Hugging in--and saying No

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I was out at lunch with a friend in Brooklyn the other day. She's Israeli, and she enjoys teaching me Yiddish words that seem random. (Like the word for suspenders, or shleykes.)

I was telling her about my decision to spend the rest of 2010 engaged in a hugging practice. For the first half of the year, I toured like crazy, a rewarding yet hectic experience of meeting students and studio owners across the country. For the next few months, and into 2011, I'm going to hug in, or streamline and focus as much as possible, on what positively serves my goals of teaching Core Strength principles to people. And I intend to limit the things that drain my energy unnecessarily so that I have more quality instruction to share when I do teach.

"Gurnisht!" my friend interjected.

"What?" I replied.

She explained that in Yiddish, this word means "done" or "a decision made." That's it, that's all, that's all she wrote.

Gurnisht is what we do whenever we choose not to participate in something in favor of doing something else. Yogis go a step further, We aim to bring a consciousness and compassion to our choices, so the decisions we make end up helping us to stay healthy and balanced, with energy to give to the important projects and relationships that nourish us in return.

I know that, for me at least, it's much easier to say yes than to say no. It's uncomfortable to disappoint people. It's also intense to keep energy inside that could have gone out to something or someone else, as anyone knows who has ever held Chair Pose for what seems like an eternity instead of running screaming out if the room.

The key to balance is to know when a yes or a no will best serve your highest good. Often, my students express anxiety about saying no, because it feels like a negative thing. Well, it inherently is, and yet when we realize that a boundary can be as positive as an offering, our perspective of saying gurnisht might also shift.

After all, without banks, a river becomes a stagnant swamp. If we truly want to move anything forward in our lives, it's important to first identify the areas to which we want to give our commitments. Then, the borders we build with the solidity of our focus around those agreements encourage our energy to flow forward into action. Over time, these positive habits carve a path toward our preferred creations, careers, loves, and life choices.

This sounds great, but it is supremely challenging to do, whether you're saying yes to a wonderful opportunity or no to participating in relationships or responsibilities that take you off track of what you wish to cultivate. Understanding when to employ agreement or denial is a skill we use each time we step onto the mat. In our asanas, in any given moment, we get chances to hug in or expand in infinite ways: Do you want to express outward into Full Wheel or back off in Bridge Pose to protect an injured shoulder or to save energy? Through refining our choices based on what we think will empower our ultimate harmony of sthira-sukha, or steadiness and ease, we learn how to more easily navigate the constant stream of requests coming from within and, once we move off the mat, from the outside world.

One could even say that sthira is our no, and sukha is the freedom and joy of our big yes that sthira helps to make possible. After all, there can hardly be one without the other.

In our poses and in our lives, we employ not only conscious yeses, but conscious nos. Yoga teaches us that when you choose your dharma, and step into the current of your highest expression of health and happiness, freedom and delight, you undeniably serve the highest good of everyone else around you.

Think about that for a moment.

We yogis know that even though good is served doesn't mean it will feel good to say no to drama and yes to our dharma. At times, moving toward our own truth can cause anger, fear, insecurity, and pain--for others and for ourselves.

When your heart and your core tell you that it's time to hug in, and say "no more" to leaking your attention and prana (life force)--instead making room for freedom from suffering and freedom to be yourself--remember the principle of gurnisht and don't do it!

Core Pose: Half Chaturanga Dandasana

Just because this is half a Chaturanga doesn't mean it's not fully challenging. I see so many students rushing or collapsing through full Chaturanga, and they flirt with shoulder, elbow and wrist strain, instead of reaping the core and arm-strengthening benefits of the pose. This variation will help you back off to go deeper. Coming into effective alignment and generating the freedom of more power and safety means you have to create boundaries all around the pose.

Begin in Plank Pose, fingers wide, palms and fingertips grounding. Place your knees down on the mat, not under the hips, but farther back. Remain lifted at the navel with a long tailbone and spine. Reach your chest forward between the upper arms without sinking toward the floor and winging the shoulder blades; they stay firmly on your back. Hug your elbows in, not squeezing the ribs but also not leaking energy by opening too wide. Keep the elbows directly over your wrists.

On an exhalation, float your heart forward to maintain the vertical line of your forearms, push the floor with your hands, pull up the side waists and lower belly, and begin to lower, by about 2 to 4 inches. Resist the urge to go to as far as full Chaturanga. Staying higher will keep you working from the belly, or center, of your muscles, so you gain tone instead of stressing connective tissue and joints.

Try 3-5 repetitions, holding each Half Chaturanga for 1-3 breaths. Press back into Child's Pose and rest for 1 minute after your last pose.