Montana: Big Sky
Hi 👋 This post contains very little information about the actual state of Montana or even recapping my experiences exploring it. Montana is wild, beautiful and I will never forget its majesty! If you are wondering if you should visit, you definitely should (after April and before November).
Lately I’ve been trying to make connections to understand what the process of svadhyaya (self-study) has done for me moving forward once Brandon and I finish traveling in December. Making connections is important for reading yourself because a connection gives meaning to and puts a punctuation mark at the end of an idea. Think of this as the closing of a cycle. In yoga, the word vinyasa means to place something in a special way. Conceptually it is a sequence that flows progressively with a beginning, middle, end and space. A vinyasa is a cycle or a collection of cycles with an evolutionary quality. I opened up this platform as a window into my personal experience with svadhyaya, so energetically it only makes sense to bring this to a close by looking back at what I’ve actually learned.
Every time I try to think of a few words to describe Montana, the only one that comes into my mind is spacious. As part of my healing and writing process I usually use the last week-ish of the place I am visiting to reflect and get a grasp on whatever has come up for me mentally/emotionally. While doing this for Montana all I could feel was a void. It wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling, just space. Initially this made me nervous because I felt the possibility of having lost my path of inquiry that I set out for back in February. In doing so it would not only cause me to experience writer's block as I try to tie all of this up, but also leave me wondering what all of this unpacking was for. There is an idea that is explored in psychology which has always stuck with me that states chaos in life comes from having too many incomplete cycles at the same time. Instead of giving into that anxiety (win), I relied on some of the yoga tools I’ve been using all year to see if I could find a deeper significance within this chasm.
The process of cycles can be studied as a journey. This is what I based my 300HR yoga teaching certification thesis on, specifically on the subject of chakras. These are energetic vortices (wheels) located within the subtle (non-physical) body. You might be familiar with mandala patterns which are vibrational representations of cycles in nature. Each chakra, which generates its own mandala pattern, comes with defining characteristics. When the complete system of chakras are woven together it provides an intricate tapestry for self- transformation and enlightenment. Having a basic understanding of this system provides insight into the process that I turned to this year when I felt lost, like I mentioned in the chasm above. The chakra system I explore belongs to the Tantric yoga philosophy which regards 7 core chakras that make up the main energy channel (nadi) called the shushmna. In regards to these centers as vibrational, the chakras go in order from lowest frequency or most dense to highest frequency or least dense respectively: root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown chakra.
Here is a list of the 7 chakras and their corresponding characteristics (note: please know this is highly summarized and skewed to fit my personal experience working with the system. If you want to deep dive into my base knowledge I recommend reading this book).
Root: (lowest frequency): sense of safety and security on earth
Sacral: governs sexuality, movement, creativity and emotions
Solar Plexus: confidence and self- esteem
Heart: (lower and higher frequency meet):giving and receiving love
Throat: communication including speaking and listening, self- expression
Third eye: perception and awareness
Crown: (highest frequency): transformation and universal wisdom
Everything starts with a solid foundation. Ten months ago, when I began this project in New Mexico I started by taking a look at my root chakra and identifying aspects of my life that threatened my safety. These key pieces became the points of focus for unpacking (eating disorder, addiction, guilt, abandonment, codependency etc…). In San Diego I gave myself the permission to let go of control by embracing fluidity and allowing this process of healing to flow naturally, as in the sacral chakra. In L.A. I reveled in the fire-y power of its culture to encourage confidence within myself to keep going on this journey upward, exploring the solar plexus. Northern California brought resistance to the heart as I started to open up to the idea of what it really means to love myself and others unconditionally <3. Portland’s warm embrace inspired me to expose myself and my deepest insecurities by speaking them out and releasing their power over me, an exercise of the throat chakra. This release provided me the self awareness I needed in Seattle to perceive some personal awakenings with clarity, an activity of the third eye chakra. So where does that leave me after Montana?
I never knew exactly what I would learn from all these different places. I made a commitment in San Diego to allow the process to unfold and fold in on me without force. I do believe subconsciously I was working on this all along given my passion for the subject, but it wasn’t until about Northern California that I drew a parallel between this project and the chakra system. Once I noticed the pattern, it became easier to keep working through it since I could follow a road map. I also think it’s a testament to the effectiveness of the system. If you are interested in exploring this, I’d love to be a resource for you! I feel like I do want to interject that this did not come with ease and there were plenty of times where I felt like giving up.
I started running consistently, again, for the one hundred millionth time. I had run on cross country teams from a very young age all the way through high school. Running has really never come naturally to me, but I am tenacious (that’s what my 5th grade teacher told me) and highly competitive so I excelled at the activity. I can recall a few moments of joy, but those are mostly overshadowed by competition, social anxiety and burn out. I stopped running immediately after high school, but picked it back up again several years later when I met Brandon, who at the time was marathon training. This next running stint was short lived. I pushed myself too aggressively, too quickly and when I hit a plateau I gave it up all together. Since I started the sport I think that I never was really running for myself, but always for someone else or some other reason like a form of punishment.
Presently, I couldn’t have known the significance of what this next three mile run would bring me. I was 20 minutes into the run, huffing, puffing and wheezing when I started having flashbacks to my experience backpacking in the Enchantments (Seattle: The Mystic). I recalled the feeling of wanting to give up and it felt similar to how I was currently feeling on the run. But then I thought about the immense amount of strength and personal will power that I found inside me on the hike and put that into the final leg of my run. When I finished, all I could feel was overwhelming pride. I wasn’t proud of the distance or hitting a certain time, like the old Mary would’ve been. I was proud of believing in myself and using only that to keep moving forward. Since then I’ve noticed myself applying this strength to everyday obstacles that typically occur as a result of my shadow self. It’s been a rollercoaster of a start, but I can see a smooth horizon.
The void I was experiencing in Montana was not empty at all. It was my awareness expanding beyond my body's physical limitations. This is a key symptom of the crown chakra. Throughout all the peeling back this year, I have fully stripped myself of insecurity which has allowed me to find freedom. By letting go of my ego for what seems like an endless amount of times, I have found transformation and a meeting of a version of myself that I only knew existed deep within my soul. In that moment running, when I pushed back on self-doubt, I felt my soul meet my body and that is a coming together that I won’t soon forget.
In Montana, it feels like everything is expanding outwards from wherever you are standing. The skies stretch beyond vast fields and over mountain ranges farther than the physical eye can see. I can remember a handful of times that I stood outside with my eyes closed visualizing the world around me and feeling that I was at the center of everything. I visualized my breath as the wind and on one occasion when I opened my eyes there was a baby deer standing right behind me. I could feel an internal smile creeping in and I allowed it to surface, physically manifesting itself on my face. I finally had found what I was seeking from the very beginning, connection.
The system of the chakras provides a pathway to liberation. In the expansive state of the crown chakra there is an acknowledgment that everything that exists outside of you, also exists within you. In this way, each person is made up of the same fabric of the universe and therefore there is always a connection. Every journey requires a return back home, the chakra system accepts this narrative. From the liberated state of the crown chakra, the system moves back downward towards the root chakra manifesting this understanding throughout our entire being and altering our internal pattern (mandala) indefinitely.
As I write this blog, reminiscing over the past year, and finding all these parallels it makes me want to laugh about how I was initially scared of the space I was experiencing in Montana. I learned to trust myself by trusting in this process that I believe so fully in. I pull confidence through what I have learned by being vulnerable with my own words, my writing. What I know without a doubt is that every journey has a beginning, a middle, an end and space. Space is where integration and transformation occurs which is where I’m hanging out comfortably. I’m no longer going to be asking myself how I am different from this year or wondering if I’ve grown into a more well rounded version of myself. I know that I am different. I know that I have grown into someone who is more complete. I am going to do everything in my power to keep this big warm smile on my face.
This months class is a powerful 75 minute vinyasa meant to connect you with the crown chakra. With thought as inspiration the sequence is creative and meant to challenge you both physically and mentally mentally. Throughout class you will be given tons of options and you are always encouraged to practice at your own pace, taking what you need and leaving out whatever you don’t. Class begins with centering and pranayama. You will practice nadi shodhana pranayama to activate the energy better, specially the right and left side. This is meant to honor the universal duality that exists to help keep everything in equilibrium. The class itself continues this exploration of right and left to help bring balance within. Like the energetic center this class is built on, you will work a little bit of everything to find connection. A block or two might be useful for practice. Playlist