Friday, October 14, 2016

Acorns and Enlightenment

(We live in) a self-organizing and self-correcting universe: the embryo becomes a baby, the bud becomes a blossom, the acorn becomes an oak tree. Clearly, there is some invisible force that is moving every aspect of reality to its next best expression.

We have a huge oak tree right next to our property that has been dropping acorns all over our driveway for weeks now.  I am always grateful to this tree during October as the days get darker and my mood usually follows, because each little acorn is the reminder of the potential of every small being in creation. (I have kept a bowl of them on my altar for years for this very reason). Acorns, like all seeds, hold the potential of the entire tree inside themselves. It’s from the tiniest of sources that some of the biggest beings on earth spring from, and whenever I feel small I meditate on my acorn collection as a way of connecting to what is contained inside these little tidbits and myself. 

In our yoga practice, one way we move towards our fullest potential is through cultivating enlightenment.  I used to think “enlightenment” was some aha moment, like in cartoons when a light bulb pops up over someone’s head, and that when it “happened” to me I would suddenly and miraculously be free from the challenges and pitfalls of modern life.  I actually think it does happen that way for some people, albeit few. For most of us though, the spiritual path towards "enlightenment” is a slow steady progression of little awakenings and a shift in how we see the world and our own experience.  Danny Arguetty in his book the 6 Qualities of Consciousness says “Enlightenment is a never ending process that simply continues to illuminate more and more.” It is a daily practice of waking up and choosing to see a little more light in the world than you did the day before. It takes a wide angle lens to see this perspective or else the path of enlightenment can be discouraging.  We have to look back past yesterday to 2, 3, maybe 10 years back to see what shifts have happened and see the progress we've made and how far we've come. 

In the acorn/oak analogy, enlightenment is bringing the dormant, potent qualities of the entire oak contained within the seed to fruition which takes a certain cultivation - the right soil, water, sunlight, fertilization.  In our own lives, we bring our own potential to realization through not only our yoga or meditation practice, but meaningful work that fulfills us, through the people we choose to surround ourselves with who help us nurture our own unique and powerful qualities, through study and contemplation and soul cultivation.  As Tantrikas we are not looking to transcend life, but to enlighten the life we already have, to bring more awareness, love, joy, and ease to the here and now. We become “enlightened” when we realize that although our experience on the physical plane is most often the acorn, we are really the oak.

Tantra teaches us that we are all unlimited divinity which has chosen to take the form of a limited body, and it is paradoxically only through that form that we are able to reveal the infinite possibilities of who we really are. That is the “invisible force” Ms. Williamson is referring to; it is woven into the fabric of our being, the coding of our DNA and it is our life's spiritual work to uncover it. It is the force contained in the oak and in the acorn, it is in you and me, moving us towards our next best expression. Whether it lies dormant because it wasn’t offered the right conditions to flourish is entirely up to you.

It is easy to come to the mat and feel full, divine, spectacular. But it’s when we leave the room that we really begin our practice, and that we take those sparks of connection we touch on on our mat or meditation cushion and put them into practice.  With that in mind, be aware this week of when you feel small, insignificant, unimportant.  Let each acorn you see – and you should see a lot this time of year – be the reminder of what is contained inside you.    

Once again, the great Marianne Williamson:
From a mind filled with infinite love comes the power to create infinite possibilities. We have the power to think in ways that reflect and attract all the love in the world. Such thinking is called enlightenment. Enlightenment is not a process we work toward, but a choice available to us in any instant.

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace: With the fullness of your breath, feel fullness of your own potential.
Feel the inner body bright with limitless divinity.
Fill up with the limitless potential within the limitation of your skin.

Muscular Energy: Firm your muscles like the shell of the acorn containing potential within.
(From the earth to the FP) Like tree roots drink water, draw energy up.

Side Body Long: Let your body lengthen from hip to armpit and feel your unlimited potential grow inside you.
Lengthen the side body and feel the oak inside your acorn begin to flourish.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sitbones let your acorn blossom open.
Broaden inner thighs back and apart and open to new possibilities lying in the seed of your being.

Outer Spiral: Root your tailbone down into the fertile soil of your soul’s potential.

Organic Energy: Blossom like the mighty oak.
Bring forth the light of your own potential through the form of the pose.
“Enlighten” your pose with the knowledge of your own oak nature.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Universal Puzzle; Lady Gaga, Meg Ryan, Sophia Vergara and Anusara Yoga

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

I had a conversation with my hairdresser a few weeks ago while I was getting my hair cut.  She was telling me how often a client comes in with a photo or image on their phone of a hairstyle they like and want her to give them.  The person in the photo often looks nothing like the client, has a totally different hair color and texture, and often these clients leave dissatisfied with the outcome despite her best efforts to gently tell them that it’s not really possible to make their hair look that way.  
We all want to look good, we all aspire to be better, brighter, as beautiful as we can be.  But that aspiration has to be grounded in reality.  It has to come from wanting to celebrate who we already are, rather than a desire to be something/someone else. My teacher Todd Norian says “Yoga is being virtuosic in who you already are.”  Bottom line, if you look like Meg Ryan don’t bring your hairdresser a photo of Sophia Vergara. Stand bright and beautiful in your Meg Ryan-ness!
In the 6 Qualities of Consciousness, Danny Arguetty says “Though we are all different, we are all connected….this (Tantric) point of view is deeply focused on the gift of the diverse expression that is human embodiment, as opposed to the quest of extraction from life or a re-unification with a larger energy.”
The Tantric tradition of Anusara Yoga is based in non-duality, meaning not two.  When we see life from the viewpoint of non-duality, we see how the One can only be expressed thru the many.  Since the Absolute is all-encompassing, it is only through the diversity of forms and creation that we begin to glimpse the wholeness that is Universal Consciousness (or God if you prefer).  There are yoga traditions that teach disconnect from the body, from worldly pleasure and individuality, but one of the many reasons I love the non-dual Tantric tradition is that it celebrates the body.  It just does not make sense to me that we were created to simply overcome the creation that the Divine manifested into the world - that this body is an impediment to freedom and transformation.  Tantra teaches that the body can be a portal to achieving those ends, not an obstruction we need to get past on the way to something better.   It is not beyond but through the body that we are able to reach liberation.

Imagine that there was only one type of tree, one type of flower.  Life would be so boring.  I envision the Universe as a giant puzzle, and each of us is a small but integral, irreplaceable piece.  If you’ve ever done one of those 1000 piece puzzles you know the frustration that comes from getting to the end and discovering that a piece was missing – even just one tiny piece out of a thousand would diminish the whole picture. As I was writing this blog post and searching for a picture of a puzzle with a missing piece I found countless websites dealing with this very topic - clearly the Universe wants the picture to be complete!  When we don’t step as fully, as completely, as beautifully as we can into the light of our own being, we are shorting the universal puzzle.  We are holding back the fullest expression of the Divine that can manifest into the physical world.
Non-dual Tantric practices, such as Anusara Yoga (and other mystical, non-dual traditions) gives us access to 2 primary aspects of ourselves – the ever unchanging, ineffable, eternal spark of divine light that is our true nature, and the beautiful, unique, individual physical/mental/emotional form we exist in in the world.  Yoga is about uniting or yoking those 2 things together, interweaving them so they are inexorably linked and in doing so gives us the insight into the fullness of our own being and at the same time the nature of the Universe. 
We are all made of the same "stuff", and when we can step into our own authentic light as fully as we can, we reveal divinity to the world.  We help to complete the wholeness that is the nature of being.  We can’t do that trying to be someone else. We have to be the piece of the puzzle that we are, and recognize that if we’re not filing that role as completely as we can, the overall puzzle is not complete without us. 
There are many beautiful writings and teachings about this, but this week I’m leaning towards Lady Gaga’s:

I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way.

Off the Mat: I used to go to a chiropractor who had a sign hanging in her office that said “99% of all unhappiness comes from comparing yourself to others.”  Not sure if the percentage is quite that high, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s close.  Notice this week how often your happiness is dependent on comparing yourself to others – not only the way you look, but the way you act, the way you do your practice, the way you relate to your family or friends.  And then, from a place of wanting to be your best, most beautiful self (not fixing something that is broken, or judging yourself too harshly) make a shift in your thinking to celebrate who you already are.

On the mat: We worked on very “muscular” poses – meaning that we had to use a lot of muscular energy, using that feeling of the muscles “hugging the bones” as a self embrace or hug, deeply honoring our bodies as divine vehicles for awakening.  Try lots of Uttkatasana, Garudasana, Garudasana arms in Vira I, arm balances, garudasana legs in handstand or headstand – anything requiring your muscles to fire up!

Open to Grace: Open to the potency of your own being.
Celebrate who you are but open to your own possibilities.

Muscular Energy: Embrace who you are right now, knowing it holds the seeds of all you can become.
Hug muscles to bones and even deeper and connect to your uniquely divine presence.
Firm muscles and create the outer form of your exceptional, irreplaceable puzzle piece.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sitbones and widen your potential to be your biggest brightest self.

Outer Spiral: Sink your tailbone down and anchor yourself in the beauty of who you already are

Organic Energy: Let the radiance that is inimitably you shine forth.
Pour your irreplaceable spirit into the unique form of your body and light up the pose from the inside.
Let the light of your divine spirit shine through your individual pose.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Facing Adversity

Last week I was traveling, which is such a great opportunity to catch up on guilty pleasures which in my case is listening to TED talks.  I was so inspired by Aimee Mullins’ talk that I had to share.  She was born with a rare condition which left her without fibulae in her legs.  At her birth, her parents were told she would never walk or have a "normal", mobile, independent life, and her legs were amputated just below the knee around her first birthday.  One might put the label “disabled” on such a person, but she subsequently went on to learn how to walk with prosthetics, created the industry standard for athletic prosthetic legs, and became an Olympic track runner setting world records in 2 events.  This is only one of a very long list of accomplishments including becoming the youngest person ever to have top-secret security clearance at the Pentagon. She has graced the covers of Life, Vogue, and Bazaar magazines as a model, and has become a spokesperson for WSF (Women’s Sports Foundation) among other leadership and inspirational roles.  “Disabled” doesn’t seem to fit…

Aimee’s talk was about how she achieved the amazing things that she did not IN SPITE of adversity, but BECAUSE of it. She never got the message “disabled” from the people around her, and from a very young age she learned that it was her attitude and her work ethic that was more important than the circumstances of her birth. She goes on to say “Success and happiness are not dependent on having overcome adversity; it's not something that happens when you get to the other side. It's not an obstacle we have to get around to get on with living our life, it's part of our life.  The question is not whether you're going to meet adversity, it's how.”

One approach to facing adversity is to develop a sense of curiosity.  In his book the 6 Qualities of Consciousness, which we are using as inspiration this month at Shree, Danny Arguetty says: “The Tantric teachings of Yoga invite us into inquiry without a specific singular way to engage them. Instead we are invited into inquiry.  We are offered the opportunity to take a seed concept and sculpt it in a way that helps us enhance our vitality, energy, creativity, and heart.” In the case of Aimee Mullins, this concept could have been “disabled”, but she instead took her particular situation and saw it as an opportunity to create something new.  Her prosthetic legs became the model for all athletic prosthetics – they didn’t exist before her and her particular disability and now have gone on to help hundreds of athletes perform at their best. 

Danny goes on to say “In the face of specific challenges as well as in the course of daily living, these Tantric teachings help us Connect to our inherent skillfulness and empowered presence through consistent practice with a mindset of inquiry.”  Ms. Mullins talked about looking at her circumstances as a possibility rather than a disability.  I know for myself my challenges and injuries have all led to greater awareness and understanding, even though when I was in the midst of dealing with them it sucked.  We don't know what we're made of until were tested and that's the gift adversity gives us - the ability to see our own power and what we are capable of.  We often don’t know until we are called to dig deep.

When we come at our lives from a spirit of inquiry we see opportunities for growth.  A different pathway than the one you expected is often jarring, but approaching it with curiosity lets us see possibility and potency rather than restriction. How often do we come to our mats with a fixed mindset of what and how things will play out? We tell ourselves “I can’t because….” Those thoughts become the seed concepts we develop.  So when we come to our mats with a spirit of open curiosity, or a mindful intention of what we wish to cultivate, we sculpt our experience in a way that enhances our practice and life rather than staying stuck in self-limiting patterns. It makes the impossible seem possible.  This is what I love about thoughtfully sequenced yoga - that even if the final pose is not available right now there's something you can do about it to make it available in the future.

There will always be challenges.  I tell my children all the time, you cannot change your circumstances – what happens happens.  All you can change is your reaction.  We don't need to get rid of adversity we just need to get good at it.

Off the Mat:
Examine your “seed concepts” – the things you believe about yourself. Ideas that start with “I can’t do that because…” or “I’ll never be able to….” or “My body doesn’t….” etc.  Try replacing those statements with “I’m going to try doing…and see what happens.”  “This may take some time.” “I’m going to train my body to…”

On the Mat:
Approaching challenging poses, whether that is a Warrior II with good alignment, or balancing in handstand is daunting if you don’t have a plan. Just trying the pose over and over without proper warm up and strength building won’t get you very far.  Look up sequences and exercises to help you get ther – message me and I’m happy to send mine! Everything is possible if you are working in a thoughtful, progressive and sequential way.  In my Monday class we worked towards Eka hasta bhujasana to eka pada koundinyasana II with lots of core work, hip openers and hand balancing prep.

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace: Open up to the possibilities this practice has to offer you.
Open to a deeper breath and open your mind to a spirit of inquiry.
When I call the pose, come at it as if it's the first time, sculpt it from an inner experience of wanting to shine radiantly in whatever form it ultimately takes.
Ground your hands and ground yourself in who you are and who you have the capacity to become.

Muscular Energy: Muscles embrace bones to embrace the situation at hand wholeheartedly
Hug midline and draw into a place inside of complete confidence in yourself and your abilities.
Hug midline to pull into your inherent skillfulness.
Hug midline and connect to your empowered presence.

Organic Energy: Spread your self-confidence through the whole form of the pose.
Let your inherent skillfulness shine brilliantly wherever you find yourself in the pose.
Radiate your empowered presence from the inside out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Caring for your Soul

You have the need and the right to spend part of your life caring for your soul. It is not easy.
You have to resist the demands of the work-oriented, often defensive, element in your psyche that measures life only in terms of output - how much you produce - not in terms of the quality of your life experiences.
To be a soulful person means to go against all the pervasive, prove-yourself values of our culture and instead treasure what is unique and internal and valuable in yourself and your own personal evolution.

- Jean Shinoda Bolen

As we begin a new season, this quote is my mantra.  To care for, to cherish, to honor my soul…what brings me particular happiness. I recognize that it is not only about me and my happiness, yet I know that when I am taking time each day to nurture myself, to do the things that fill me up that I am more able to appreciate those qualities in others, more able to teach my children to nurture their own unique and individual souls, and hopefully inspire my students to do the same.

Let’s clarify this a little bit – the kind of happiness and entitlement I’m talking about here is not able to be earned.  It is intrinsically the birthright of each and every person.  It’s not the surface, physical, sensory (and therefore fleeting) pleasure of indulging what you want in each and every moment.  It’s doing deep soul searching for that which brings you profound and abiding contentment, what we call ananda in Sanskrit.  It’s the bliss that arises from doing your life’s work, not the fleeting gratification of pleasing the senses. 

Caring for your soul is the frosting of life – as Elizabeth Gilbert says: “what makes it amazing is its non-essentialism”. It’s like art: on a practical level art is basically useless. It is nonessential joy for the sake of joy, and yet it’s what makes life beautiful and worthy. It is not a need: not food, water, shelter, medicine, insurance, taxes, but it is what makes all of those things tolerable, and what makes life beautiful.  It is what enables you to do your J-O-B, pay your bills, keep your body healthy, and overcome the endless cycle of the day to day with joy and fulfillment. I’ll admit that what keeps me from doing this is that it often seems frivolous and indulgent to take time from work to do this soul work, yet when I’m not doing it, my work suffers because my life feels dull and uninspired.  I suffer because life turns from technicolor to black and white, and everything gets filtered through the mental prism of “doing” rather than “being”. 

Yoga gives us access to our soul – to the nonessential beauty that is who we are rather than what we do.  Yoga gives us access to the part of ourselves that is unapologetically content with who that person is.  So whether it is yoga, gardening, roller skating, painting, reading, hiking or any other pastime that is non-essential and yet essentially joyful, give yourself over to it without reservation for at least a few minutes every day.  Make sacred time for soul-care, and let the quality of your life experiences be the measure of your success.

On the Mat:
This week in my classes we worked first on connecting to the breath. In Hebrew the words for breath and soul are the same, so doing breath work is a portal into soul care.  In asana we worked on nurturing our hearts and souls through some backbending warm-ups, leading to pinca mayurasana (forearm balance), which requires our hearts to be cradled in the support of the shoulder blades and muscles between them.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: How does the universe wish to move thru you today?  What does your soul desire? As you deepen your breath and awaken to your soul, let those desires fill you up.
Open to the ways your soul wishes to express itself.

Muscular Energy: Firm your muscles like a warm embrace, treasuring what is unique and valuable in yourself

Shoulder Loop: Plug the HABB and embrace/care for your heart as you feel the shoulder blades pull in towards the spine.
Muscles embracing/nurturing heart/soul, creating sacred space for the soul to dwell.

Organic Energy: Let your soul shine through your skin.
Let the inner beauty that is your true nature illuminate your pose from the inside out.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The G Word

Often when I am teaching and writing, I use words to describe the nature of the Universe - like the "G" word, that inevitably offends someone.  Over the years many have come to me and asked that I not use them, and I've been in countless trainings advising me that I have to "tread lightly" and use them sparingly (which I agree with in certain situations, but...).  I have thought a lot about this and here's what I've come to. 

I know the word/term/verb "God" can be an alienating, divisive term for some people.  It was for me for a long time.  When you hear this word, or any other one used to describe any kind of higher power, I invite you to put your hand on your heart.  Feel the space behind your hand opening up.  Feel your heart beating.  Know that some force unknown to you beats your heart, breathes your breath.  Whether you call that God, breath, soul, the Divine, the Universe, Source, energy, matter, or biology, let's agree that when I use any of those words, I use them to connect you to something that is bigger than yourself, that is ultimately unknowable, that holds the spark of the light of all creation, or whatever else you choose to call that force of nature.  It is not meant to be a judgement on those who don't believe in a higher power, or a diminishing of that power to those that hold those words sacred beyond all measure.  I use them as terms to refer to the unknowable source of being, to name the ineffable, un-namable Oneness that underlies the entire Universe, including each and every one of us, and only for the purpose of helping you to connect to a deeper aspect of your being.  If any of those words is a trigger for you, or sets off a strong feeling and you want to talk about it please reach out to me.  I ask for your leeway in using these words freely and openly and with the highest intention. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Saying Yes

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
~ E.E. cummings
This simple and beautiful poem speaks to me so strongly because in the Tantric tradition we are taught to say yes to life - which means accepting the full spectrum of experience, of emotion, every seeming challenge and apparent failure. But why? Why should we "choose to be unhappy" as one friend asked me when we discussed this topic. 
This past week was particularly intense for me.  We lost my beloved cat of 15 years, my new niece-to-be was due to be born, Arjun's aunt from India who we see very rarely was here to visit, as well as my sister and her family who we also only see every 4 – 5 years.  It felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster, from deep grief and mourning for Desi, to excitement over the new baby's impending arrival, to the overwhelm of entertaining lots of house guests, to the joy of being with family and the sorrow of saying goodbye to those we don't see very often. 

Ananda is an often-used Sanskrit word in yoga. It is usually translated as bliss, but scholar Christopher Wallace in his essential text Tantra Illuminated reveals a deeper meaning of this word: “We must be careful to distinguish Bliss (ananda) from ordinary happiness or pleasurable feeling (sukha).  Ordinary happiness arises only when our needs are met, only when the circumstances are just so; otherwise we experience it's opposite, dissatisfaction or misery (dukha).  By contrast, ananda designates a way of experiencing and loving reality that is completely independent of circumstance. Therefore, it is difficult to translate into English - but we get close if we describe it as a state of contentment, acceptance, and quiet yet sublime joy: the peace that passeth all understanding.   This state, which is far more fulfilling than ordinary happiness, can exist in any circumstance.  For example, you could be feeling intense grief or pain and still experience ananda. We begin to tap into our Power of Bliss when we simply become fully aware of what we are feeling in this moment and accept it totally, resisting no part of it.  The more we practice this loving self-awareness, the more complete is the experience of ananda that arises through it.”
This understanding of ananda has helped me tremendously in trying times.  Times when I've wanted to escape the discomfort or intensity of a feeling by drowning my feelings in a glass of wine or a mindless TV show. There is nothing inherently wrong about either of these things, but when they are used as a distraction or to avoid a real experience that is happening they can cause a disconnect. 
One of the main goals of Anusara Yoga practice (and other schools of yoga based in Tantra) is to realize you are part of something bigger than yourself - to "align with the divine" as we used to say (and maybe still should...I think I still have that t-shirt from back in the day somewhere!). When we realize that the goal of yoga is not necessarily feeling "good", but deep connection with all aspects of the One (which includes all feelings, not just the “good” ones), we can stop beating ourselves up and feeling like we've failed at yoga during those trying times that don't feel particularly "happy", and to enjoy guilt-free those times where we are truly blissed-out.
Recognizing the Power of Bliss in your life gives the opportunity for you to experience that feeling of connection. Understanding that ananda is the feeling that arises when we allow ourselves to sink deeply into each moment, when we say yes to every feeling, challenge, and emotion and instead of seeing it as a failure of our human mind, seeing it as a portal that might lead us to divine awareness. This understanding has helped me to lean in to whatever is occurring in the present moment, to (try) not to avoid any emotion that arises and just be with what is, remembering that all there really is is Grace.
Off the Mat: (Inspired by Christopher Wallace) Be aware of all the moments that you feel “blissful”.  Notice that this feeling occurs whenever you give yourself over fully to the moment, when you’ve allowed yourself to be truly present and aware.  Now try to bring that level of awareness to all your experiences, even the challenging ones.

On the Mat: In my classes this week we worked towards Eka Pada Urdvha Dhanurasana, pressing our thighs back into full awareness of divine consciousness as we opened up in this deep backbend. 

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace: Breathe in and fill up with whatever is present for you right now.
Set your (foundation) to reflect yes.
Say yes to whatever is arising for you in this moment .
Muscular Energy: Stand strong in your Power of Bliss
Inner Spiral/Thigh Loop: Widen sitbones and widen your perspective to see all experience as an opportunity to say yes.
Press thighs back into full awareness of your every divine emotion.
Root the top of your thighbones down and ground yourself in ­ananda.
Outer Spiral: Sink your tailbone into ananda/connection
Organic Energy: With your whole pose say “Yes!”
Say “thank you God for this amazing day” by spreading your ananda from the heart out in all directions.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Finding the Still Point

 Hold the silence like
A mother holds her child.
Hold your ground while
All around you structures
Crumble into nothing.
Focus on the still point
In your center until you
Are filled with light, until
Spirit speaks to you in
Words you understand,
Until the love in your
Heart grows so strong
It must be shared.
- Danna Faulds

I found this poem so fitting to the current events in the world.  It is such a constant challenge for me to stay centered when life is so busy, when I feel bombarded with craziness in the media, hate in the world.  And yet the only way to combat that hate is to seek and find love at the center of my being, and then send it out in every way I can.  I have recommitted to sitting for meditation in the last few months and my practice has been largely focused on my connection with the in-dwelling presence of the Divine, and how that connection can help to facilitate kinder, gentler and more uplifting relationships with my loved ones.  Taking the time to connect to this inner presence, which is calming, peaceful and yes, loving, has been invaluable and has subtly shifted my everyday interactions in sweetly positive ways.

Last week a video kept popping up on my newsfeed of the Prime Minister of Israel speaking out against the killing of a 13-year-old girl in her bed by a terrorist. He said the way to fight back is to go into your children's bedrooms that night, hug them and kiss them and teach them acceptance, tolerance and love. I know he said other things too, but I was so proud of him for speaking out in that way. Yes, the path to peace is through love and it starts with connecting to a feeling of love in your own heart.  You have to stay connected to it all the have to feel it in all situations.  Love is a transcendent principle - it is the response to love and the response to hate.  The only response.  Moralizing, fighting, preaching doesn't work. Only love.  

This week was July 4th, when we collectively celebrated our independence and freedom.  Let's express our appreciation for that freedom by choosing to consciously spread love into the world. By sending our blessings to all those in the world who fight for freedom by teaching their children tolerance and acceptance, by choosing to see unity rather than diversity in each and every being, and with protective weapons when all else fails in the face of nihilism.  Let us celebrate by putting love 5 feet in front of us, behind us, and to all sides in all situations. 

Coming to the mat it is the opportunity to connect to that feeling of love inside yourself, to let it overcome reactionary, revengeful emotions so that our actions reflect our connection to our Divine essence.  To focus on the still point in your center until you are filled with light, and then share it with the world.  To sit and quiet for long enough that Spirit speaks to you in a way you can understand. 

Off the Mat:  Let love be your response in every situation.  Send love to all around you, as often as you can, in all possible ways.  For example, before responding to a request, sending an email, reacting to a post, initiating an interaction or conversation, visualize the person you are interacting with surrounded by light.  Conjure up love in your heart by bringing your awareness to that which makes you feel love, then let go of the stimulus and just feel the feeling.  Then proceed accordingly.  I promise, if you authentically take 30 seconds to do this it will shift your every communication.

On the Mat: In my classes this week we practiced back bending poses, the ultimate heart openers, culminating in Urdhva Dhanurasana and its variations.  Just like we need to have strong boundaries when interacting with those that challenge us, we need a strong boundary in the lumbar area of the body so the backbend can move into the upper back, facilitating a deeper and sounder opening, enabling us to offer our hearts as safely as possible.  So we worked on resisting the ribs and belly back (Kidney Loop) drawing back into our calm, steady center as we opened up our hearts (Shoulder Loop).   Practice meditation daily, even just a few minutes, where you focus on the still point at the top of the breath and the bottom of the breath, and let that stillness guide you a place where you can hold your ground.

Open to Grace: Fill up with breath and a silent presence of love that lives inside you.
Fill up with breath fill up with light until it spills over.
Ground (foundation of pose) and ground yourself in tolerance, acceptance and love.

Muscular Energy: Firm the muscles and create the boundary that allows you to offer love safely.
Draw your muscles and your awareness to the still point at your center.

Kidney Loop/Shoulder Loop: Hold your ground, ribs/belly resisting back so the love in your heart can be shared without injury, so we can offer our hearts more fully.
Hold your ground, steady in a still point inside so love can burst free from the heart without reservation.

Organic Energy: Share the huge love you hold inside yourself.
Let the outer pose reflect the fullness of the love in your heart.
From the safety of this space, offer your love freely and openly, even (especially) to those who hate.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lessons from my GPS

A couple of weeks ago I was driving somewhere I'd never been and I was following my GPS app which took me on a seemingly random detour.  A friend who was in the car with me kept saying "Are you sure you want to go that way?" And I kept insisting that Waze must know a shortcut, or that there was traffic ahead.  I was wrong. It was totally unnecessary. 

When GPS devices first came out there were all sorts of stories about people turning onto railroad tracks, into lakes, the wrong way down one way streets, blindly following the directions and letting go of common sense and reason.  I was always so critical of those folks, and yet here I was.  And then realized that only two weeks before that, on the same exact road on the way to a soccer game I had followed exactly the same useless detour, blindly following!  Well you know the saying: fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

My blind following of my GPS was the reminder that we need to be attuned to an inner compass.  We are inundated with outside voices – advice from family, friends, doctors, teachers, media, etc., and in some of that outside listening we lose our connection to our own personal guidance system.   So how do we create an internal GPS? By listening to our hearts, tuning into a malleable inner awareness, one that keeps the destination in mind, but is willing to shift and adjust to get where it wants to go. By taking the time to be quiet, still, bored, and open to what the Universe might have to say. When we do that (for example, in yoga practice) we can begin to sketch out the map of our heart. 

It finally feels like summer is upon us.  The change of season is a great time to look at goals, reevaluate your map (the spiritual path is simply a map to a higher consciousness). Turn off the GPS awareness of outer listening, and get in touch with your own true purpose. So take this opportunity to begin to sketch out your map: it should have a point A (where you are now) and a point B (where you want to go).  What it doesn’t need are all the things that might possibly stand in your path and delay you or prevent you from getting there – leave those out of the picture!  As you envision your map, reflect on how it serves yourself and your needs, and how it intersects with the paths of those around you and helps them to get where they are going as well.

I actually have a lot of respect for my GPS (even though I am clearly too dependent on it).  It reminds me that there is not just one path to get us where we need to go – we can choose to take highways or avoid them, to take the shortest route or the most scenic.  And the answers to those questions really depend on what your personal trajectory looks like right now – there’s no right or wrong way, there is simply this question: ”what is my goal and what will get me there?”   My favorite feature is “recalculating” – made a wrong turn:  “recalculating”, hit some construction: “recalculating”, someone else’s car is blocking the road: “recalculating” – it doesn’t get upset, doesn’t get frustrated that something is in the way – it just knows where it needs to go, and figures out how to adjust to get there.  The destination is always there, the route can meander. 

I saw the movie Finding Dory this past weekend, and the story is she is trying to find her family that she lost years ago. Her motto is "just keep swimming". That's spiritual practice: Listen deeply. Draw out your map. Just keep swimming. Practice recalculating.  Have faith. Enjoy the journey.
Off the mat:  Keep your destination in mind, but turn off your GPS machine or app (remembering that sometimes we find the best adventures when we are “lost”).  Attune instead to an inner voice, one that you have to get really quiet to hear, but one that will guide you to where you need to be (which is not necessarily where you thought you wanted to be, and might not get you there as fast as you wanted to go).  Be adventurous, but use common sense.  Take a different route than you are used to. 

On the Mat: Take time at the start of practice to really quiet yourself.  To rid yourself of external distractions so you can be attuned to your inner guidance system.  In my classes this week we worked on arm balances, which require the balance of effort (working really hard, doing the prep, dedication to the practice) and surrender (letting go, releasing fear), of steadfastness (keeping the destination always in the forefront) and faith (which lets us meander on the path and find a different way of getting where we want to go).

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: Open up to an inner voice of wisdom.
Open up to the wisdom of the Universe
Ground (foundation) and ground yourself in your own personal map.

Muscular Energy: dedication/steadfastness
Drawing into FP to connect to inner voice/compass/map
Draw from fingers, toes up arms legs into heart, all awareness settling there in the inner compass.
Pull (from fingers up arms to HFP for arm balances) into the power of your heart map.
Draw into HFP (for arm balances) and pull all your energy and awareness into your inner compass.
Engage muscles with total confidence in your path.

Inner Spiral: Widen sitbones and open up to recalculating to get where you want to go.

Outer Spiral: Sink tailbone into faith in your inner GPS

Organic Energy: faith
Radiate confidence in your chosen path.
Fill your pose with faith in your inner compass.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sages and Shoemakers

Astavakra was aware that he was a philosopher and a scholar from almost the moment of his conception.  When his mother was pregnant with him, he would listen to his father chant the Vedas, and he noticed that his father often misquoted the sacred text.  One day he could stand it no longer and from his mother's womb he called out to his father correcting a mistake.  His father became enraged and cursed him in the womb, causing his body to bend in 8 places, and Astavakra is hence born with a disfigured body (asta­ means “eight”, vakra means “bent” in Sanskrit).  When he was grown, still considering himself a scholar, he decided to go to the court of King Janaka to learn from the famed Vedic scholars who were rumored to study in his assembly.  Because of his disability it took him many days walking with a cane to get there.  When he arrived, he was greeted with laughter at his deformed body. At some point the King observes that the sage appeared to be laughing harder than anyone else – he approaches Astavakra to ask why and realizes that he is actually crying not laughing.  The king asks why he is crying and he replies that he is utterly disappointed.  He tells the King "I came in search of scholars and philosophers of great wisdom and found only shoemakers."  Janaka, offended, asks "Why do you think there are only shoemakers?"  Astavakra replies “because these men only see skin, not the soul.  They only see the surface and base their evaluations only on the outer appearance. Coming here has been a waste of time.”  Recognizing the truth of his sentiments, King Janaka bowed down to Astavakra and became his loyal student in the science of the soul for many years following.

This story begs the question of each of us as to how much we identify with the outer form of our bodies.  The body is the temple of the soul and should be respected and treated with reverence and care, yet we are so much more than just our physical appearance.  Yoga is a tricky spiritual practice – the reason it is so transformative and powerful is that it incorporates the physical with the deeper levels of who we are as humans – the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects that make up the soul.  Yet because there is a physical practice involved we can get caught up in just the flesh and forget the spiritual piece that is the true goal of the practice – to unite us with our transcendental soul and the source of all creation. The upsurge in "yoga porn" on social media has in some ways exacerbated this problem.  It's so hard to draw the line of where inspiration crosses over to gratuitous self-indulgence or self-promotion.  The line of where sharing a pose or a practice you love with those around you simply because you love it (there is value in that - much like a musician performs a song) shifts from spiritual practice to bowing down to the goddess of youth, beauty and flexibility.  I have struggled with this question for years - I don't know exactly where that line is.  I try to only post photos that exemplify a teaching I want to share.  But if I'm being totally honest, some of those posts are entirely dependent on how I feel about the way I look in a pose and what the scale read that week.  Sigh.

What this story really says to me is that each time we put a label on someone or something we limit it and our own understanding of the true nature of whatever it might be. We fail to see the soul, the spirit, and the unique light of an individual. My 8-year-old son was diagnosed this year with ADHD and although it was not at all news to me, I still cringed that he would be put in the box that a diagnosis can build around and inside a person.  To my amazement, the opposite happened - instead of it limiting him, it opened countless doors and he has flourished under the guidance and care of amazing teachers.  (For more of Kiran's story, see this video.)  I am choosing to see his “diagnosis” as just another way of understanding my child, to meet him where he is and move him forward with the hand he has been dealt.  There is nothing “positive” or “negative” in it, it just is.  I think if we can see all our attributes this way, not allow them to box us in but rather to open new pathways of learning and experience, we break through that skin barrier and move closer to the ever-present light of being within ourselves. 

When Astavakra walked into that room, the scholars immediately put him in the “disabled” box – it is simply human nature to label and categorize because on some level it makes life easier, helps us deal with our own insecurities and discomfort around what is different than we are. We all do it. And it is possible, like my son's teachers did this year, to choose to use that label to help see deeper to the true nature of a person. In the non-dual tradition, we understand that all life flows from the same source, whether we view it on the outside as “beautiful” or “ugly” or “misshapen” or “broken” or any other label we can put on it.
Yoga practice is ultimately the practice of uncovering our true nature, hidden beneath the surface of our flesh and skin and bone.  What we do with our bodies does influence the inner experience and can be part of the bigger whole of who and what we are, but it’s not the whole picture.  What we do on the mat should be in service of a deeper connection to our Source .  When we make that connection within ourselves, we see beyond the costume of the skin to the true essence of each and every being.  How we see and experience the world is always a matter of perspective.  I like to think of it as a beautiful tapestry – looked at from the back it’s a muddled mess of strings, from the front a stunning picture. It’s the same tapestry, but which side are you looking at?

Off the Mat:
From your barista at Starbucks to your babysitter, your spouse, your child, your mailman, your tollbooth operator, try to see the beautiful picture rather than the mess of strings first, regardless of even how someone might be behaving.  Recognize the divine light present in every being you come in contact with, see beyond outer appearance, behavior, attitude to the inner soul.  In every interaction remember that we all flow from the same source. 

On the Mat:
Practice with eyes closed as much as possible.  Have the inner experience of the pose more than the outer.  Let the poses evolve from the inside out.
In my advanced classes we worked of course towards astavakrasana, a tricky arm balancing pose in honor of Astavakra and his 8 bent places. In beginner classes we worked towards astangpranam or knees-chest-chin pose. To prep for the arm balance, work on opening the hamstrings, upper body strength as in caturanga dandasana, and some core cultivation to help lift you up.  Above all, don’t judge the pose by what it looks like!  If it doesn’t seem possible to you right now, work all the prep poses and (if you want to) eventually you will get there.  Take yourself out of the “I’m too old, weak, big, small, inexperienced, scared, (fill in the blank)…” box and see what opens up for you.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: Soften to the broken places inside yourself, the places that feel bent or even disabled.
Inhale and feel the inner body, the soul, fill the outer form of your body.
Claw your fingers to the mat, grounding in all your bent and twisted places.

Muscular Energy/Shins In: Embrace your bent and broken places.
Hug from the outer skin to the inner soul.
Feel the muscles tone beneath the skin, connecting to a deeper layer of your bein.
(In prep for astavakrasana) Hug knee to shoulder embracing all your twisted, kinked parts.
Hug elbows to midline (in caturanga & arm balances) celebrating the bent places that move you deeper into your pose and yourself.

Shoulder Loop: Move the HABB and open your heart to your crooked places. 

Organic Energy: Shine the light of your soul beyond the physical form of the pose.
Be radiant in your bent places.
Fill your physical form with the radiant light of your soul.