Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Change of Venue

With the 2010 Winter Olympic games less than a year away, the excitement is building in my home of hockey, skiing and other winter sport enthusiasts. Having just "completed" the 2008 Olympic experience, watching the games from Beijing, it seems that everyone loves use the Olympic sports broadcaster's favorite line, in their arsenal of expressions: "the change of venue". Honestly, I can't remember which games I first heard the announcers begin to use this term in their everyday vernacular. It became a bit of a joke in my home, as overused as the expression was. What about change in location, event, stage, locale, area, vicinity, space, neighborhood, spot, home or even 'neck of the woods'? Just as we know the Olympic anthem of trumpets sounding, we know that "change of venue" is here to stay.

Despite the anchors at the Olympic news desks overuse of the term, it's actually not a bad thought. Changing one's place can be a tremendous boon. In my Yoga classes, I often ask my students to move their mats to different positions in the room. This keeps students (and myself) from getting into a rut of behavior patterns. It's amazing to teach with regular students in new spaces in the room. For those students who normally arrange themselves in the back, they often find class is a new experience moving up front. Conversely, students who are normally right next to me, find that moving to the back of the room can also bring their practice more personal and internal, rather than keeping an eye on everything that I'm doing. Today, I had the blessing of being able to teach in a completely different building. Only half my regular students came, which was unfortunate. Our temporary space was beautiful and had a lovely view of the waterfall on the river. Yet, some people just do not feel comfortable with change, even temporarily.

Change is very important to our continuing development. Some people embrace change in all areas of their lives. They love to move, and create new lives in new places. I had friends that moved houses 4 times in 8 years....not because of work, financial or family related needs, but because they genuinely found the creation of new homes to be invigorating and exciting. I know others who have lived in the same place nearly all of their lives. They eat in the same restaurants, and they take the same vacations. They have enormous comfort in their safe zones, and this gives them the satisfaction of knowing where they will always be. And yet, I can't help but wonder if these people are selling their lives short by not experiencing something, to quote Monty Python, "completely different".

Change is good for the soul. While we need routines to help flesh out the framework of our every day lives, little changes can bring about vast implications. Routine is important to help us pay our bills on time, get to work and take care of our basic needs. But, beyond that, looking for a bit of adventure can bring us a sense of freshness to the ordinariness of life. If you normally only read one genre of book, or watch one genre of movie, how about exchanging your chick lit for a bit of a spy thriller? If you only run on the treadmill, what about heading outside for a run on the road? If you typically eat rice or pasta, how about trying something new, such as couscous or polenta? There are small changes we can make to broaden our perspectives that aren't a life altering commitment. The fact is, if you don't like the 'new thing', you can always change back to the old way.

Changes can also be brought about in larger ways than the food we eat or the movie we watch. If you have extra time on your hands, and tend to use that in your home, how about making a one time volunteer commitment? You could volunteer at a library, an elder care center or at an animal shelter. You could serve a meal at a soup kitchen or work in a food pantry. You can mentor a young person or read to someone whose eyesight is failing. Just by changing the use of our own time, even if we can't commit to it regularly, can change your own life, and that of someone else.

One of the most important aspects of change is simply being open to it. In our very quickly changing world, it's also vital to our well being to find the adaptive nature that lies within each of us. Resistance to change can bring about great harm to our bodies, minds and spirits. While we don't need to embrace every fad that's out there, being open to new possibilities, new locations and new ways of being can both powerful and necessary. And, if changing your venue helps you to be open to other changes in life, ride the journey out and see where it takes you.

Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful, it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better. ~~ King Whitney Jr.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Balance...with your eyes closed

Balance is a buzzword we hear every day. Women are urged to balance work, motherhood, and time for self. Men are encouraged to find the correct balance between their masculinity and their sensitive sides. Families are encouraged to discover the right balance of each member's needs and 'wants'. Magazine articles and books abound on teaching us how to find inner balance within our spirits, outer balance of juggling tasks and balance the power within our relationships. We discuss balance in economic terms, in ecological terms and even in eccentricity terms. In the extraordinary, and Oscar winning, documentary, "Man on Wire", we were treated to view the story of a dizzying, and yet, illegal, walk on wire between the Twin Towers. Still, with all of this discussion of balance, both literal and metaphorical, surrounding us, is it any wonder we so often feel "off" balance?

An exercise I enjoy employing in the yoga classes I teach is to explore simple balance poses with a twist: I ask my students to get comfortable in a simple Upward Salute on their tip toes first. We work at feeling long, empowered and strong in this asana. Then, I ask them to close their eyes. It is an amazing transformation: asking one's body to trust in how it performs without sight to gain one's bearings. It's also interesting to note my students' responses: some adore this sight deprived asana. They find it to be spiritual and profound...or at the very least, an exciting challenge. Other students do not like this exercise at all. They feel unsafe, and terrified that they will fall. Their fears are quite real, and I do respect them. As a teacher, I never ask my students to step out of the comfort zones. However, I can humbly suggest that they just give it a try, knowing they can open their eyes at any time. Sometimes facing the fear of being out of balance can help to overcome that concern.

I wish I had a great deal of wisdom to offer on balancing the many aspects of our lives in contemporary society. Unfortunately, I am a juggler, just like most people today. I believe this is one of the reason I enjoy reading about the lives of historical figures so much, as well as to read historical fiction. I understand that balancing one's personal and professional lives has always been a challenge. I find, however, that I glean more wisdom from reading biographies than I do 'self-help' books. Why? Because the stories of real people, their own struggles and their own life's work is always far more practical than listening to the "Top Ten Ways" to streamline your laundry process. Again, why? Because people's true stories are the ones that have something to teach us from experience. Pop psychology has nothing on listening to the tale of a person who, against all odds, created something magical out of nothing.

One biography that met the criteria for discovering balance, in spades, is "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson. Mr. Mortenson was a world reknowned mountain climber, and was passionate about conquering K2, the world's 2nd largest mountain. After a disheartening and unbalanced failed attempt at scaling K2, Mr. Mortenson found himself alone in rural Pakistan, injurred, starving and in need of assitance. His failure to find balance in the mountain, however, changed his life forever. He made lifelong friendships in his rescuing village, and returned to help them build a school, since Korphe was unable to fund one before. What began as personal story of balance on a peak at the top of the world, became a global story of balance as Mr. Mortenson founded an organization to help educate some of the poorest, and most desolately isolated communities on the planet. Interestingly, I found a great deal in common with Mr. Mortenson's story, as I did in reading "Seven Years in Tibet" by Heinrich Harrar, an Austrian climber who also attempted K2's peaks just prior to World War II....and whose own failure led to a lifelong friendship with the Dalai Lama. This tale was also made into a brilliant film in 1997. In both cases, what appeared to lives falling off balance, due to failed climbs, political climates and battles with personal demons, leads to greater balance, both personally and professionally.

In closing, I can only repeat words that one of my first yoga instructors told me: if you don't fall, you aren't reaching. This doesn't mean we should all strap on backpacks and head for the Himalayas. But, it does require us to allow ourselves to be off balance, with our eyes closed, to truly understand the edges of our own limits. If experience has taught me one thing, it's that we never know what our limits are unless we test them.

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." Albert Einstein