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.