Pigeon Tales (Vol. IV): Pain, Fear, Acceptance

Pigeon Tales is a “special edition” of this blog, coming at you hot off the mat from yep, you guessed it…Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (known to most of us as Pigeon Pose).  As most yoga teachers will tell you while you try to find and maintain stillness in this intense pose, pigeon has a unique ability to tap into your emotional memories and bring up some pretty juicy- and often introspective- stuff.  Each edition of Pigeon Tales comes in a pure and spontaneous manner, dissecting the thoughts that cross my mind while in I give in to the release of the foundation-based chakras…those thoughts I want to share, anyway.  This is, in effect, my dream journal of those deep pigeony places.  I encourage you to try doing the same!

I don’t exactly know why, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting into a good pigeon pose lately.  I just can’t seem to get comfortable, and even modifications are increasingly intense.  The intensity has brought one thought to my mind, and one only: Pain.

I look around, and I see a lot of pain.  It’s everywhere.  Everyone is fighting their own silent battle.  It is so rare for us to come across someone that is genuinely free of pain.  How sad is that?!  It makes me wonder why pain is so prevalent, and further, how we can counteract it.  I’ve always felt that pain is just the early onset, physical manifestation of fear.  So, as I’ve been feeling more and more pain, I wonder what it is that I am so afraid of.


I wrote the previous two paragraphs about two months ago, and left them hanging.  I read them through a few times, each time deciding they were accurate but not ready to be unpacked.  I didn’t have the courage to look at myself and accept that I have moments of pain too.  Happy people aren’t afraid of things, and I’m happy.

Wrong.  Happiness is not the absence of fear, but rather the acknowledgment and acceptance of it.  Most people fear their own fear too much to let it surface.  They bury it, ignore it, and hope it dissipates into the magical abyss of the universe.  Sound about right?  For a long time I was under the impression that carrying fear (…or pain, or guilt) in some way diminished the happiness I created along the way.  Consequently, I convinced myself that the fear wasn’t there, ignoring it diligently until I began to understand the manifestation of physical pain and tension in my body.  As in-tune with myself as I thought I was, the calls of my body fell on deaf ears until I opened my mind a bit and began to listen to fear had to say.

So, back to that pigeon.  What was I so afraid of?  Yes, afraid of watching the news at night.  Yes, afraid of not living up to expectations of success (that’s another story…).  Yes, afraid of a rogue asteroid.  But that wasn’t what I needed to confront.  What I needed to face was the fear of fear itself.  To stare it down, feel it, and lean into it.  To allow it to be present, but not louder than my spirit.  Rather than spending my energy suppressing fears, I work each day to create a space where they are welcome to surface and (sometimes) burn out.  We all hold fear somewhere, and getting in touch with your body can help you find your own.  Only then can we re-purpose the energy holding it to melt into it, feel it, and accept it.

Pigeon Tales (Vol III): Expectations

Pigeon Tales is a “special edition” of this blog, coming at you hot off the mat from yep, you guessed it…Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (known to most of us as Pigeon Pose).  As most yoga teachers will tell you while you try to find and maintain stillness in this intense pose, pigeon has a unique ability to tap into your emotional memories and bring up some pretty juicy- and often introspective- stuff.  Each edition of Pigeon Tales comes in a pure and spontaneous manner, dissecting the thoughts that cross my mind while in I give in to the release of the foundation-based chakras…those thoughts I want to share, anyway.  This is, in effect, my dream journal of those deep pigeony places.  I encourage you to try doing the same!

Expectations- you dirty devil.  We all have them, and we tag them to nearly everything.  Expectations help us make daily decisions and, if gauged correctly, can be extremely helpful.  We know when to wake up because we expect that our morning routine will proceed uninterrupted.  We know when to leave for work because we expect a given level of traffic.  But what happens when, on the way to work, we expect that the car opposite us at the intersection will follow the rules of the stoplight, and they don’t.

The thing about expectations is that they are great until they aren’t.  Some of our expectations are so routine that we hang our hats on them and don’t know how to react when they suddenly crumble.  Our expectations are so deeply ingrained in our lifestyles that the thought of ridding our lives of them feels blasphemous.  You want me to what?  It sounds like I’m asking you to give up on your dreams, right?  Not exactly.  When we are young, our parents/teachers/mentors/whathaveyou teach us about expectations by setting them for us.  They expect us to do our best and follow the rules to help us soar above the world and touch the stars.  If we fall short of their expectations, we earn the sharp slashing pain of disappointment, a routine that is often so repetitious that the wounds eventually become self-inflicted.  Their expectations of us shape our own expectations of ourselves and, to take it a step further, they end up shaping our expectations of others.  Somewhere in the midst of this domestication, we start to associate expectations (self-imposed and otherwise) with our goals.  Hence the immediate dismissal of the proposal to “quit” your expectations.

The true demise of living on expectations is that they limit our ability to react in a genuine manner.  Expectations, to any degree, form the molds that invite disappointment when life doesn’t quite fit.  We have to stop and ask ourselves who gets to decide what that mold looks like.  Allowing preconceived notions of people and places to mold our future encounters strips away the possibility of finding something more.  Loosening or releasing this notion of “how things will go” increases the ability to analyze and react to situations without that bias.  Having a plan or a dream or a goal is pertinent to a healthy and meaningful lifestyle, but unless you lead a life of clairvoyance its best to be open to various permutations of that picture-perfect finish line.

Let’s try to separate expectations and goals.  As a young adult, I am so often told not to be discouraged when things don’t go as planned because “they rarely do” or “that’s life for ya.”  Isn’t this consolation the same idea letting go of expectation?  Why is it so taboo to say that you live a life with no expectation?  Give up your expectations and something amazing might happen- i.e. the unexpected.

Pigeon Tales (VOL. II): Healthy Struggles vs. Pain and Five Ways to Know the Difference

Pigeon Tales is a “special edition” of this blog, coming at you hot off the mat from yep, you guessed it…Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (known to most of us as Pigeon Pose).  As most yoga teachers will tell you while you try to find and maintain stillness in this intense pose, pigeon has a unique ability to tap into your emotional memories and bring up some pretty juicy- and often introspective- stuff.  Each edition of Pigeon Tales comes in a pure and spontaneous manner, dissecting the thoughts that cross my mind while in I give in to the release of the foundation-based chakras…those thoughts I want to share, anyway.  This is, in effect, my dream journal of those deep pigeony places.  I encourage you to try doing the same!

Quite often, when getting settled into a Sleeping Pigeon, yoga teachers will take the opportunity to share some wisdom with their class- usually to get you to focus on something other than the intensity of the pose.  We always want to acknowledge the feelings, but try not to “bite the hook” and act on that feeling by shifting around or coming out of the pose; it is meant to be intense, it is meant to hurt.

If you’re still reading, congratulations.  Most people would lose faith in a writer that insists pigeon (or any pose) is meant to hurt.  That’s because in this situation you can easily identify the difference between Pain and Healthy Struggle.  Pigeon is a great place to bring up this discussion because you know to expect a breath-stealing sensation, but if it hurts (i.e. your feet are going numb and your knee feels like it has been prepped for amputation) you need to make an adjustment.  How you should properly modify falls beyond the scope of this post so if this is you, talk to your teacher next time it comes up!  What I want to talk about here is how to recognize and identify the difference between a healthy struggle and pain in other situations, namely relationships.  Not necessarily just romantic relationships, but all relationships (work, family, friends, etc). When you experience life’s inevitable adversities, ask yourself the following five questions.

5.  Am I Able to Grow?

Pigeon has a laundry list of benefits, the most immediate of which being the release of tension in your hips and stress in your mind.  When practiced daily, this deep hip opener can help you move better throughout practice and increase the accessibility of scores of other poses, ultimately helping your practice grow.

A natural side effect of a healthy struggle is the overall improvement of the self.  When we work through tough times in a healthy way, we come out of it bigger and better than before.  If you get into pigeon and it hurts like hell, and then continues to hurt like hell two hours later, and it hurts worse than hell the next time you get into it…it might be Pain that you need to let go (and by might I mean it is, and by let go I mean change your approach!)  In some of our worst relationships, we find it easier to give in to the insane notion that things will just get better.  Is it practical to think that your pigeon will just stop hurting if you do it the same painful way over and over?  Before I started an active yoga practice, I was a dancer and pigeon pose was something we practiced quite often to improve our flexibility.  I have vivid memories biting back tears and asking what I should do if my feet were going numb, to which my instructor said “just hold your breath and think of something else until we’re done.”  I learned later in life that my problem wasn’t that I am naturally and eternally doomed to live without a comfortable pigeon, it’s that I needed someone to show me a healthy approach from which I could grow.

4.  Is there any relief?

As soon as your body is ready to move out of pigeon, the sensation of that release is almost twice as good as what you feel while you’re in it.  A constant struggle is not a healthy struggle.  There should be a natural rhythm, and ebb and flow of adversity and ease; You need a little struggle to grow stronger (see #5).  The presence of a healthy struggle increases the delight and appreciation of the release.  We all crave the bliss that comes after the clouds subside, but when it does you have to ask yourself if you welcome the clouds back with open arms.  If what you are experiencing is pain, it’s likely that you never want to get into pigeon again and you will make an effort to tip-toe around to avoid causing the clouds to return.  On the other hand, if you welcome the challenge because you know it makes you better in the end and you are able to find a sort of peace in the intensity, it might be a struggle of the good variety!

3.  Am I Open to Variations?

The more you do it, the better you understand what to expect and your familiarity creates a sense of understanding.  This can be a slippery slope.  If you are talking about a painful pigeon, growing might mean that you come to terms with the fact that you need to make an adjustment.  But, maybe your pigeon is just boring!  A boring pigeon isn’t that much different than a painful one when you get down to it.  We know because our mothers told us: if it hurts don’t do it.  But what about when you don’t feel anything?  The monotony of the same routine over and over can be just as distracting as the pain of a bad one.  When pain is absent, introduce a little healthy struggle to spice it up.  Challenge yourself to go deeper, to get to know your pigeon a little more, or to find a new variation altogether.  Your instructor may cue a sleeping pigeon, but maybe you want to take a leap of faith and go for mermaid.  It’s your life, find your mermaid!

2.  Am I Jealous of the Pigeons Around Me?

Honestly, if your mind is wandering hard enough to look at that sleeping pigeon next to you and you think to yourself “Wow, that dude is so peaceful in his pigeon, what a lucky guy”…you might be in the Pain territory.  That guy is not lucky, he just knows what kind of pigeon is good for him.  Maybe he has had a few bad pigeons in the past and learned how to avoid the painful part so that he is at peace with the struggle.

1.  Am I ACTIVELY Avoiding or Distracting Myself?

Well this is numero uno, so you can probably guess that it is my personal cardinal question.  If the sensation that you feel in your pigeon (okay, we all understand that ‘your pigeon’ is actually your relationship, right?  Cool.) is so intense that you find yourself avoiding your own questions, it’s time to get out of the pose.  If you have to tell yourself it will feel better when you know it never does, or the pain happens more often then the release, it’s time to get out of the pose.  If you start looking at other people’s practice and wish that you could be as blissful (or Happy) as them, it’s time to get out of the pose.  Distracting yourself from the real problems and pain that come up are the number one red flags indicating that you can do better.  Life is not meant to be lived by telling yourself things will be different and then doing nothing to effect that change.  If you find that you are unable to be present because present is pain, modify something– starting with the source of the pain.  You’re stronger than you think, and you deserve only the healthiest of struggles.

Pigeon Tales (Vol. I): I Found A Friend This Year

Pigeon Tales is a “special edition” of this blog, coming at you hot off the mat from yep, you guessed it…Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (known to most of us as Pigeon Pose).  As most yoga teachers will tell you while you try to find and maintain stillness in this intense pose, pigeon has a unique ability to tap into your emotional memories and bring up some pretty juicy- and often introspective- stuff.  Each edition of Pigeon Tales comes in a pure and spontaneous manner, dissecting the thoughts the cross my mind while in I give in to the release of the fundamental chakras…those thoughts I want to share, anyway.  This is, in effect, my dream journal of those deep pigeony places.  I encourage you to try doing the same!

I met a friend this year.  Or rather, I got to know her.  She’s someone I’ve seen around town for a long time.  I always knew that she is elusively interesting, but also hard to hold a conversation with.  I used to tell myself that I have tried to break down her walls before, but in my heart of hearts I knew that I never put much effort into it.  We have a lot in common, but something about her was so intimidating that I couldn’t bring myself to dig deep and devote some time to understanding her.

This year, I decided to make her a priority.  I started paying more mindful attention to her.  I wanted to know what she wanted to do with her life, where the thoughts she had came from.  In the past, whenever I tried to ask her, she just shrugged the question off (which is fair, because no one really knows what they want with their life).  But this year I committed to her, and to our friendship.  I could tell that if I really wanted to figure her out, I would have to commit to her- not now and again when it was convenient, but on a routine basis.  So, I started doing yoga with her.  That 60 minute class gave us the opportunity to connect on a level that I never thought was possible.  I learned about her strengths, her struggles, what empowered her and the pains that she carries.  She never really spilled the beans on her grand plan in life, but I stopped focusing on that as something I had to find out.  I started enjoying her company, often in silence, rather than searching for answers.

Eventually, our friendship blossomed outside the studio, too.  It was slow at first, but each yoga class strengthened the new bond that we had initiated.  There are still times when I feel stubborn and avoid her calls, but she never holds it against me and we are able to pick up where we left off, usually after a good conversation on the mat.  She used to intimidate me, but after putting a concerted effort into connecting with her, I feel her strength and confidence invigorate my vulnerabilities.  She makes me a better person, and her friendship has made me a better friend- not only to her, but to the others in my life.  It has been an amazing year, and I know that my good fortunes are all rooted in this friendship.

I got to know myself this year.  As it turns out, I am a pretty good friend for me to have.