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First Yoga Class – by Zara Bielkus

Trying something for the first time can feel daunting. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how the experience will feel, and sometimes you just plain and simple feel apprehensive. This is natural, it is instinctual; after all, cautiousness helped humans survive the early evolutionary years.  Adrenaline pointed us toward and away from danger depending on desired outcome. And I rather speculate that Anchiornis,[i] too felt a small “rush” when it was the first of its kind to jump out of the branches and use its feathers as a safety net to glide to the ground below. Without risk takers, our maps would never have become globes. In our own lives we often have to make some decisions based only on partial information.

A first yoga class is often like that too, where we have heard it is good for us, we have heard it makes us feel great, but still we have no idea how we will achieve that in our first yoga class. This was very much my experience before my first class.  I had read all the FAQs for new students, I had all the props, but I still had no idea what I would be doing …or how! But at some point the preparation must give way to action, and I had to take a chance and go. No amount of Cliff Notes from my sister was going to help because within the first 10 minutes of my first class I realized only me, myself and I was having that new experience. The need to concentrate on what I was doing surpassed the feelings of uncertainty that I felt before coming.  And as a yoga novice a lot of concentration is required, but as you attend more classes the concentration needed decreases and movements become more natural, fluid, and desired.

Observing your mind during this new process is especially fun, as often your mental reaction resides with the status of your inner equilibrium. New to yoga I would arrive with something that I would ‘want’ from the class, like to relax, or to stretch my hamstrings. But after more and more classes, I realized I was there because in other aspects of my life I didn’t know what I wanted.  But the commitment to the yoga practice acted as an anchor to my thoughts so I could pause to contemplate, and then sail freely on.

So if you have heard the health benefits of yoga, and you have thought a yoga class is something that might be good for you, that is exactly the time to leave the shelter of the trees – evolve your self. There is no stipulation about how you have to ‘arrive’ to your first class: uncertain, excited, self-conscious, prepared…whatever. The only part you are responsible is taking thought to action.

What would I talk about? – by Aida Bielkus

What would I talk about? People often ask this question when they want to find out more about HYL coaching and whether it is right for them.  What that question actually means is I am not ready to change.  I am okay with the status quo. I have grown complaisant and even though I feel a bit stuck I’m just going to stay my course and hope for the best.  If you cannot think of something you would want coaching for then you are okay not to experience change…yet… are you really?

I have been there.  I have held myself back by behaving from old beliefs based on fear.  I have ignored, resisted, blocked, gone complaisant, been lazy, and simply not cared; however, once I found coaching I could never  again go back to avoiding change.  Once you realize through your first coaching sessions that you run your own show, that life happens from you and not at you, you will be bitten by that bug.  You taste the possibility of your own true inner transformation, and there is nothing more rewarding  than the continued processing of that goal.

Let’s walk down “Devil’s Advocate Road” for the hell of it: what is so great about change? Isn’t it easier not to change; change just stirs things up and creates conflict.  This position is a false belief- and deep down inside-  you know it.  The truth is that conscious change releases conflict, suffering and stuck-ness.  By unconsciously making a choice to not change you unconsciously agree to have unconscious change happen to you.  Stuck-ness creates change that is out of your control.  Oh there will be plenty of change happening every day around you; change is a natural part of the world we live in, but your mind, body and spirit suffer in stuck-ness.  Your body gets out of balance and sick.  Your mind forms patterns of anxious thoughts.  Your relationships suffer. Your work goals grow stale or disappear.  With this position there is no growth unless it is somehow accidental.  Like you might accidentally win the lottery. But even in this extreme example,  we see change can be limited. In many instances people who win the lottery return to living as they always had, and change little because the change was not conscious.

I wrote the following quote in my high school in my High School year book,  “the only thing you can be sure of is change.” Not sure where I got it but I just knew it was true!  This idea has been put forth by many philosophers.  The ancient yogi philosopher, Patanjali  (150 BCE) wrote that impermanence and change are the only constants.  Later, the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus (480 BCE) theorized that everything is in a state of fluctuation.  And another example is in Buddhism where anicca, or impermanence is undeniably a factor of life.  A river flows and carves out a bed.  Trees grow by the bank and feed.  They decay and fall into the river.  Our souls are like that bed, being carved out by life. But we have the ability to create conscious choice that would allow our river to flow freely towards the open sea.  Coaching supports conscious choice and change.

Next Steps for Coaching:  Close your eyes and take 10 long breaths.  Think about your life and something that you would want to change. Something perhaps that you only you know. Write this down.  This desire to change, whether it be small or large, is exactly what a certified Health Yoga Life Coach will work with you on in coaching.  A coach will help you re-language, to see that how you describe things to yourself begin to create your reality. To re-language the question in this blog, I encourage you to instead say: I know what I will talk about with my coach. Coaches will then use affirmations to support your change.  This blog post’s affirmation is I create conscious change in my life with support from my coach.

Mama-Ste! The 3 Most Important Things My Mother Taught Me – by Vyda Bielkus

Mama-ste! The 3 most important things my mother taught me.

I have a great relationship with my mother; in fact all of my 3 sisters do too.  We jokingly call her the ‘Guru-Ma’ – the all-knowing wise woman.  Looking back at our lives together, I have come to realize the number of important life lessons she has taught me are countless.  But as we approach Mother’s Day, I wanted to share what I feel are some of the most important.  So many mothers (moms to be, new moms, and even moms of 30+ years) struggle with putting other’s needs ahead of their own, and feelings of guilt, that I believe what I learned from my mom can be an inspiration to all. Take good care of yourself.

1. Take good care of yourself.

Many moms who come to my studio tell me they find it really challenging to make time for yoga class when they have kids… and then when they do come, they feel bad that they are going to class instead of being with them.   Taking care of yourself is one of the biggest gifts you can give your kids. Yes taking care of YOURSELF!  When my sisters and I were still very little (all under ten) our house was full of crazy!  There were four of us girls (one who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 2). My mom had just started a business of her own which literally had an office in our basement- and our dad was no Mr. Mom.  With all that swirled around her, I remember on Saturday mornings my mom would head out.  She wouldn’t wash the dishes from breakfast, she didn’t really care if we were dressed or not, she just would kiss us good bye and take off, leaving us with our dad.  One of us would always be crying at her feet as she would be heading out the door, but out the door she went.  As soon as the door closed behind her, my sisters and I had a ball!  We’d run around the house, play pretend, get outside in the mud and just had fun, not thinking about her at all.  When our mom came back she was always glowing and more relaxed.  As the pattern continued, we made the connection that “exercise at Dunphey’s” made our mom happy, which in turn made our entire household happy!    She continued to role model taking care of oneself for us.  She learned Transcendental  Meditation (TM)  and it became a household rule that when mom meditated we’d be quiet.  Even our friends, and yes at times that meant eight kids in the house, each of us with a friend, knew “TM time” meant quiet time.  We learned to respect her needs.  Although we might not have been able to put it into words back then, we understood that when mom took care of herself she was more present when she was with us.  She wasn’t as distracted or stressed.

2. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

Help is always available.  Moms don’t suffer from having to juggle a lot (that is the fun of life), moms suffer because they believe they need to do it alone.  After our parents’ divorce, my mom, probably out of sheer need was able to ask for help.  She enlisted her sister, our uncles, our grandparents and nannies to help her raise us.   When she would go off to work and leave us with Buba(grandma) and Bocius(grandpa) we didn’t feel less loved; in fact it made us feel more loved.  We always knew as kids someone was watching out for us and had our back.  We also got to learn so much from the richness of our relationship with our extended family.   But there were countless other ways my mom taught me that asking for help is the only way to have your needs met.   When two of us were in really big transitions, she dreamed of sending us to a private girls’ school.  She knew she wanted this for us.  The school would not only support our growth, but also help her raise us because of its structure.  In many ways getting us into the school was as much of a good thing for us as it was for her (a busy single working mom).   The school is one of the most exclusive, private schools in the country, and there was no way she could afford to send us.  Instead of seeing this as a block, she asked for helped.  As our luck would have it, the school granted us scholarships.  I loved my school!  It was some of the most amazing years of my childhood.  From watching my mom ask for help, I got it: if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.   Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we perceive it as not available.  Start looking around for help and you will see it everywhere.

3. The Power of Sorry.

There were the moms that made it to every sports game and then… there was my mom.  I think she made it to one of my games and maybe a few of my sisters’.   There were the moms who picked up their kids right on time every time and then… there was my mom.  Lots of times my mom was late, but one of the bests was when she was a whole two hours late, and to top it, she was at the wrong school! The thing about it is that my mom would always and still says sorry.  She was genuinely sorry if our feelings were hurt, she was genuinely sorry if she misunderstood or was given conflicting information, but the secret is she didn’t feel guilty.   The truth is, in life, you will sometimes have to be in two places at once, or a work meeting will take priority, or you will make a mistake.  Be sorry not guilty.  I still observe this amazing gift my mom has to say sorry to just level the playing to field.  To make whoever she is “disagreeing” with feel and understand that the relationship matters more than whether one person is right or wrong.   And FYI, for all you mom’s out there who feel guilty when you miss a child’s “important” game, recital, or school, function,  I used to think my mom was way cool, that she couldn’t come to my games because she was working!

Heels in a Marathon – by Zara Bielkus

Some memories in life are so strong that when we remember them, we feel as though they are happening right there in that moment when we are recalling them. This may happen when you hold your child for the first time, or you are told you passed the BAR exam. Or it can be something more collective, like when you saw the new Dalai Lama for the first time, or seeing George W’s face on the news in that elementary school in 2001.  We all have these moments, some public, some private. Some we share. Some we don’t. Perhaps part of our consciousness remains there, in that moment, for good or for bad, and therefore every time we recall it we can almost live it. My most recent experience of this is from the day of the 2013 Boston Marathon. I imagine it will remain raw for some time for the whole city, and part of our collective consciousness will remain there, cradling the incident with the stronger arms of the present.

A week after the incident I gave my nude-colored stilettos in to my cobbler.

“What did you do in these?” he asked. The leather had been stripped off both heels, the soles cut, and blue spots (Gatorade?) all over one.

“I wore them in the Boston Marathon – ” I replied.

“Heels…in a Marathon? Who…” he scratched his head.

I had meant to say I wore them to the Marathon. In many ways I did not even want to get into it, because most people don’t wear heels at sporting events, even as a spectator.  But in a more comprehensive way I guess I was trying to say, I wore them in the Boston Marathon…bombing.   But I could not. I did not want to. I did not want to have that memory there in a cramped shop, with my head aching from the smell of glue and leather.

And then it happened. It happened anyway. But for the first time the memory was not of the day, or running in heels, or the fallen barricades, police, cattle bells, baseball caps, magnolias, smoke. It was not of the hurt. A totally different aspect of the event surfaced. My mind saw a man in a raincoat with puffy eyes, turning the door knob of my sister’s apartment front door, with my scarf in his hand. Through the night following the attack, I had reported the experience to some news networks. Because of time differences I was asked to report near the crime scene in the middle of the night. Standing at the door, at 3am, to help me was my future brother-in-law.  All things considered, he said, I shouldn’t have to go alone.  When we arrived at the television crews, I realized I had to say something as opposed to just show how I felt. Crying would only say one thing. I needed to say some thing. Shocked from the day and the hour, and the cold spring night, I froze – until my future brother-in-law said, ‘just be you. People just want to hear you.’

Then the memory finished, and all I felt was kindness. The kindness of him keeping me company, the kindness of the reporters sharing stories so compassion could be showered back to Boston. And kindness to myself, allowing everything that unfolded that day and week to follow to be okay as opposed to wanting it, or me, to be feeling or acting differently.  Returning to a place where part of your consciousness sits, you see more of it than before.  You learn more than before. You are more than before.

Me. That is who wears heels as a spectator to the Boston Marathon.

You’ve Got a Friend in You – by Zara Bielkus

Like people and animals, friends, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are strong and always there, some are fuzzy fence sitters who are great when you need to bounce ideas off another person; but often the best thing about friends is that they find you.  This happened to me nearly 15 years ago. Standing in the coat room line, I could see a gentleman struggling to get his arm through a rather elusive sleeve. More than 35 years my senior, I thought to myself that my grandmother would be proud for respecting my elders if I helped him find it.

“It seems your left sleeve is playing hide-and-seek with you,” I said to him, grabbing the shoulder of his coat so he could guide his arm through. When he introduced himself, it turned out that according to the seating plan we were meant to have been sitting next to each other for dinner, but someone had shuffled him to the head table. As a result, I had dinner next to a dull so-and-so, but this chance meeting in the coat room line seemed ever more intriguing. Many years of our friendship elapsed and I was helping my friend collect legal paperwork for his estate. Grasping hundreds of papers, one page slipped from the pile in my hands to my feet – it was his father’s death certificate; it turned out we shared the same birthday.

“Perhaps you and I have been playing hide-and-seek even longer than we thought,” my friend chuckled when I highlighted the coincidence. Well if our spirits had shared a previous life, I, for one, did not remember!  This friend often talks of the divine and all the grandeurs of spiritual understanding. But I most admire his ability to treat strangers and friends with the same level of trusting compassion and I enjoy his wider knowledge base, which generally only the process of aging reveals. One day, after dedicating 10 years to one project, he said he would no longer pursue it. There were many reasons behind his choice, which I accepted, but I could not accept his loss. He felt he lost because now that he decided to stop the project before completion, “everybody will laugh [at me]”, he said. It made me want to cry when his voice trailed on the other end of the phone line. At that moment, I realized his loss was not the loss of the project, but really the feelings of embarrassment from a perceived loss of dignity – measured only against other people’s opinions.

So I said to him boldly: “The greatest loss here is not the project, or the loss of dignity. The greatest loss here is that in the roughly 70 years of your life, you still haven’t found your best friend: yourself.” You are never alone once you have found this true companion. With the hectic life of modern age it is critical to have a relationship with this ‘friend’ because of the high demands expected of individuals.  The yoga mat is a great place to find this friend because the stillness of the room allows you to hear what they need, what they want, what will make them happy. The differences in acts of selfishness and selflessness may be very apparent, but the mental differences between the two are less so.  Sometimes by being a little selfish (like meditating instead of washing the dishes) allows us to act more selfless (like setting aside time to really listen to your partner’s/friend’s day).  Was I being a good or bad friend when I told my dear, old friend to look for himself? Neither. I was being a true friend, because truth holds no judgement.

When you are able to slow down through yoga, meditating, or a quite walk, ask yourself do you have a best friend in you?  If not, why not? What might need to change, what might help you like you as a person more? When you hear a voice criticizing you – which more often than not sounds just like your own – try replacing that voice with one of support, kindness, and appreciation. Look for ways to improve this internal relationship in order to improve relations with others. Having self-awareness will enable you to have better boundaries in your life that support the growth of the true you. Loving yourself unabashedly will ensure the journey of a lifetime.