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It's Not About Putting Your Foot Behind Your EarAn Inspiring Journey of Transformation Through YOGA
By Sophia S Paul
Balboa PressCopyright © 2011 Sophia S Paul
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat is Yoga, Anyway?
Yoga is not just about being able to put your foot behind your ear, although the physical aspect of flexibility is important—just recently I fell off the kitchen counter onto the tile floor, and my flexibility, strength and quick reaction probably saved me from a broken hip. But there is so much more to yoga than just the poses that we all know and see.
The most important part of yoga is to learn the ability to stay centered and focused—no matter what—to allow our minds to remain calm and at peace in the midst of tumult, chaos and challenges. Being connected to our body and mind through the breath is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.
Yoga is a lifestyle; not just an exercise. Yoga is to be practiced on and off the mat during our daily lives. Through yoga we can learn to act as the observer, to stay detached from the situation, or challenge such as our negative thoughts or energy, therefore achieving emotional healing, an opening of the heart and calming of the mind.
"Making peace with our bodies through the practice of yoga" is one of the key concepts that Christina Sell conveys to us in her inspiring book Yoga from the Inside Out (pg 61). She further states that, "... asana practice could transform our relationship with our bodies, helping us to create peace and assisting our soul in its evolution ... to breathe when things get intense, to soften where we are hard and to strengthen where we are weak" (pg 83). Sell reminds us that hatha yoga, at its roots, is a spiritual practice, not to be confused with a competition, fashion show or a popularity contest (pg 105). Well said, Christina!
Many of my students confirm that after their yoga class they realize they had not spent a moment thinking about any problems or issues that seemed so important when they first walked into the room. How is this possible? It's actually simple; we give our minds something else to do, such as focusing on breathing and the correct facilitation of the according yoga movements. As much as our minds like to stay busy and jump from subject to subject, when we take control and give it something to do we can rest assured the mind will obey.
There is an ancient saying that "the mind is like a raging elephant," and slowly through some helpful tools (such as meditation, mantras, mudras) we can learn how to put reins on what is also called the restless monkey mind.
We will experience a deep sense of peace and relaxation by fusing together three things: staying mentally focused, paying attention to the correct alignment, and being fully present in our body while practicing yoga postures that are initiated by breath. We then can apply those same qualities to everything we do and encounter in our lives. Being fully aware in the present moment is the key. Most of us are so used to constant multi-tasking; we watch TV while we eat dinner, while talking on the phone and reading a book.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love." Another saying is, "When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes; when you drink tea, drink tea; when you watch the sun rise, watch the sun rise." What does that mean? At the tender age of 11 my daughter once said to me, "Mom, to you everything is a meditation." It was the best compliment someone could have ever given to me. This is the way I try to live my life: Living in the present moment. It is all that we will ever have. The past is gone and the future has not yet arrived, but this very moment is there for us to make it into anything we want. We have the option to laugh, to appreciate, allow, enjoy or—to ignore it, worry about what may be, being angry over what has been. We cannot change the past nor the future, so why not fully embrace the here and now?
Richard Faulds (Kripalu Yoga) states, "... the essence of meditation is a state of deep inner absorption that can occur in either the flow of yoga postures or in moments of physical stillness." And Yogi Amrit Desai once said,"Yesterday is dead. Tomorrow isn't been born. We can only live in the present."
When I was being taught Vipassana meditation, I was guided to experience the stillness that naturally arises in the moments between the in and out breaths. Eckhart Tolle recommends becoming aware of the spaces between words. He says that stillness brings awareness of silence, and it's in the silence that we can experience being fully awake. Consciousness is beyond thought activity. There's more power in the gaps between the words than in the words themselves.
"In the sweet territory of silence we touch the mystery. It's the place of reflection and contemplation, and it's the place where we can connect with the deep knowing, to the deep wisdom way." —Angeles Arrien
When I look back at my life I can clearly see how yoga—just like the spine in my body—is the central channel (or shushumna in yogic terms). It is the constant, the straight line that always keeps me focused and aligned with what matters in life. As I keep my spine straight I keep my alignment, if I slump, all I have to do is notice and make a small correction. It is the same with all that happens during our lifetime. Awareness is key. The shushumna, or central channel, is also related to our breath, so by keeping the spine straight, the breath (or prana, life force) can flow freely. Remember when we were little and mom said when we were upset to "just take a deep breath?" Well she was right; taking deep slow breaths has an immediate effect on our nervous system. Our main chakras (energy centers) are aligned along the spine as well, and if they spin freely and openly we have a better chance of a healthy life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Of course, keeping everything nicely aligned would be something in a perfect world. For most of us there are dips, valleys, highs, wavering. Life would be boring if it was otherwise, but sometimes we feel overwhelmed, losing focus, feeling alone, abandoned, hurt. Keeping that straight line in our minds, allowing it to reel us back into alignment and to focus is the ultimate goal.
* * *
The spiritual journey is not about becoming perfect but to live every moment with awareness, mindfulness and integrity. SSP
* * *
One of the physical goals of yoga of course is alignment in every pose. Through proper alignment we achieve flexibility without hurting ourselves. The same applies to the mental/emotional goals: If we align with a higher source—whatever that may be for each one of us, for some it may be Jesus, for others—Allah, Muhammad, Great Spirit, Buddha, Krishna—we will always have something to turn to or return to. Aligning, allowing, focus.
Once again, perceiving yoga as a safe space in its entirety, where we accept ourselves and others with all our differences, worldviews, capabilities, bodies and beliefs, creates a sanctuary that we might not find elsewhere. "What if we truly knew, in every cell of our bodies, that we are lovable exactly as we are in the moment?" Christina Sell (Yoga From The Inside Out, pg 128) suggests.
Chapter TwoAbout Me
On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon at 2 pm, I was born in an idyllic small village at the base of an ancient hill adorned with medieval castle ruins. Of course, in those days the entire family was present for this magical moment. The mid-wife was taking care of me while I was kicking and screaming (yes, that is me, right) and for some reason my foot got caught in the bow of her apron while she turned around, and it ripped me off the table. My beloved Pate (that is a German name for godfather) caught me and saved my tiny little precious life. Ever since, we have had a very close relationship with each other.
I grew up with mom and dad, aunt and uncle, cousin and grandparents all under one big roof in a beautiful garden full of vegetables, fruit, flowers, fruit trees, chickens, pigs, goats, geese. What a paradise it was. I had the biggest sandbox one could ever imagine, there was a "garden" house where Grandma told me stories and we played. I cooked a "flower" meal for her and baked sand cakes, and she "ate" it all. When the weather was not so nice I spent most of my time with grandma, cooking, baking and watching her sew clothes for me.
The entire family went on Sunday walks, me riding on Pate's shoulders, smearing blueberries all over his head, but he loved me anyways—unconditional love!!!
However, there was a particular day when I thought that beautiful little world of mine was too small, and I decided to explore. I think I was three- or four-years-old. So I packed my dad's rucksack that was so large it dragged on the ground behind me, took his guitar (don't ask me why), put my boots on and my "Tiroler Hut" (a hat typical for the Tyrol area in Northern Italy) and left. Nobody noticed. I got about a quarter of a mile just past the neighbor's house when the neighbors saw me and casually asked where I was going. "Exploring the world," was my equally casual answer. Well, they asked me if I would want some cookies and milk before embarking on this long journey, and, sure enough, that sounded like a great idea and I went inside, forgot about the journey and enjoyed being spoiled. My parents showed up shortly thereafter, surprised of course but not even mad, just took me back home. So that is where my first big adventure ended, and my dream of the big wide world started.
My dad signed up with military, which meant that we had to move far, far away into an apartment complex. Life changed dramatically. No gardens, no sandbox to myself, no family except my mom and dad, and dad was gone most of the day on military assignments.
I couldn't wait for the six weeks of summer break when I was sent off to visit my grandparents, aunt and uncle again. Back in heaven, it seemed. How miserable I was when I had to go back "home;" in fact, it was NOT home at all. Home was where I was happy, and that was in my long-gone childhood paradise.
I was eight years old when my mom became pregnant with my brother. Things changed dramatically again. I was told that I really wasn't wanted in the first place, that all she wanted was a little boy with dark hair and not a bald, screaming little girl like me that looked like a "wet rat" (her words about me when I was born). Damage done ... so I was the ugly undesirable one, barely tolerated.
It got worse when my brother was born, he, the "crowned prince" and I, Cinderella. I was basically nonexistent.
Days passed slowly but when it came time to go back to Grandma's home for the summer it was like a miracle. I was loved, taken care of, recognized. Life was good.
First Love and the Loss of It
When I was nine-years-old my neighborhood childhood friend spent his summer with his Grandma too, and we reconnected. We took walks up the ancient hill and sat on the ruins of the castle overlooking our little village, the wheat fields and meadows swaying below, holding hands and experiencing our first little love story. The summer ended and we both had to go back to the places that we hated. But oh well, life goes on, little kids grow up, go to school and do what most kids do: skip school, fail quizzes, get older, experiment with alcohol—for me, pretty bad, almost daily after school but only for a short period of time. Then I got involved with the local kayaking club. I had a purpose and a challenge again, a family structure. The caretaker's daughter and I became best friends. Her brother was cute too and we fell in love—madly. My days were filled with summer fests and bon fires and dancing at the river banks to "El Condor Pasa" by Simon and Garfunkel until well after midnight, and then we camped out under the stars.
Then again it happened, my parents moved us away. Again, I had to leave all my new friends. I had a nervous breakdown and ran away from the new school. They put me in therapy and I was allowed to go back to Unna to visit. I was happy, all of my old friends showed up at the train station and my love was there as well with a bouquet of roses for me. Needless to say, I felt good, accepted and wanted. What a great time I had kayaking again, partying, laughing, and belonging, but of course this all came to an end when I had to go back "home."
* * *
Very early in the morning is the best time to meditate; there is a special quality to the earliest morning hours, such as freshness, calmness, stillness.
All experienced meditators and yogis meditate at dawn, allowing space and presence in and being open to invite the power of the spirit of the rising sun to illuminate the heart of their soul. This special time of day when all is quiet will set the tone for the rest of your day. Conscious awareness and an open expectancy of the beauty and splendor of this day will make all the difference in the world of how miraculous your life journey unfolds.
The more detached I become and open to the outcome, the more I trust. The more I trust, the more I can let go and love. The more I love, the more I manifest. All of that eliminates fear, resulting in peace. SSP
* * *
New Beginnings and Painful Endings
I convinced my parents that the school they put me in wasn't working out for me, and I wanted a job. So I started my education as a window dresser (this doesn't even exist anymore today) and made some more friends. But I missed my old clique terribly. Again, I was allowed to go back for a weekend, but things had changed. My boyfriend did not show up at the train station this time—red flag. His sister, my best girlfriend, made excuses to protect me but I just knew. That same night there was a big party we went to and I saw him with another girl. I lost it—the old fear of rejection, not being wanted, and not being lovable came back full force. For some odd reason I had an empty syringe with me (my father was a diabetic and I took one of his needles) I don't even know why I had it with me; perhaps my subconscious already knew that there would be a big disappointment waiting for me that I knew I could not handle. I had heard that by squirting air into your vein you could commit suicide. I was drunk already, went to the bathroom and tried to hit the vein. Thank goodness I was too drunk to even hit it, and by the time I finally got it in my friend had found me, kicked in the bathroom door and ripped the syringe out of my arm before bringing me home with some friends. What a wakeup call! Was he worth it? What was I doing?
Back in Bonn with my parents I still was not happy in the new environment, until I met another guy and we dated. I got my new sense of belonging, being wanted and loved again. He had to serve in Hamburg and there was no question in my mind that I would go with him as the only one who loved me and cared about me. So off we went to Hamburg. I was mostly alone—again—as he had to stay on the military grounds of course. We broke up.
The next guy I met at work I thought was finally the right one. I got pregnant, and we got married. I was happy, and I was so looking forward to having my own family to nurture and love and care for, and do everything differently than the way I grew up.
Like all my pregnancies to come, this first one was wonderful. I enjoyed feeling this little life growing inside of me, dreaming about my future as a mom and wife, how wonderful our life would be together.
My little boy was born premature. We thought we would lose him as he was so tiny and he could not breathe on his own; his skin was bluish gray and they took him away right after he was born. No chance of bonding, no breastfeeding. They said his only chance of surviving would be if he were put into an incubator right away. He was only six weeks early, but in those days (some thirty-seven years ago) it WAS a big deal. Back then there was no knowledge of how important skin contact and breastfeeding is, especially for premies.
Excerpted from It's Not About Putting Your Foot Behind Your Ear by Sophia S Paul Copyright © 2011 by Sophia S Paul. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Note To The Reader....................xxii
Chapter 1 What is Yoga, Anyway?....................3
Chapter 2 About Me....................8
Chapter 3 How My Personal Yoga Journey Began....................18
Chapter 4 Keeping my Faith....................25
Chapter 5 Miracles DO Happen....................29
Chapter 6 The Dreaded Day Turns into a New Life....................36
Chapter 7 A Normal Life....................38
Chapter 8 Off to Another Adventure....................39
Chapter 9 The Start of Something Big....................43
Chapter 10 America....................45
Chapter 11 Exploration....................48
Chapter 12 Starting a New Life?....................50
Chapter 13 New Developments....................53
Chapter 14 Finding a Sanctuary....................56
Chapter 15 Support....................60
Chapter 16 It's All Coming Together....................66
Chapter 17 Love, Loss, Awakening....................69
Chapter 18 Thoughts on Yoga and Living an Inspired Life Day by Day....................84
Chapter 19 Mindful at the Monastery....................92
Chapter 20 Ease and Effort/Sukkah and Sthira....................102
Chapter 21 Inspired by GREEN....................105
Chapter 22 Living an Inspired Life: What it Takes....................110
Chapter 23 Stories of Inspiring Yogic Women....................115
Chapter 24 Food for Thought (from my daily inspirational emails)....................130
Yoga Student's Stories....................154
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By Sophia S. Paul (Bailey) A book to savor - I enjoyed Sophia's book like a fine wine. I found myself pausing to savor and reflect often, and at the same time wanting to just devour it in one night. She offers the reader a candid look into her personal struggles in life, as yoga became more her path to peace and acceptance... could become the guidebook for all other books on yoga...Randy Bozelle ...Author Sophia Paul in her new book demonstrates the `art of allowing.' As her journey unfolds from her own birth to that of her children, two of which faced life-threatening circumstances, she introduces readers to a life steeped in mindfulness; of communication with the Divine through acceptance and gratitude...Thank you for your lessons of strength and persistence and your example, now, as you live a peaceful, purposeful existence. TheGiftFrom2Strangers, Colorado Rockies .. you won't want to put this book down. And then you will want to read it over again. There is so much wisdom and heart in it's pages. Sophia has achieved a level of balance and harmony in her life that she shares beautifully... I am not a yoga person -- you don't have to be to love this book. It WILL make you want to start practicing though! Ceejay .. Just as the title implies, "It's Not About Putting Your Foot Behind Your Ear", but rather about embracing whatever life throws at you and pushing forward. Mtn Climber Sophia S. Paul shares her personal journey and the lesser known benefits of yogic lifestyle. the book is an inspiring read that has encouraged me to take up my practice of yoga once again. Recommended! High View This is a wonderful book about Sophia's experience with yoga and how it created peace and healing in her life. After reading it, you will want to experience yoga as well! Karen Noe It's not about yoga in the studio, it's about applying yoga to every aspect of our lives. A beautiful story of finding the possibility in every situation. Even if we choose to label a situation as bad, Sophia shares how an attitude of "yes I can" makes anything possible. Denise VanVliet ... Forging forever forward with faith in yoga and meditation to propel her through the challenges and responsibilities of daily life, readers can identify with Sophia's story..YogaCowgirl "YC", Conifer .. you could feel her devotion to yoga and the respite she found within it time after time over many years.. she is capturing in the title of the book...finding peace .. really isn't about putting your foot behind your ear. Charlie Morris Sophia Paul has done a magnificent job of putting this entire subject into easily understood lay language..provided a pathway to really understanding Yoga and its many benefits ..Othniel J Seiden "Otti",Denver .. The writing was superb and I enjoyed the insightful stories and views.. Good Job Sophia! I Love Hiking ..I found myself within its pages.... Sophia's heart is my heart, her words, are also mine...her way, her truths, are leading me toward my own path along the way through...yoga I know now, is so much more than putting your foot behind your ear..Kim (Massachusetts)