Monday, October 4, 2010

blasting through limiting beliefs

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a fun workshop at Bodhi Spiritual Center, and it culminated with the participants breaking 1" boards on which we each had written one limiting belief that we felt ready to break through.

There was a lot of group energy and chanting of each person's name as he or she punched or kicked through the board representing the belief.

By the time my turn came, I had had the opportunity to hear what each person's belief was, as it was read aloud to the group. Then, the facilitator yelled to everyone, "Is this belief true?" And everyone screamed back, "No!" And, at that moment, it was time to symbolically destroy the negative belief.

It was great to be one of the last to do the exercise. I had the chance to see so many great people go before me, and I was shocked to hear what some of their negative beliefs about themselves were. It was obvious that none of these beliefs was even slightly true. People wrote things like: "I am fundamentally flawed." "I cannot achieve ________________, and still have someone who loves me." "I do not deserve a healthy love relationship."

Yet this was one of the most intelligent, attractive groups of people with whom I've ever participated in a workshop. How could they believe these awful things about themselves and their lives? How could they possibly carry burdens like this every day?

Then it occurred to me. If all of these people deserve happiness and fulfillment in life, and if none of their negative statements is even remotely true, then that means my self-limiting beliefs are equally false.

If I can believe in the goodness and worthiness of everyone else, it's okay for me to believe for myself, too.

So funny how it's easy to see the error in someone else's thought patterns, but so difficult to see the same thing in oneself.

What's your negative mental monologue? Guess what? It's not true!

Happy Monday. Let's all go out and let ourselves live.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

do you feel alive?

Sometimes, it's difficult to make a bridge between the physical emphasis of yoga (doing the poses) and the feeling quality of yoga (being in your body and feeling alive through the dance of yoga). Students can become so focused on whether they're doing it right. And we teachers can feed into this by the plethora of alignment cues we give.

I've been using the following meditation from From Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now:

"Direct your attention into the body. Feel it from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet -- in your abdomen, your chest? Can you feel the subtle energy field that pervades the entire body and gives vibrant life to every organ and every cell? Can you feel it simultaneously in all parts of the body as a single field of energy? Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments. Do not start to think about it. Feel it. The more attention you give it, the clearer and stronger this feeling will become. It will feel as if every cell is becoming more alive."

What do you think? I originally used it at the end of class, going into savasana, but the more I think about it, it would be a great opening theme. This week, I plan to start class with this meditation and refer back to it several times in the course of the class. I'd be happy to sacrifice a little precision in the poses for greater sense of feeling and freedom. But maybe the two qualities aren't mutually exclusive. One should help lead to the other, it's just that students can become so hyperfocused in trying to "get it right." And, not just students, but we teachers in our own practice, too, since we're always students ourselves.

So, this week (and always), a reminder to myself to let the feeling come first.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is the act of listening

I didn't plan to write about meditation again this week, but meditation has been dogging me.

I'm in the midst of reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, after having seen the movie and feeling less than impressed by it. Interestingly, most of the reviews here in Chicago centered on the self-centeredness of Gilbert's year-long self-exploration: How dare she? What a feeling of self-entitlement? What an affront to the average person who could never afford to indulge herself that way!

On several different occasions, friends and students would say something like, "Well, she described (fill in the blank) so much better in the book than it came out in the film."

So I checked the book out from the library. Friends were right. To me, this book is a minor miracle, touching on so many of the same challenges that I'm now going through.

Here's an unattributed aphorism from the book:
"Prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is the act of listening."

For me, this is the clearest answer to the question, why meditate?

I do a lot of talking to God, but I'm not sure I've done an equal amount of listening. I was raised with the concept of "God helps those who help themselves," and I'm chronically challenged by sitting still.

But, if you tell me that by sitting still and calming the mind that I might hear the voice of God, the inspiration of the Self . . . wow.

Eat Pray Love was the result of one woman's decision to spend just one year (of the perhaps 80 or 90 years alloted to her) to truly live, to find out what is inside of her. To explore some of the things she most deeply wished to experience. Imagine a world in which everyone had the same courage to look within, whether by traveling or by any other means. For someone else, it might be a year of closeting oneself to practice the guitar. . . or, so many thousands of other choices. Why is this a less worthy choice than simply continuing to slog away at a job or career? Why is such a choice shocking and self-indulgent?

Here I am, halfway through this book, and I think the entire work is about stopping to listen, to hear what your deepest Self has to say. Don't you want to know?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

meditation: you can't do it wrong

Do you have an uneasy relationship with the practice of meditation? Spiritual teachers have said that it is the most important practice you can undertake. Yoga asanas, originally, had no other purpose than to prepare the yogi to be able to sit comfortably in meditation. So meditation must be very important, right?

Part of the disconnect for me is when the value of meditation is described as a step on the path to enlightenment. I've never had enlightenment as a personal goal, partly because of the way samadhi is described. Suddenly, you're free from all desires, free from attachment to loved ones . . . sounds so dry and unattractive.

Much more interesting to the average person, I think, is the idea that meditation can bring you to a place of equilibrium and clarity, ease feelings of depression and anxiety, calm the mind and heart and bring you to a place where you can more clearly hear your higher self speak to you.

But, there's always the nagging uncertainty about what is supposed to be happening as we try to come to a state of meditation.

Today, in a monthly newsletter from Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago, the following quote struck home from Bodhi minister-in-training Darrell Jones:
"I often . . . find myself amused at how often we (myself included) get caught up in needing to do meditation 'right'. There are many techniques and ways to meditate, however, the only 'wrong' way to meditate is to not do it. Ah, the simplicity and power of that statement! The only wrong way to meditate is not to meditate."

Later in the same article, he goes on to say:
"If we think we will reach a point of 'no thoughts' or a mind as quiet as a room with no one in it, we are doing ourselves a disservice and setting ourselves up for failure."

Jones gives us permission to just do it. To realize that an active, unquiet mind is proof that we are, indeed, meditating. That meditating is a process of learning to be still. That once the body becomes still, the mind automatically starts working like crazy to compensate. And that this is normal.

He suggests, as I've suggested in this blog, that you start with just five minutes. Actually, I think I suggested that three minutes is a great start. Start with a practice that is easy enough that you won't be tempted to skip it.

But, above all, show yourself compassion and know that you are succeeding and reaping the benefits just by showing up. Just by sitting still and witnessing your thoughts rather than becoming caught up in them. Just by, time after time, letting go of a thought that you've gotten stuck on during your meditation. Every time you let go of a thought, feel good! This is meditation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

looking for inspiration? breathe.

What do you do when you need a creative solution to a problem? When you need to find the next step in the process? When you're under stress and silently crying "help!"

A surprisingly simple way to connect with your deeper self -- the self with all the answers -- is to breathe.

There is a profound connection between the word inspire and your breath. Inspire comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning "to inflame, blow into, to direct with your breath."

Here are a few additional meanings:
• To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence.
• To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion.
• To stimulate to action; motivate.
• To draw forth; elicit or arouse.

Your breath is the divine spirit within you. When breath is gone, life force no longer exists. When you access your breath from the depth and core of your being, with full, diaphramatic breathing, you free your divine source to assist you in any challenge you face.

Focus on the breath connects you to the creative life force inside you (your own inspiration) that can answer any question, provide you with the internal support you need, and bring peace to any life situation.

Your breath is the physical manifestation of the divine within you. Go within first by connecting with and slowing your breathing, and see how easy it is to focus your mind, heart, and spirit. With this divine counsel in place, experience the sense of balance and poise you feel in any situation.

There is no longer the compulsion to run from place to place looking for the answer. The scattershot approach is no longer necessary. There is peace within. The answer introduces itself to you; you don't need to go in search of it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

Ever notice how the best intentions can sometimes lead to disastrous results? Especially when you think you know what's best for someone else?

Today was one of those days when I was slammed up against the usual irreconcilable differences with an important person in my life. I sat down to meditate on all of this. Knowing that I couldn't continue to approach this situation the same way.

I sat quietly. And I saw a little movie in my head. Replaying conversations in which I tried to help my friend with his problems in relating to others (specifically me). Wow. The curse of the verbal communicator. Watching all of this in my head, I saw that I didn't know when to stop. I was going to keep on talking until I had been heard and understood, but this meeting of the minds hadn't happened yet in more than two years of these exhausting discussions.

Words, even compassionate words, can be unwittingly violent. They can come across as one person acting as superior to another. Feelings can be hurt, and when this happens, communication can't take place. Could I change this dynamic by acting in line with yogic principles such as ahimsa (non-violence) and santosha (contentment with what is)?

A simplified description of the law of karma says that I receive what I give. In my disagreements with my friend I've been reaping and regifting these dubious rewards in an endless cycle -- not sometime in the distant future, but in real time.

I feel disrespected so I continually assert my position, unremittingly, only to feel greater resistance to my ideas, so I try again with greater force only to feel even higher and stronger walls resist me in return.

What to do? I decided to try the principles of ahimsa and santosha. Will they really work in a specific real-world situation?

Ahimsa: Let me be non-violent and peaceful in word and deed. Let me realize that I cannot say what is the best course of action for another person. Let me stop trying to force others to come to my view of a situation. Let me release my vise grip and create space for a natural resolution to occur. Let me remove the cork and allow my life to breathe like a precious bottle of wine.

Santosha: Let me be content with all situations the way they are today. Let me realize that I am not in control. Let me change focus from difficult situations which I cannot change to a focus on what is working well in my life right now. Let me orient my life toward beauty instead of pain.

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
May all beings be happy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

it is by giving that we receive: what if it's true?

I love this simple lesson on giving from Deepak Chopra's classic book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success:
"The more you give, the more you will receive, because you will keep the abundance of the universe circulating in your life. In fact, anything that is of value in life only multiplies when it is given. That which doesn't multiply through giving is neither worth giving nor worth receiving."

But how to start?
"The best way to put the Law of Giving into operation -- to start the whole process of circulation -- is to make the decision that any time you come into contact with anyone, you will give them something. It doesn't have to be in the form of material things; it could be a flower, a compliment, or a prayer. In fact, the most powerful forms of giving are non-material. The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don't cost you anything. When you meet someone, you can silently send them a blessing, wishing them happiness, joy, and laughter. This kind of silent giving is very powerful."

Does this sound like nothing more than new-agey mumbo-jumbo? It costs nothing to try it. Why not try, just for a few days, and see whether it has made a difference in your sense of connectedness, joy, and peace. And there may be even more tangible results in new opportunities, doors opening for you, and untangling of your own personal Gordion knots.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

the king of masks

A facebook friend, whom I've never met, mentioned to me the 1996 film The King of Masks, and I found it viewable in its entirety at YouTube.

Set in 1930s China, the story follows elderly street performer Wang as he tries to find an heir to whom he can teach the secrets of his art: the quick-change mask art of bian lian.

This is a beautiful, poignant film that will give you so much to think about, so please consider giving it a look.

The story turned my thoughts to the many masks we wear: the mask of our gender, the mask of our profession, the mask of our personal style, and so many other masks.

Have you known someone who had so many elaborately constructed masks, worn so convincingly, that it took years to realize who he or she really was? Masks and personae so seamlessly attached to who we think we are that we believe the masks are real? Masks that are developed to protect ourselves, but end up as a barrier through which people who love us can never enter?

The King of Masks is not overtly about these issues, but it is about the beliefs and opinions we hold that can separate us from our own happiness.

The film made me ask some intriguing questions. What are we so invested in believing that we can't even entertain the possibility of a different solution, explanation, or outcome? What are the painful past experiences that we desperately cling to as part of our identity, thereby ensuring that things will never change, that we'll continue to experience the same disappointments again and again? These were the attitudes that had plagued Wang's life story in the film, and it required a near tragedy and the unwavering love and courage of a little girl to heal him.

What are your masks and who lies beneath them at the very heart of your being? In what small ways might you try to reveal that heart of who you are without becoming too afraid?

When the final mask is removed, look at all the beauty that is there.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

yoga: sol y sombra

I'm a flamenco dance teacher as well as a yoga teacher, and teaching dance has been a precious opportunity to witness the gifts that dance gives to the hundreds of students I have taught -- each one a unique person, with a unique temperament, style of expression, and comfort level with her own body and personality.

Dance is a process of revealing oneself to oneself. In the process of dancing, the student learns new things about herself that she may not have come to know in any other way.

The dancer learns the moments and the circumstances under which she holds back and defends herself, where she shrinks from showing herself. She learns and develops the places in which she feels confident and strong. She finds physical places in her body that seem closed and inaccessible. And she knows her areas of freedom.

At first glance, a dance class is much more revealing than a yoga class, because dance is an expressive art. We're constantly finding ways to let go, to free ourselves, to bring our individual expression into physical being.

But yoga can have the same effect within us. It is an inner exploration of strength and fluidity, power and softness, expansion and contraction, breath and being, sun and shade. The inner dance.

When you think of yoga as a dance, a new joy can enter into familiar asanas. Your practice takes on a sense of play, if you will allow it. Goals become different, as every practice becomes an exploration of the you whom you may not have fully known until this moment.

Yoga practice gives you the opportunity to inquire into how you are feeling. Really. What is your body telling you? Are you willing to slow down enough that you can hear? Are you willing to play between the extremes of sun and shade, sol y sombra, where you will find the incredible breadth of who you are?

Monday, July 19, 2010

ramayana . . . with popcorn

Has reading the Ramayana been on your bucket list, but realistically, you have as little hope of getting around to it as you have of reading The Canterbury Tales in Middle-English?

If so, you will enjoy today's post, offering the brunch-menu version of the classic Indian epic, "Ramayana Three Ways."

First, there is the 1988 Indian television series, created, written, and directed by Ramanand Sagar, with all 111 30-minute episodes available for viewing here. You may find there are occasional blackouts that last for 30 seconds or so (where I assume that commercials were originally inserted). Just be patient, and the episode will continue.

According to Wikipedia:
"During its original broadcast, Ramayan was enormously popular, drawing over 100 million viewers. Although rising slowly at first, its popularity reached a point where the entire nation of India came to a virtual stop as nearly everyone who could gain access to a television stopped what he was doing to watch the televised adventures of Rama. In a phenomenon that the newsmagazine India Today dubbed 'Ramayan fever', religious services (Hindu and non-Hindu) were rescheduled to accommodate the show's broadcast; trains, buses, and inner-city trucks stopped running when the show was on; and, in villages, hundreds of people would gather around a single television set to watch the show."

Second, for a feminist take on the story of Rama and Sita, if you haven't already seen Nina Paley's 2008 animated film "Sita Sings the Blues," watch it here. Billed as "the greatest break-up story ever told," the soundtrack features the songs of 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, including "What Wouldn't I Do for That Man," "Mean to Me," "Moanin' Low," "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," and others. A beautiful, quirky, and ultimately uplifting film in which Sita/Lakshmi gets her own back in the end.

Third, the Ramayana in (gasp!) book form. It's the incomparable William Buck translation that makes accessible and eminently readable this exciting story of love, loyalty, honor and duty (yes, it really is exciting, despite these currently unfashionable virtues). Read it and weep -- in a good way!

As an aside, William Buck made beautiful translations of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, preceded by (as told in the publisher's preface to the Ramayana) "years of reading and rereading the translations, studying Sanskrit, planning, and writing."
He completed both translations before an early death at the age of 37. I've searched to find more about the life of this amazing author/translator, but have found little. If anyone has more information about him, please comment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

bakasana: fear of flying

I was tickled to learn that one of my yoga students had been inspired to draw a comic based on her explorations of bakasana (crow/crane pose) with me. I spend part of the beginning of every one of my Level 2 classes by working on core strength and upper body strength. This Level 2 group has been consistently working on bakasana each week because I love to see the surprise and feeling of accomplishment when the students are able to fully get into the pose after some weeks of practice.

Here's what the artist had to say:
"Here's the thing. I did think this every time I tried this pose: that I could manage it if I just weren't overweight, that something about my girth or the distribution of weight over my wrists or something, was keeping me from being able to do this pose.
"And it wasn't. A bunch of things were keeping me out of this pose, among them arm strength (which I'm building over time) and confidence (also building over time). But my weight had very little, and maybe nothing, to do with it, and I am left thinking, what other things in my life have I figured are impossible because I think I'm too fat for it? What else am I unfairly blaming on my weight?"

Do we all have something like this? A fill-in-the-blank about why we can't do fill-in-the-blank?

I could do _____________, if it just weren't for ________________.

One of the many beautiful things about yoga is that it gets you asking these kinds of questions.

See Sarah's bakasana comic (and others) full size at I think you're sauceome.

And check out this slideshow of lots of folks, from elite to regular-people yogis, doing inspiring arm-balance poses.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

solving problems the Louise Hay way

I was struck by this simple solution to dealing with challenging life situations. According to Science of Mind luminary Louise Hay, just affirm the following:

All is well.
Everything is working out for my highest good.
Out of this situation, only good will come.
And I am safe.

Louise says, "If it's a small thing, I repeat it [the phrases] two or three times. If it's a bigger issue, I babble it incessantly. This quiets your inner turmoil down long enough for the universe to find a solution to the so-called problem."

An effective and elegant way to stop spinning your wheels. Try it before scoffing ;-)~

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

amazing enneagram: nine faces of the soul

If you are not familiar with the personality-typing tool, The Enneagram, try this brief test and see if it rings true for you. The same website also offers a battery of similar tests, if you're interested in more in-depth assessments.

Beyond just the nine basic enneagram classifications, I wanted to introduce a brilliant book that takes the types into a realm of spiritual self-transformation: The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram by Sandra Maitri.

From the book's introduction:
"The recently deceased Sufi teacher Idries Shah recounts a parable that I have always used when introducing the enneagram. It tells of a tinsmith who was unjustly imprisoned and who, seemingly miraculously, made his escape. Many years later when he was asked how he had done it, he replied that his wife, a weaver, had woven the design of the lock to his prison cell into the prayer rug upon which he prayed five times a day. Realizing that the prayer rug contained the design of his cell's lock, he struck a deal with his jailers to get tools to make small artifacts, which the jailers then sold and profited from. Meanwhile, he also used the tools to create a key, and one day made his escape. The moral of the story is that understanding the design of the lock that keeps us imprisoned can help us fashion the key that will unlock it."

Intrigued? You can download chapter 1 here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

matsyasana and the first incarnation of vishnu

Matsyasana (fish pose) is one of my favorite asanas because it's so energizing and calming at the same time. It induces a feeling of joy and happiness, a readiness to take on whatever the day has in store. In yoga lore, matsyasana is said to be the destroyer of all diseases, and among its many benefits, counteracts fatigue and anxiety.

Even more interesting is its esoteric significance. In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar writes that matsyasana is dedicated to Matsyavatara,
"the fish incarnation of Vishnu, the source and maintainer of the universe and of all things. It is related that once upon a time the whole earth had become corrupt and was about to be overwhelmed by a universal flood. Vishnu took the form of a fish and warned Manu (the Hindu Adam) of the impending disaster. The fish then carried Manu, his family and the seven great sages in a ship, fastened to a horn on his head. It also saved the Vedas from the flood."

Other versions of the story invite comparisons of this flood with the biblical tale of Noah. Vishnu takes on the form of Matsyavatara during a deluge that submerges the Earth. A rishi gathers together in a boat two of each animal species, and the golden fish avatar of Vishnu then pulls the boat through the deluge to safety.

When perfoming matsyasana, try feeling the expansive opening of your heart as if you, too, are an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver and restorer of the universe. God lives within you as you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

what's your mission statement?

I was inspired this week, by a post at The Pragmatic Yogi blog, to come up with a mission statement for my life. Here's what the PY wrote:
"I cultivate discipline. I have a realistic and balanced schedule for my seva(service), sadhana(spiritual practice) and personal needs. I am disciplined and also relaxed. I do not drain my energy by over effort and overwork. My purpose is clear, my mind is decisive."

Hmmm. Here's mine:
"I am free to explore how much I can leave undone today without incurring any serious consequences. I take time to breathe. I consciously slow my work pace. At least 50% of my activities are unnecessary in retrospect, so it's okay to complete only the most pressing tasks, and leave the rest alone. My happiness counts as much as any other responsibility."

Share your own inspiration: What's your mission statement?

Monday, June 7, 2010

let's all lighten up!

"We are people of the mighty
Mighty people of the sun.
In our hearts lie all the answers
To the truth you can't run from."

1970s soul meets surya namaskar: Inspiring music from Earth Wind & Fire for your sun salutatory enjoyment! Let's all lighten up this week.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

opening the heart chakra

Connectedness. Comfort. Peace. Openness. Joy. We don't have to wait to feel love from others in order to experience these blissful states. You can start with yourself, wherever you are.

Try any of these:

Sit in a comfortable place. It's wonderful to sit in the sun, if it's a sunny day. Give yourself a hug. Stroke your hair, your face, or your arms in a gentle way. Send feelings of love and compassion to yourself.

Give yourself permission to stop and center yourself throughout your day. Notice things of beauty around you. Imagine that plants and other living things are sending love back to you as you admire them.

Spend a moment scanning your body for any areas of tension or pain. Send love to those areas, or as taoists say, send an "inner smile" to those areas until you feel them smiling back at you.

When dealing with difficult emotions, it's much easier to let them go when you first offer your own love and understanding to yourself. Before thinking of what you could have done better, or kicking yourself for a mistake or misstep, offer compassion to yourself first.

Take a moment midday to think of all the things you've accomplished so far that day. Appreciate yourself and your efforts. And in addition to what you've done for others, be sure to include a couple of ways that you've been kind to yourself!

These are simple techniques, but don't underestimate them. They can be more powerful than complex yogic techniques -- simply because they are so easy to do.

Remember, all you need is love.

Monday, May 24, 2010

setting an intention for yoga class?

Here in Chicago, it can be customary to walk into a yoga class which begins with the teacher asking students to "set an intention for your class today."

Hmmm. What does this mean, exactly? Growing up Catholic, I'm familiar with the idea of setting a lofty intention for the day (so ambitious that it's almost impossible to keep), bringing a special intention to God during a Mass, offering prayers for the intention of another person . . . lots and lots of focused intention.

But in the context of yoga, the idea of setting an intention is intriguing, if it can go beyond the obvious: I want to stretch my muscles, I want to ease the pain in my lower back, I want to get a good workout, I want to chill out . . . .

Once you've become bored by the obvious intentions that may have brought you to yoga in the beginning, what next?

One way to think about yoga is as a moving meditation, a prayer that comes not from the mind, but from the body. In that context, your body might have an intention for yoga practice that it hasn't even revealed to you yet. Your mind may be the last to know!

In setting an intention for your next yoga class, try asking your body what it wants. The answer might surprise you.

Are you familiar with the bookending device of setting an intention for yoga classes you teach or attend? How has this practice affected you? And, care to share an intention or two?

Monday, May 17, 2010

how will you paint your canvas today?

all the colors of the world are in you!

what's your favorite inspiring video?

Monday, May 10, 2010

"you have to seek joy first, and that gives you the strength to change your circumstances."

As the recession drags endlessly on, and I continue to find new ways to stretch the grocery budget (one 10# bag of potatoes can be the basis of a diet to feed one person for approximately three weeks -- who knew?), the following quote by Paraympian Bonnie St. John is a great bit of advice:
"You can't wait for your circumstances to change to find joy. You have to seek joy first, and that gives you the strength to change your circumstances."

It's so easy to become discouraged when one slow month becomes one miserable year, which may stretch to two years, three years, how many?

It's at times of frustration like this when the practice of yoga is such a gift. It can be difficult to sit for meditation when the mind refuses to cease worrying, but there is always the moving meditation of surya namaskar (sun salutation). There is always the peace that comes from simple repetitive motions combined with deepening and slowing of the breath.

To those who are unemployed, underemployed, or self-employed during these times, please don't forget your yoga! If the idea of seeking joy seems too ambitious, seek peace in your favorite asana. From the ground of peace, the root and stem of the lotus may grow, blooming into joy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

emptying my mind to see who is really in there

I've always thought that, no matter what I achieved, I've been sneaking in the back door and would be found out and severely punished someday soon ;-) .

Over the past few weeks, a novel idea has been presenting itself to me again and again: What if you're just as good as everybody else? What if all of the life difficulties you're concerned about are nothing more than a tornado going on inside your head?

Have you ever heard the phrase "get out of your own way" and thought that was a great idea, but how?

In the words of Anne Lamott:
"You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren't. You take the action, and the insight follows: You don't think your way into becoming yourself.

"I can't tell you what your next action will be, but mine involved a full stop. I had to stop living unconsciously, as if I had all the time in the world. The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode. So one day I did stop. I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood: I wasted more time, as a radical act. I stared off into space more, into the middle distance, like a cat."

It can feel so disastrously self-indulgent to stop everything. Last week, I wrote about taking a three-minute break -- a break so short that anyone can justify it. But what about a silent, 15-minute break right in the middle of the workday, or carving out 15 minutes to empty your mind in the maelstrom of a weekday morning, or . . . precisely when is this downtime supposed to fit in?

I think the radical act in all of this is the refusal to live a driven life as measurable by the opinions of others. Hmmm. How to get started?

For me, it means mindfully stepping off the hamster wheel and realizing that, if I accomplish 80% of what I set out to do on any given day, it's enough ;-) .

For a wonderful 10-part Korean drama on this very subject, see New Wise Mother, Good Wife (and if you're not yet familiar with the wonderful genre of South Korean tv dramas, soon you will be hooked!).

And here's the full article by Anne Lamott.

Monday, April 26, 2010

take a coffee break from hell

Why is it so easy to be sucked in by misfortune and hardship? Is there a way to love yourself through the worst times?

A modest proposal: Take a coffee break from hell. This can be hard to do, since you have to remember to do it. But . . . politely excuse yourself from the wildebeest you're wrestling with, call a truce, and make yourself something warm and comforting to drink (excuse me while I do this right now).

Take a comfortable seat somewhere (maybe in a sunny window), and slow down your breathing for even just three minutes, if that's all you're able to spare. Notice pleasant things around you in the space (sun, flowers, interesting sounds, does something smell good?) Keep some comforting objects close by for just these moments (touchy-feely objects are good, such as a favorite stone, seashell, something that feels good in your hand). The idea is to get out of your own worrying mental loop for a few minutes. Oh, there is more to life than just the BIG problem. Hmmm. Make room for fresh answers and new solutions to come in.

Oops, three minutes are up. Where's that wildebeest? Let's go.

Monday, April 19, 2010

positive affirmations and rice experiment

Am I the last person to have viewed the many youtube videos featuring replications of the "rice experiment" featured in the short Masaru Emoto documentary Messages from Water? Just in case I'm not, this post contains a few links for the curious.

People are invited to put into two glass jars two scoops from the same batch of cooked rice. Over a period of 30 days, the experimenters speak kindly to one batch and speak harsh words to the other.

The results? Here's an example.

The original 38-minute documentary, Messages from Water, shows Emoto's experiments revealing that words that are spoken to water affect its crystalline structure when water is frozen. For the full documentary, here's a link to part 1 (with the other three parts very easy to access from the choices on the right side of the page).

Interested in making your own "hado water," or positive-vibrationally charged water? Here are some instructtions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"when confronted with difficulty, take an action, no matter how small"

This quote from BKS Iyengar gives me strength, because anyone can act on this wisdom, no matter how discouraged or tired one may be. Take an action, no matter how small. If it doesn't matter how small the first step is, then anyone can do it. Just take the first tiny step and see where it leads.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

“sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy”

I love this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, and this time of year, it's so easy to look for opportunities to let go of worry and smile. After a long and dreary winter, I've been taking time to walk outdoors and hug a few trees like the beautiful cherry tree in this post.

It's a very good time of year to wrap your arms around a tree and share its life energy. Surprisingly, no one stares at you, so don't be afraid to try it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

"that one holy moment . . . when I suddenly find that I have shed my pain and failings"

Today's post comes from the March 2010 issue of Yoga Journal. Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the transformation that yoga has brought into her life, and the ways in which even the most badly taught yoga classes can allow moments of peace, clarity, and transcendence to occur:

"There always comes that one holy moment, usually somewhere in the middle of the class, when I suddenly find that I have shed my pain and failings, that I have shed my heavy human mind, and that I have metamorphosed for just an instant into something else: an eagle, a cat, a crane, a dolphin, a child. And then I go home again in my own skin to take another stab at living, and to try to do it better. And things are better, so much better. And the impregnable vest is gone forever, by the way. And no, my back does not hurt anymore." 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"your breath is your most intimate companion on your journey through life"

I've been planning to produce a few brief pranayama (breathwork) videos to give my students a quick shot of relaxation that can be tapped anywhere, anytime. While there are many wonderful and simple pranayama techniques, many of them can already be found on youtube in dozens of versions.

Wanting to search deeply within to offer something fresh, and thinking about the techniques and ways of presenting them that have been favorites with my students, I'm also reaching back to some favorite books for inspiration, including The Power of Breath by Swami Saradananda. Here's a paragraph from the book's introduction:

"Your breath is your most intimate companion on your journey through life. You began to breathe just a moment after you were born and some day you will 'expire' with your very last exhalation. In between, your breath is with you wherever you go. Your breath is nearer to you than anything else, and dearer to you than your wealth and the people you love the most -- for if you lose your breath, you lose everything. And yet, like most people, you probably rarely, if ever, think about how, or even why, you breathe."

Want to get a peek at the 3-minute pranayama videos I'm creating? Sign up to follow this blog!

Friday, March 12, 2010

"I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy."

My grandmother often used to say, "We weren't put here on earth to be happy." The Dalai Lama has a different view:

"I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness."

Here is the rest of His Holiness' article on Compassion and the Individual. Wonderful to read on a day when you may be feeling down and questioning the meaning of it all.

Also I highly recommend the films 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, Kundun, and Seven Years in Tibet.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"In the midst of life, we are all burning, and in that sacrifice of self and all, is God."

Another tremendously powerful offering from Peter Malakoff is his wonderful visual meditation on life and death Benares. Still recovering from the death of my mother just two months ago, I found Peter's visual/sound collage very comforting and centering.

And for a full-length film set in this "oldest still-living city in the world" (as Peter Malakoff calls it), see this Benares: A Mystic Love Story.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hanuman devotees: Would you like to hear a story?

Do you sometimes wish you were a little child at bedtime, waiting for someone to tell you a story? Here's a wonderful tale of Lord Hanuman, monkey god and beloved servant of Lord Rama. Unlike any Hanuman katha I have heard before!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Only an impure disciple would attempt to confine living wisdom in a jail of paper behind bars of ink."

This is another quote from the wonderful The Greatness of Saturn by Robert Svoboda. It is part of his exposition of the importance and meaning of oral tradition, but the quote has an additional meaning for me.

As a former journalist and lifelong writer,I was always keenly aware of the limitations of words to convey meaning and emotion. To me, the written word was a mere exercise or parlour game in which one attempted to convey one's thoughts and feelings, but could never be sure of words' effect on the reader.

Svoboda continues, "Literalists may cling to writing, but those who wish to truly comprehend the living wisdom within a text must seek it in a living oral tradition, for 'understanding the text does not necessarily mean attaining an intellectual mastery of its contents'."

Intellectual mastery of information or techniques does not necessarily result in understanding. This is one reason that students seek living masters and gurus. It is the reason that the student can often feel a flash of understanding and enlightenment in the presence of a great teacher. Sometimes that flash of understanding can come from something the teacher has said to the student, but often it comes from the example of the teacher or by her own presence, by the depth of her own knowledge or by her personal integrity.

Svoboda writes that recitation of myth transforms the teller into its image. The myth holder is then able to transform the lives of the hearer through the power of the gods whose tales are told. This is nothing but the old concept of catharsis. But imagine all of the ways we can access this connection to the divine and transformative in daily life.

Let's walk away from the computer screen and experience living wisdom in a story told by a friend, a walk through nature, darshan of a guru or teacher, or even a yoga class!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Relaxing is not doing nothing

Many who are new to yoga don't believe they're getting their money's worth if they don't sweat bullets and push themselves to the brink of total exhaustion in every class.

Part of this may be that people are so time-strapped these days they feel they need to get a full week's worth of exercise in just one hour. And, if that hour just happens to be yoga class: oww!

But . . . do you think you deserve one hour a week devoted simply to letting go? Could you carve out that hour by reducing slightly your recreational time on the internet or watching tv? Could this be a worthwhile experiment? Giving this kind of experiment a 6-week try at Yogam Saranam would set you back only $48, and there are many other yoga studios throughout the Chicago area that offer a once-a-week low-cost community class.

For more about the concept of learning to let go and release stress through the medium of hatha yoga, check out this great article by Susi Hately Aldous.

And, remember, you can take a moment to breathe anywhere and at any time. Just focus your attention inward, take a slow deep abdominal breath to the mental count of three,and exhale to a mental count of three. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Opening to Grace: You Are Never Alone

The hatha yoga teacher training program from which I graduated used, as its basis, the universal principles of alignment codified by John Friend in his Anusara Yoga. (You'll find a brief description of those principles at the end of this post.)

One principle that was especially inspiring was the idea of "opening to grace." As a long-time professional dancer and dance teacher, I was familiar with calling on unseen forces to help me center myself for challenging movement sequences, but in the context of yoga, this concept has an even deeper meaning for me.

To give just one example: If you are deeply connected to all of the life-force (prana) in the universe and can breathe deeply to collect more of this energy into the core of your being, you can, at every moment, have access to much more capacity for transformation, self-expression, and being than just the physical little mass of muscles, bones, and nerves that we sometimes think we are.

One of the many beauties of hatha yoga is that it challenges us, in a safe way, to use our bodies to reach the deepest levels of our hearts, minds, and spirits.

Anusara Yoga: The Universal Principles of Alignment

Open To Grace: Firmly stepping into the currents of grace with a solid foundation and a heart open to the infinite possibilities.

Muscular Energy: Drawing from the outside in, from the periphery into the focal point* of a pose. Creates strength, stability, and a full physical integration.

Inner Spiral: An expanding energy that spirals inwardly from the feet up the legs, through the top of the pelvis, away from the core. Inner Spiral helps you widen the thighs and pelvis.

Outer Spiral: A contracting energy that spirals outwardly toward the core, from the waist down through the feet. Since this energy brings the tailbone and thighs forward, the idea is to find the balance between inner and outer spiral—in every pose.

Organic Energy: Radiating energy from the inside out, starting from the focal points of the pose to the body’s periphery. Organic Energy is an expansive expression of our own true nature, which is inherently auspicious and free.

*The focal point is one of the three places you draw into and expand out from and is determined by the most weight-bearing part of the pose; 1)the core of the pelvis (legs, torso); 2) the bottom of the heart (arms); or 3) the upper palate (head).

Here's more on the concept of loops and spirals.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wisdom from The Heart of Yoga

One of my favorite books about the theory and practice of yoga is TKV Desikachar's The Heart of Yoga. Here's just a sample of the wisdom the book contains:

"Yoga recommends two possible ways for achieving the qualitie of sukha, comfort and lightness, and sthira, steady alertness. The first is to locate knots and resisances in the body and release them. This happens only gradually . . . . The means we use to release blocks and resistances must not adversely affect the body. We must proceed carefully. If we force the body we will experience pain or other unpleasant feelings and the problems will, in the long run, get worse instead of better. The body can only gradually accept an asana. It is by proceeding gently that we will feel light and be able to breathe easily in the position and therefore really benefit from it.

"The second possible means for realizing the concept of sthirasukha consists of visualizing the perfect posture. For this we use the image of the cobra Ananta, the king of the serpents, carrying the whole universe on his head while providing a bed for the Lord Vishnu on his coiled body. Ananta must be completely relaxed in order to make a soft bed for the lord. This is the idea of sukha. Yet the snake cannot be feeble and weak; it must be stong and steady in order to support the universe. That is the idea of sthira. Together these qualities give us the image and the feeling of a perfect asana."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Matsyendrasana: The story of Matsyendra

Matsyendra, namesake of Half Lord of the Fishes pose (Matsyendrasana), was a medieval north-Indian sage, tantric adept, and author of the Matsyendra Samhita (a collection of mantras and hymns). Among many stories you may be able to find about him, the following were of most interest to me.

In the article "Heroes, Saints, and Sages" at, Colleen Morton Busch writes:
"Matsyendra appears to have been an actual historical person, not just a figure of myth. Born in Bengal around the 10th century c.e., he is venerated by Buddhists in Nepal as an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. As with most Indian myths, there are many versions of the story of Matsyendra's metamorphosis into a realized adept—and all of them illustrate the radical transformation that yoga makes possible.

"In one popular version, the infant Matsyendra is thrown into the ocean because his birth has occurred under inauspicious planets. Swallowed by a giant fish, he overhears Shiva teaching the mysteries of yoga to his consort Parvati in their secret lair at the bottom of the ocean. Matsyendra is spellbound. After spending 12 years in the fish's belly, all the while exploring yoga's esoteric practices, he emerges as an enlightened master."

She also mentions that Matsyendrasana is one of the few asanas described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

David Gordon White writes cryptically in The alchemical body: Sidha traditions in medieval India:
"In a curious way, Matsyendra is doubly connected, by this name [although he does not seem to explain how], to the lower half of the yogic body, the place of the sleeping kundalini. However, just as the kundalini sleeps at a turning point in the play of divine manifestation and resorption, so too, the symbol system constructed around Matsyendra's name is an ambivalent one. An extensive body of medieval sources connect Matsyndra to his doctrine of the fish belly [again . . . what?] through a mythic gloss of this name. Matsyendranatha means "He Whose Lord is the Lord of Fishes". . ., and his connection with fish is explained through a myth in which the Goddess . . . has asked Siva to teach her the most secret of all esoteric knowledge, things he has never told her before. This Siva agrees to do, but he has barely launched into what will turn out to be the essence of the Hindu tantric teachings than does the Goddess fall asleep. Siva's words do not, however, go unheeded. Matsyendra, who has been swallowed by a fish (whence his name in these sources), draws up to the shoreline and overhears everything."

So what do we take from all of this? For me, the twisting action of Matsyendrasana does provide an opening for kundalini energy to be activated and offers the spine as a vortex of energy or bindu of the mandala which is our own body.

Does anyone else know more? I would love to hear.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Virabhadrasana: The story of Virabhadra

Virabhadrasana is not the pose of an anonymous warrior, it's the pose of Virabhadra, the "auspicious hero" born from a bead of sweat from Lord Shiva's forehead.

Here's what Dr. Robert Svoboda has to say (in his wonderful book The Greatness of Saturn) about Virabhadra:

"No sooner did this drop of sweat fall to Earth than it became a fiery being of unlimited valor who, after blazing his way through the earth and through all the underworlds, burnt the seven seas. This being, Virabhadra ('the Auspicious Hero') looked like a flaming fire, having many heads and many eyes, and tens of thousands of arms and legs. The embodiment of concentrated might, Virabhadra stood before his father with folded hands, saying, 'Command me!'"

The three forms of Virabhadrasana present three different expressions of this powerful hero. Next time you perform one of the Virabhadrasanas, imagine yourself capable of anything that needs to be accomplished -- because you are!

Want to read The Greatness of Saturn online? Very illuminating to anyone interested in Vedic astrology or Hindu mythology: here's the link to the full text.