Thursday, March 2, 2017

There are no coincidences

Although there seems to be a randomness to the world, unexplained occurrences that can leave us breathless either from joy or heartache, I don’t believe in coincidence. All that I have read and studied and practiced in my own life coupled with my life experience have taught me that  even though some things seem arbitrary to my limited human brain, there is a bigger picture of the universe that I am not privy to that lines things up in seemingly coincidental ways.  Like those 3D posters that were popular in the 90’s where you had to blur your eyes to see the hidden picture – the pattern seemed random, but when you focus the right way the picture would reveal itself.

Grace (or God or the Universe or whatever you want to call that which is bigger than yourself), is in a constant state of contraction and expansion and we are part of that.  We can participate with it and in doing so align ourselves with her shakti and flow so things tend to move generally in the direction we want them to go in, but as we are in relationship with her, and with so many other beings, all of whom have their own karmic imprints and cycles that they are a part of means that sometimes they line up and sometimes they really don’t. These can come in the form of “aha” moments: expansive epiphanies, beautiful happenstances, mind-blowing realizations, as well as mere “coincidences”….but can also come in the form of unexplainable devastation, heartbreaking loss, and debilitating illness. But when we are in the flow of Grace we realize that all of those are part of the same cycle.  We take responsibility for the choices we made along the way, but realize that for better or for worse we are not all-powerful or omniscient, and the way things go are not ultimately up to us alone.  
More than anything else, my training with Todd Norian was a huge lesson in spotting moments of grace in all experiences, and after years of practice these moments happen to me constantly – usually several times a day.  I don’t think they happen any more often now, I just think I’m tuned in better.  Most of these are small daily sweet little alignments, but one of my biggest “aha” moments was in Chicago in 2010.  I was at a crossroads in my teaching – I had been contemplating pursuing full Anusara Certification, had been studying a lot of Anusara and wanted to move forward.  At the same time, I became very involved in our synagogue as a result of my rabbi really taking me under her wing and reawakening my interest in Judaism.  I had started teaching a “Jewish” yoga class which was very well received but was very torn about the ways it drew me away from my Anusara studies and work.  In the midst of this my Rabbi called me into her office and told me she wanted to pay for me to go take a training in Yoga and Jewish spirituality.  It was quite costly but she was going to pay for the entire thing.  I walked out in a sort of daze…it was totally unexpected and I had to give her an answer within a few days as the program started soon and I had to arrange childcare, etc. for the 18 months I would be enrolled. 

The next morning I went for an early run, which is when I do my best thinking.  It was dark out and I was very much absorbed in my own thoughts about this process.  We had moved to Chicago for my husband’s work, yet my career was exploding.  I was getting numerous opportunities to expand professionally and I was reflecting that perhaps it was my shakti that brought us to IL not my husband’s, even though I went there kicking and screaming.  I was reflecting on the decision I had to make that would clearly shift my path away from the path I thought I wanted to be on.  I was feeling like someone was offering me a beautiful gift and when you are offered a gift you can’t say no…but it was so not in the plan.  The thought in my mind was “maybe the universe is sending me a sign that this is really my path I just hadn’t been aware of it until now”.  As that thought came into my mind I rounded a corner and in the dark, saw 2 figures standing on the corner directly in front of was my rabbi and her husband.  I was so shocked I almost fell over, I actually stumbled…wished them a good morning and ran off in utter shock.  Now, admittedly, she lived a few streets over from me in my neighborhood.  But in all my years there (almost 4) and my 5-day-a-week runs at approximately the same time, this was the one and only time I ever saw her.  I did enroll in the training and it did change and expand my life in amazing ways and I know it was the right choice. 

In The Alchemist, (Shree book club's pick of the month - join us March 12th to go deeper!!) Paulo Coelho tells us "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." When we align with our choices fully wholeheartedly Grace feels that alignment and answers in kind.  When we come onto the mat, move with our breath, align our bodies with our hearts, our energy with those in the room, and in doing so with the whole yoga community who aligns with these teachings, amazing shifts can happen.  When we are open to the push and pull, give and take, expansion and contraction of the universe we see beauty and meaning in every experience, however random or coincidental they may seem. Sometimes the most random acts turn out to be the most pivotal - and it's not that they are happening more often now. When I am sensitive, attuned, aware I simply notice them more. 

Off the Mat: Take time this week to notice "moments of grace" - seemingly coincidental events that pop up without rhyme or reason.  Look for them, be open to them, seek them out, and revel in the joy of connection.

On the mat: In my classes this week we worked on the complementary expansive and contractive energies of shins in - thighs out to build to poses (depending on level) such as Eka pada rajakapotasana (pigeon lunge), agnistambasana (fire log pose), padmasana (lotus pose), eka hasta bhujasana and eka pada koundinyasana

For the Anusara Junkies:
Heart quality – stepping into the flow, being with what is, being open to the seeming randomness, aligning with coincidence

Open to Grace: open to the myriad of possibilities any moment offers you

Muscular Energy/Shins In: Hug shins to midline to engage with the current moment
Engage with the flux and flow of the Universe as it pulses in contraction and expansion (SI/TO)

Inner Spiral/Thighs Apart: widen sit bones and open to the uncertainty of life
Widen inner thighs and make space for the seeming arbitrariness of human existence

Outer Spiral: Sink tailbone and tone belly, affirming your place in the bigger picture that we are not completely aware of and yet an integral part of

Organic Energy: Celebrate the freedom that allows us to choose how we see every experience that presents itself.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Pull of your Heart

“A desire is anything but frivolous. It is the interface between you and that which is greater than you. No desire is meaningless or inconsequential. If it pulls you, even a little bit, it will take everyone higher…every desire is of profound importance with huge consequences, and deserves your attention.”
- Mama Gena

Desire gets a bad rap in yoga.  In some yoga schools it is considered to be what draws us away from our spiritual practice, but in Tantric philosophy desire is what can draw you in, because every longing, urge or impulse comes to us from the Divine.  On the the tattva chart, Tantra's "map of creation", willpower or desire is second only to Shiva and Shakti, the masculine and feminine aspects that make up the Absolute at it's absolute highest.  The Divine, Unmanifest's first impulse to bring anything and everything into creation comes from this deep level of being, and so do all our desires and impulses even in the physical realm where we live our day to day lives.  Sadashiva is one of the Absolute tattvas, making up not a place, but, as Christopher Wallace in Tantra Illuminated says: "the Divine Reality that pervades the whole of the manifest universe.... The five absolute tattvas [of which sadashiva, or desire, is the third] are essentially a description of the Divine Source of all Being."  

36 Tattvas of Tantrik Cosmology - from Christoper Wallace's book Tantra Illuminated

So…from this we learn that desire is essential. And all our desires, every one we have, flow from that part of ourselves. If you take the time you can trace every one of them back.  Now, when we trace them back we see that not all of them lead us in the direction that we want to head in in any particular moment.  We acknowledge that at any given time many aspirations may be arising and of course we can't act on all of them.  When we want to live a life of meaning and sustainability we have to be discerning about which passions we choose to pursue, and we have to inquire deeply into what the real impulse is behind what we are going after.

So allow me to share a process I recently went through in trying to decide whether to make a certain purchase. Out shopping one day I happened to see a pair of boots that I immediately decided I really, really wanted. I longed for these boots. Showing some rare self-restraint I didn't buy them on the spot  because of course I most decidedly did NOT need these boots, but I did go home and look them up online, tried to find them cheaper, and kept visiting them on the store's website for a few days. As I agonized as to whether or not to buy them I did a little exercise.  Why were these boots so important to me?

The week before, a friend was wearing a pair just like them at an event we were at together. She looked really good in them, very stylish, and I admired them. At this event were also some other women I happened to not know as well as she did, and she seemed so comfortable and at ease. She fit in so beautifully and I admired her poise and grace.  I was not feeling particularly comfortable or at ease. File it in the mental Rolodex.  When I was out shopping the next week and saw this pair of boots, the file gets activated.  Boots = fitting in, ease, poise, feeling comfortable. On the superficial level what happens is – I have to have the boots!!  But deeper…what did I really want?  Connection.  Yes, again on a superficial level connection with the other women I was with, but intrinsically what I want is to feel connected on an unshakable level, I want to know it as the truth of my being, that I am intimately connected to all of creation by the thread that weaves us all. To feel loved, feel at ease…that’s what I want.  Which of course has nothing to do with a pair of boots.

If you know me, you know I indulge my boot (and clothing, handbag, jewelry...) desires more often than I should.  If I'm being particularly mindful I avoid buying unnecessary items and seek out the deeper connections I am looking for in the form of yoga practice or a walk with a friend or date night with my husband.  But I also recognize that these desires are part of what makes me who I am, which is someone who deeply believes in the joy of self-expression and adornment as a way to connect to and celebrate the beauty of the physical Universe, which is also part of Tantric practice.  As always it’s a delicate balance. 

Yoga gives us the opportunity to tune in to our hearts, to get in touch with our desires and the impulses behind them. When we attune ourselves to our highest we remember that the Universe chose to embody and become each and every one of us to feel Itself through the vehicle of our bodies and spirits. If you deny those impulses, the deepest longings of your heart, you deny the Universe the experience of YOU. You were made manifest to shine the light only you can shine.  Every desire you have fuels that flame and urges you to burn brighter, so indulge them when you can in a meaningful way, choose wisely, and shine on!

Urdhva Dhanurasana with feet on a chair

Off the Mat:
I'll invite you to the following exercise: Close your eyes.  Where is your heart pulling you?  What do you really want right now - it can be anything at all - there is no right or wrong answer to this. Once you're clear on where your heart is pulling you, begin to trace that impulse back to its source.  Why do you want it? What benefit will it bring you?  What is the feeling associated with having whatever it is?  Let this be the intention for your practice this week – to follow the pull of your heart.

Dragon Catching its Tail

On the Mat:
Desire is the pull you feel in your heart towards something.  In Anusara-speak, Shoulder Loop is the physical expression of that pulling.  When we move the tops of the shoulders and head back, and bring the bottom tips of the shoulder blades into the back of the heart, the chest opens and lifts and we feel an openness and liberation.  We literally feel the heart pulling us forward and we just have to follow it.  Work on poses like Ustrasana, Dhanurasana, Purvottanasana, Dragon catching its Tail and Urdhva Dhanurasana.  I worked on UD a lot this week with my feet on a chair to get my upper arms really vertical and my heart way out in front (if the chair feels too high you can do this with feet on 2 blocks at the wall, or feet on a step). 
For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace: Set your hands/feet to reflect your desire to align with your highest intention to connect.
Ground yourself in what you long for.
Line up hands/feet and line up with your yearning for your highest self.

Muscular Energy: Engage your muscles and engage with the part of yourself deep inside from where all yearning flows.
Firm muscles and ignite your craving for _____________ (whatever your desire/intention is)

Shoulder Loop: 
Bring bottom tips of shoulder blades into your back and let your heart be pulled in the direction it wishes to go.
Feel your longing like a tether hooked to the bottom tips of your shoulder blades pulled forward through front of your heart.

Organic Energy: Shine the light of your passion from your deepest, transcendent heart.
Spread the light of devotion from the seat of your desire out to the world.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Power of Practice

 We've been watching a lot of America's Got Talent in my house, and although much of it makes me somewhat nauseous (there was a professional regurgitator on the last episode - I didn’t even know that is officially something you can be since spell check can't even seem to figure it out…), the level of dedication it takes to achieve success in your chosen talent is inspiring to watch.  As we watched last weekend, my 2 older children commented on what they were seeing - my 12-year-old saying things like "His parent must be a musician/diver/dancer", or "That level of talent is so rare".  My 9-year-old says things like "How much do you think they had to practice?" And (for the younger talent) "Do you think they have time to go to regular school too?"

This is so who they are - the older off the charts book smart, has a nearly eidetic memory, and doesn't have to work very hard to do really well in school.  The younger is emotionally intelligent, wildly creative and artistic, and has spent his life constantly trying to "live up" to his older brother.   I'll give you one guess which one is the harder worker.  And as much as this dynamic makes me cringe sometimes as a parent, I also recognize that in terms of qualities that will ensure success, the one who knows how to work really hard to get what he wants (even if it happens to be approval) will always come out ahead.  He knows how hard he has to work to be a rainmaker.

In researching the traits most conducive to success in a given field I found numerous studies that followed people that are leaders and innovators in their chosen field, the elite “achievers”.  Intelligence and talent only shows up in a couple of these studies, and never at the top of the list. The leading qualities that the most successful people in the world have are dedication, deliberate practice, self-discipline, perseverance, conscientiousness, and passion.  Blogger Raymond T. Hightower, president of WisdomGroup, summarizes a study in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: “In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin, Germany studied violin students. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?” By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice.” To quote Thomas Edison: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

In yoga, we call this quality tapas. One of the definitions of tapas is “discipline”. It’s the choice you make every day to get on the mat, to commit again and again and again to your practice.  It's the discipline of saying no to late nights out because you want to get up early and meditate.  It's what gets you on the mat after a long day when a glass of wine and mindless TV is so much easier.  It's the "no excuses" principle. Tapas is also related to heat or fire.  It’s the heat that builds by doing over and over until you get it right, in spite of frustration, roadblocks, challenges. It's the fire that stokes your passion to pursue a single-minded uplifting goal, that gets you back up after falling down again and again.
One fascinating point of the study referenced in Outliers: No “naturally gifted” performers emerged. If natural talent had played a role, we would expect some of the “naturals” to float to the top of the elite level with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But the data showed otherwise. The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.

What is natural or innate is the impetus of the desire, the passion for whatever it is you are passionate about which arises from a place deep inside yourself.  Tantric scripture tells us that any thought you have, any desire for greatness flows into you from the One Source of Being.  It's not natural talent that starts us on a particular path, but the will of the Divine to experience life through you as you. Whatever you want to achieve in your life is the same as what the Universe wants for you. Tapas is the burning desire to connect to your highest, it is the heat of transformation. It's the passion in your heart to live to your fullest. Heat facilitates your evolution by burning away your self-limiting patterns and false identities. When these "impurities" are burned away, your authentic radiance shines through.

Last week we talked about the power of the Shakti, how we are innately powerful beings and have the choice to use that power on our own behalf in ways that lift us and those around us up, or otherwise. In the Hindu myths, the demons don’t get rewarded by doing “good” or “evil” – they become powerful because they practice tapas – they are single minded in their focus. Nature rewards success. Danny Arguetty says: “We are free beings living in a stream of potentiality – how we participate in the world, make connections and align our intentionality allows us to harness this power to either build or destroy.”

So that’s the good news and the bad news.  You are immensely powerful. You can partner with the Shakti to create whatever it is you want for yourself.  But you have to do it.  During this challenging week when I have found it particularly easy to feel helpless, remember that your actions matter.  Your tapas can move you in whatever direction you choose as long as you are willing to put the time in, to dedicate yourself fully to what you are passionate about. And when others are using their own power – the same power you have - to move things in a direction you aren’t happy about it’s all the more important to do just that. May the light of awareness shine through all of us, and may our dedicated practice help shift the world around us in the direction we wish to see it move in.

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.