Use Your Glutes… or Stop Hiding Your Strength

Your body is like a Porsche: the engine is in the trunk. Your glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in the body, but how do you harness their power? The magic of Bowspring is in using your glutes.

After creating a Radiant Heart by filling the ribcage, the second instruction of the Bowspring is to mound and lift the base glutes. By engaging the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus, the pelvis goes into anterior tilt (the top of the hips move forward and down, the tail and sit bones moving back and up).

The primary results: a toned, lifted tush; a soft sway in the low back; a long, full, curved belly; and lots and lots of sweat.

[Sidenote: This action cured my hamstring attachment overuse injury in 2 hours. After a year of pain in my hamstring attachment, I had no pain after Two. Hours. And it’s never come back.]

Growing up in the modern fitness industry – including years ballet and yoga – I was encouraged to hug in, pull back, and tighten. That always made intuitive sense: when you hug muscle to bone, it tones. Muscles shorten when they contract. So for years I tucked my “popo” (listening to a favorite ballet teacher), pulled my belly button back and up, and kept as many muscles toned as possible.

And generally, both on and off the mat, I tried to hide my guts and butt. This posture is now the picture of physical beauty: flat, compressed abs, and a tight butt.

Animal wisdom in the body helps unpack the symbol of this tucked tail. My dog only tucks his tail in two circumstances: when he sleeps curled in a ball and relaxed, and when he’s afraid – guarding his sensitive bits from bigger dogs and thunder. (Don’t ask me about the thunder thing.) As humans, we pull our belly back and tuck our tail to brace for impact — whether physical or emotional.

Let’s be clear: the cover of fitness magazines celebrates health and beauty in a tucked tail with a tense body.

Our culture’s picture of beauty is a picture of fear.

I dare you, right now (while sitting) to untuck your tail and let your belly be full, and then lengthen it along a curve from the base of your ribcage all the way down to the pubic bone and hip creases. Notice a few things:

1. How hard is that to do? How many sentences can you read before any habit of “belly back, tail down” sneaks back? (Don’t worry, me too.)

2. What part of your body lets go as you do that? What part hardens?

3. What happens to your breathing?

4. How does it feel? As you get used to the shape, what’s your emotional intuition?

I Want to be Seen.

As a woman who grew up just a little too large — this shape feels radical. In the beginning, it felt wrong. I was terrified someone would see me. For 30 years, I thought I was supposed to get rid of my belly — or at least hide it. Letting it be full and long was terrifying. What if someone saw?

And now I’ve realized, that is what I desperately long for: to be seen. My greatest hope is for someone to see me, exactly as I am, and accept me for that. I do not want to squeeze myself into someone else’s ideal, I don’t want to have to lose or gain or fix or change — but simply to be loved as who I am.

And that, my loves, is radical.

I have to do that for myself first. I have to be willing to use all the gifts of my body, without hiding, without shrinking, and to find the strength that’s already here. Bowspring helps me do just that.


This is the second in a series of posts about the Bowspring practice. Read more here.

If you’d like to experience Bowspring for yourself, join me in class or in Bowspring Immersion beginning August 29.


 

Coffee and Change

The heat of the summer brings madness. Heat so heavy it seems inescapable. Pressure so intense it’s suffocating.

This summer is no different. The world is a little upside down lately. The political situation in the US is the most watched reality show in history. The Brexit vote signaled a dismantling of the European Union, based entirely on ignorance and xenophobia. And truly unfathomable acts of violence have torn spirits from Orlando to Minneapolis, Turkey to Taipei, Bangladesh to South Sudan.


 

I love coffee.

Iced, drip, cappuccino, latte, mocha, cortado. I’ll drink it brewed with dishwater, tamped into espresso machines that cost more than fine cars, or cold brewed overnight. I love coffee so much that even when I give up caffeine, I still drink decaf. There’s something about the warm, nutty flavor of coffee, subtle bitterness, coating of crema, slight buzz — it makes me feel like myself again.

Coffee beans are seeds that grow inside a cherry-like berry. They grow on the sides of mountains in subtropical climates. The berries are hand-picked, seeds separated and soaked, then dried. The beans are roasted, rested, ground, tamped, heated, soaked, steamed, brewed.

It takes a lot of hot, hard work to make me feel like myself again.


Perhaps the heat of summer is bringing us to a boiling point. Perhaps this steam is whistling to us as shouts of “Black Lives Matter,” “Obama can’t take my guns,” and “No Bigots, No Borders.” Perhaps the pressure of violence is pushing us closer to each other. Perhaps we’re about to be transformed into ourselves again.

Compassion and empathy ask us to see ourselves in others. It asks us to see ourselves in young men so angry they take the innocent lives of 48. To feel the overflowing frustration of an Army vet whom snipers men in blue. To feel the fear of men in uniform, facing violence every day, make assumptions based on the color of someone’s skin. To witness the ill-advised votes of people so afraid of someone encroaching on our homes.

We are all angry. We all make assumptions. We are all afraid.

Until we see our own anger, until we humble our assumptions, until we can sit with our own fear, nothing will change. If we can’t see ourselves in the faces of others, hear our voices in their shouts for justice, feel their hearts breaking inside our own chests: we will never be transformed.

The heat of this summer is bringing us to a boiling point: heat rises, bringing everything to the surface. Under the right heat and the right pressure, we transform simple green seeds into rich coffee beans, tiny beans to grounds rich like soil, add heat and pressure: coffee.


The heat of this summer – the pressure in our system – has the potential to transform us. With wisdom, with patience, and with artistry — let’s use the heat of this summer to make something beautiful. Let’s become ourselves again.


 

Receiving Gratitude

This November, it seems like all of my Facebook friends are writing gratitude lists: every single day, expressing appreciation for everything they have, from nice weather to tasty dinners. My reactions range from a light smiles to subtle groans: “Oprah wins again.”

My mind is so screwed up that I feel guilted into gratitude practice: “I should remember what I have more. I should appreciate the people in my life.” I wonder what I would be grateful for, but my list never seems like enough.  I am reminded again that my mind can use everything as a weapon — every medicine can be poison if taken in the wrong dose.

I am not, by any means, undermining the practice of gratitude.  When I’m humble enough to remember, I have found it a very useful practice.  Our minds tend to focus on what we lack, the things that are missing, the things that hurt, and gratitude gently focuses our attention on abundance and joy instead.  But I think there’s a more subtle practice that might be even more powerful: receiving gratitude.

Despite trumpeting the power of expressing gratitude, the “mindfulness community” spends little time on the practice of being receptive to it. We fill our lives with so much offering and service and generosity, that when someone says “thank you,” all we can think is, “That wasn’t enough. I could give more.” Perhaps we offer service not out of deep love for all beings, but instead because we feel we must serve in order prove that we have earned being here.

An underlying message of gratitude practice: If I don’t remember all the gifts I have been given, I couldn’t possibly deserve them.

What a dangerous, yet common, thought — and a thought that completely eliminates the possibility of grace. Grace is what we receive in exchange for nothing – grace is what we receive just by being. We don’t have to do anything, we don’t have to give anything, we don’t have to sacrifice anything — and thus you don’t have to know anything, understand anything in order to get it. They say: “God gives grace not because of who you are, but because of who God is.”

Perhaps this concept is seems odd: that’s normal. Intellectually, you can understand getting something for nothing (it’s nearly the American dream, right?) — but when it comes down to it, we can’t sit still and simply receive what is being offered to us. So… we practice.

Take a moment to sit quietly, and settle yourself into the present.  Let your breath become steady, and your list-making mind subside for a moment.

Once you’ve found this moment, think of a person who might be grateful for you. A parent, child, partner, friend, sibling, pet… maybe someone who sent you a text on Thanksgiving “I’m grateful for you!”  How many of those texts did you get that you can’t remember?

Give yourself a moment to remember what you’ve been for that person, what you’ve done for them in your time together.  Maybe it’s hard to a imagine a person like this — maybe you don’t have children, or your relationship with your parents is so strained that you can’t imagine that they might be grateful for you.  Maybe you have a dog or cat: imagine, for a moment, how your dog might see you.

If you can’t find anyone — think of me.  Because I guarantee I am grateful that you’re on the other end of the screen, reading what I’m writing.  I’m grateful that you’re spending your precious time with me, grateful that you bring all your experience to this moment, and are willing to process this receiving of gratitude with me.

Imagine the sense of gratitude that person or being feels for you — not just because of what you’re done, or presents you’ve given.  They’re not just grateful because of the checks-and-balances of life, they’re grateful for the space you hold, for how you make them feel about you and themselves.  Feel what that gratitude feels like.  Feel the fullness of your presence in their life.

Notice the effect on your breath.  Notice the effect on your thinking mind.  It might make you nervous.  It might make you really uncomfortable.  Maybe it calms you down.  You might think it’s a silly exercise: all of this is information for next time’s practice.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
– Rumi