by Erin Vehige
I have a tendency to spread myself thin. I have multiple jobs that take me all over the St. Louis Metro area. Sometimes putting on 100+ miles in one day. And if I tally up all of the time I spend driving, preparing, researching, showing up, teaching, answering questions, meetings, writing, editing, etc. I’m sure I’m putting in close to 70 hours a week. I know many people who do more and many people who do less, and yet, they still feel the pull of work over the amount of leisure time given to themselves. Because work doesn’t stop with the work you get paid to do. There is still cooking, cleaning, laundry, putting laundry away, yard work, family obligations...you know what I mean.
All this to say that I knew I needed a break, but I didn’t really know what that break would look like. Despite being a yoga student for many years and a teacher for 5, I had never been on a yoga retreat before, but I felt like that was what I needed. I’d admired from afar people talking about retreats and restoring themselves and feeling refreshed and like a new person, but it always seemed a little too far out of my reach. I would say things like “I don’t have the money.” “I can’t take that much time off work.” “I need to fix my car instead.” Other expenses and time commitments would get in the way. But this year was different for me. I realized I couldn’t afford NOT to do something just for me anymore. So I did a crazy thing...I turned 40.
Yeah, so that’s not so crazy, but I decided to do it in a big way. I said yes to not only one, but TWO yoga retreats with a European vacation nestled in between. The day after I returned home, my big birthday hit and I celebrated the beginning of a new decade by sleeping most of the day. It was a beautiful thing I never allow myself to do...until I went to adult summer camp (aka a yoga retreat called Creating Everyday Bliss with the godmother of yoga, Judith Lasater and her amazing daughter Lizzie). And bliss I did find, but how do you bring that back home?
(All statements found in quotations below that appear without direct/immediate attribution come from Judith Lasater. Some are direct quotes; others are quoted how I remember and may not be exact).
9 Things I Learned at Summer Camp
“You should only be fasting when it’s your night to cook.”
The evening before the sweat lodge day, Eric, a sweet and generous staff member at Feathered Pipe Ranch where the retreat was located, mentioned that it was a good practice to fast the day of the sweat. I had had a light breakfast and was planning on following the recommendation of fasting during lunch but as I emerged from the yoga room into the dining hall, I was brought face-to-face with the best comfort food ever: Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup. It felt like I was being tested. Could I resist? What would happen if I ate? Would it be okay? I decided it was a sign from the Divine that I HAD TO have it. So I did. The seat next to Judith was open; I sat down, and eventually told the table the story above. Judith turned to me and first said something like, “One doesn’t fast when their at the Ranch.” (Seriously the food is TOO good). Then she said the above, “And really, you should only fast when it’s your night to cook.” Eat the meals made with love. Enjoy and savor food created from the heart. And use fasting as a way to get out of cooking! Ha!
“Yoga will ruin your life”…(in the best way possible)
“Yoga changes the life you’re having so you can open to the life that is yours. Yoga is not really about love and light; it’s more about darkness & fear. You have to meet your own fears before you can release them…It’s like peeling an onion.” ~Judith Lasater
Tada Drashtuh Svarupe Vasthanam
Pantanjali Yoga Sutra 1.3 translates from Sankrit to “Then the seer abides in its own true nature.” This sutra was our mantra for the week of Restorative Camp with Judith. We chanted it before every class to center ourselves in the practice each morning and afternoon. At first the sutras can seem out of reach, but with a little attention, they begin to come alive. It is probably worth noting the sutras that come just before this third one.
Sutra 1.1: atha yoga anushasam “Now the discipline of yoga (is being presented),” and Sutra 1.2: yoga citta vritti nirodhah “Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind.” So in simple terms, once we come into yoga, we begin to reveal who we already have been. Yoga is not about changing you; it is about taking away the labels, the masks, the have-tos, should-dos, and need-to-dos in order to reveal the masterpiece that is our True Self, True Nature. Like the sculptor Michalangelo only revealed what was already in the stone. Two of his most famous quotes speak directly to this:
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
So, too, are we masterpieces that can be revealed when we let the outside layers be chiseled away with the practice of yoga, and more importantly, the practice of rest. Yes, rest is a practice.
“Alignment before Range.”
While we heard this phrase again and again over the week in regards to our physical bodies, some of us also came to the conclusion that “alignment before range” can really be applied to many things.
In the Body:
Another one of Judith’s many sayings is “Your body is smarter than you are” so allow it to do its thing.
~It is okay to have your legs wider apart when doing backbends because the shape of our sacrum may be wider than others.
~Let your shoulders come up by yours ears. How else are you going to get the secret stash of Oreos in the back of the top cabinet?
~Let your back hip come with you in Triangle Pose. Also keep your front leg straight and don’t collapse in the side waist or drop the top shoulder to reach the floor.
Off the Mat — The Duck Index:
~Remember as a kid, or maybe you’ve seen kids, throwing bread to ducks? There usually is no greater joy for kids than this. So Judith came up with the Duck Index. This is a scale between a joyous yes (10) and a “someone is going to pay for this” yes (1). You know those yesses, don’t you? The ones where you really want to say no, but you’re afraid that you’ll upset the other person, but then you say yes and because you’re having a miserable time so is the person you said yes to because you’re making them pay for you to have said yes. Yes? So try to invoke the Duck Index when making decisions and if it isn’t over a 6 or 7, say no.
~Ask yourself “does what I’m about to do include taking care of myself; is saying yes to someone else saying no to me?”
~No is a complete sentence.
Essentially, the Duck Index is about Alignment before Range. Are you in alignment with your True Self? Are you being truthful about your body, mind and spirit’s needs? If you are not, then you are not doing yourself any good even if you are “doing something.” Make sure that everything you are doing aligns with your purpose before stretching yourself to make it happen. There will be days that you don’t want to go to work and doing the thing is a 2 on the Duck Index; we all have them, right? But then when we start to put together the why then we start to see how doing the thing brings us into alignment and then we are able to reach a little more and find the range and it brings it a little higher on on Duck Index. What value does the thing bring?
“The Airport Is an Ashram.”
“The workshop begins as soon as you arrive at the airport; notice the tendency to judge, cling and wanting it to be different; you can bring to that environment a sense of ease...this can change the world.” ~Judith Lasater
The theme for this year’s Restorative Summer Camp was Spaciousness, and how can we create that spaciousness in our everyday lives. It is easy to find the space when you are on retreat, have very little access to Internet or phone service, the closest town/city is 30 minutes away, and there is a team of people cooking with great love for three delicious meals a day, including desserts. You literally have no obligations except to just be. But how can you take the spaciousness from retreat and bring it back into your daily life off of the mat?
Unplug Daily: "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you." ~Anne Lamott
One of our lifetime homework assignments was to give ourselves a 20 minute restorative pose EVERY DAY. This can sound very difficult, but when you really assess how you spend your day, I’m sure you can find 20 minutes to retreat. 20 minutes to unplug. To restart. And when you do, you will find that you run more efficiently, more effectively with more energy and more focus. How do I know this? I’ve been home now for 16 days as of this writing. Of those 16 days, I have made time for this practice 14 times. My life has shifted (and will continue to shift) dramatically since I’ve been home. Maybe it is because I went on retreat in the first place. Maybe it’s because I stepped away for 3 weeks, but maybe it’s because I learned how to step away for only 20 minutes most days that I see the space that I can create for myself to be more productive. I actually use my planner now. I schedule my rest. And when I rest, my creative ideas flow. Some days more than others, but every day, I GIVE myself the time.
Yutori is a Japanese term or concept meaning spaciousness, but the kind of spaciousness that you plan so that you have space around time for pleasure and joy. In an interview on Krista Tippett’s On Being, poet Naomi Shihab Nye mentioned Yutori and used a student quote to explain: “it’s leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around.” We learned to stop using time as an excuse. It is not that we don’t have enough time to get something done or to do something that we would like to do; it is more like we did not give ourselves enough space in time to complete that task or to do that thing.
“No Rushing. No Waiting.”
Yutori reminds me of another lifetime homework assignment: No Rushing. No Waiting. These are two concepts I have to repeat to myself many times throughout the day. When I find myself hurrying to the next thing and getting frustrated that I’ve not allowed myself enough time, I remember this and then say to myself “Time is Big.” This is a quote I learned from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, but it applies here as well. I may be in a hurry, but I don’t have to let the hurry rush me to the next thing. I can still be present in the now. The same thing is true for the opposite statement: No Waiting. At times, I may find myself in heavy traffic or a long line. I can be frustrated and bothered and upset and maybe even getting angry, or I can choose to be in the moment — the RIGHT NOW — look around, watch, notice, see, observe and discover the life happening. Maybe a beautiful sunset is on the horizon; maybe a child is laughing in the line ahead. Recognize the space given to you in that moment and allow that moment to fill you with awareness and presence.
~Ask yourself: “What is my current relationship with rest?”
Water Is Life Giving.
“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.” — Kahlil Gibran
By the water, you can make lifelong friends in less than an hour. Whether you are sitting in silence watching the sun go beyond the pine trees or you’re admiring an osprey hunting for food in the stillness of the lake, the water is there to replenish you after a day in the mountains. There is a reason that a babbling brook is a sound recorded and used in sleep machines because a real life brook feeding the lake was my nightly meditation. Small sprays of water on fire-heated rocks can create enough steam to fill a sweat lodge, and sweat can pour from your body releasing thoughts of doubt, self-consciousness, sadness, elation, confusion and lost direction. The ripples of the lake are metaphors for the ripples of life that all our decisions have and the ripples of friendships formed around the water. Water will remind me of my invisible sangha for the rest of my life. The sangha I share with everyone on this earth and beyond it.