Friday, January 23, 2015

Week Two: Soreness and Zen

The path to yogi-ness is lined with sweat, practice, and tears. Ashtanga yoga is WORK. It is for everybody-but the lazy, at least that is how the saying goes. The second week of my intensive yoga training not only tested my physical muscles but also my emotional strength. Lesson: a lot of self-reflection can be painful, inspiring, and exhausting. Yoga opens  your eyes to your thinking-errors and to flaws in the poses, both of which take a lot of effort to fix. Honestly, this week I struggled. I was in a terrible mood almost everyday. I was not getting enough sleep or enough food which always leads to AngryJackie. To top matters off, the yoga that I once loved had transformed into the villain causing me endless stress. Blah. I flirted with the idea of quitting, taking the easy way out. 

The ups and downs of life. 

After reaching a low, things turned up again, as life always does. I kept practicing yoga and I found that love and peace again. Breathing really is incredibly magical. I felt the breathe move me through the practice. Energizing my body. Freeing my mind. 

Cool, huh?

Have I convinced you all to try yoga yet?

Okay, I will keep trying. 

Until next week!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Yoga: My Journey to Enlightenment

Very rarely in life do we have weeks that completely change us as a person, this was such a week. A combination of starting a new job and starting my path to becoming a yoga instructor taught me more than I thought possible--in just seven short day!. I was encouraged to teach yoga through my own experiences so I will be sharing them with you.

Although I have been going to yoga classes since I was 14, I didn't know how little I knew about yoga until this week. My idea of yoga has grown from a great way to exercise and meditate into a lifestyle that I want to adopt. My first day of class started out with floods of thoughts: "I can't..." "I wish I had..." and the classic "I am not good enough." I was surrounded by people I admired and it made me feel incredibly self-conscious. Small. Vulnerable. That is when I began to learn what yoga really means. 

Yoga can be defined as Unity. It is a way to create unity of the mind, body, and with God. Yoga helps us fix the senses leading us to a realization of your own true nature. My yoga guru keeps repeating about how yoga teaches us to look internally and find our Self. Self in Sanskrit has a very different meaning than we use in the West. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois teaches that the Self refers "to our higher, unchanging, eternal nature of pure consciousness, truth, and bliss." Or what us Mormons would call our Divine Nature. We had a yoga therapist come and teach our class on Saturday and something she said really stuck out to me: yoga is non-denominational; however, true practice of yoga connects us to a Higher-Being and is worshiping God. Many people think of yoga as a bunch of poses meant to stretch and tone your muscle--which is an awesome by-product. I believe that yoga is a way of unlocking the power and beauty of the soul and using that to bless others. Although I am still a beginning student, I have already felt the powerful effects in my life. I feel peace, happiness, and love after every practice. I am learning to let go of the critical and be inspired by the power of breath. I believe that bodies are temples and yoga is one way of tapping into our infinite good. 

Some of my favorite thoughts from class this week:

We have more power internally than we believe. We usually resort to external sources but yoga teaches us to look inward. 

There is more clarity in feeling than in thinking. 

Nothing is wrong or right in yoga because we are always progressing. Sometimes we are starting over and we have to be okay with the constant change by learning to be an observer. 

Okay, I could gush about yoga all day. But in closing I want to say that I am still scared, overwhelmed, and intimidated. Who knew following your dreams and inspiration could be so hard! I am keeping faith in the process. I am enjoying the self-realization and growth (no matter how painful). I feel empowered and capable. I have learned so much from my yoga teachers and I hope one day I can help foster self-love and awareness by helping others bring yoga into their lives.

Hopefully I can get through another three weeks of 30 hours+ of classes! Wish me luck!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Half Way Across the World

Saying goodbye to friends is never easy. It becomes increasingly difficult when those friends are now half way across the world. Moscow, and all the wonderful people I met there, will always be in my heart. I truly loved my experiences there: both the hard stuff and awesome stuff. Living abroad was really a trial for me! Not speaking the language, not knowing anyone at first, low temperatures, and a little too much free time really tested me. However, I learned so much about myself and also about the world. I am so grateful I had my husband by my side and our experiences really strengthened us as a couple.

I never imagined how magical Russia is during Christmas time. Seeing Red Square in its full Christmas splendor should be added to everyone's bucket list. Ice skating in Russia is also top notch!

The journey home was...arduous..painful..exhausting. Between the 17 hours spent on the plane and very little sleep--I was pretty dang grumpy at some points. I was particularly annoyed when a Russian man thought that it would be okay to wake me up at 4 AM and proceed to question me. My Russian isn't great to begin with but if you wake me up and start asking me for cigs? My Russian becomes exceedingly snarky. At least he found the situation extremely humorous. I did not. When we finally touched ground in the U S of A, I immediately started singing the Utah state song "Utah! People working together! Utah! What a great place to be!" I think if Drew wouldn't have been so tired, he would have been super embarrassed. But I can't help it! I love Utah. I realize that it might that have the glitz and glam of foreign cities but it is home. And I am convinced that nothing feels as good as coming home.

We tried to take the most touristy picture. Mission accomplished!
The most interesting part about being abroad was hearing and reading all sorts of political views. Political tensions between the United States and Russia are particularly intense right now. The longer I was in Russia, the more open-minded I became and the more I could see valid arguments coming from the Russian media. The media in the US and the media in Russia really damage viewers. The portray the opposing country as, well just that, an opposing country. After  all the years of progress and "ending of the Cold War", I hate to see our countries regress to us versus them mentalities. As naive and innocent as it sounds, what the world really needs is more love. More understanding. More befriending of those different from us. It really broke my heart to hear so many stories of people from Ukraine, Syria, and other countries and all the immense hardships they personally endured, and are still enduring. I don't know how to make the world a better place, but I want to die trying!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I am Jacqueline Swainston and I am a Mormon

The truth: choosing to be a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints is not, nor ever will be, easy. At least not for me. Many people are blessed with perfect faith. My faith, my testimony, and my membership in this church are something that I have fought for. Something I will always be fighting for. I want to tell my story for those who are struggling with their search for truth. This is a little about my journey.

I was born into a Latter-Day Saint family. But I was not born a Latter-Day Saint. No matter how young you were introduced to the Mormon faith, you have to choose to be a member. To me being a member is more than the physical act of being baptized (although this is an important step), it is about deciding that you will dedicate your heart, your talents, and your soul to your Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. This is a daily decision. It wasn't until high school when I really started to question the "why" behind the way I acted: going to church, reading the scriptures, etc. I vividly remember reading the Book of Mormon and the moment when I first thought "what if this is not true?". That doubt, like all doubt I have experienced after, made me physically sick. After long prayers and many tears, I felt the Spirit strongly testify to me that this was good, pure, light. I remember going to church programs like Girls Camp and Education Week where we would spend so much time studying the Savior and His plan for our lives. I honestly experienced pure joy. I cannot explain how powerful those spiritual experiences have been in shaping my life. I hungered for more. Reading the scriptures, listening to church music, and praying connected with my soul in a way that no earthly thing had ever done before. It spoke to my spirit.

Then I went to college. I met more and more people from different faiths. I heard more and more intellectual arguments against not only Mormonism but God in general. The sparkle and the glamour tempted me both intellectually and emotionally.  We hear that wickedness is never happiness. But to a young girl, they look almost the same. I had many dark hours of doubt. On one hand, I knew that the gospel of Jesus Christ had always brought me happiness. On the other, I really questioned the psychology of "why" I believed the way I did.

The reason the say that the world is "loud" and the Spirit of God is a whisper is because it is literally true. We are constantly attacked with rhetoric that goes against revealed doctrine. It is literally a battlefield every day for our souls. Everything seems to be controversial these days. People seem to disagree on almost everything. For goodness sakes, it is hard to know if eggs are good for your health or not with all the "science" out there. I have learned that there is only ONE way to learn spiritual truths. It  is through the Spirit of God testifying of truth to your soul. That is the one thing that has saved me from dark periods of doubt.

To this day, there are things that I do not understand. There is doctrine that is hard for me to accept. My faith is imperfect. My testimony still growing. However, despite all my imperfections, I know that my Heavenly Father still loves me. I know that the Book of Mormon is literally the word of God. I know that the temple is the House of God. I know that if I continue to pray, continue to search the work of God, and keep the commandments that I will be blessed with more light and knowledge. In short, my soul and heart know that this is the church of God, even if my mind sometimes struggles.
I believe in Jesus Christ.

An American in London

      Upon entering the UK we were greeted by warm, smiling English-speaking people. To be honest, I was a little culture-shocked. Russian people often get a bad street rep for being "cold" and "unfriendly." I wouldn't agree with this statement; however, Russian people on a metro? That's a different story. If someone talks to you on a metro, one of two things are happening: 1-they want you to move so they have a better position for exiting or 2-they are drunk. Being on the Tube, we were bombarded with "please", "excuse me", and all sorts of pleasantries. And to make things even more strange: people actually lined up in straight, neat lines and boarded the metro in an orderly fashion. It was awkward. Additionally, the city seemed so...clean. As I was walking around pointing out the lack of graffiti and litter, I told Drew, "AND the sidewalks are so well-kept." Mid-way through this sentence, I tripped over a big pot-hole, #irony.
      The hardest thing about being an American in London is fighting the urge to speak with a British accent. I don't know what it is about their fancy word choice and pronunciation that I find so seductive, but I quickly gave into the urge. Isn't imitation is the surest form of flattery? Let's just hope any eves-droppers thought so.
      I am resisting turning this post into a detailed travel itinerary and bore everyone. I will  instead mention the highlights. We were lucky enough to attend the London Temple which was a special experience for us. Due to the lack of temple in Moscow, it has been awhile since we were able to attend the House of the Lord. In Utah, we are so blessed with temples so close to us that it is easy to not truly appreciate this blessing. This is something I have really come to appreciate. While in London, we went to Wicked and Mamma Mia. There are only three times I can remember crying because I was so happy. Two of those times happened on West End: Les Mis and Wicked. Also, I finished the Harry Potter series while riding the Tube--this felt like the best way to celebrate being in London.
      I have always been slightly off-putted by England and I have no idea where this started. Maybe I have some Boston Tea Party genes in my DNA. Upon further examination, I have narrowed down to the "royal" aspect of the UK. It just rubs the American in me the wrong way to hear about a Queen or people being knighted, A British man argued that the traditions of coronation and royalty are a symbol of how consistent the country has been through out the ages. This simple statement changed the way I viewing this nation.  London is actually a stunning balance of the old and the modern. From the castles to the iconic Piccadilly Square, the buildings are unique and timeless. Additionally,  I realized that England has given me some of my very favorite things: Harry Potter, Sherlock, America, and the Beatles. I quickly got over any faint ill feelings that I previous held and fell head over heels with London. It actually is now a place that Drew and I are seriously considering moving to.

Back to the U.S.S.R.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Penza: AKA Real Russia

Countless times I have been informed that Moscow and St Petersburg are not "real Russia." I would think to myself: Not real Russia?! Everyone is speaking Russian. I see Kvass, Red Square, and Soviet-style buildings everywhere. How is this not 'real Russia'? It is the capital for goodness-sake!"

If you can't tell--It was FREEZING!
It wasn't until I traveled to Penza, Russia (approximately 640 km south-east of Moscow) did this start to make sense to me. My husband, Drew, served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Russia and he lived in Penza for almost a year. Drew really wanted to visit his friends in the city and I, naturally, wanted to see where my husband had spent half of his mission. One hot (87 degrees!) 14-hour train ride later, it seemed that we had arrived in different country; Penza is an incredibly small city of 500,000 when compared to the Moscow metropolis that contains roughly 11 million citizens. At the train station, we were greeted by one of Penza's own, Alexey. His quick humor and warm-nature kept us laughing and comfortable our entire stay, not too mention full! He and his wife gave us ample--if not too much--food during our stay. Let's just say, I left Penza a pound or two heavier than when I arrived.  We toured the city with our native friend and he told us stories of the corruption and poverty that the good people of Penza have endured. He complained about how tax money was rarely used to fix the roads or to make sidewalks nicer. "If there is one thing that Russia will never run out of, it is crappy roads and stupid people!" he exclaimed. The obvious poverty in certain areas of the city, the elderly I saw preforming hard labor, and stories of people we met touched me in such a powerful way. Real Russia, as it turns out, has a huge population and stray cats and dogs. Also, to be "real Russia" apparently it is necessary to see babushki (old Russian women) sitting around complaining about their pensions. It is true that we do not know how blessed we are in America until we see the heart-breaking effects of poverty.

We were able to meet with many church members during the days we were in Penza. Although my understanding of the Russian language is pitiful, I felt great love for these people because I understood the language of the Spirit when they spoke. One man in particular, Sasha, after only minutes of being introduced to me, asked if he could bear his testimony with me. Drew acted like a translator as this sweet man told me of the powerful experiences he has had with the Spirit and the Book of Mormon. I was touched to the point of tears. The members I met lived their lives in ways that showed me, a stranger, that their testimonies were the most precious things they owned. They willing shouted from the rooftops the glorious message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When we entered the train station to board our departing train, we were surprised by an older woman who immediately ran to Drew and hugged him with tears flooding down her face. It was later explained to me that she was Valentine, a woman my husband had taught and baptized on his mission. Her love for him was evident. She told me how much it meant to her that he and his companion, Steven Bolt, were persistent in testifying of the restored church to her. She told me that they should up to her house every evening almost completely frozen just to teach her.

The Spirit testified to me so strongly about missionary work while I was in Penza. Drew and I were trekking through snow/ice/slush and the freezing cold one night when I realized the great sacrifice he (and thousands of others) have made by going on a mission. Missionary work is profoundly beautiful and Christ-like. My admiration of all returned missionaries grew as I contemplated the arduous nature of missionary work. The sacrifice of time, comfort, home, and many other things in the pursuit of bringing the world His truth. A more noble cause I cannot think of.

I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to hear the testimonies of people all around the world. I know that Heavenly Father loves His children and that His gospel is spreading quickly because of the blessings it brings into our lives. Jesus Christ is our Savior and the joy that comes with this knowledge is to be shared with everyone. Penza opened my eyes to both the hardships Russian people endure but also the powerful testimonies of Russian Latter-Day Saints.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Not European. Not Asian. Just Russian.

Walking down the streets of Moscow, you can't help but feel swallowed up in the concrete, steel, and bleak, Soviet style apartment buildings that seem to never end. Then, in a fleeting glimpse catches your eye of golden, onion domed churches rising above the grey. Upon closer examination, Moscow turns from a modern metropolis to a city bursting with hidden treasures. The juxtaposition of grey, lifeless skyscrapers and vibrant, bright Russian Orthodox temples contrasts the world of old Russia with the splendor of the Czars with modern Russia, creating an overwhelming sense of awe in any one who takes the time to let the beauty of this country sink in. Even the mundane task of taking the metro is marked with masterpieces of art and architecture. In the metro, you can find statues of the heroic men and women who fought in World War II. They remind you to take a deep breathe and reflect on those precious moments where the human spirit triumphed over evil. Just a quick moment though--because let's be honest, metros smell the worst. A native Russian explained it to me like this: "Russia is like silver. On the outside, it is not much to look at. However, on the inside? It is beautiful and rich." It just takes some effort on our part to look further into a country than what is portrayed by Hollywood and truly learn about our brothers and sisters around the world.

My Love Affair of Russian Literature

From Crime and Punishment to Anna Karenina, from Pushkin to Gogol, Russian literature is abounding with complex characters that aren't afraid to tackle the tough subjects. The way Dostoevsky creates battles between religion and psychology, which are infamous foes, the reader is compelled to not only apply these hard themes to the characters, but also pushes them to apply it to their own lives. My study of Russian literature is not only teaching me about Russian history and culture, but it is teaching me about myself and enriching my belief in God. Luckily it takes me forty minutes by metro to get almost anywhere--aka reading time!

Life of this Wanna-be Muscovite

How have I been spending my time here? I have been lucky enough to be able to work with the Pushkin State Art Museum and proof read some papers that have been translated into English for their Cyprus Art Exhibit. I have also been volunteering a few times a week at the American Center where I get to meet with people from all over Russia and help them improve their English skills. I love the opportunity to meet with people from all walks of life. And I love to talk, so it is nice to have new people to talk with! Other than that? I finally finished HIMYM--The finale is a rant for a different time. I walk up A LOT of stairs. A LOT. I also like to race our friends when the take the elevator. Mostly because this gives me the chance to sing "Jackie VS. The Machine" in my head and feel triumphant when I get to our floor.

I have also been trying to improve my Russian skills. After a month of being here, I am finally able to hide my deer-in-headlights look when someone speaks Russian to me. I am finally starting to think quick enough to make a reply or at least ask them to speak slower. The latter usually ends with them rolling their eyes and walking away. But hey! Progress is progress! I am proud of the small victories.

The Great Mystery of Russian Women's Legs

Yo Sherlock! You busy? I could use some help here. I am completely baffled by the women's legs here. Not only because they are long and beautiful but because no matter how many layers I wear I cannot escape the cold and here these women are looking fantastic in a coat, skirt, and tights! T face the bitter wind without even flinching! My theory: Although their legs are incredibly thin and lovely, they are made of steel. This most likely occurred because Moscow is basically a gigantic stair-master.

Welp, that is all for now folks!