WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO

MaineStay room.jpg

I have a usual method to the way that I teach, though I am always prepared to throw the plan out and improvise based on who is in front of me and what they need in that moment.

Generally, I start with a centering and quiet grounding time, then we work up energetically and physically before coming back down to end with a guided meditation. Recently I substituted at one of the facilities that I used to teach in weekly, a residential treatment facility for young adults dealing with homelessness and mental illness. When I arrived for class the students were visibly anxious and could barely sit, so I clearly had to come up with plan B. We did some vigorous standing poses right away, before working ourselves down to do some “grounding.” Eventually, I observed a shift in the energy of the class and we were able to get down to the mat to end with the breath and meditation practice. It was a real “think on your feet” situation for me, but I was pleased to be able to leave my students in a more calm and peaceful state.

As I was tidying up the room and getting ready to leave, one of the students came up to me and shyly thanked me for the class. She told me she had a job interview that afternoon. She had really been stressed and nervous about it before class, but said now she felt calm and ready for it. I was reminded instantly of why I work so hard to keep bringing these practices to places like this. If this yoga class helped this young woman to get a job, and ultimately helped her out of homelessness, then the entire year’s work has been worth it.

Sea Change Yoga began as just an idea, then a discussion, then a concept and mission statement. My Co-Founder and I then brought this idea to a founding group of yogis. I began teaching in places where yoga was desperately needed but not accessible. I have been really proud to watch the organization grow as we bring yoga to more and more people who would not normally have access and who benefit greatly from the emotional regulation and stress management skills that yoga and meditation offer. What started as a dream of yoga service is now a reality.

Most of my time these days is spent emailing with Sea Change teachers, meeting with interested donors and partners, or discussing our yoga program with the facilities that would like our services. In the early days of Sea Change, I taught eight classes weekly at various facilities to different populations. Today that has shrunk to just one class a week, when I get to teach yoga and meditation to women on the threshold of being released from prison. I have passed the other seven classes on to several amazing trauma informed teachers, but I hold on to this one. It is wonderful to be able to experience firsthand the healing benefits that this trauma informed practice brings to folks. Teaching this class keeps me in touch with why we do what we do.

Science has made huge strides in the past ten years, catching up to what the wise yogis of long ago knew without brain imaging technology-- yoga is therapeutic. We ground our yoga service work in the belief that the nervous system can be well-regulated with regular practice of yoga and meditation--real tools that we offer to our students. We believe that yoga is for everybody.

Sea Change Yoga has grown immensely in this founding year. We received our 501©(3) non-profit status this spring, we have begun to raise money to sustain our work, we’ve trained many local teachers in how to teach using trauma sensitive yoga principals, our mission film was shared at Maine YogaFest (where we were honored to be the charitable recipient), and we’ve been featured in The Press Herald and Maine Women’s Magazine. We’re now teaching twenty-two classes each week in fourteen facilities to over 200 students. We’re reaching incarcerated youth and adults, people in addiction recovery, mothers of special needs children, veterans, and homeless youth and adults. I would like to thank all of you for your support, your advice, your friendship. We could not have done this without the yoga community.

Namaste-

Diana

I Have Many Teachers.

 

A young and willowy, woman who is tall and long with a wise soul, often laughs at herself during class. An Anusara- trained teacher with an amazing voice who gives the best cues. He challenges me to move slowly and thoughtfully. My children grant lessons of patience, flexibility and unconditional love. I was a quick study for unconditional love, but the patience and flexibility was excruciating through relentless repetition. It wasn’t until I abandoned my idea of perfect that those concepts finally sunk in to the core of who I am.

 All of those perspectives are practiced on my mat. I incorporate them into my asana. I practice patience for myself, for my sore knee, and all of my limitations. Flexibility in my postures, but also in my approach to them; can I take child’s pose when I lose my breath? Will I be rigid and power through? Can I listen to the teacher with intent? Can I practice unconditional love for my aging body? Can I use my tools? Can I focus? Can I soften? Can I?

Not long ago I taught yoga to a group of women at a half-way house. Recently released from prison, they were living in a confinement home run by nuns. One of the women was very fit and had little patience for learning pranayama or asana. She asked me “What is the point? It’s not a very good work out”. I am fond of saying that yoga is not a workout as much as a work-in. But this time, I told her “People always talk about getting a yoga butt. It’s not so much about getting a good butt. It’s more about getting your head out of your butt”. The nun who was practicing with us at the time ducked her head to smile. Yoga encourages us to WAKE UP. It’s about being present to yourself in all your imperfection. We practice yoga to be good at life.

I have made tremendous strides with my alignment and my awareness of where I am in space. In class I was instructed to move through a flow to a breath count of five in and five out. It is not easy. It was a revelation to me how slowing down can make things harder. At the end of class, I noticed I wasn’t alone in the struggle of slowing down. I think of the advice my mother once gave me. When angry, count to ten before speaking. I can’t always manage it, but when I do I always feel better. This is why I practice yoga.

Namaste-

Diana

It's Called Practice for A Reason. There is No Perfect.

We have kept horses for a decade. In the morning, I go to my barn and muck their stalls.  This has become routine for me. A decade in, I find mucking stalls meditative.  When I first began, I had a rigid routine. I fed my dogs, horses, chickens, in that order. I mucked the stalls, turned the horses out, collected eggs, walked the dogs, made lunches for my kids, in that order. It had to be perfect. That was impossible. When the barn aisle was swept, the garden weeded and everything gleaned like an image from House and Garden, there was more shit to shovel, more lunches to make, more weeds to pull and carpools to drive. Life is so messy, the to-do list is endless. Who can keep up?

These days I mosey out to the barn after I’ve had a cup of tea with my husband, dealt with my in-box, and dawdled a bit. One of my horses is getting older. He has a chronic injury and needs his legs wrapped and iced. He makes a mountain of shit in his stall and he can’t be turned out. He is happy to see me and I am happy to see him too. He doesn’t mind that I show up later than I used to. He is forgiving. He lives in the moment. I like to take my time around him now- and I think he senses it. I often don’t sweep the hay from the barn. I take more joy and comfort in this now. I relish the smell of the shavings, the sounds of the horses munching hay, and the way the sun shines on the un-swept floor. I like the feeling of being strong enough to shovel shit and push a wheelbarrow.  It’s become a practice.  It is not about being perfect.

My yoga practice has shifted, too. A decade ago I practiced five or six days a week to “get it right”. I had a rigid routine and would berate myself if I missed a day or couldn’t do the pose correctly. It had to be perfect.

Child’s pose is always on offer? No thank you!

These days my yoga practice is about self-care. Although I can still do a headstand I am more interested in yoga as a spiritual practice.  I don’t judge or berate myself anymore. Instead of watching the teacher’s demos or my neighbor’s perfect form, I am likely to practice with my eyes closed.  I like to feel the postures in my body- it’s not so much about perfect form anymore- it’s about creating internal space.

Child’s pose is always on offer? Yes please!

 I have spent an entire hour in child’s pose.  Breathing in unison with the rest of the yogis in the room was the best thing I could do for myself. That compassion for myself on the mat is what I need most to take off the mat. It’s my practice. I still struggle with wanting to “get it right” and I can still be hard on myself.  Somehow, the more that I stiffen up physically, the more I loosen up spiritually.  I can let things go and enjoy the perfection in imperfect moments that make up my life.

This is why I practice yoga.

Breathe.

It has been a tough week for my people- I am counting as my people those kind and loving individuals that I work with and those whom I strive to emulate- those folks who work for peace and justice and who love and serve all of the citizens of this amazing country, including those who are recently settled here. My people are the champions of our brothers and sisters who may be less fortunate, struggling, suffering or somehow marginalized.  It’s been a very scary and sad week for us and in response I have shut down a little.

Viktor Frankl is famously quoted as having said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” This quote was the centerpiece of the remarks that I made at Sea-Change’s inaugural training last month and it is the essence of why I believe that yoga can heal and change people’s lives. To access that space between stimulus and response allows us the freedom to respond to something thoughtfully instead of just reacting. That is what keeps me practicing yoga, I have found that with dedicated practice I am able to more easily access that pause. I can get hold of myself when I am uncomfortable or challenged. I have learned to use the simple yogic tools of breath and focus. Simple but not easy. It takes dedicated practice, but the dedication has paid off; it has made a huge difference in my life. I am constantly practicing yoga-most of all off my mat, and as one of my teachers says: “Off the mat is where it counts”.

I don’t have any words of wisdom or insights into how we find ourselves in this place as a nation- as divided as I can ever remember us being. Maybe we can just return to our simple yogic tools while we try to figure this out. We breathe. We focus. I have intentionally shut off the radio, the television and I don’t read the paper or look at social media these days. It’s just too hard. I need a moment to process. I need time to wrap my head around what it might mean for the people that I serve. I need that space that Frankl spoke of to choose my response. I need to sit with my sadness as uncomfortable as that is.

I do know one thing: this is still my country. I may have joked about moving to Canada (a LOT) but I am not the least bit interested in running away. I still believe that there are more kind and loving human beings here than not. We have our work cut out for us. My son’s best friend is an amazing young man who walked out of El Salvador at six years old. He walked across Mexico and into Texas, unaccompanied by his parents, with only an address and phone number in his pocket. He was helped by a kind person in Texas to find his relatives in New York and he has thrived here in this amazing country of opportunity. He has studied hard and graduated from High School with honors. He is a university student now. He has dreams- American dreams. He sent me a text on Tuesday night in a panic over what might happen to him or his family under the new administration. It made me cry. It makes me cry still. I responded that we all have his back. I reassured him that there are more kind and loving people here than people who might try to hurt him and that he shouldn’t worry. I want to believe that.  And I told him to just breathe and continue to focus on his dreams.

Nurture CEO.

I am directing my first board meeting today. 

It has been a twenty-year hiatus for me from the business sector. I was busy building a house, making a home, forming strong friendships for myself in the community. I raised two wonderful human beings. I farmed a bit: horses, chickens lots of dogs. I dabbled in the occasional fund raiser and board work. I did yoga. Lots of yoga.

I had a vision a year ago, while in a training with Yoga Behind Bars, to start a yoga service organization here in Maine. I met my business partner there and we bonded. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring the healing power of yoga to underserved folks here?” I followed my vision to more yoga trainings; on trauma, eating disorders and addiction. I followed it to philanthropy workshops, conferences, into prisons and treatment centers and countless meetings in coffee shops to talk to like- minded people. The vision grew. The mission grew. I guess I grew too. I was able to convince seven extremely talented and accomplished individuals to join my board and to help me grow this organization.

I am now the President, and Founder of Sea Change Yoga. We are in the business of bringing the healing power of yoga to people who need it most. It's an actual business with by-laws, officers, financial statements and strategic goals. We have work plans, fund-raising strategies and we cultivate partnerships. We train people about trauma sensitive yoga and teach people in prisons and other settings and track results. We write grants. We change lives. We do yoga.

Yoga practice helped me through a lot of rough patches in those twenty years. It provided me the equanimity I needed to roll with all of the changes that inevitably come to every life. It made me a much better parent, partner and friend. And then yoga provided me with a direction for my next chapter as my kids left for college.

I spoke to my son this morning. I told him I was running my first board meeting today. He assured me I would be great and not to be nervous. "Stick to your agenda, Mom, and keep things on time.” That's almost exactly what his father said, too. When I confessed that it was weird getting back into the business world after two decades focusing on family he didn't skip a beat. "That gives you a really powerful perspective." What a kid- such wisdom for a young mind.

Yoga keeps me on my toes. Just when I get comfortable it brings me face to face with sides of myself that I am not comfortable with. The challenge for me is to have faith in myself and in the process as it unfolds. It's easier to turn away from things that are not natural to me. I am a nurturer. I am learning to be CEO. In order for my dream to become reality I have to be both. Yoga is peeling me like an onion- just the way Patanjali predicted. It gives me strength and flexibility. On and off my mat.

This is why I do yoga.

KEEP YOUR HEART OPEN

" Keep your heart open, your pain can be your greatest ally in your search for love and wisdom"- Rumi

My dog was attacked yesterday. I was on my way home from teaching a class at the women's prison when I got a call telling me that my dog was on his way to the vet and I should meet them there. 

I cancelled a lunch meeting and raced to the vet. My heart was in my throat as I sped down the highway. I was totally unprepared for what awaited me. My little dog had cuts all over his body and his ear was nearly bitten off. There was so much blood and so much pain in his sweet little face. I quickly went through all of the stages; fear-grief-anger-denial-and finally acceptance. 

I could not help but weep. This perfectly trusting and loving little soul that I had sworn to protect and care for had been viciously and randomly brutalized. I felt so helpless. I felt so guilty for letting him down. They stitched him up and washed his little body but I knew his worst wounds were soul deep. His basic trust in the universe had been shaken.

I needed to feel better so I temporarily latched onto the idea of demanding that someone be responsible. I wanted to have someone or something to focus all of this grief, fear and anguish on and have someone else be held accountable for all of this pain and suffering. As if that would make my dog feel better, as if that would ease the ache in my heart. 

It is so human to want to blame someone or something for the bad things that happen in life. In this case it came in the form of an unleashed unaccompanied dog with aggression issues. At other times in my life it has come in the form of cancer or car accidents or mental illness.  I have always thrashed around in these kinds of situations looking for someone else to blame- someone to pay for my pain and therefore lessen my burden. But it doesn't work like that. 

There is no one to blame for the hardships and suffering of life- disasters of all kinds just come and are inevitable. All we can do during these inevitable sad times is look for the opportunity to grow in love. For me that meant thanking my dog walker for her bravery in getting my dog away from the aggressor and safely to the vet. It meant opening to the sadness and helplessness I felt for my dog. It meant turning to my vet and asking for a hug. Instead of becoming hard and fast and shutting down and demanding answers and accountability I became soft and yielding and opened up. What a terrible time-what a lovely time. 

My little dog is sleeping a lot right now while he is healing. He looks terrible. They had to shave him to stitch his wounds and his head is misshapen because of the bitten ear. And yet he is more lovely to me than ever. And we will heal together from this without the added scar of hatred and anger and blame. He will learn to trust the universe again because I still do. And I will be forever grateful for him for this lesson in love and letting go. 

 

New Beginnings are often disguised as Painful Endings. -Lao Tzu

It is August first here in Maine. Which means Queen Anne's Lace all over the roadside, corn on the cob and tomatoes abounding and blueberries. I've been thinking a lot about samskara lately. For the past 19 years my summer has been organized around my twins. July was summer camp month and August was family vacation month. Simple routines, simple seasonal rhythms have kept us together in body and soul. We are a traditional bunch. We dearly love our family jokes and our time tested traditions. It's can be so comforting to be in a familiar groove. But as a  yogi I know that it can lead to samskara- being stuck in a rut. Sometimes you need to shake things up in order to create new patterns and enable yourself to be truly conscious and not just sleep-walking along the familiar well worn path.

This August I am preparing my twins to leave the nest:to move out of our house and start college in states far away. Just like that- empty nest. And although I like to say that nature has prepared us all well, I find myself sobbing in the car when a sentimental song comes on the radio. Clearly there is grief at the end of a phase of our family life. But there is joy too in knowing that they are well prepared and that they take our values with them. 

Endings and beginnings. You can't have one without the other. For 19 years I have organized my life around my beloved children. And now I am organizing my life around this new service organization and that feels just right. I know that my kids will come back and circle the nest from time to time but I also know that this is the end of this phase of my life. And the beginning of a new phase. 

Namaste-
Diana

Coming Out

Today we officially "came out." Not in the sense of coming out of the closet, but more in the sense of coming of age. Sort of like debutantes.

Yoga Fest is the one community yoga event of the year when all of the Portland area yogis come together for a weekend of classes and music and fun. All of my teachers and all of the people who I practice next to all year long. They are all there. This was our first public appearance and we sweated the details. We planned. We strategized. We bought flowers and party favors. I planned my outfit and wore the edgy/cute leggings. I wanted to look good- but not too good- not intimidating but approachable. Ego ego ego.

People dropped by our booth and we had some really intense conversations. We talked about how yoga heals all of us all of the time. We talked about addiction and recovery and personal redemption. We cried- at least I did and some of the people who stopped by did. We hugged. A lot. It was a day of deep connection for me. With myself. With my community =. With my dreams.

Sometimes you have a dream that follows you into of your waking hours. That is what this dream is like for me. It follows me and it opens opportunities to serve at every turn.

The name "Sea Change" is from Shakespeare- The Tempest. I won't give you the quote here but rather my interpretation. In this passage, Shakespeare is referring to a change that comes after suffering. Sea-change to me means a major transformation. A systemic transformation. That is what we hope to accomplish. A transformation for people who suffer from trauma. An embodied way of being that represents a total and systemic transformation.

Follow us as we follow this North Star.