Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Spirit of the Season, Light and Love

    As the holiday season arrives I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of this time of year and how imperative it is to pause even amidst the shopping, cooking, decorating, to take time away from "to dos" and reflect on the "for whats".  This is a time that calls us to see the connectivity and congruency of human experience through time and across cultures. In fact going back to ancient cultures this has been a time of deep reflection and celebration. This is the time when the chill and the dark call us to gather and be warm in each other's company, to slow down and connect, tell stories of the year, to laugh and cry together. It is the time, also, to celebrate the coming of the light, the cycles of life, and beauty of the seasons, a time to let go of what this last year brought and to look into the bright future and world of possibility that lies ahead. This is a time to forgive and let go, to mend and make new, to open our hearts to family, community, and the world in the spirit of love and kindness.

  Whether this season has religious significance to us or not there is a resonance that goes beyond specific traditions or dogma. Whoever we are or what we believe, this is a time of magic and miracles. There is a sense that peace and harmony are possible and that the light of goodness is bright in this world. Celebrate, smile, light a candle, sing a song, pray in your own perfect way, dance, hug everyone, especially the children, practice random acts of kindness and open your heart to light and love.

Peace and Joy.      

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reflections on the Full Moon

 We live in a magical universe of intricate patterns and rhythms, of ancient dances of primal energy and infinite connectivity. This is something we have largely disconnected from as we have moved away from our relationship to the earth and the heavens. The cosmic dance is hard to notice as we busily build careers, raise children, update our statuses, respond to emails, and monitor endless to do lists. The price we pay is that we also have disconnected from intuition and soul connection, our sense of self that is rooted in spirit and love.

A way to get back to that deeper nature of ourselves, and regain a sense of being in the flow, the dance, is the exploration and inquiry of yoga. Many yoga asana, in name and energy, encourage this conscious remembrance of earth, heaven and the infinite universe. We have the classic Surya Namaskara, or sun salutation which is masculine in nature and, for a long time, that was it. After all, yoga asana, and yoga in general, has been largely a male generated art and science. But, some wise yoginis noticed the lack of a salutation to the moon, the feminine aspect and equal partner in the dance, and they created the moon salutation (Chandra Namaskara).

When you think about it we are very much tied to, and influenced by moon energy. The moon controls the cycles of the waters and it's tides. We are mostly water. The cycle of the moon is 28 days and so is the cycle of women. The new moon calls to releasing old patterns and hails new beginnings, the full moon is full of the energies of fruition, abundance, birthing and manifestation.

My yoga class this past Saturday happened to land on the last full moon of the year. I brought lunar exploration to the class. We wrote intentions on pieces of paper at the beginning of class to be charged with full moon energy and the prana of our yoga community. We formed our mats into a full moon circle and explored watery movements and hip opening. The hips are the region of the chakra, or energy center, associated with water, the divine feminine, creativity and manifestation. We did a magical, moving, dance prayer variation of Chandra Namaskara. I asked the students to send the energy of their practice to their intentions with a child consciousness, that place that believes in magic and miracles, that place of pure simple faith. When we set an intention from the fullness of our hearts and spirits, and have faith, the whole universe conspires to bring it to fruition.

The next time you are feeling lost or alone look to the sun, moon, oceans and earth. Follow the patterns of the moon and the sun, the cycles of nature, and dance, go to your mat, gather in circles of intention and prayer. Reconnect. Magic and miracles do happen, wait and see.  

I finished the class with this poem by Hafiz:

With That Moon Language
Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, What every other eye in this world is dying to hear?



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amazing Journey

  I have not posted in ages it seems. I have been on the road for the last three weeks having a yoga teacher training at Kripalu, a trip to Milwaukee for family Thanksgiving and then back to Kripalu to assist Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training. All of it full of happiness, joy and growth.

The first leg of the journey was part two of a yearlong training I am in called the Acharya Intensive. In this intensive I, along with eleven other beautiful soul teachers, are receiving training in the teachings of Swami Kripalu from two of his direct students and senior Kripalu faculty. It is an honor and great privilege to have been selected and take part in this journey of transformation.

Swami Kripalu said the first yoga practice is love and the highest spiritual practice is self observation without judgment. During this year of study we are diving into these practices. Using our community of support, sacred space, and the fundamental practices of pranayama, asana, meditation, prayer and puja we have joined to courageously participate in a practice of self discovery.

The real intention and purpose of yoga is to reclaim our true selves and find liberation. Part of this process requires us to dig into, to excavate, our wounded places and the parts we have resisted. These places (negative samskaras), have intense energy waiting to be unblocked and transformed. Everything in us, both the darkness and the light is part of this truth, that we are beings of love. Even hate, jealously, malice, shame, the shadow realms, are part of that truth. We are who we are, but illusion and ignorance block our vision. We are buried treasures just waiting to be uncovered. That is the purpose of yoga, to remember who we are.

Read this prayer that Swami Kripalu delivered to my teacher Vidya in her moment of need and know that it is a prayer for us all.

"My beloved child,
Break your heart no longer.

Each time you judge yourself,
  you break your own heart.

You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring
  of your vitality.

The time has come, your time,
  to live, to celebrate, to see the goodness that you are.

"Evil" is the word "live" turned inside out.
  There is no evil, no wrong,
in you or any other.
There is only the thought of it and the thought
  has no substance.

What is so-----is that you are-----So DEAR
                                                     So DIVINE
                                                     So VERY VERY PURE

Let no one, no thing, no idea or ideal obstruct you.
If one comes, even in the name of truth, forgive it
for it's unknowing.

Do not fight the dark.

Let go, aware of the light,

And breathe, into the goodness that you are."

More to come on this journey in upcoming posts, until then Jai Bhagwan and Hakuna Matata.    

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

   It seems that mother nature is trying to tell us something here in Connecticut. At the end of August we had Hurricane Irene come in and rock our boats, leave behind damage, and for many, including my family, days without power. Irene was said to be unprecedented in the usually undramatic weather world of this region, so once power was restored and clean up began, we all said how glad we were to have that all behind us. Then two weeks ago the weatherman started talking about a nor'easter making it's way with it's sights set on us. There were warnings that it could wallop us with 6-12 inches of snow and take out power lines. When all was said and done, for the interior portions of Connecticut, Albert showed us that we had not seen anything yet.

We lost power in our house for nearly seven days, and right now there are still people with no power.This storm took trees down in every yard and street, tangles of power and cable lines hung down lifeless. In my town this scene made Irene seem small and insignificant, and yet again, miraculously most homes managed to dodge the barrage of limbs and trees. It could have been so much worse. The ensuing days of kids home from school, with a symphony of generators as a soundtrack, was tiring and stress levels rose each day. Even now people are angry about how long they had to go without power. Investigations have been launched and fingers are being pointed furiously. And yes, I think it could have been done better, and adjustments need to be made. I admit I felt whiny, irritated, and impatient.

Since the event, I have been thinking about what the lesson is here for me in particular. What has come up for me is a realization that I have entitlement issues. This is somewhat amusing, as I am one who has talked to other parents about the problem of entitlement that I see amongst the kids in this community and what I do to parent around this. As dramatic as the loss of power, phone etc. seemed at the time, I have to admit it was really no big deal at all for me. I did not suffer any real hardship, none at all. We have a generator so we did not lose food, we had heat and hot water and even a television. I know these were the conditions for a lot of families, and those who did not have generators had an easily accessible shelter or went to hotels or to stay with relatives. And yet, the complaining and woe is us attitude has been pervasive, and yes, I am pointing this finger squarely in my own direction.

What is the problem here? The problem is that I take too many things for granted and have a very limited view of the world and life from where I am. Sure, I read or watch the news and know that in other places, other towns, states, countries there is poverty, famine, and real disasters where people die and lose everything they have. There are places where most of the people have never had all of these things that I assume should be there for me, food, water, electricity, schools. If these people heard my complaining over this non event I think they would probably want to laugh in my face or more likely punch me in it, and I would not blame them.

What Albert came to remind me is that things can happen and everything I take for granted could as easily be taken from me. What can't be taken from me though, is my ability to grow and expand, my compassion and my gratitude, the capacity to love. These are infinite sources of power no matter what circumstances might come. Thanks Irene and Albert, I won't miss you but I appreciate what you taught me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My New Mantra

   I have decided to take on a mantra for this year and it is "Don't Try So Hard!". In a recent conversation with one of my wise teachers we examined my tendency to hold myself to a strict and high standard especially in my yoga teaching, and how I beat myself up when I feel I have not performed or shown up the way I want to. I try so very hard, and what it is really about is feeling I need to prove myself worthy. The problem is that that place that seeks to be filled is never satisfied, no matter how hard I might try or how good I might be. This method is madness.

   There is a saying, "When you know better, you do better.", I am finally identifying and owning this dysfunctional pattern and now with my mantra as my guide I can continue to make friends with this wounded space and give it what it needs to heal. I have already made some real progress and find myself being less reactive when I make a mistake or things don't come out exceptional in my mind.
I remember in the module on transformational teaching in my 500 hour yoga teacher training Vidya and Devarshi saying "Hear the truth. You are already perfect, complete, infinite and whole just as you are.".  I wanted to believe that concept and in truth the deepest part of me did, but this black hole wound kept it from shining through. It is faith in those words though which will fill the hole, nothing else will.

  Imagine what it would be like if we all took on this mantra and treated ourselves with less strictness and judgment. What if instead of "Do more, try harder." we could embrace "Do less, be softer."?  I don't think this is a call to apathy or laziness. I think it is a call to balance and respect of energy.  A good friend recently said to me in a conversation about this very topic of my insecurity in teaching, "Just be yourself, and it will be perfect.", and now I pass that on to you. Whatever you do in any moment, just be yourself, and know, really know, breathe it in, that that is enough.       

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Looking Back on the Thirties, Moving Forward Into the Forties

"Forty is a most beautiful age. In mystic thought forty symbolizes the ascent from one level to a higher one and spiritual awakening. When a baby is born it takes forty days for him to get ready to start life on earth. And when we are in love we need to wait forty days to be sure of our feelings. The Flood of Noah lasted forty days, and while the waters destroyed life, they also washed all impurity away. In Islamic mysticism there are forty degrees between man and God. Likewise there are four basic stages of consciousness and ten degrees in each making forty total levels. Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and nights. Muhammad was forty years old when he received the call to become a prophet. Buddha meditated under the linden tree for forty days. You receive a new mission at forty, a new lease on life! You have reached a most auspicious number. Congratulations! There are no wrinkles or gray hair strong enough to defy the power of forty!" ~ from "The Forty Rules of Love ~ A Novel of Rumi" by Elif Shafak

I turned forty today. I must say I am excited about entering this next decade. As opposed to my teens, twenties and even much of my thirties I feel grounded and secure. I know what moves me, I know what I love (and what I don't), I feel alive and vital and have a growing sense of my depth of spirit and with all the work and wonder, adventure and agony, fear and ferocity that has gotten me thus far I am tingling with anticipation of what lies ahead.

My teens and early twenties were very difficult and painful years for me. I struggled with low self -esteem , depression and anxiety. I made a lot of bad choices and by the grace of God got by without suffering the full consequences of those choices. I was very unhealthy. I drank, smoked and did everything to excess. Most of all I was a lost soul who had no sense of self or worthiness. No direction.

My twenties were about beginning to reclaim myself and to begin the difficult work of self inquiry and inspection. In my twenties I found love and got married, began to realize that I have value and ability, that I had more potential and courage than I had ever recognized before. By the end of my twenties I had done much soul searching, crying, battling, adventuring and questioning. I had two children by the age of twenty nine and despite my terror about being a mother I loved them intensely from the fist moment they each arrived.

My thirties have been a true decade of transformation, revolution and coming home. My thirties have been a WOW, never thought that would happen, amazing journey with a voice whispering to me along the way "Remember who you are." In this transformation have been struggles and mistakes and heartbreak but coupled with so much joy and awakening unlike ever before. So as I leave this marvelous and messy decade behind I want to acknowledge here, with gratitude, some of the wonderful things it has brought me.

~ Two more daughters.  Meg who came to us through foster care at the age of 12 and then we became her legal guardians, and the birth of Harper. Mason is our son and eldest turning 13 soon, and Avery our other daughter is 10.

~ I found yoga and knew immediately it would be my life calling. Yoga is my way of being and my spiritual path.

~ I explored art and photography and have shown in galleries.

~Became a yoga teacher. First earning my 200 hour and then my 500 hour certificates.

~ I have moved to the East Coast, with my amazing husband and kids and have been in New York and now Connecticut (close to my spiritual home Kripalu Center).

~ I met Jill Perry and with her help and guidance have become a marathon runner. NEVER thought I could or would ever achieve that!

~ Started Whole Running with Jill Perry. Starting and running a small business another never would have thought.

~ Found Yoga Dance and beloved teacher Megha who has been like my mother of dance. She showed me the way home to the dancer I have always been. Became a Let Your Yoga Dance teacher and now assist the trainings.

~ Found my spiritual teacher Vidya Ma who showed me that miracles do happen because we made one happen.

~ I am currently in a yearlong teacher training called The Acharya Intensive with Vidya Ma and Devarshi learning and exploring what it means to be a spiritual teacher. ME a SPIRITUAL TEACHER?  Yes, everything in me knows I am where I am supposed to be.

I feel so very blessed for all that I have and for the learning I have received thus far. I look forward to experiencing and celebrating all that is to come whether it be happiness or hardship. All experience arrives right on time and for good reason to further our growth and awakening. Everything calls us home to love, the true and endless nature of all of us.

To end here is a quote that showed up on Facebook today.

  an excerpt from Universal Birthday Messages
by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
The first and last command of the inner Guru is this: not to have identity with the body and mind. You are not the body and mind, although you have a body and mind. Body and mind are your vehicles. They depend on you.
They are alive because of you; otherwise, they are already dead.

You are the ocean of awareness, and that awareness is the first and last religion, the first and last freedom. Awareness is your real home, which is called OM.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Mess Ups in a Yoga Class Gone Right

 I spent this past week at my spiritual home in this life, Kripalu Center, in the beautiful Berkshires of Massachusetts. I was there doing one of the things I love most, assisting Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training. One of my jobs in the program is to lead morning yoga class for our group. My first time up came Tuesday morning and I was feeling quite nervous as there were several fabulous and experienced yoga teachers in the group, as well as some people with little yoga experience at all. I am a planner and bit of a control freak with my classes and I hold high expectations of myself. I spent Monday night writing my plan and feeling the sequencing, and then dreamt of it during my sparse sleep that night.

  I arrived in the room early to move, breathe, and find my courage as well as my center. At 6:30 a.m. everyone had arrived and class began. As I got the group moving in gentle warm ups, I found my rhythm and was feeling connected and at ease. We eventually made our way into a sequence of spinal movements and flow, a graceful dance of movement and breath. My planned transition came and then a voice from the front of the room asked, "Don't we need to do the other side?".  My heart skipped a beat and my breath caught in my throat. I waited to feel the crushing pain of my mistake, my heartbreak in the failure. Instead, to my own shock and surprise, it did not come, and instead I found myself smiling, with a light heart. I made a comment about being a little vata (airy) and saying that of course we will do the other side. That was that, a moment of experience, and then it was gone.

  I continued class, found my flow again, and in no time relaxation was upon us. I put on some dreamy music and gave the class guidance in letting go and finding stillness. I could feel the energy of the room become quiet and expansive and I felt quite happy and complete. That is when the fire alarm went off. Again, I paused to receive the panic and resistance, and again it did not come. Instead I found another inner smile and giggle, and I spoke into the microphone in a deep slow tone, "Your relaxation has come to an end. (and then a quick deadpan) Om shanti. Run for your lives." Everyone rose up with laughter fluttering through the room, and we made our way outside.  It was cool and rainy but I took deep breaths and just kept smiling.

  Afterward, I felt such a glowing pride and sense of victory.  I have a strong and sometimes brutal inner critic and tend to hold myself to strict standards from a fear of rejection. God forbid I would make a mistake or lose control, then everyone would see my flawed messy self and be done with me. Ridiculous and irrational? Yes, but who isn't, in these soft, tender, hidden regions? Chances are you might feel this way too and now you know you are not alone. Victory is possible. On this day, in this class, a miracle happened. The miracle of me finding compassion instead of criticism, for no one but myself. I found my natural sense of humor and lightness of being. I received experience without attachment or judgment. I encountered my witness consciousness in a place where it would usually succumb to the strong forces of my story of rejection. Wow, what a blessing, what a rush of freedom!

 I am sure that this is a part of myself that I will face again and again, but I now have a jumping off point to go to. I have a new storyline and a new way of being with this part of myself.  I know and I teach that the only way to heal fully is to embrace all parts of ourselves, the parts we love and the parts we disdain. Yoga means union, to welcome it all and find the marvelous miracle of who we are, even in the mess, the loss of control, the undoing of plans. Yoga is learning to love ourselves without exception or condition, a difficult practice, but one full of grace.

Om shanti.   

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Words to Live By (or at least they are for me)

This poem by the Sufi poet Rumi has helped me through when life has seemed too difficult, through times when I have questioned my own feelings and experiences. It has helped me when things have seemed unfair or uncertain, or when I have been hurt. This poem has served as my guide and companion, my mantra and my prayer.

 As I prepare to turn forty, I feel an energetic shift emerging, a change of tides, and Rumi has been popping up very frequently around me. Recently, I was at the library with a book in hand, ready to leave, when something told me to look on the other side of the shelf. I walked around, and the crimson and yellow detail of a cover caught my eye. I picked up that book and the title was "The Forty Rules of Love - A Novel of Rumi" (Elif Shafak). Of course, I knew this book had my name on it.  I checked it out, went home and began to read. I got goosebumps when I realized that this book contained not only a story of Rumi, but another main storyline about a women on the verge of forty. Wow, coincidence, I think not.  So, I hope if you have never heard of Rumi before this poem will open the door. 

I think of Rumi as one of my guardian angels in this life and I feel a debt of gratitude to him in my heart and my soul.  Light and love to all.      

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

(The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn and Moving Inward

  Fall has arrived! In my yoga class today I talked about fall being a shift in energy from the outward flow of spring and summer, towards introspective energy which lasts through winter. In fact, this dance of expansion and contraction is everywhere, all around us. It is the pulse of the universe itself.

 Our breath is a flow of expansion and contraction, our heart beats by constriction and release, every cell of our body joins in this rhythm. The seasons follow this energetic loop. Spring and summer are times of birth and growth, the expanding energy. Fall and winter are times of drawing inward, conservation and stillness. All of this is emblematic of the cycles of birth and death, both figurative and actual.

  Use this season as a time to nurture and sustain yourself. Relish the crispness that calls you to cuddle up under a blanket, or next to a fire, to read a good book or write in your journal. Get out and enjoy the beauty and bounty of the season and then take time to meditate and reflect. Allow yourself the opportunity to dig into the rich soil of experience and to plant seeds of intention for new growth.  Also let this be a time of deep surrender, to let go of things that are no longer useful or healthy, giving them back to the earth. Fall is a special time of gathering, pausing, inspecting, slowing down to be nourished and replenished, so the seeds of new growth and possibility can begin to take root.

Happy fall!! Namaste.   

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bust a Move!

  In my last post I talked about trying new things and bringing aspirations and dreams to life. I also believe in trying to practice what I preach. In that spirit I went to my first hip-hop dance class last night.

I have always loved to dance but have never received any sort of formal dance training. I am a certified Yoga Dance teacher and that training opened me up to new worlds and possibilities of movement. It brought me home to and validated the dancer in me unlike anything before, but to take a straight up dance class at a dance school caused me a bit of trepidation. What if I found myself ungraceful and uncoordinated? What if I couldn't get it? What if I am not good enough? That last question is the perennial one of my life, it is the fear that I walk through, and it runs deep. Somehow, when it matters, I have found ways to challenge that fear and show up. My slogan could be, "I am terrified most of the time but I just show up anyway."

    I tell yoga students very often to be a C student, I say in this blog that the beauty of life is not in perfection, it is in embracing and loving the mess, and I reminded myself of that on the drive over. I got to the class and softened as I saw some of my friends there, and those of us who were first timers supported each other and got encouragment from the veterans. We went into the studio and I found a good hiding spot at the back of the room and focused on my yogic breathing. Then the lights dimmed and the music came on and I found myself, as I always do, in the beat and primal pulse of the music, and we began to dance. I watched the steps carefully and fumbled around a bit, but then I allowed my body to do the thinking and I began to get it! By the end of the class I was lit up, having fun and busting a move. After class, the teacher said to me " Hey, you were really good, you were jamming back there! Not bad for a yoga chick."  Yep, this yoga chick was a bit terrified but showed up anyway and found her groove. Now, repeat again and again, looking inward and moving and grooving forward.

Dance on everybody, whatever your dance might be! Go ahead, bust a move!           

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Experience of "Tri"umph

  On Sunday I completed my third sprint triathlon and it was a truly amazing and inspirational experience. Sunday was also the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Just like that day ten years ago the skies were clear and the sun was stunning and brilliant. Under those perfect skies gathered 500 women of all ages, shapes and colors. We made our way clad in wetsuits, swimsuits, swim caps and goggles down to the cool sand of the beach. There was a procession of honor and dedication with bagpipes and flags raised, there were tears and prayers, the song Amazing Grace and silence to honor the day. Suddenly, it seemed, to do this race, on this day, with all these women was the perfect tribute. We showed up to be in this temporary tribe, to share in an experience of strength and endurance, walking, or more accurately, swimming, cycling,and running through fear to personal triumph. We showed not only physical strength but mental as well, and even more than that, so much strength of spirit. It served as proof that we could rise above darkness, grief and fear. It seemed to symbolize unity and strength, exactly the focus needed on such a day.

  On a personal level every race I do brings me up against, fear, doubt, and insecurity. Every time I endure and push through to cross that finish line I bust through those barriers. I think it is vital for personal growth and evolution to take on a challenge and walk though fear to achieve something you dream of doing, no matter how far flung or unlikely it may seem. People can do most anything when they have the passion to step forward and try. It is never too late or impossible to grasp a dream and bring it to life.

What do you dream of doing? What are you waiting for?           

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons in Powerlessness: Part 2 Lights Out, Enlightening

  The morning Hurricane Irene arrived we got up and watched some news on the television but mostly just stared out the windows and listened, as the rain pounded, the wind howled and our backyard brook roared. The storm was intense but less so than we had anticipated and she was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm. So we had breakfast and went about doing chores and trying to make it a productive day. Around eleven we all gathered at the computer area as my husband, Stephen, was trying to post a video of the brook, and I was checking email.We figured we had got by with no damage and no loss of power, and then it happened. The lights went out, came back on for a minute of brown out, and then gone. This was Sunday morning and we would not regain power until Friday night. We would all learn from this experience.

Stephen and I have talked about this, and what our learning boils down to is a realization of our attachments to many things that we usually don't consider. Attachments to hot water, dishwasher, refrigerator, washing machine, and stove, having light when and where we want it, to clocks, and stereos, but most of all to our televisions and computers. We were lucky to have a small generator to keep our refrigerators cold, give us minimal lighting in the early morning and evening and to give us a couple hours of precious television each day. We had our cell phones to stay connected. I know and complain about my kid's attachment and reliance on television and computer but this experience showed to me that the parents in this house are reliant and very attached too. It brought to light for me how I rely on technology to occupy the kids so I can get other things done. Enlightening indeed!

The week seemed to drag on endlessly in some ways and in others was refreshing and fun. We spent time as a family playing board games , we had a fire pit with our neighbors one night and the kids played flashlight tag. I took the kids on outings during the day and the time became a bonding experience. We learned a lot in that week. We saw how we could pull together and adapt to circumstance. Most importantly it proved that despite the irritation of not having all these things we are attached to, that as long as we have each other it will always be alright. The experience inspired gratitude for all we are blessed with, and brought into perspective the depths of the real difficulties that others endure. I recently saw this gem, ironically on facebook, " You only lose what you cling to."  The lesson time and time again is that the real suffering does not come from the event or the loss but from our attachment and clinging. Life is trying so hard to help us learn if only we could trust it more. I will keep on trying.            

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lessons in Powerlessness: Part One, The Hurricane and the Mountain

  If it seems like it has been awhile since I have posted you are right. I was, the entire week last week, without power, so no computer but lots of learning and experience. First I want to write about all that led up to that adventure. A week and a half ago now my community was buzzing with the news that Hurricane Irene had her sights set on Connecticut. She would be due to make landfall on Sunday morning and had the potential to be the worst hurricane event in decades for the state. The collective anxiety began to swell and by Friday you could feel it in the air. The stores became hives of fear and grasping, the water and bread sections emptied out, batteries were like gold and generators a treasure to find. Panic had made it's landfall, the storm before the storm.

  I had yoga classes to teach the Friday and Saturday before the storm and brought this event right onto the mat. This is the stuff from which we gain the greatest insights and growth as yogis seeking liberation from suffering. This kind of event goes right into the heart of our deepest fear, the fear of death. How can we use our practice to take on our deepest fear and aversion? The answer that came to me was the simplicity and strength of the mountain. Mountain pose to steady and calm the body and mountain consciousness to still the mind. The mountain reminds us that we are rooted and secure with our feet on the earth, that the body rises up from this base with ease and energy, and although still on the outside the inner mountain pulses and flows with breath.

   Steady on this breath, the mind becomes like the vast sky surrounding the mountain. Mountain consciousness is the witness, or seer. In this state we are like the mountain letting whatever might unfold around us to unfold, without the need to judge or react, no need to evaluate or change. The mountain weathers storm and sun, night and day, winter as well as summer always rooted in it's own simple being. Clouds might fill up it's vast sky but they are temporary. The sky is always there, ever present, waiting to be seen again. Our thoughts and fears are like those clouds and when we can remember to see them for what they are, temporary phenomena, often as wispy and illusory as the form of a cloud itself we can then move back to the witness, free of desire or aversion, free of the "story".  When we come into tadasana or mountain pose in our lives we connect to our deep wisdom and knowing instead of the ego driven story which brings reactivity and suffering.

It is also useful to remember that sometimes what the earth needs and what we need is for something to be destroyed or transformed to become the fertile soil for some new seed to sprout or for something to bear fruit. Often our suffering in life seems senseless at the time it happens but when we look back on it weeks, months or years later it makes perfect sense and we can see how without the trials of life we would be robbed of it's gifts.  The majestic mountains we adore came mostly from great and cataclysmic shifts of the earth or were forged by fierce volcanic eruptions. Such is the nature of life, things are born and they die, sometimes we are in the energy of sustenance and sometimes we are in the energy of transformation and both are necessary for us to grow and awaken.

In the end, my community did not suffer any major damage and for that there is cause for much gratitude. My heart goes out to those who lost their homes and will struggle for a long time to come  because of this, but even in those cases the mountain with it's strength and clarity, existing in the simplicity of the present moment and the breath is there, it is our birthright and our true nature.

Here is a touching song I used in those yoga classes. Namaste.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Out of Control

   On the rare occasion that I feel I have it all together I can almost always count on my kids to remind me otherwise. I must also confess that despite having some free spirited, relaxed and go with the flow qualities, I am a closet control freak. I thirst for order, simplicity, and peace. Achieving those ideals comes down to focusing on making those the qualities of the inner world even when the outer world is anything but. Life hands us all challenges and frustrations, we live in the mess of it all. My messiness just happens to be delivered to me, quite often, by the very nearest and dearest loves of my life, my kids.
  My experiences as a parent have taught me volumes on the subjects of patience, acceptance, and conflict resolution. My kids showed me early on that these are areas where I have been almost completely lacking, well, until they came along to train me.  All three of my children also inherited my, and their dad's, fierce independence and stubborn nature and, like us, not nearly the same amount of patience.
     So recently, on a day where I was on the go, getting loads of things checked off as accomplished, I felt in control, handling life with ease, and then the kids intervened.  Fighting with each other is a very common, and in my opinion, the most grating and nerve splitting activity.  I was so in my cool and in control zone, but that instantly evaporated when I heard the first tones of yelling, crying and accusations flying. "He hit me!" "She pinched me!" "It is all his/her fault!" This falls upon me like nails on a chalkboard, I recoil from the chaos, I try to stay calm, try to find my yoga breath. My first request that they stop is calm, but drowned out by the continued conflict. My second request a louder "Please stop!",  still ignored.  Finally I lose any patience I once had and at great volume say " STOP NOW, PLEASE!!!!" At this, they all pause to look at me and then attack me with finger pointing and blame directing intensity. The power I do have,  is to send them to time out, or take away privileges, but on occasion that is met with sharp and stubborn answers of no. In the end, punishments are served and apologies always come (from kids and parents alike), peace returns, but not because I have total control. In reality, I have little more control over them than I do the weather. OK yes, I provide a healthy and nurturing environment, set limits and guide them. I give them love and structure, and in the world of nature versus nurture I think both are very important, but they are their own people and have been from the beginning.  If I have molded them at all they have equally molded me and the illusion of control gets shattered over and over again. What a gift!
    I have learned that the only thing I really control is my own thoughts, feelings and actions. The more I focus on my responses and inner environment the more I am able to have that sense of order, simplicity and peace. Opening with compassion and unconditional love to people is difficult, and then when our own identity and sense of self is wrapped into it, that can make it nearly impossible at times. Everyone comes into this life with unique gifts as well as flaws. Everyone has a journey to go through and lessons to learn and my children are part of my journey and I am part of theirs. One of my wisest teachers talks about how we make soul agreements with others, especially immediate family, before we come into this world. We make these partnerships to achieve the learning and evolution we are intended to in this life. I have not quite wrapped my mind around that concept, but it is very intriguing. What I do know, is that in any relationship, when we are trying to control the other person because of fear or desire, unconditional love is lost. To even try to love unconditionally might be the most challenging spiritual practice a person can aspire to. I, for one, think it is well worth it to try and fail, and then try and fail again. Giving up control, in the end, is the doorway to true freedom and true love.   

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

End of Vacation Blues

   My family just enjoyed a wonderful people and fun filled vacation. The days swirled around us as we made our way from place to place visiting and playing, and just having a grand time. The days quickly came and went and suddenly we were at the airport heading home. It certainly is true that time flies when you are having fun and I could have used a couple more weeks at least to enjoy the pure leisure and adventure of vacation. But here I am back at home and the first day home is a transitional experience and transitions quite often can be bumpy and bring on the blues.
  My transitional experience today brought up some resistance in me. I want to visit with people and go to fun places, laugh at the kids, soak up the sun. Having to unpack, start laundry, grocery shop, and other menial and boring chores was not shining with appeal. The realities of daily life with it's responsibilities and endless "to dos" is enough to make me put on dark shades and take up the harmonica. I know in a few days I will find my stride and the blues will fade. The fact is it is not the situation of transition that brings on these blues but rather my mental and energetic reaction to it. Transitions are happening all the time, everyday, and the ability to handle them with ease is a skill that probably few possess and all desire.
   Transitions remind us that life is impermanent and when things shift or a great time comes to an end, well, it taps into the deeper fear of the bigger impermanence of this life itself. The gift of these kind of blues is a reminder to cherish each day and make them all lively as well as productive, to put fun and hugs and lounging on our to do lists, to put a little vacation in each day, making time for what fills us up and simplifying the rest. Live in the moment, yeah, even if the moment is one of dusting, or yard work, do it fully and transition well. And here it is, another ending, what's next? Let it be something that makes you smile, maybe get out a harmonica and dance the blues. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Family Ties

  We are getting ready today to head out on vacation back to Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively to have fun with the kids, take a break and visit family. When we moved out East a few years ago it meant going off and for the first time not having family around. Until that move we were as tight with my immediate family as one can probably be. Sunday dinner at my Mom's was a given and we usually saw each other at least one other time during a week. Then in a short period of time we all seemed to scatter, we moved out here, my parents moved to Tennessee as they retired, my brother ended up in Minneapolis, my sister stayed in Milwaukee and it was kind of the end of an era.
   I do believe that all things happen for a reason and I see now that the changing geography of our family has brought growth and strength in some way, shape, or form to us all. I have learned to be more independent and to stand on my own. I have also learned that in relationship it is quality not quantity that makes it what it is. I am grateful to have places to go now that are about fun, family and making special memories. On this trip we get to meet a new nephew and new baby girl of a cousin, see friends and siblings, aunts and grandma. It is sure to be a rich and joyful week which we will remember and cherish for a long time to come.    

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Ant and the Tree: A Mystical Metaphor

    On the surface I am someone who comes across self assured and confident, confident in my thoughts, my actions, my life and choices. The truth is, well, the title of this blog says it all. I struggle daily with big questions, small questions and quite often find myself in a state of insecurity, perplexed by every facet of experience and afraid. One of my struggles in growing a relationship with God has been around the classic question of suffering. How can God let innocents be slaughtered, young girls be trafficked as sex slaves, let people starve while others like me have more than we need? One day after sitting outside in meditation this metaphor occurred to me.  I don't claim it to be entirely original, few things these days are and with years of studying yoga I am sure it has it's roots in those teachings.

  We are all like an ant crawling on a tree. The ant can only perceive what it's senses allow in the small space it occupies. It can only take in what happens on the piece of bark or the leaf upon which it crawls. However there is a larger reality, the tree. The ant cannot conceive of this larger structure, has no knowledge of roots or it's beautiful network of branches and how the two mirror each other in perfect synchronicity. The ant does not know that the bark covers a complex system of wood and vascular networks, it can't know the full scope of reality and yet the tree is real. The ant may not understand many things that happen because of it's limited vision but that does not mean that the larger reality does not exist. It does.

So until I have more experience that might refine or evolve this concept,  I will accept that I am like an ant on a tree and that if things I experience in this world don't make sense or fill me with fear and doubt, that just because I can't see the fullness of the universe or the face of God, does not mean they aren't there. Faith.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ride the Roller Coaster

"Peace does not mean no trouble, noise, or hard work. It is being in the midst of all of that and still remaining calm in your heart"

  If there is one thing I have learned over and over in life, it is to expect the unexpected. Each day is like getting up and climbing onto a roller coaster ride while wearing a semi transparent blindfold, so you can sort of make out where you are going, but nothing is for certain. Some days roll along with only a few dips and curves and others rise and fall with great intensity and loop de loop until it is not clear which way is up.
  My day yesterday was in the second category. It went like this. I got up did my yoga and meditation, had breakfast and then got kids up and ready for camp, going good. Go to leave for camp with neighbor kids in tow and low and behold my battery is dead. This happened as a result of my kids helping to clean the car to prepare it to be traded in later in the day yesterday. I go from calm and serene to total panic in about two seconds flat, since not only am I driving kids to camp, I have to teach yoga in less than an hour. I call the neighbor, she takes the kids, and her husband, thank goodness, can come jump my car. Heart rate slows, anxiety recedes.
   I get to the yoga studio and have a nice class with a few more students than usual, which is good, and I am feeling much more myself. Things were seeming to shift back to more of an easy ride. I left the studio smiling. Driving home, all is well and I see a teen girl near the road with a cute little Jack Russell on a leash. Suddenly the dog is loose and running right in front of my car. I do my best to swerve, but there is oncoming traffic, and I hear and feel a sickening thud. I immediately begin to sob uncontrollably. I pull over and jump out of the car, I run to the girl and I am a shrieking, sobbing disaster. This girl is upset of course, but more together than me, and goes into the road and picks up the dog. I am astounded when I realize the dog is alive! I sit with the dog while she fetches her brother, and off they go to rush to the vet, leaving me a more mangled mess than the dog.
  I manage to get it together to finish my drive home, and Mason, who had no camp yesterday, finds himself having to reassure a still shaken and blubbering version of mom that everything is OK. I called the vet where I thought they had gone and found out the dog was going to make it. Once again I settled down and rode the wave. The day continued with a great meeting with yoga teachers, a rumbling thunderstorm that made Harper and our dog Evan cry, a trip to leave one car behind and take home a  shiny new (to us) one, an ice cold beer and finally sleep. Today has been a different ride, less intense so far, but who knows?  Gotta ride the roller coaster.

The quote at the beginning is in the bathroom at the yoga studio where I teach and I really took notice of it before class yesterday. Hmmmmm..... will keep that one close.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Soaking it In

I don't have much to say today besides the sun is shining, the birds are singing, I have loads of delicious juicy fruit from the farm to graze on, the kids are happy (and only fighting here and there). This is no time to be wasting away here on this computer!! So off I go to dip my toes in the pool, maybe dance in the sun, or swing on the swing. Why don't you go do the same? Oh if it is raining or cold where you are imagine the radiant sun and the cool water and do a dance all the same!     

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Time Is It?

   I find that when I am teaching yoga, quite often and suddenly, a surprising or forgotten concept will just pop into my mind. Things that were cloudy or confusing will become clear and then become words that I allow to enter the flow of my teaching. In a recent teaching session this happened, and I recalled a concept I have learned about and worked with in my own practice but never had the impulse to teach. This is the concept of psychological time versus body time.
   Psychological time happens when we are in our heads, or our stories, and usually means we are moving quickly, vacillating between past and future and rarely visiting the present moment. Psychological time is where our ego identity and our critic reign supreme. It is the place where anxiety and depression or our insanity take hold. We do need this kind of time to get through the practicalities of life too. We need to make plans for future actions and draw from past experience. The problem is that many of us live here exclusively, for the most part, and things are way out of balance. Living in psychological time also leaves us disembodied, and it is in the body where we really feel and process. The body is where emotion lives, and it is in the body where it must begin to be integrated or it just gets trapped in our loops of psychological story time.
  Body time, on the other hand, moves much more slowly and exists in the present moment. The best way to transition from psychological time to body time is to take some slow, deep breaths. Breathing reconnects us to all of the rhythms of the body, the dance of expansion and contraction, activating and releasing. It is in this time where we must do the work of processing and integrating our experiences and most importantly the difficult ones. Trauma and pain must be met here in order to be healed and transformed before the shift can happen in psychological time. Our issues are in our tissues! Our tendency to want to speed through life and live in past and future keeps us numb and allows us to avoid fully feeling most anything. This accumulates in our body over time, and eventually, will most likely make us sick. Our dis-ease becomes disease.
  The good news is there are many ways to get into body time, breathing for one, yoga, dance, running, golf, martial arts, swinging on a swing, creating music or art and the list goes on. Of course activities like yoga, Feldenkrais, Trager Approach are specifically geared toward facilitating processing and releasing blockages in the body and the mind, but everyone must find their way to what resonates with them. How often and in what ways do you get into body time? If you are rarely there maybe it is time to play.

As an aside,  I will always remember this time when I was at Kripalu and all of the clocks stopped working. People were panicked and distressed. Someone went around, and on each clock taped a sign that said, "The time is now." That still makes me smile.     

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hot Mess; Fighting Fire with Fire

  It is hot here in Connecticut, hitting the upper 90's and into the 100's for the next few days. We live in a house with no air conditioning, pretty typical of houses in this area. Needless to say, as I write this I feel various sensations of sweat pooling or dripping. I do not glow, I sweat. I also am, what in the yoga science of Ayurveda, is called a fire type or pitta. I always wondered why hot weather not only made my butt sweat but generally would get my panties in a serious bundle. Well Ayurveda says it is all about my fire quality getting intensified and aggravated. Yep, makes sense. Ayurvedic science advises that in this weather I avoid vigorous or heating activity, and eat cooling foods and drink cooling tea. I also, in classic pitta form, think I know best and generally feel rules are made to be broken.
  I am currently training for a half marathon, or two, and a triathlon and damn all advice to hell I am not going to miss my beloved run or bike. In my defense,  I rely upon these activities to keep me balanced and out of cycles of anxiety and depression. As this is science we are talking about, my experiments the past two days have had interesting and surprising results. I could not get out to run in the cooler early morning hours yesterday so off I went at 10:00 with temps well into the eighties and humidity high. As I ran that 6.5 mile loop I could feel the fire building in me.  I did a two mile climb early on and had to dig deep to go beyond sensation, had to get into my meditative state. The sweat poured out of me and my body seemed sure to fail, but a step at a time and I made it to the top. The second half of the run was still fiery and edgy but my prana (life force) surged and I felt one with the earth, natural and free. Not what is supposed to happen I guess, but it was my experience. I followed that run with a treatment fitting the Ayurvedic rules, cool shower, light cooling lunch including watermelon, which came highly recommended, and lazy lounging at the pool, in the shade of course, for the afternoon. Outcome was, I felt awesome! I did not find my anger blazing at all, no panty bundles in the least. Hooray.
  Today I had to go out even later and it was well into the nineties so I chose to cycle. I went moderate completing a 10 mile ride of steamy sweaty rolling hills. Again I followed it with cooling practices. I am feeling good and have a crazy night with the kids ahead, and Stephen is out of town. So far so good, no melt downs, and I mean me, not the kids. Seems that as usual balance is the key to managing the mess of me. Glad to have tools that let me do "unfavorable" things and reap their benefits and offset them with countermeasures. I am a hot mess for sure but taking it in stride.          

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sense and Senselessness

   I think we all experience the deep desire to make sense of life. This can seem very possible at times when things are going well and providence smiles upon us. Then there are the times when we are confronted with world events of violence or disaster or when circumstance brings us face to face with the unimaginable, horrible, hurtful parts of life. Lives cut short or ending needlessly are the most intense experiences of senselessness I can think of. Death is part of life, but it extends beyond our sensory experience or ability to comprehend, and then when it comes violently or unexpectedly it brings us to our knees and shakes the very foundation of what we call sense. This is where we need faith.
   In the past few months I have had personal experiences of this. In April the mother of one my ten year old daughter's friends died after a three month battle with an aggressive form of kidney cancer. I was not close friends with this woman, but we would chat in the classroom or when we got our girls together to play. She was young, vibrant, full of life. In February she was diagnosed with cancer and in April she was gone. When I heard the news of her passing I was stunned. I felt shaken and bruised to my very core. How could that happen? I could not understand, there was no sense in this whatsoever. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am in an inquiry of spirit and faith, and I asked how god, goddess, or universal spirit could be at work here?
   Today is the funeral for the stepfather of my brother's girlfriend. I did not know him at all and yet I am profoundly stricken by his death. He was deeply depressed and took his own life, leaving behind a wife, children, grandchild and extended family and friends. In speaking to my brother about this my heart ached intensely as he cried and said that it did not make sense, that he could not understand. I have struggled with depression in my life and know how it clamps down and becomes suffocating and unbearable. It is an illness, and sometimes it causes death, but unlike other illnesses it has a stigma attached and leaves family and friends in deep trauma. The aftermath of it's senselessness is staggering and the questions and emotions beyond all reason. How to find strength and faith to go on, in the face of that shattering senselessness is a difficult question.
    I don't really have an answer to that question. I can only say that in my experience and experimentation on my road to healing that breathing always works or starts the larger process. My wise teacher Megha often says,"Fear and breath cannot exist in the same space." I find that to be true. The other piece that comes up again and again is to surrender, to throw my arms in the air and say " I don't get it! What should I do? Show me the way, give me the strength.", and then to trust that the way will be made clear even if I don't see or understand for a long time to come. It is when we are faced with senselessness in life that we need faith the most, and it is also where it becomes most fragile. Surrender is the key, there can be no faith without surrender. I believe this state of faith is possible even if you are non theistic or atheist.
  The other part is to take shelter amongst each other and in each others arms. The more we connect and extend ourselves with compassion and care the stronger we all grow. Even if we can't donate money or volunteer or even if we can't be at a loved one's side, we can all extend intentional compassion. We can all pray in whatever way that shows up for us. Praying is simply channelling our energy of consciousness to a specific intention. Even an atheist can pray. Of course this is my opinion and feel free to disagree. We make change and create healing better in community than in isolation. Let's lean on each other and help each other along.      
  On the sense side of the coin we can all do our part to support research that will perhaps someday end these kinds of senseless events. Give to organizations that promote cancer research and research on the brain and mental illness, which includes alternative therapies like yoga and meditation and beyond. Even with that though, death is part of life, and part of our journey is to confront that place beyond our understanding and no two journeys will unfold in the same way. Along our path we must go, one breath at a time, step by step, the road will be made clear and we can hold each others' hands on the way.  "May the long time sun shine upon you."

Consider making a donation to The American Cancer Society or The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 

I am sure I will have more to say on this topic as I process and meditate and pray. Your comments and input are appreciated. Namaste.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dancing with the Dark Side

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." ~ George Bernard Shaw

    I presented a two hour meditation and pranayama workshop this morning to yoga teachers in training. As part of our exploration of meditation practice, we discussed the intention of meditation practice as sitting in the "what is". Sitting in the mess and breathing, without the need to react, respond or change anything. We sit in meditation and make space for all of who we are, in any moment, to be seen and held without judgement. This is difficult since we have a lot of programming, generally, that tells us to hunt down our shadow parts and eradicate them, or at least send them into exile in a lock box, cast down to the bottom of the ocean of our consciousness, to hopefully never return. But it becomes evident quickly that this does not work, no matter how hard we try to lock our skeletons in the closet they always find a way out. Meditation is to dance with whoever shows up for the party, even, and especially, the skeletons.
    The truth is that those skeletons and shadows, the dark side, have so much wisdom and energy to offer, and if we don't invite them to the party and dance with them their offerings are lost. As part of the yoga training I am in right now one of my specific practices is to look at my anger. My anger has caused me great pain and shame because I resist it, and extend to it only judgement. I have made no room for compassion. I have tried many times to send my anger into permanent exile, and have failed many times. My intention now is to invite my anger to the party, to dance with it in my yoga and my life so that I might see it fully and from all angles. If I dance with it, I might charm it into revealing what currents lie underneath it, what great energy is it's source.
    When I think about how much energy surges through me when my anger comes up it is amazing.  Now, what if I came into relationship with that and made friends with it so all that energy could perhaps shift or transmute and be channeled into my evolutionary process?  I know that the effects would be enormous and enlightening.  I know the way to achieve that is to keep getting on my yoga mat and my meditation cushion, roll out a red carpet, fling all the closet doors open and have a skeleton's ball.

What skeleton should you let out of exile?  Open the door, extend it a hand and a smile, maybe a bow or a curtsy and ask it to dance.                 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Training for Forty, Inspired by Eighty

 "We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing." ~ George Bernard Shaw

  I will turn forty in a few short months and honestly I am really looking forward to it. During my thirties I took up long distance running and then triathlons. It has become quite commonplace for me to say, " I am training for ________." As I have been considering the coming of this great milestone I feel things shifting and realigning in me, and in a good way. Recently it occurred to me that this coming into the forties is an event into which I can bring focus and intention. I can bring vision and action to this grand occasion so I might enter it with the same excitement and enthusiasm as I bring to race day.
   My next consideration is, what are the skills and qualities I want to build and strengthen to bring on this next decade's journey?  I have already grown into a deepening of my yoga practice, and I don't think it is any mere coincidence that I am in this year long yoga intensive focused on spiritual growth as I arrive at this new cycle in my life.  I want my training for forty to be about loving myself more, exploring and making room for new adventures of joyful living and expanding experience. I want to find new edges and do things that scare me. I want to be balanced as well, and mindful of my energies, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  I want to see, feel, smell, and taste, new regions and nuances of this world, both the one outside of myself but even more so the one inside myself.  I want to dive down into all the spaces of my being with a thirst to leave no stone unturned, to leave no part untouched. I want to revel in being my perfectly imperfect, fabulously flawed, magnificent mess of a self. I want to play and frolic and dance through this next decade. I am just adding specificity of intention to a process that has been ongoing and will continue on the day of my birthday and beyond. Ahhhh life, a magnificent and messy marathon, a great journey indeed.
   In fact, just today, I was all lit up and inspired about the possibility of training for decades to come by a random encounter in line at Whole Foods. The woman next to me commented on how much she liked my tattoo. She then lifted her shirt sleeve to show me hers, which was simply the word hope. She smiled a beaming smile and said, " I got mine for my eightieth birthday." What struck me most was not how cool it was that she got a tattoo at eighty, although that is very cool, it was her youthful attitude and the light of joy and fullness of life that she radiated. It was obvious that this is a woman who at the age of eighty is still exploring and playing, embracing and relishing life, much like my own grandmother, who is in her eighties and despite fighting cancer for years has never let it stop her from living it up. How lucky she is to be able to do that!! I hope to be that lucky. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sweet Surrender

  You might be surprised to hear that yoga, as we think of it, is a system of eight parts or limbs and the first two limbs are a set of restraints and observances known as the yamas and niyamas. They include concepts like nonviolence, truth, and discipline. One of these observances is the center point of my practice right now as I go through a year long training called the Acharya Intensive. This training revolves around three main inquiries, being on the path of love, being on the path of service, and being in relationship with the divine or, yes I will use the word, God. The observance that this relates to is called ishvara pranidhana or surrendering to God (feel free to substitute any other word or concept here like universe, higher power, or tree).
  This is no easy concept for me to grasp or put into practice. I  have a strong warrior energy, and surrender, well, not so much in my nature. The concept of God too, is one I have and continue to struggle with. I have questions and doubts, as I think most of us do, about the nature of the world, the suffering I see and experience, and how that allows room for faith in a bigger plan or divine order. However, I look at the facts of how I stumbled onto this path, and how step by step I have been carried along, and piece after piece things have come right on time. I have experienced miraculous things, have landed in the presence of amazing teachers and mentors and my spiritual evolution is taking it's course with an intelligence that does not come from me.
   So, since May, I have been exploring this concept in earnest and I have found that when I remember it, there is great peace and comfort. I can take all of the things I do everyday and surrender them. I can surrender my teaching, my parenting, my writing, every action, word, thought or breath. I can surrender success and failure alike, my best, my worst and all the shades of grey become offerings. In the surrendering everything becomes welcome, no part of me needs to be exiled or hidden. That is liberation, the ultimate goal of yoga. Yet I struggle and forget, I question and doubt even though I have experienced that peace and release. Such is the practice, and the angel of struggle helps us on our way.
   Last week I was at Kripalu assisting Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training. One exercise we were doing, and which I participated in, due to the odd number in the group, was forming an affirmation to share with a partner. My affirmation was (and is) " I surrender my teaching with trust and faith to God." This led to an exercise of experiencing our inner critic and mine came up fierce because that is it's nature. The day went on and I forgot my affirmation but my critic stayed present and I found myself suddenly in a crisis of confidence. I began to crumple under questions of "Am I good enough?". My insecurity came up loud and told me to give up, that I don't have talent or skills in teaching. It showed up and told me the usual string of lies that it does. The angel of struggle opened it's wings.
  The next day I taught yoga in the morning and struggled on. That afternoon I was partnered again and this time we were to choose a yama or niyama to discuss with our buddy on a walk outside. Of course I knew ishvara pranidhana had my name on it. On that walk, as I shared about this practice, all of that doubt and insecurity melted away and a state of peace and acceptance returned. I rode that wave of peace and practice the remainder of the stay.
  I have returned home and everyday I ride the waves of getting lost in my story and reacting to life and then remembering my practice. I have even begun to trust the angel of struggle to bring me what I need to learn and grow. One thing I know for certain is that to surrender is sweet, and that if it is faith we seek, it can not exist without surrender.
  For now, I have written this and it too is an offering. Whether anyone reads it, and whether they appreciate it or not, I surrender it now to God.  


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We Live in a Beautiful World

   There are many times in my day to day experience that despite having my yoga practice and a life of abundance I feel heavy and the world feels bleak. I try not to watch too much news, but what I see consistently weighs me down and makes me question, well, everything. Then, suddenly, there will blossom before me something that lifts the cloud, and the brilliant light of joy is reawakened, my journey is affirmed. It is like the world opens it's hand to present a jewel that reflects all that is magnificent back to me. In those moments I remember who I am and the beauty of it all, even the beauty of what I have called heavy, the wondrous storm.
 This morning I awoke to gorgeous sun and the anticipation of celebrating a friend's 50th birthday with a bike ride through the picturesque area where I live. As we rode I felt great happiness and gratitude for all I have. I relished each breath, felt the sun on my face, I even tried to whine a little less on the hills, with little success, but I tried. The world opened it's hand and what it offered made my heart sing and my spirit soar.
   At one point on this ride we noticed something in the road, and almost simultaneously we slowed, along with a couple cars. My friend and I saw it was a turtle in the road, and we stopped to save it, but realized that some people in a car behind us were already on the job. I said to my friend, " Wow, there is still hope for this world. If in one instant a whole group of people, on their respective ways in life, all stopped to save a turtle, then there is promise for all things." We set off again, smiling, and I felt swept up in bliss for all of it. I felt contentment to see my friend, now 50 years old, and kicking my butt on that ride, inspired by seeing people still care about the earth and it's life, awestruck by the beauty of the land and the brilliant sun.
   Someday soon, when the storm clouds roll in, and I feel like curling up in a ball or running off to hide, I will try to remember this morning. I will try to remember that the storm will pass, having given me it's own unique gifts which allow me to grow in the brilliant sun. We live in a beautiful world, yeah we do.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coming Home from Kripalu, or Watch that First Step It's a Doozy

  I have not posted in awhile because I have been away at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, known to it's regulars as k-world or the mother ship. Being at Kripalu, even when I am assisting or working in a program, is like landing on a different planet. The place is steeped in spiritual energy and prayer, it's surroundings are breathtaking, the people are yoga people, enough said, and I get a change of pace from my usual life. While I am at Kripalu I only have me to take care of, I eat delicious and healthy meals that I had no part in preparing, no cleaning, no driving, no television or phone ringing, no loud anxious society, none of that. I have time and space to move mindfully, to focus on one thing at a time, and to luxuriate in my own experience. Now, being in yoga programs and assisting them, like anything in life, can bring up "stuff" and present challenges. This week brought many pieces of myself to the surface, some wonderful and some difficult, it was a week of work and play, dancing and yoga, and of course ups and downs ready for examination. ( Look for details of those experiences and awakenings in posts soon to come)
     Then comes the day when I pack up, say "see ya later", and come home. Most anyone I have ever talked to who has gone to Kripalu and gone home has agreed that this is usually a rough landing. The transition back to "real world" feels abrupt and shocking. The world's normal hum of business,  noise and hyperactivity are unsettling, and being thrown back into the realm of multiple responsibilities and many "to does" makes me almost crumble. My inner voice screams,"Give me back the peace and serenity, give me back the community of support, give me back a life of yoga and dance, give me back the BUFFET!!!"  In fact right now I sit here writing this to avoid for a moment longer, beds to make, laundry to fold , bathrooms to clean, kids to attend to, and the list goes on. I feel overwhelmed and irritated, flustered and resistant. I love my life, but these transitions ruffle my feathers.
     But here is where everything comes together, what the practice is all about. Even now, in these moments of tension and agitation I can come back to the breath. Here is where all that practice and experience of the last week comes to fruition. How might I enter this dance and find the grace and flow? How can I hold and experience this posture and all the wealth it has to offer?  I can make that mountain of laundry an experience of misery or it could be a meditation of breath and presence. I can attend to my family with impatience or find my tenderness and compassion, my metta. These yoga practices are quite easy in the arms of Kripalu Center but the real test is here in the home with the family. One step at a time now, one thing at a time, it all unfolds with purpose, but watch that first step it's a doozy.            

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gaining Ground

   I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday and the topic turned, as it often does, to how busy and rushed our lives are. We both have three kids at home and often feel like we are pulled in many directions and in constant movement. Personally, I think whether you have kids or not, have a demanding career or don't work in the traditional sense at all, most of us have this experience of rushing and being under pressure to do more, fit more in. We live in a culture that is high speed and getting faster all the time. Our technology perhaps has exceeded what our brains can handle, our evolutionary process fails to match the speed. We multitask and place fierce demands on ourselves, leaving us feeling flustered and agitated in both our minds and our bodies. Our energy loses it's ground, it's integrative force. My friend told me that she feels it takes her a long time to settle and decompress when the opportunity comes,when there is nothing to get done, nowhere to go. The feeling of agitation, of needing to stay in motion persists.
  I suggested she try a simple grounding technique to facilitate a faster decompression and reintegration of the scattered energy. This technique can help in any moment one might experience agitation, loss of control or overwhelm. This is best done seated in a chair or on the ground, standing works too and in some situations it is not possible to sit (for example, feeling impatient waiting in line). Start by simply feeling your feet on the earth and your sits bones grounded on the earth or the chair. Sense the rootedness and stability provided by that connection and allow the body to soften into it. Let go of face and shoulders in particular, allow the gluteal muscles to soften ( they hold a lot of tension ).  Next tune into breath, follow it's natural tendency for a few rounds and then begin to initiate deeper breath where the belly expands on the inhale and releases on the exhale.  No forcing of breath, follow it's natural opening into the body. Finally, take a deep inhale and pull the shoulders up to the ears imagining all of your held tension accumulating there, on the exhale release the shoulders down and sigh the breath out through the mouth. Repeat two more times and finish with three more centering breaths in and out through the nose.
   I am a yoga teacher, and although this blog is not about yoga or anything specific really, (wanted to allow this blog to be messy just like me, just like life) it will inevitably gravitate toward yoga. Yoga is my way of being and living, it is there always, on or off the mat or cushion. So until we meet again NAMASTE EVERYBODY!! Love and light to all.      

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Caught Between a Hill and a Hot Place

"Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." Ralph Waldo Emerson

  Heading out for my first attempt at a run in almost a week, I was confronted with a choice. Should I pick the shady, tree covered route that has a two mile climb or the flat route in direct sun?  It was a hot day yesterday, and either one would be a challenge given that my endurance is all but nonexistent right now. Sometimes on a run, and in life, you have to pick your poison. You take on the challenge for the gift of experience it will bring. I am moved by nature, and hills are great to build muscular strength and endurance, so I picked the hill.
   The way was slow and fatigue came quickly as I began the climb. I resolved to be slow and steady, and not just in my body, but in my breath, and most importantly my mind. As sensation built I tried to let go of labels or valuations, to focus on the action of each step and it's relationship to breath. I followed the energetic knowing of my body, and I did walk briefly a few times when I knew it was needed. I felt the presence of the trees and heard the rustling of leaves and sound of birds, anchors for my awareness, meditation in motion. I made that two mile climb and then enjoyed the freeing shift of descent. I know it was made even more liberating and joyful because of the trial that came before it. The blood, sweat and tears (almost), of the climb made the way down an experience of bliss and release. Without the hill and the strength it took that would not have happened. At the end of that 5 1/2 mile run I felt cleansed and made new. I felt deeply alive and connected to nature and myself, revitalized and strong.
    The gift I take away from this run (and consistently find in my running) is that facing the challenge is worth the discomfort, and when confronting it, to know I will pick the path that I need in that moment. The reward of tackling either the hill or the hot place is experience, and from experience comes wisdom. Even when I fail to make it to the top, or to go the distance, which has happened, there is great learning. Learning to let go, to surrender. All of it is powerful, all of it is full of grace.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Confessions of a Mess

"The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for."
~Oscar Wilde

   In the spirit of making friends with the mess I will type this as it comes to me and publish it without proofreading or spellchecking. Watch out it could get real messy, or maybe not. They say confession is good for the soul and that subject (the soul) takes the front seat more and more in my life and it has been a LONG time since I did a formal confession, as I have gone the way of the yogi. I will give it my best shot and just might make this a serial post.
   I confess that I often find myself hooked into the pressure cooker that is epedemic, in my humble opinion, amongst us women today and for who knows how long to be PERFECT!!  The supermom/superwoman cape is made out of lead and I am sick and tired of it dragging me down. Why am I hooked in? I am hooked in by shame, by a life story of "I am not good enough.", which I think I share with a vast majority of humanity. I am hooked in by my fear of being judged, past,prsent and future. This is allabout wanting to be seen and accepted, about validation and love. The thing is that perfection is a LIE!! It does not exist. It always a facade, a put on, a hoax. And yet we buy into it and perpetuate it and perpetrate it on one other again and again. We live in a world where Real Lives of the so and so Housewives is the buzz and what many women are filling their heads with unfortunately. I watched about 10 minutes of it one day, just to see if it is bad as I imagined, and it was.
     But back to me. Somehow even though it causes me inner turmoil, triggers my I am not good enough story line and brings up feelings of guilt, I do choose again and again to do for myself. Instead of making the external facad the priority I consistently put the focus on my health and development. I would rather dance than dust, I will choose to run first and fold laundry later, I would rather spend that hour kide free doing yoga than cleaning out my closet. Don't get me wrong my house is really pretty tidy and it is completely functional but it is never everything in it's place ready for the white glove test condition. The suffering comes in with this flawed ideal, that somehow I should be able to do it all and I can't. I am not a "superwoman".
    I also do not try to do it all for my kids. I don't volunteer to go here or there just for the sake of doing. I limit the activities I let them sign on for and I don't set up an environment of entitlement for them. Just because I could give it to them does not mean I should and if I did I would be seeting them up for a whole lot of suffering and disappointment later on. I am not a "supermom". I did not stop having my own identity when I gave birth. In my core I know that is what is best for me and them but still the guilt comes, still the self doubt shows up. Parenting is messy business but I find that sometimes the mess has the most joy. When I let go of expectation and stop judging my worth based on their behavior or acheivement and let them be playful and rowdy, loud and boisterous, those are the best times.
   I confess that more often than not there are dustbunnies happily roaming the house, a few dirty dishes in the sink, stuff shoved in drawers, closets, and under beds, a mountain of laundry waiting patiently to be attended to........and it CAN WAIT!! My mentor gave me two mantras which have changed my relationship with the mess and have made it so much more magnificent. They are "I am allowed." and " Do one thing at a time, and do it fully."  When I fall into the pit of  "I am not good enough.", and I remember my mantras I can get back to my yogini self, at peace with the what is. I still have alot of work to do and I often don't remeber the mantras right away, but the tools are in place and practice will make imperfect, perfect. Hmmmm I guess this a confession turned manifesto, but so be it, it is good for the soul!!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Magic Bones

This is really just an addendum to my last post. I wrote this poem during the last module of my 500 hour yoga teacher training at Kripalu. I wrote it before I did Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training but it is an expression of that magical practice. So read it and then why not put on a piece of music that fills you with joy and makes you want to MOVE! Everyone is a dancer, the key is to feel it, not think it. Close your eyes, breathe, and move from the intelligent inner impulse. If you try it you just might LOVE it! Remember, perfection is boring, the magic is in the letting go and letting it be messy if that's what it wants to be.

                                                                    Magic Bones

                                                     There is magic in these bones
                                                      they shake
                                                      they rattle
                                                      they roll
                                                      A mystical rhythm
                                                      a primal flow
                                                      Each movement an opening
                                                      to the soul
                                                      Descending from the moon
                                                      and arising from the earth
                                                       No need to over think it
                                                       we've had it since birth
                                                      Draw the power to the center
                                                      and let it swell
                                                      Until the hips
                                                      invoke the magic spell
                                                      The sacred dance will soon unfold
                                                      take a breath and lose control
                                                      The limbs take flight and then you find
                                                      a gateway through the thinking mind
                                                      Trust the rhythm and you will see
                                                      the magic bones will set you free

Dedicated to the AMAZING Megha Nancy Buttenheim creator and director of Let Your Yoga Dance, Irena Blethen Executive Manager of Let Your Yoga Dance and most inspiring dancer and friend, The Dancing Angels my tribe, my students and all the dancers known and unknown. Dance on my friends!!

If you want to know more about the Let Your Yoga Dance program visit