yogi by Tiffany Coombs

Where did the days go where we didn't need to be bombarded by positivity and uplifting words every second of the day? 

Is it that bad out there that we can't get through the day without soaking in memes of joy and goals and being better than yesterday?

Dont get me wrong- sometimes I need some comforting words or advice when I can't see things clearly. What worries me is that we might be losing the ability to be our own guides, our own teachers, our own friends on a regular basis.

Yoga is ultimately a practice of solitude. We have our satsang/ sangha/ practice communities, we have our teachers, we enjoy being with like-minded individuals, but at the end of the day, it has to come from us. 

I don't want you to rely forever on me to make you feel better. To be happier, to be more successful. I don't want to be that kind of leader. I want to be the kind of leader that teaches you how to get there on your own. I want to lead by example, by living my life as best I can, with integrity, compassion, and presence. I don't want to tell you my life philosophy every moment of the day because I shouldn't have to- it should be apparent through my actions and my speech. 

Here's to a change. Learn how to be your best teacher. Learn how to grow sensitive enough to your own mind and body so that I don't have to tell you what to do. Learn how to uplift yourself and how to uplift simply by existing. Learn how to practice and live with integrity. 

sometimes I get grumpy.  it's my most inspirational mood ;)

Life.  

Life.  

by Tiffany Coombs

"Pain that has not yet come is avoidable." Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

 

what about pain that has not yet been realized, but has been covered by coping mechanisms for years and years and years? 

i was recalling to my husband a certain event that happened when I was probably just 4 or 5 years old that was extremely traumatic and that I try not to think about much. I realized that my story ended with an uncomfortable, cynical laugh followed by quiet, dangerous anxiety.

Pain that should have been experienced is still waiting to be experienced. It will wait and it will nag and it will exhaust you until you acknowledge that it hurt. The false strength and coolness doesn't make it go away. 

Heres to a new year of experiencing pain and hardship for what it is, when it happens. Heres to practices that create real and lasting strength rather than coping mechanisms that do nothing but cover problems so that the pain that has not come is actually avoidable. Here's to acknowledging and letting go of past hurts instead of laughing them off and then chewing off all of our fingernails (may or may not have just happened). 

heres to nice fingernails in 2016.

 

 

 

Progress by Tiffany Coombs

Sometimes I get lost in the meaning of it all. Is progress getting better at postures? Is progress experiencing mysterious phenomenon while meditating? Is it getting in better shape, day by day?

 

This blog post is inspired, yet again by some talks from Krishna Das that I was listening to a while back. He says that progress is decreasing the amount of time  that you stay distracted. The skill we are working on is to be less distracted and more present. We choose a practice that teaches us to come back over and over again.

 

I think I've mentioned in previous blog posts that I am a closet control freak. I don't really feel the need to control you and what you do, but I do feel the need to be in some kind of control in my own little world.  

I have fleas in my house. My indoor cats got them, and now my cats are flea free, but I'm still seeing fleas elsewhere. I don't have a huge problem with bugs, but I have a problem with these. They bite and they turn into an infestation, and, frankly, they make me feel creepy crawly.  

The flea situation has left me feeling extremely out of control. They have me feeling crazy (I am slightly mentally ill, so that's not too diffiucult to do ;)) I'm doing all of the suggested flea remedies, and the fleas keep on coming! 

Late yesterday afternoon, I noticed how out of control I was feeling. I noticed that the feeling only just started, and that I didn't need to stay that way. I noticed that I had skipped breakfast and lunch (my go to for feeling a sense of control when I am out of my mind). I noticed that I was grumpy and that my grumpiness was rubbing off on Harper, who was unusually whiney yesterday.  

Noticing is the first step. I am distracted from this very moment. I am unable to think rationally, and will therefore be less effective at what I need to do. I made a delicious dinner. I spent time with my family. I went to bed early and read and breathed, and calmed down.  

This morning I woke up feeling renewed. This is a brand new day. Today I choose to care for myself. To stay calm in the face of fleas (and hope that last night's remedy works... my carpet is covered in salt!!!!!!) I choose to continue to embrace all the good things in my life despite this one bad things. I choose to remember that this is nothing in comparison to what others have to face day in and day out.

This is what the practice is. To notice, to take action, and to be present.  

Pratyahara for Peace of Mind by Tiffany Coombs

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My daughter was at my mom's house, my husband was at work, so I decided to do some Christmas shopping! I noticed how unaccustomed  to busy shopping hours I've become, and how simple breathing techniques and the term "pratyahara" continued to bring me back to peace and happiness.

Pratyahara means "withdrawal of the senses." It is one of the eight limbs of yoga, and one that is often overlooked... perhaps labeled unattainable, or as a "not yet" tenant of yoga. Ultimately, in the practice of pratyahara, all of the senses are drawn inward so that the yogi remains unaffected by the goings-on in the world around her. It is a step toward meditation and enlightenment. 

Pratyahara can be practical. It may not lead to sudden enlightenment in this practical sense, but it can keep us sane and joyful during one of the busiest times of the year! 

How to use Pratyahara in "the real world"

  1. Someone walks into the yoga studio 5 minutes after your yoga class has begun. Your child's pose bliss has been ruined! OR, you carry on with your own breathing, your own experience, and let go of the drama that has been stirred up inside of you when someone walked in late. 
  2. Someone is extreme couponing in line in front of you and you are more than ready to get out of the store. How irritating that this person is getting in your way of doing what you want to do next. OR, you stand in line and watch in amazement as his bill goes from almost $400 to $150 and you practice your breathing and your ability to stay present. You remember how fortunate you are to be standing in this line to make purchases in the first place. 
  3. Two ladies have been rolling around the store in those motorized scooters making a big deal of how the scooters keep running out of juice. Then they block the exit of the store while sorting out the items that they purchased. Annoying? Sure. You can let it annoy you, or you can take a deep breathe and smile at them, and sneak past without a care in the world.

Pratyahara is the practice of remaining equanimous no matter what annoyances or disturbances might surround you. It is the practice of being laid back. Of maintaining inner peace regardless of what others might be doing. It isn't easy, but it sure comes in handy when you feel like having a nice day! 

Caring amidst Chaos by Tiffany Coombs

I began my class this morning asking students to observe their current state of being, body and mind. I then asked them to commit to caring for themselves on their mats moment to moment.  

We then went on to take a rather vigorous vinyasa yoga practice. 

It struck me funny that I would ask them to care for themselves, then ask them to go through challenging flows, 50,000 chaturangas, and so forth.  

Can vinyasa yoga be practiced with care and compassion? 

I think, yes.  

There is so much value in learning how to be mindful- not only during slow times, but also during the times that seem chaotic, challenging, and even stressful. Yoga is a practice that can be explored on and off the mat. Why can't vinyasa yoga be a practice of learning how to stay cool as a cucumber, mindful, focused, and compassionate no matter what challenge is thrown our way? A practice of learning what is and isn't appropriate to take on at any given moment? A practice of maintaining an equanimous mind in the face of chaos? This, in the time of hype and sensationalized media, this is what we need to practice. 

Can we replace our teachings to push harder, faster, fancier with teachings to explore, understand, and choose what is best for the individual at every moment? Can we provide our students with lasting tools that will help them to grow in practice and to grow in life? Can we teach our students to stay steady, to breathe, and to practice compassion for themselves? I think, yes!  

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Feelings by Tiffany Coombs

I have trouble allowing my feelings to show their faces. There are a lot of them right now.

I doubt I'm alone in this, so I thought I'd share my feelings practice.

When something happens that should probably invoke feelings, I take a few deep breaths in and notice if anything comes up. If something comes up, it is usually already pushed way down deep. So then I have to coax it out and repeat to myself "feel, feel, feel..." until 10 years worth of feelings come up and I can have a good sob-fest and usually experience several flashbacks. I say hello to the feeling and let it stay for a while. When it's time is up, I say goodbye and move on. 

We can't ignore our feelings. I think we think "let it go" means to repress something unpleasant and to replace it with something pleasant. In my experience, that has proven unsuccessful. 

Sometimes they are surprising, sometimes they are ugly, sometimes they are lovely. But they are all a part of being a human. And if we don't let them express themselves, we keep carrying them no matter what kind of front we put up. The longer we carry them, the number we feel or the more anxious we feel or we are more likely to snap. 

Don't let unexpressed feelings harden your heart. Meditate. Feel your feels. Invite them all over like a good friend. Care for them. Breathe with them. Let them go for real.

 

Teaching is My Practice by Tiffany Coombs

Teaching is my practice.

Another blog post inspired by a talk I heard from Krishna Das. Krishna Das says that singing, and more specifically, singing with people, saved his life.

I can relate completely. I starting teaching yoga two years after I almost ended it all. I had been practicing regularly for about 4 years, but It wasn't until I started to teach yoga to people that I noticed significant decrease in depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I've always been a little afraid of people. I'm shy, I have a lot of social anxiety. Somehow, when I teach, all of that goes away. The fear is not permanent and it isn't my true nature. The awareness created in a yoga class is one of the greatest teachers that shows that there is something underneath all of the drama, the inner noise, that is love and peace. And I find it every time I stand in front of all of you. Thank you for helping me to heal and to be myself. Thank you for showing me that there is nothing to be afraid of. Thank you for showing the way to the present moment and for sharing your love.

Teaching isn't a hobby or something I like to do in my free time, it's something I HAVE to do. I gain so much from practice, but I more importantly gradually lose my small self when I am teaching with you. 

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Thank you.

UnBecome by Tiffany Coombs

"...yoga is a path to undo the root of all types of misery through the direct experience of deep, clear, open awareness." ~ Richard Freeman, Yoga Instructor

When we begin to dive into our yoga practice, sometimes we think we need to be a certain way. We need to wear the right clothes, wear the right jewelry, say the right "yogic" words, eat the yogic food, etc.

The more we try to be, the further from being we become.

Instead of adding more layers of who we are not, why not open up, let go, and allow the practice to undo the layers that we are not? Let this practice of movement, breath, and concentration open us to who we really are?

I think it is scary to think about who we might be if we start to let go. The barriers and the personas we take on have been built over time for protection from suffering. But this perceived protection does nothing but cause more suffering, more reaching, more dissatisfaction. 

We are not those barriers.

We are love, we are goodness, we are limitless.

How terrifying...

Settle Down by Tiffany Coombs

I'm neurotic. I come from a neurotic family (sorry family, but I think we've all admitted it at some point or another!) I stuck with yoga in a lot of ways because it showed me a glimpse of a possible life without nit-picking, without perfectionism, without judgement. Living with less neurosis is a challenging, often failed, daily practice, but it is an important one.

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Settling into the Awkward and Unknown by Tiffany Coombs

Through the consistent practice of yoga, I have learned about facing the awkward, the uncomfortable, even the mildly painful, head-on. Through mindfulness, I can explore the sensations, my ability to breathe, and my ability to stay present. I can acknowledge what is challenging and get to work, rather than settling in to what I know is easy. 

It has been hitting me lately that this ability to face the awkward and settle in on my mat is beginning to translate off the mat as well. 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Vata) by Tiffany Coombs

Autumn is upon us. Bring out your decorative gourds, your cozy boots, your Pumpkin Spice Anythings, and your... Vata.

According to the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda, there are three doshas, or constitutions that pervade the universe. They are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is airy and full of movement, Pitta is fiery and disciplined, Kapha is stable and slow. Just as every person has a dominant dosha, so do the seasons.

Autumn is Vata time. The breezes pick up, the temperatures drop, and there is something in the air that can makes us just a little bit crazy. Especially if you are Vata dominant. Which I am. 

During this season, I am often overwhelmed with creative ideas that leave me feeling buzzed but exhausted and too drained to see them through. I am often scatterbrained, flighty, and anxious. I am always cold.

Characteristics of Vata include:

  • movement
  • dryness
  • lightness
  • variability
  • cold
  • fluctuating energy levels
  • poor circulation
  • anxiety
  • creativity
  • speech
  • changeability

The typical Vata constitution could use some structure and stability, but resists these things like the plague. 

Enter the Metal Element from Chinese Medicine. Metal is the element of Autumn.

The Chinese Medicine system differs from Ayurveda in its elements and practices, but I have been considering how the two can be used together in order to optimize health and balance through the seasons. During one of my trainings with Tiffany Cruikshank, she mentioned that the body doesn't know if you are applying Chinese Medicine Techniques or Ayurveda. The body will respond no matter what you call it. 

Characteristics of the Metal Element

  • structure
  • precision
  • ritual/ routine
  • clarity
  • ability to process
  • boundaries
  • door to the lungs- respiration
  • circulation of energy/ fluids

This season, as I struggle to find balance in my Vata body and mind, I am working to reduce what puts my system into chaos and too much variability, and am implementing small, structured rituals into my day. Instead of overriding or denying my innate constitution, I am working to balance creativity with structure, changeability with discipline. When ideas start to outshine productivity, I am exploring what is important and what can be let go of in order to maximize creative energy without exhausting myself. 

Here are some of my Fall practices:

  • Keeping my desk clean (at least to my own standards of tidiness).
  • Eating meals at approximately the same time of day every day to ensure that I eat properly
  • Eating heavier, warming foods that leave me feeling grounded, comforted, and nourished.
  • Wearing more structured clothes. You know, like, not sweatpants all of the time. I bought some jeans.
  • Oil massage on my feet nightly, in addition to full body oil massage at least 2x/ week
  • Taking slow walks with my daughter to enjoy sunshine and fresh air, and also to step away from tasks that make me feel overwhelmed
  • Pranayama- Sama Vritti Pranayama or Nadi Shodhona to keep my mind clear and focused
  • Making lists (not my strong point) when ideas come to mind.
  • Daily yoga that combines physicality to burn off excess energy and increase circulation with restful, restorative postures so as to not burn off all of my energy.
  • Warm beverages throughout the day (most of which are coffee... but I'm working on that, too!)
  • Speaking my mind when I might usually hold back in order to let go of nagging thoughts, emotions, or ideas that need to be expressed
  • Taking time to pause and be grateful for the life that I have now and to experience the present moment.

What are your fall rituals?

 

Make Love, Not War by Tiffany Coombs

I grew up at war with myself. 

If you've read previous blog posts, by now you know that I have a sensory processing disorder, manic depression, and an eating disorder. 

I grew up as a dancer. I grew up perfecting myself in the mirror because I believed I was enormously flawed. I also loved how beautiful those movements, those pointe shoes, those costumes made me feel when I viewed myself as awkward and doofy otherwise. It was an escape.

 I was shy, panicked at the idea of class presentations... and school in general, and feared being terrible. 

I got sick a ton growing up. I also got injured a ton. I injured myself so badly that my knees gave out when I was 14 and my feet are chronically sprained. 

I've learned a lot since my childhood. Sometimes I feel old because that kid doesn't even seem recognizable sometimes. I'm not old though, I'm only 27. And I do catch glimpses of that kid, still. I have a lot more learning to do.

Here is what I have learned so far:

1. Embrace what you have. If you can't tie your shoes because you're brain can't make sense of it, you get to save time by wearing slips ons. If you can't function in a "real" job, be an entrepreneur. If you think that all you are are flawed, explore things that you are good at. If I'm focused, I'm good at yoga, music, and was good at ballet. If I'm distracted and manic, I'm good at art. and coming up with idea. Get creative. 

2. Embrace reality. Kind of repeating the above statement, but that's how important it is. We can wish all we want, but what is real is what we are working with and what is in front of us. I spent so much time wishing that my whole life was different, but all it did was aggravate and depress me further. Reality isn't always ideal, but it is real and we can work with what is real with much less frustration. I think the practice of yoga plays a huge role here in that we face ourselves every time we step onto the mat. We face the condition of the body and mind. We face the fact that we had too much to drink the night before, not enough to eat. Maybe we also learn the difference between too much alcohol and the right amount of food and hydration. We learn to find challenge without pushing too far, practicing acceptance of where we are on any given day. We learn to be grateful for what we have and the simple notion that we can practice yoga in the first place. 

3. Do not fight yourself. If you are sick, rest. If you feel like you are getting sick, rest. Same thing if you are injured. If you are hungry, eat something nourishing. Learn about what foods make you feel supported. If you aren't as strong or flexible as you want to be, don't push. Practice patience and discipline. Take good care of yourself and you might just find that you start to love yourself. And when you love yourself, you can love everybody else a lot easier. 

4. If it's hard for you, but you want it, do it. My favorite example right now is this: I grew up with horrible stage fright if I had to speak in front of anyone. I was terrified of answering questions because I didn't want to be wrong or sound dumb. I started to feel like I was disappearing because I was so fearful. Fast forward, I am studying in the 500 hour Yoga Medicine program with Tiffany Cruikshank. In grand attempts not to be starstruck and to get myself out of a rut, I decided from the first day that I would answer one question per module. And that is what I have been doing. This past module, I answered a question every day! I want so badly to be bold, confident, and myself. I want to let go of fear. And I am learning that the only way to do that is to do really scary things. **If you are an extrovert you might be laughing right now. Replace speaking with... whatever extroverts are afraid of. 

5. If you are experiencing emotions, allow yourself to feel them. Sometimes emotions can be scary. Sometimes as yoga people, we feel like we aren't allowed to feel anything but peace, love, and joy. But I think that if you don't let yourself feel all of them, you will stop feeling the good ones, too. A long time ago, I started by allowing myself to feel anger again, then all the other ones, and finally, this year, I have felt more joyful emotions than I can ever remember. Please know that I still feel anger, too. But also lots of joy. I think it's important to experience and process every emotion that comes up, whether it's rational or not, so that we can be complete human beings. My meditation practice plays an enormous role in uncovering unexpressed emotions and observing what they feel like. **Experiencing and acting are two different things. Do your best not to punch a hole in your wall if you are angry.

6. Biggest lesson: making love, not war, with yourself can result in better health, more confidence, and more ease. Let go of the struggle. It's not as bad as it seems, even if it's bad. Go with the flow.

 

 

The Mundane is Amazing by Tiffany Coombs

I am inspired by the people who don't realize how inspiring they are. The ones who live their lives without force and without storytelling. The one's who are truly present. I promise not to strive to be you, though, because then my point is moot. I will keep being me, and you will keep being you.

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Love by Tiffany Coombs

I think there are layers of thought inside of us. There are the layers that we present to people to be respectable, social, and happy. There are the layers that we mull over in our heads, not to be shared. Then there is a layer deep within that keeps us alive, even when we don't want to be. The layer that knows that we can pull through and that we are worthy. I think this final layer is what is revealed in practices of mindfulness. It is the part in all of us that is the same. Pure, love, Buddha, Spirit, etc.

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Resistance by Tiffany Coombs

The poses we practice and the classes we take can reveal so much more than where we are open, where we are tight, where we are strong, and where we are weak. Have you ever been in a situation where the current condition of your entire state of being was revealed to you?

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What is Yoga? by Tiffany Coombs

Tomorrow is my birthday. This is MY new year. Each year I tend to spend time contemplating why I do the things that I do and what the things mean to me. Most of the time, the question I ask is "What does the practice of Yoga mean to me?"

Everyone gives a different answer for this question. "Union." "Connection to God." "A Great Workout." The list goes on and on. 

My answer to this question changes just about yearly. My practice changes. The makeup of my mind and body change. Everything changes. And so one of my answers to the question might be that yoga is embracing the inevitable change. 

This practice used to support a need to change myself. I disagree with this need now, but this year, instead of using yoga to be better, the practice of yoga has shown me who I am. It has shown me my truest self. Not everyone sees that true self all of the time. I'm not quite there yet. But there is nothing to change because there is nothing wrong. The "wrongness" we perceive is simply a layer of lessons about life and relationships. And so, yoga is self-acceptance. 

Piggy backing on the last statement, yoga is love and connection. When we can live with acceptance of ourselves, we can stop worrying about what we look like, how we come across, and so on. We can drop the insecurities. We can remove barriers and connect to others. We can love others as they are. Again, this is not a consistent practice, but this year, I have noticed a huge change in my own relationships as the relationship to myself has changed. 

Here's to another great year. They just seem to get better and better, don't they?

What is yoga to you? 

Stand Up Straight! by Tiffany Coombs

What does your posture look like when you stand in line at the grocery store?

What does your posture look like when you stand on your mat in Tadasana or Mountain pose?

If you are like me, the two are probably very different. 

I'm a sloucher. My natural habitat is in a curled up position. Since you can't curl up while standing, I guess slouching is the next "best" option!

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You Are Your Best Teacher by Tiffany Coombs

5 1/2 years ago, my husband and I got married and moved to Denmark. He was already living there to complete his Masters Degree, and of course I wanted to join in the fun for the last three months of study! I had just completed a 200 hour teacher training and was ripe with knowledge and ready to dive into the world of sequencing, practicing, and teaching. 

There was one yoga studio in the town, and it was actually more like a Pilates studio with a couple of yoga classes. And since it was Denmark, those classes were way out of my price range. What was a girl to do? 

My apartment may as well have been a yoga studio. We didn't really have much furniture, the floors were wood, walls were white, and windows were floor to ceiling. I had several hours in the day to myself, and so it was then and there that I decided I would commit to getting comfortable practicing on my own. 

First attempt: The ambiance was beautiful and quiet. I rolled out my mat. I lasted 15 minutes. Despite the near to perfect conditions (we didn't even have internet!), I was so distracted by the bazillions of thoughts floating through my head that I could not go on! This carried on for a couple of weeks. I was unable to focus or go beyond a few sun salutations, but I persevered. There is nothing wrong with doing 15 minutes of Sun Salutations every day!

After a couple of weeks: Suddenly I found myself practicing for an hour! My mind settled every time I stepped onto my mat, and practice began. The bazillions of thoughts were still there, but somehow unimportant and in the far distance. Asana practice became meditation.

What was I practicing? The sequences I was playing with. I had a notebook overflowing with sequences by the time we moved back to the States. Some worked, some were terrible. Good thing I found out before using them on other people!

After a month: Practice moved from one hour to two hours and sometimes even three! Time stopped existing (what a luxury!!) and my practice became something like two hours of asana and an hour of pranayama, mantra, and silent meditation.

My practice has changed over the years. When I started about 12 years ago, I followed DVDs in my basement. Then I practiced at studios. Then I practiced sequences that were given to me. Finally I practiced sequences that came from my own head. For a long time I practiced as the sun rose. Then I could barely get off the couch from a crippling bout of Lyme Disease, and my practice became meditation and pranayama based with some gentle movement on the side. Now it is whatever I can fit it, and whatever I am up for. Sometimes it is very basic, other times I feel strong and adventurous. Sometimes I get an hour, sometimes only 15 minutes, but I am thankful for all of it. I know that as the years go on, it will continue to change. How beautiful!

What a home practice has and is teaching me:

1. I can trust myself. And the trust in myself is more like a trust in the Buddha Nature which dwells in each and every one of us. And when I trust myself, I trust others.

2. I can heal myself. 

3. I can ask my body what it needs, and If I listen, it will tell me.

4. I can let go of what my mind wants me to do and do what my body wants me to do instead. Sometimes my body wants basic. Sometimes my body wants challenge. Sometimes it wants a little bit of both. The more I listen, the less injuries I have.

5. I can be with my stuff, process my stuff, and move on.

6. I can adapt.

7. I can come closer to teaching from a very personal and intimate experience of asana.

8. If I can do it, so can you! 

Sometimes I fall out of my home practice routine. I get lazy, uninspired, lonely, etc. That's when hitting the studio is most beneficial for me. The connection to the community brings me back to myself and what I love. 

My purpose for this post is not to discourage you from practicing at the studio. Please go! Be with your community and allow yourself to be led! There is so much value in both! For those of you who do not have financial access, do not live near a studio, or are simply curious about starting a home practice, know that you can still do yoga! Do it at home! It is challenging and often scary, but ultimately worth it! 

Don't know how to sequence a home practice? I am happy to work with you and come up with a sequence that suits your needs. Email me at i.am.buddhacat@gmail.com for more information on practicing at home!