Mi Casa Es Sukhasana- How to Build a Home Practice.

A student recently told me this great ‘yoga story.’ She was in Scott Hobbs class, and she overheard someone mention that it had been awhile since he had practiced yoga. The brilliant Scott Hobbs said “Have you been somewhere without a floor?”

Yes, you can practice yoga on your own; you don’t always need a teacher to tell you what to do. In the early days of yoga (thousands of years ago), we believe that yoga was done in secret- or at least, practiced in the privacy of one’s home. The word ‘asana’ can be translated to mean ‘posture’, but also ‘to sit.’ In the early days, i imagine a yogi’s home practice was very simple. It likely consisted of basic stretches and strengthening exercises. What i imagine they were doing was natural movements and postures, like stretching your arms overhead when you first wake up in the morning, or rolling your shoulders open and back a few times to get the chest to open. Traditional postures were passed down from teacher to student, or through familial lines- but in the end, i think it was up to the yogi to do their own home-work, in preparation for the ‘real’ practice, which was to allow a yogi to sit and meditate.

In my opinion, having a home practice as a yoga teacher is sort of mandatory- at least it is for me. It is a place to experience what yoga means. It is a time to explore the ideas, methods and techniques i have learned over the years- to pull together the experiences i’ve gained from my teachers, to feel it deeply in my body and make it my own. It is a time to experiment. To allow movement sequences to arise creatively and spontaneously, out of intuition and deep listening. To pause and be still. It is empowering to participate in my own process of Self-inquiry, healing and awareness. i practice “alignment” as a moment-by-moment experience of understanding exactly where i am in time and space… a deliberate and conscious participation in aligning myself- body-mind-and-soul- so that i feel connected-united-integrated-whole-and fully embodied. Practicing at home means giving myself time to play and explore, and i admit, most of the time i practice in my pajamas! It is a great joy to practice yoga in my home sanctuary, treat my body as a temple, and i value the time to simply BE with myself.

i LOVE taking class from my teachers. i enjoy practicing among dedicated yogis, learning something new, being challenged in a way i might not do on my own, and guided from the trusted experience of my teachers. But for the most part, my home practice allows me to experience yoga at my own pace, and the work i do at home informs the way i share yoga with my students. As i get older, as my practice matures, i am less interested in fancy choreography, or accomplishing advanced postures. Really, i just want some time to deepen my breath, steady my body, still my mind, and take a break from technology and the stress of the modern world. i enjoy being able to simply sit with myself- to be at home with myself- and to allow time to expand for me in the stillness of my practice.

This writing is intended to help inspire you to begin your own home practice. Even if you are not a yoga teacher, having a home practice should be fun, joyful and a healthy way to experience the truth of YOU! It is a valuable time to listen to your inner-wisdom, the innate-knowingness of how to do self-care. This writing is a guide for yoga-nerds like myself, and especially for yogis who still haven’t experienced the joy of practicing at home. Here i will give suggestions and offer ideas, which are inspired from my own home practice and a little of what i’ve learned from my teachers Erich Schiffman and Donna Farhi. i hope when you are done reading this, you are inspired to turn the computer off and get on your yoga mat!!!

Elements of building a home practice:

-Create a ’sacred space:’ Set your practice space in a room that is clean, free from clutter, noise and distraction. Close the door, turn off technology, request family give you privacy, dim the light, set out crystals, feathers, or other special treasures, light a candle, burn incense… whatever helps to create a space that is sacred. This is an important step, so that your practice is not commonplace; not a chore like doing the dishes or vacuuming the carpet. Create an environment that is separate from other home-activities, and honor this precious time with yourself.

-Have your props ready: If you have to stop in the middle of your practice, or go to another room to get a prop, it may break your attention, and stop the creative flow. Have everything handy- and this includes music- even if in the end, you decide to practice in silence. i also usually keep a journal nearby, in case i get a good idea, or i come up with a great sequence, and i want to remember it later. i can easily jot down my idea, and get right back into my practice.

-Set a time limit: This has been really helpful for me, and i encourage you to give yourself some structure about how long you are committing to practice. It could be ten minutes, it could be one or two hours- but create a time limit for yourself, and stick to it. This helps challenge you to work for a given amount of time- and also sets a boundary for when you would like to be done. Both usually help me to have peace of mind as i practice.

-Set a goal or intention: What do you want to work on today? Check in with your body, your breath and your mind, and be honest to how you are showing up on your mat. Check in with aches and pains, and keep watching these places throughout your practice- to be sensitive, supportive and mindful. Here are some examples of ideas to get started with, but do not feel limited by this list. The possibilities for creative individualized exploration are endless:

Work on postures you do not like, or that you avoid: this strengthens parts of you that may be weak or imbalanced. It helps stir up energy if you are feeling stuck, challenges you beyond your comfort level and creates balance by giving you what you may lack or be averted to.

Work on postures that you love: do those beloved shapes, movements and forms that make your heart sing. Do poses that give familiarity, comfort or full-bodied satisfaction. It will be a safe playground for you to explore the fine details and will make your heart happy.

Focus on breath: Discover how profound it is to simply ‘inhale-pause-exhale-pause.’ Linger in the connection of breath and movement- and refined, conscious breath within the stillness of the physical form.

Focus on and explore a ‘type’ of posture: backbends, forward bends, twists, hip and shoulder openers, inversions, restoratives, vinyasa/ movement connecting with breath… What is involved in this particular type of posture? How do these postures inform the entire body structure- to be connected, balanced, and whole? How can you explore these postures- from standing, to sitting, to laying on your belly, to laying on your back? Make sure to do counter poses, or somehow create balance in the body- front to back and side to side.

Focus on a theme: This may give you a starting point, if you don’t know what to work on. The ideas for a ‘theme’ are endless, here are a few to get you started: balance, strength, steadiness, to be kind to yourself, to breathe well and with clear attention, to give you energy for the day, to work therapeutically with an injury, to dedicate your efforts to someone you love or who needs it, etc. Give yourself a main idea to focus on, and explore where that theme will take you.

-Honor the principles of Satya and Ahimsa- be truthful and non-violent: Practice postures and movement sequences that are truthful to your level and experience. The great thing about practicing on your own is being able to truly listen to what your body is asking for- not to strain beyond what is appropriate for you- and be honest with yourself in the moment. If you are truly listening to your body and your breath, you are consciously aware of your entire body, you should not risk injury. If there are questions about whether you are doing postures safely, if you are feeling strain, depleted energy or a specific injury is arising, seek an experienced teacher who can lead you in bringing balance to your body. With your teacher, you can work on specific postures and alignment principles that you can bring back with you to your home practice.

-Sequencing your home practice/ basic arc of a class: The following is a basic outline for sequencing a good home practice. Feel free to follow this outline, but don’t feel limited by it. There is so much that can be said in terms of sequencing, there are many ways to play inside (and out) of this basic class structure. But here’s a simple arc of a class (if you need one) to get you started:

—OpeningThis gives you a way to slow down and to make the transition into your practice. Use the ‘opening’ as a way to turn your focus from the distractions of the world and your mind, by connecting with sensation, awareness, and breath. Sitting in meditation is a great way to begin. Most of the time, i begin lying on my back- i connect with the rhythm of my breath, until i feel guided as to where to go next.

—Sun Salutations/ Warm upConnect with your body through gentle stretches, cat’s breath, child’s pose, or a downward facing dog. You can do traditional Surya Namaskara, or you make up your own versions. Connect physical movement with breath, in a disciplined, conscious way. Warm up the big muscle groups so they are ready for more specific actions and advanced postures.

—Standing Poses - There is no need to do every single standing pose. Pick a few of your favorites, that make sense with where your practice is going- to ground into the feet, strengthen and open the legs, hips, spine and back. Treat the standing postures as part of your ‘warm up.’ Listen to your entire body as a whole and practice good alignment that you may have learned from your teachers.

—PeakYour ‘peak pose’ could be anything: a backbend, balance posture, inversion, hip opening.. This could be the “pinnacle” of your practice, where your work so far has been leading you. It could be the place to practice the strongest, most advanced poses in your sequence, or simply the place where you feel the most “awake.”

—Cool Down/ Counter Poses - Wherever your practice has led you, make sure to do a cool down with ‘counter poses’ to create a balanced practice. For example, if you focused on backbends, give yourself some twists and forward bends. If your practice was strong and dynamic, use the cool down to create stillness, stretch and subtlety. Seated twists and forward bends go nicely here, or reclining postures such as bridge pose, happy baby, thread the needle or reclined twist.

—SavasanaRest. Pause. Integrate. Be in a comfortable resting position where you can drop the weight of the body, and receive the benefits of your work. This is an important pose to do, no matter where your practice took you. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to rest and integrate. When possible, i try to give myself 7 – 10 minutes for savasana.

—Meditation - Be still. Take a moment to feel the effect of your practice. Pause in the transition from the artistry of your practice, to stepping back into the ‘real world.’ Move slowly and consciously back into your day.

My best advice for building a home practice: give yourself some structure, give yourself some freedom.

Having a home practice needs a level of commitment and dedication. As you set down to practice, most likely in the first five minutes, a thought will pop into your mind: “Did i leave the stove on?” … “Should i really walk the dog now?” … “Oh, i just remembered about that bill i need to pay.. or that email i need to send.. or that phone call i need to make..” These thoughts will inevitably arise- they always do for me! These thoughts will pull you away from your practice, and will keep you distracted. Make the commitment and Do Your Practice. (This is where setting a time limit may be helpful). The things on your ‘to do’ list can wait. And once you’ve aligned your physical body, grounded yourself in breath and centered your mind, you will feel ready to take on the day.

So give yourself some structure- create a sacred space by closing the door and shutting off your phone, have a time frame to work, and perhaps an intention or dedication to a certain goal- but then allow yourself freedom to explore. Listen to youself in the moment- LISTEN deeply. Participate and be engaged with what is happening in every single moment, and respond to what is happening in the most appropriate way possible. Just BE in the “live event,” as Erich Schiffman calls it. Be in the living event of your life, and do your practice as if you are a moving, breathing work of art.

Mi Casa Es Sukhasana.

The root ‘Sukha’ means happiness, ease or space. ‘Asana’ means to sit, to create poise. Asana is posture created from the dual qualities of steadiness and ease. And to put the two root words together, ‘Sukhasana’ is roughly translated as the ‘easy crossed legged pose,’ the place where we sit to find steadiness, space and comfort. When we are truly at home with ourself, when we feel comfortable in our own skin- this to me is a precious gift. To stop the mind from obsessing about the past, or projecting into the future- and to truly engage with the present moment, no matter where you are- that to me is yoga. You take your practice with you, wherever you go, as the delightful Scott Hobbs reminds us: “wherever there is a floor.” i’m not sure where this phrase comes from, but it’s a good one: “The measure of a good yoga practice is not to be able to put your leg behind your head- a successful yoga practice is when you are happy in your life.” Your yoga practice can be a self-guided return to awakened presence and the truth of authentic being. As Donna Farhi writes “May your practice bring you home.”

(This awesome image comes from one of my amazing students, Wendy, who drew this in her journal. These are her ‘notes’ during a workshop i led in Ojai, California on how to build a home practice. i love the visual representation she drew and am so happy to include it here).

i think i have a crush on Triangle Pose: confessions of a yoga teacher.

i think i have a crush on Triangle Pose… We’ve been hanging out a lot recently. i like how Trikonasana makes me feel. i admit, i think about Triangle pose while i’m in other poses… and i dream about spending long sunny afternoons together. i just want to set my mat as close as possible to Triangle pose…

(i’m not sure why this is so funny to me. Hopefully, you appreciate my yoga nerd sensibilities and weird humor ;) ).

But all kidding aside, i really do love Triangle Pose. It’s always been one of my favorites- because there is so much to explore within this posture. It’s challenging, empowering and deeply satisfying when done with intelligent and integrated action. When i do this pose well, i feel like a star fish- radiating open in all directions, and yet, absolutely connected to the core of my being. In general, it strengthens the legs, back, spinal and core muscles. It opens the hips, stretches the legs, balances the sacro-iliac joint, and massages the abdominal organs, among many other benefits. It is a pose to heal, strengthen and open the body- and it’s a great pose for practitioners of all levels.

After i sprained my ankle last September, one of the biggest surprises i found was that in Triangle Pose, i could no longer fully straighten my front leg! It was sort of a HUGE and humbling discovery. i had always been able to touch the floor easily with my bottom hand (as i’m demonstrating in this old picture of me above). Now, that idea seems impossible and no longer important. As i write this, i am finally able to straighten my front leg, but i need to use a tall size block under my bottom hand (because that’s as far as i can go, folks).

i am interested in writing about this pose because it is such an important one for me in my practice. i have to admit that the longer i practice Triangle pose- year after year, practice after practice- my experience of this pose continues to grow and unfold for me. For many years, i have been using Trikonasana as the central posture in my home practice. i deliberately repeat this pose, side by side- especially in the last few months while rehabilitating my ankle. And i’m happy to report that my hips and spine have never felt better. This writing is intended as a way for me to express what i understand and experience in this amazing, healing, transformative pose- to break down the different elements of this pose that i love so much- and i hope you find this information as exciting as i do! (Yoga nerds of the world unite!)

i remember hearing in the early days of my yoga practice that Triangle Pose received its name because of the many triangles this pose creates. (i’m not sure if this is entirely accurate, but it’s an interesting idea.) In the picture shown here, i have tried to highlight the different triangles i see: the triangle connecting the legs with the floor- the triangle made with the bottom arm, side torso and front leg- the triangle from the shoulders to the crown of the head- and so on. i imagine these lines forming triangular shapes, within and around my body. Being one of the strongest structures in nature, these basic geometric triangles arise out of the form of the physical posture- and the pose begins to come alive.

i enjoy sensing the triangles of my shoulder blades, which remain firm and secure onto the back body.

Triangles.. from a bird’s eye view.

Visualize triangles made from the center of the chest (the sternum) to the top of the shoulders (the coracoid process)- and from the top of the shoulders, to the spinous process of the vertebrae in the upper back. In the image to the right, we are looking down at the rib cage, thoracic spine and shoulder girdle- as if from a bird’s eye view. If in Triangle pose the chest or ribs protrude forward too far (pinching the upper back)- OR- the upper back rounds, the shoulders collapse, and the chest is closed… misaligning the upper body in either direction would distort the symmetry of these two triangles. Ideally, we want to evenly spread wide through the upper back and through the chest, so the triangles on either side of the body are balanced.

Meditation Practice: The Sacred Pyramids.

There are two more triangles i have been playing with in my home practice that i would like to share. i find this visualization extremely helpful to use in almost any posture, and my students tell me how much they enjoy using them too. Try reading this as a guided meditation:

The First Pyramid: Sit Bones to the Center of the Earth.

As you sit reading this, visualize your two sitting bones at the bottom of your pelvis. These bony edges mark the bottom tips of the ischial tuberosity (you can feel them if you are sitting, and you try to walk forward). From the sitting bones, visualize sending roots down through your chair, through the soil, into the Earth. The center of the Earth is roughly 4,000 miles down. Visualize connecting your roots into a final solitary point as you reach into the very center of this amazing planet. This forms the first triangle, or pyramid. As you visualize rooting down into the Earth, observe how solid your sitting posture becomes. As you root down into the Earth, observe that the quality of your posture becomes steady, grounded, and connected.


The Second Pyramid: Sit Bones to the Base of the Skull.

As much as you are rooting down through the sitting bones, draw this Earth energy up into the body. From the two sitting bones, draw imaginary lines up the sides of the spine to the base of the skull. This forms the second triangle- a tall pyramid structure. As you lift enthusiastically up through the torso and spine, imagine the “pyramid of your spine” as strong as the Egyptian Pyramids. Notice how this pyramid image encourages your posture to be centered, steady and solid. As you create this image in your body, do you notice that it is easier for you to sit in stillness? As you imagine this long triangular, pyramid support for the spine, feel how the core muscles along the spine activate in such a way to hold the length and integrity of the spine. This support gives space for the side body to lift, and room for the organs to breathe. Notice as well, that because appropriate core muscles are engaged, the shoulders and the neck muscles are free to relax. Allow your breath to easily move in and out, without disturbing the vibrant structure of both pyramids.

The Beloved Trikonasana- Triangle Pose. A detailed walk through…

To come into the pose:

Step the feet wide apart, so that with the arms outstretched, the ankles are beneath the wrists. Bend the right knee, and turn the entire right leg open as one unit. Align the right knee with the second toe, facing directly to the back wall. Angle the left leg in, by stepping the heel of the left foot slightly behind the toes. Align the feet- front heel to back arch. With your hands on your hips, notice that as you align the front (right) knee with the second toe, the back (left) hip has to come forward slightly, so there is no strain on the inner right knee or inner thigh. Allow this to happen, and maintain this position in your hips as you move into and while holding the pose. Although the left hip is a little in front of the right, turn your chest to face the side of the room- so that there is a subtle twist in the spine, just above the belly.

Inhale, lift your chest and spread the arms open wide. Exhale, extend your torso to the right, shift your hips to the left- keeping the spine in one long continuously flowing line. When the hips cannot shift any more to the left side, slide your bottom (right) hand down to the shin, or a block behind the shin. Lift the top arm directly up toward the ceiling.

i teach primarily in the Yoga Works method- which means that we can look at a pose in reference to three main platforms, or sections of the body. The three platforms are: the feet/ ankles, the pelvic girdle and the shoulder girdle. i will describe what is happening in Trikonasana at each of these three platforms.

Foundation: Ankles and Feet.

Press into the big toe mound of the front foot, and the outer edge and heel of the back foot. Visualize sending roots from these points in the feet down into the center of the Earth. Just as equally as you ground down through your feet, draw the effort back up the legs, lift the inner arches of the feet, as the outer ankles hug in. Lift the knees and thighs with positive tone. As if ’slurping’ the thigh muscles into the hip sockets, feel how solid and steady the legs are beneath you- giving you support and grounded-ness.

Pelvic Girdle.

Draw the bottom (right) hip into the midline (without cranking the hips open to the side wall), and press the back (left) thigh straight back- until the pelvis is centered and neutral on the Sagittal Plane. Allow the sacrum to expand wide with your breath, as you draw the low belly in and up. Reach your sacrum toward the back (left) heel and lengthen through the lower back.

Elongate the torso evenly on all sides. Bring in the visualization of the spine like a pyramid- connecting and stabilizing the entire spine, including the neck.

Shoulder Girdle.

Roll your shoulders open and back. Press the shoulder blades forward toward the chest, lift the sternum up, and broaden across the chest- yet keep the belly and the front ribs drawn in, so that the back body remains expanded. Draw the sides of the neck back- remember, the neck is still a part of the “pyramid of your spine.” Spread the arms wide, and lift vibrantly up through the top hand and fingers.

Keep the feet, legs, and pelvis exactly where they are. Once this has been set, add a subtle twist in the spine. i like to use an exhale, to absorb the belly toward the spine and keep the lower back elongated. Slowly, turn the ribs and chest first toward the side wall- eventually, the ribs and chest may begin to turn toward the ceiling. Keep the bottom (right) shoulder blade firm onto the back. Once the upper back creates the twist, then the neck and gaze may turn to look up. If you lose the connection of the front (right) knee with the second toe, or the hips begin to crank open- take the twist out of the pose, so that your posture remains stable in the foundation and core of the pose. Bring back the image of the “spine like a pyramid”- even with the twist, the spine remains as one connected continuous triangle.

To come out of the pose:

Ground down into the feet, lift the top hand up. With an inhale, slowly rise back up to stand. Repeat these instructions on the second side.

Relationship Status: i’m in it for life, baby.

As my relationship with Triangle pose continues to mature and expand, i am pleased to say that i notice positive changes in many aspects of my life- beyond just having good form in a yoga pose. With consistent practice, i feel happier. As my practice blossoms, i am more content, conscious and engaged in my life. Playing with alignment and breath, i express the radiant “star-fish” nature of the pose. My body feels like it is being put back together- i feel myself as an integrated, interconnected, fully embodied Being. And the more i experience this Self-connection, Self-integration, the better i can open my eyes and ears to the world around me, the better i relate to and communicate with others. Sometimes the phrase that comes up for me in my practice is: i feel nourished. When i practice Triangle pose, what inevitably unfolds for me is a rare beauty, intimacy and joy in being alive. It helps shine light on how grateful i am to have this moment to Be. i think that’s the gift of a truly great relationship.

Tuning the instrument.

Love this: when i teach, i usually lead one OM at the beginning of class, and one OM at the end. Yesterday in my afternoon class, the first OM sounded dis-chordinant. (Guy in the front row: woah, too loud, the whole class was not on pitch, or together at all… As a whole, they were not really listening to me or to one another). During the class, however, i felt they were really with me- excited as i am, with my new interests, points of focus, and ways of working in the postures. i watched as they listened to my instruction. It seemed as if they were really hearing me, because i could see clearly the lines of energy connecting and integrating their bodies in the postures as they interpreted my instruction. The class felt cohesive- like, we were One Unified Resonant Community, feeling the effects of the postures, movement and breathing patterns with a special connection to ourselves and with one another. And to be sure, our final Om ending the class was in perfect harmony- all the same volume, pitch and note. It was as if the practice became a way for us to ‘tune our instrument,’ refining the intimacy of our connection between body-mind-and spirit. This sacred sound vibration we individually sang out met each other in the very center of the room- it seemed as if the big room at the Center for Yoga was vibrating. Wow, my sweet “beginners,” i love it when that happens… Thank you for the magic.

Wise words from Donna Farhi

“Over two decades of teaching I have witnessed again and again the power that Yoga has to shift seemingly intransigent negative patterns to awaken the body, mind and heart to other possibilities. No matter who we are or how long we have been entrenched in self-defeating behaviors, through daily Yoga practice we can become present to our own fundamental goodness and the goodness of others. Rediscovering who we really are at our core opens the way to experiencing our most basic level of connection with others. This connectedness lies at the heart of the practice called Yoga. Living in a unitive state is not an esoteric concept, and it is not an elusive higher realm that only very clever people can aspire to. It is the opening of the heart so that we have the capacity to feel tenderness, joy, and sorrow without shutting down. It is the opening of the mind to an awareness that encompasses rather than excludes. It is the startling and immediate recognition of our basic sameness. It is the practice of observing clearly, listening acutely, and skillfully responding to the moment with all the compassion we can muster. And it is a homecoming with and in the body for it is only here that we can do all these things….

That we may have come to see ourselves as separate and shut off from others is the central dilemma that we methodically dismantle in our Yoga practice because it is this false sense of separation that we create so much of our own suffering and contribute to the suffering around us. We begin by putting aside a little time each day so that we can deliberately slow down and in doing so find a more natural rhythm that supports our well-being. This more relaxed rhythm allows us to reflect rather than react, to soften rather than harden, and to see clearly how things are now rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future…. Gradually we begin to recognize that in between the ups and downs and the coming and going, there is a matrix of stillness that is the backdrop of all phenomena.”

Donna Farhi, from her book “Bringing Yoga to Life.”

Who’s the best yoga teacher in LA? The one that speaks to your heart.

i read something the other day that disturbed me. It made my eyebrows crinkle. It is from an online site called Rate Your Burn, in an article entitled “L.A.’s 30 best yoga instructors of the year.” This is the opening paragraph in the article: “We wanted to look back at 2012 and shed light on the instructors who made the biggest splash over the past year. L.A. is a city chock-a-block with talented yogis, which made this list extremely hard to whittle down. Here are the 30 most popular, buzzed-about yoga instructors on the Los Angeles scene.”

i have to admit: i had a lot of trouble writing this blog. As i strive to live my yoga practice, i want my thoughts, behavior and writing to also reflect the balanced, neutral, steady quality i seek in my practice. i am really not trying to rant, or complain. To clarify, i am not writing out of anger. But this “best of” list made me feel disturbed, not because i was not included on the list (seriously, i’m not interested), but because to rank yoga teachers is so completely un-yogic. It is dis-heartening to feel that to make it as a successful yoga teacher in our culture means making a ‘Big Yoga Splash.’ That to be considered as the “best” is to pack a room with 50 plus students, or to have your face printed on the cover of Yoga Journal. It feels wrong to assign greatness to “popular, buzzed about” yoga instructors- to prize those who have successfully opened a yoga studio, or produced a DVD. Choosing the best yoga teachers in LA is about as ridiculous as choosing the best film or music album of the year- it’s totally subjective. Although many teachers listed on the website are friends of mine, very cool people and very good yoga teachers, i think what confused me about this list is that someone created this list. It’s like the oscars of yoga teachers- to me, it doesn’t even make sense. And it certainly is not yoga.

The reason i left the dance world was because i was tired of the competition and self-judgement that i experienced in being a dancer. i felt i was constantly comparing myself (and being compared) to other dancers- never feeling i was “good enough.” Walking down the narrow hallway at Broadway Dance Center in NYC in the late ’90’s, getting the evil stare down by waif-thin beauties in perfect splits, i felt out of place- small, insignificant and very uncomfortable. It distracted me from enjoying what i loved about dance. And after many years of self-depreciating thoughts, i found yoga and officially hung up my tights.

What initially attracted me to yoga was that i could do the work on my mat, and it had nothing to do with how i compared to anyone else. Yoga did not judge what my body looked like, or the level i was practicing at. Yoga did not rate the level of my performance if i was having a bad day. i could just be me- i could move and breathe and dance with my body in asana. i could move at my own pace- and without self-critical thinking, i could feel my body moving toward greater health, positivity and balance. i could enjoy the intensity of the sensations as they arise from the practice, without judging my experience. i could just be with the process and understand this journey as my own.

So why should this be any different in looking at our yoga teachers? How can we highlight certain teachers and call them the “best?” How can we “rate” a yoga teacher? i don’t understand this.

Every teacher has a gift- because of their unique, individual experience of yoga, their specific life path and distinct way of sharing that experience with their students. Every teacher has a unique voice that we need- because it will speak uniquely to someone. i love watching my teachers in training as they first step up to teach. There is usually some initial awkwardness and struggle in finding the words. It takes practice and skill to translate into language what they experience in their bodies, from their authentic experience of yoga. i try to explain that this skill takes time, but that their voice is very important and needed. i often say “your students will be so happy when they find you.”

Remember when you found the yoga teacher that just nailed it for you? Everything they say- the way they describe the pose, the tone of their voice- this teacher speaks clearly and directly to your soul. With that beloved teacher, you may feel safe, empowered, special or encouraged. That teacher may challenge you to your edge, or guide you how to take rest. And for you, that teacher is the Best.

One teacher cannot be better than another. If ten teachers taught the exact same sequence of postures, each class would feel entirely different. It sounds different, it feels different. Some teachers you connect with, others you might not. It’s an individual thing. Some teachers make you laugh, others can open your heart. Some teachers guide specific alignment, others guide from an energetic level. When i have to get my classes subbed, i tell my students to still come to class. i explain to them that this teacher has something unique to share. They will teach you something new, or they will describe something in a way that makes more sense than the way i say it.

i guess what i’m suggesting is that we not approach yoga the same way we do with so many aspects of our culture- which is by comparison, competition and rank. Instead of creating meaningless lists of who is the best yoga teacher, let’s instead think creatively about how to enrich this community- how to encourage one another, how to support one another to manifest our visions of a healthy, peaceful, interconnected planet- and for a stronger, unified community. Let’s help one another find happiness.

So, who’s the best yoga teacher in LA? The one that speaks to your heart.

(Art by Daniel B. Holeman)

here’s the article in case you would like to read it: (i’d love to hear what you think about it.)

http://blog.rateyourburn.com/blog/post/2013/01/04/l-a-s-30-best-yoga-instructors-of-the-year-1.aspx

The Three Worlds… the Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra:                                          

Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha

Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi

Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodhyat

The Gayatri Mantra is a very important and beloved mantra. It has its origins in the sacred text, the Rigveda, and has been chanted for thousands of years all over the world. This was the first mantra i learned, and after 0ver 15 years of chanting, meditating and sitting with this mantra, i feel i have just begun to scratch the surface in understanding it. There is so much meaning contained within this mantra- its effects on the Koshas (the layers of Being), on its use for meditation and the expansion of consciousness, studying the tone and resonance of the specific sound vibration it produces, the effect of different melodies in singing it, even in understanding the sacred syllable Om… and there is a lot of writing out there that deals with all those aspects of the mantra. This writing is simply intended to express my current favorite interpretation – woven respectfully together with the translations from my teachers Betsy Siva, David Patton and Donna Farhi.

Om

(the sound of the universe, the sound of all creation- the expression of God through divine sound vibration- representing all of language and spoken word)

Earth – Atmosphere – Heavens – the three worlds

Which arise from the same sacred effulgent source, the same source of divine light.

If we understood this,

If our thoughts, words and deeds reflected this understanding

That ALL that is-

(The density of the earth- it’s land, waters, plants and animals- including humankind.

The subtlety of air, that we breathe- and from the atmosphere, which surrounds the planet.

The mystery of the divine, spirit world- heavens, celestial realm, the vast unbounded universe)

To know that everything held within the three worlds

originate from the same source of divine light, illumination, and effulgence…

Then we would know peace.

(Photo by me, taken in Bali 2012)

Trust

“Beyond the energy of the possessed and conscious intellect one is capable of a new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself) by abandonment to the nature of things… As a traveler who has lost his way throws his reins on his horse’s neck and trust to the instinct of the animal to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who carries us through this world.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson.

hey- did you get the memo? the last day on earth has been rescheduled.

A few years ago, my teacher Max Strom asked us to try this exercise: imagine that you only had a year to live. How would you choose to spend your days? What would you change, how would you live? He asked us to do this exercise, (and really believe it to be true) for one year. Basically, by giving yourself an end point, a final destination, it begs you to ask yourself the questions: Who am i, and why am i on this planet? What do i value, what is important? How do i want to spend my time here on earth? What do i want to accomplish, and who do i want to share this precious time with?

The Mayan calendar cycle comes to an end today- which has been widely interpreted as the ‘end of the world,’ or as the dawn of a new shift in consciousness. Like many of the ancient wisdom traditions, the Mayans believed that time is of a cyclical nature, rather than a linear one- and that today, December 21, is celebrated as the end of one long cycle in history, and marks the beginning of the next. Falling neatly on the Winter Solstice, we sit on the precipice of the longest day in darkness. And although i was skeptical about ‘the end of days’ theory, i decided to use this opportunity to revisit the exercise i originally learned from Max. From time to time, i do this exercise- when i need to wake up from habitual patterns of behavior, to shift my perception, to get me centered and connected to the present moment- and i highly recommend it, if you have never tried it before! i decided do this exercise today and here are some of the things i learned:

i learned how to slow down.

i noticed that there were many moments i wanted to rush through- i wanted to drive faster in my car, to get to my destination- somehow propel myself forward through time and space… i’m in the middle of doing one task, and i’m already thinking about doing the next task. If this were truly was my last day on earth, i wouldn’t want to rush through it. i would want to enjoy and appreciate every single moment, every single breath. In slowing down, i noticed that time expanded for me. i was never late. Everything happened at the perfect moment. In moving slower and with more deliberate attention, i noticed that i was calmer and more centered- to truly appreciate every moment as it arrived.

i noticed how my perception shifted- and i became more aware, awake and conscious.

i became more alert and sensitive to what was going on around and inside of me. i was able to connect with my senses in a deeper way- sounds, tastes, colors and light seemed more vibrant, brilliant and clear. The trees looked so beautiful in the sunlight- every leaf, precious and unique. i enjoyed feeling the temperature of the cool air on my skin, and the sounds of birds calling distantly through the canyon. Every moment became a conscious act- i felt more awake and present. i felt more human- more like myself.

Everything can be a ritual- not of doing, but of Being.

Can you do the things you do, and be present while the event is happening? Even during habitual, everyday activities- making lunch, driving the car, speaking on the phone- can it be a ritual to Be in conscious presence? i played with this idea of ritual during my early morning shower: if this were my ‘last shower,’ how would it be different? Instead of going through the regular motions of my morning routine, being in the water felt like a ritual purification. i treated my body with care and attention- not just taking my daily shower, but participating in the art of cleansing my body. It transformed the way i approached the things that i do… and instead of just going through the motions, i participated fully in what i was experiencing.

Live in a state of awe and appreciation.

Every breath is precious. Although breathing can happen automatically on an unconscious level- when you take the time to experience the intricacy and beauty of the breath, it can be an amazing, inspiring event. Enjoy the depth of every single breath you take. Savor the subtle nuances of every inhale, as it expands the ribs in all directions. Delight in the release of every exhale. Open your eyes, and see the beauty of nature… everywhere. Can everything you meet- every person, creature, and situation that steps in your path be seen with wonder and gratitude? Wow, that sunrise is beautiful. Wow, that person is angry, but i am not. Wow, i feel my breath moving throughout my body. Wow, i am alive, and every day is an opportunity for me to figure out who i am and why i am here. Living in a state of awe and appreciation creates a positive shift of consciousness, and i have to say, is a really enjoyable practice.

Change begins from within.

Aside from being the ‘last day on earth,’ today marks one week since the tragic shooting in Connecticut. Murder and violence happen every day all over the world, but this horrific event sent a very specific shock wave of trauma, confusion, anger and sorrow throughout this nation, and across the globe. It is stimulating conversations of change, with questions about gun control and mental health issues coming to the surface. But beyond this, it is holding up a mirror for our society to take a good hard look at itself, to see the roots of our culture that are unhealthy and destructive, so that this atrocious situation can be prevented in the future. It makes me think: is this terrible tragedy the event that will inspire our culture to say “this is enough” – and help us make a true paradigm shift in consciousness? Will this motivate the experts to more deeply study the origins of mental illness, and encourage our government to create more suitable means to help troubled youth? Will this reveal the impact of how violent games, movies and television have de-sensitized us as a culture, and will it inspire the makers of these forms of “entertainment” to change its content to promote a more civilized, enlightened society?

i’m not sure how to deal with these ongoing questions- but i’m grateful the dialogue is happening. Here’s the thought that gives me peace as we enter the long night: last Friday, all over the world, millions of people felt this tragic event, deeply in our hearts. It moves me to tears to visualize the outpouring of love, the rippling of prayers, support and compassion that travel from every corner of this planet to the community in Connecticut. This week, my personal intention has been to light a candle in my heart for those who lost their lives, and to send love and light to all those affected and suffering. Is this the vision that the Mayans predicted would happen toward the end of this particular time-cycle? Did they know that the entire globe would light up, with compassion and love, conscious presence… and stillness.

This is what the wise Lisa Walford shared tonight: “Every ending turns into a beginning. Perhaps an apocalyptic sacrifice that wakes up the hearts and minds of an entire nation can be an offering to see from the innocent eyes of those who left us. Perhaps this collective idea of a mythic end is to shake up the roots of a nation and dedicate the discussion to the kind of world we can imagine. A world filled with mutual respect, tolerance, sustainability and food for all. We have the external resources. Do we have the internal resources? I think we can.. little by little, stay informed, every smile counts, exhale frequently. Happy beginning..”

Today ends a long cycle in our history. Tomorrow, we turn toward the light- beginning a new phase in time. And although the opportunity for cultural transformation is ripe, i realize in actuality, change happens slowly. In order to re-invent the values of humankind and transform consciousness, i recognize that change begins from within- it starts with you, and it starts with me.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts.  Your thoughts become your words.  Your words become your actions.  Your actions become your habits.  Your habits become your values.  Your values become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi.

So tonight i choose to celebrate Being. i choose to celebrate Love. i know that i can choose how i am, how i react, and that i can choose equanimity, evenness- and i choose peace.

(Thank you to my awesome friends in the LA yoga community for inspiring the content of this writing. Photo taken by me in Bali, 2012. Copyright: me)

night sky gazing

the other night, i had a dream:

i imagined that i wrapped you in a cloth made of the night’s sky.

i took that same material,

and tossed it lightly around my shoulders- like a hood, i covered my face.

looking out,

looking within.

as if gazing into a mirror,

through the vast open space of the entire universe,

we could see one another more clearly.

i did this so that we could recognize the origins of which we are made,

where we begin,

and where we end.

(Image respectfully taken from www.eso.org)

who’s afraid of the big bad yoga props?

Since i fell and sprained my ankle almost two months ago, i have had to completely re-invent my yoga practice. Initially, i felt frustrated that i had to turn the intensity of my practice down – but it’s been an AMAZING experience to simplify my practice, to return to the origins of alignment, and discover how to re-align my body in asana (posture), literally from the ground up. A major part of that re-invention has been working with props. i have to admit: i have always enjoyed using props in my yoga practice. They help me to feel specific muscles activate, they give support to my body, and offer space for my joints- enabling me to find the lines of energy more clearly moving me toward healthy alignment and full body connection. As i have grown more and more in love with using props in my practice, i have simultaneously noticed students who are really hesitant and even opposed to using props… hence, this blog! My hope is to demystify the use of props- clarify how beneficial they can be- and hopefully, inspire any hesitant yogis out there to find a fresh perspective of using props in practice.

Why use props? What can they do for us?

Props can be excellent tools for building strength, creating awareness, and teaching muscles how to engage. Imagine (or do): take a strap (secured in a shoulder-width loop) around the forearms, just below the elbows. Then, imagine you want to “break the strap apart.” Press the forearms out into the strap, and feel the muscles of the upper arms firm in. Keep the chest broad, the shoulders rolling open. Can you feel how the muscles of the arms and upper back engage? Or… place a block between the inner thighs, and squeeze the block. Feel how the muscles of the legs engage, even as you try to lift the block up with the inner thighs…

There are many creative and fun ways to bring props into the practice. Not only to engage muscles, create stability and build strength- they are excellent tools for creating sensation and awareness. Even yogis with an advanced practice can benefit from getting in touch with specific muscles in action.

Props can give support and space to the body. Whether in a restorative or active posture, props can hold, support, give lift and create space. They create positive conditions for the body to respect areas of limitation or resistance, and to help us move toward healthy, optimal alignment- in which the body is open, and the lines of energy can clearly connect the entire physical form in harmonious balance.

For example, placing a block under a hand in a standing posture can lift someone out of constriction in their hips, give lightness to their pose, encourage space for their spine to lengthen- and create a more conducive environment for deep, refined breath. i took these pictures of my friend and yoga teacher, Szymon, at the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles. Szymon has a very beautiful, refined and advanced practice- and yet, notice the difference between these two images. Because he may have restriction in moving his hips to the side in Trikonasana (triangle pose), when he takes his hand to the floor, it forces the spine to round to the side. Notice in the image to the left how the bottom side of his torso is shorter. The ribs on the left side are constricted- this will make breathing more difficult. And if he tried to rotate his spine as in a twist (which we do when we turn the gaze to look up) this would be potentially injurious to the discs in his spine. In the picture to the right, Szymon is using a block- and by raising his bottom hand, notice the difference in his posture. When we lifted his bottom hand a little higher, this enabled him to respect the limitation of movement in his hips, and he was then able extend the spine more evenly on both sides. Can you see when Szymon used the block, the lines of energy are clearly moving through his body- integrating his entire structure? There is harmony in the integration of his limbs with the core of his body- his whole body is connected. When he took his hand on the block, this subtle adjustment gave him more space to lengthen his spine, he was able to turn his torso to the side, his chest opened with breath, his shoulders rolled open, and he was even comfortable enough to turn his gaze to look up. With the block, he looks strong and stable- and yet, he is open and expanded. Now the pose is unfolding for him. He looks more comfortable, spacious and with ease.

From the ancient wisdom of the Yoga Sutras, the great Patanjali described the way we experience asana (posture): Sthira Sukham Asanam. “Asana is a steady comfortable posture.” (Satchidananda). Asana (posture) should have the dual qualities of steadiness and comfort- to be both stable and spacious- with strength and with ease. Moment by moment, we continually seek to discover this delicate balance in our practice. If using props gives the body more stability and space, more strength and ease- the freedom for the spine to lengthen and for the breath to deepen- i believe we are honoring this ancient wisdom. It is not a crutch to grab a prop- it may be a key to unlock the brilliance of yourself in perfect, refined, harmonious balance.

…On the Road…

“And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiances shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transitions from life to death and back to life are so ghastly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it.  I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic Mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like the action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water.”

My favorite quote, from ‘On The Road’ – Jack Kerouac, p. 173

Photo by me. Pacific Ocean, near Santa Barbara, 2011

Gifts from the Tribe

i found this piece of writing in my journal from a few years ago. it was an eye-opening/ heart-expanding experience for me, and on re-reading it tonight, thought i would post it here so you can read it too. enjoy…

i had my work cut out for me today.

i taught a client who is 72 years old. we did some lovely passive stretching on her back, with me supporting her legs and arms. i had her roll to her side, and up to sit. but she was unable to get off the floor and stand. i had never experienced that before with a student. she could not bend her knees enough to get her feet on the floor, and was resistant to putting weight on her knees. i suggested many different ways for her to get up to stand, using my body weight to support her, using a chair… she really could not find a way to get off the floor. i have helped senior students rise to stand before, but this was the first time someone was really resistant to all the ways i suggested, including me actually picking her up. we called in her family, her husband was the only one she trusted to lift her up to stand- and it took a good 15 minutes to accomplish this. she was frustrated, angry with herself- she looked ready to burst into tears. when she finally stood, she went immediately into the chair and sat down. i pulled another chair in front of her, and we sat together, face to face, and talked about what just happened. i asked her what she would have done if she was alone, and she happened to fall- how would she get up? and all she could say was, “well, i would call someone over to help me.”

we finished the session with small movements for the arms, hands and neck… and a short seated meditation. i gave her a big hug, and we talked some more about that moment in our session that brought about a real challenge. i’m not sure if she heard my suggestions to practice walking up a few steps in her apartment building every day, to build strength in her legs- or to find a teacher in NY (where she lives) to teach her the mechanics to learn how to stand up from the floor. (Feldenkrais practitioners are extremely good at teaching this). but it certainly made me appreciate the health that i have, and gave me new understanding how i would teach someone in her condition in the future.

other than than, i’ve been thinking recently about that thing we hear so much about in the yoga community.. the thought that “we are all one.” with this concept, we ask ourselves to broaden our perspective enough- to see past our separateness, and understand our connection to everything and everyone. that where we all come from, and where we all will go is the same mysterious place… we are made from the same star dust, linked as members of long ago ancient “tribes”, or we are distant celestial relatives. we can widen our understanding of ourselves, and relieve the suffering of thinking that we are alone. a friend suggested to me recently that instead of thinking “tribe”, we can say we are a “cluster of souls from the same frequency coming into the earth… with a recognition of one another from an unexplainable knowing within…”

i like that.

when given a lemon, make a margarita!

this has been a really interesting week for me. i experienced two events that were completely unexpected and out of the ordinary. although small in comparison to life’s real big challenges- from one perspective, these events came to me as obstacles- out of my control, and without warning. although uncomfortable at first, i took these events to heart, and decided to see the positive lessons contained within… and in shifting my perspective, i had a truly great experience i would like to share here. in making that conscious decision to shift my perspective, i was able to experience these two small challenges as amazing gifts from the universe… which taught me a lesson in how to embrace the unpredictable, mysterious situations in life…

the first: on monday afternoon, i had a really bad fall. the road i live on is unevenly paved. as i was walking the dog, my foot caught the edge of the pavement, and my ankle twisted sharply to the side. i heard a loud POP- as i stepped hard on the outer edge of my ankle- and i went down. it happened extremely fast- snap/ waves of pain/ in a split second/ the blink of an eye! this whole event was such a HUGE surprise to me- as i strive to be diligent and conscious of my body in my asana practice. my initial reaction? i was pissed! i was angry! i thought: “How could this be?” … “What the heck?” … ”I strive to be graceful/ strong/ conscious/ awake in my yoga practice- i am a yoga teacher! with such good body awareness, how is it possible that in one moment, i could sprain my ankle?” …

eventually  i was able to stand up, and i started to waddle slowly home. each step was quite painful. i reminded myself to breathe. the more i connected with deep breath, the more i could keep my mind calm and controlled- and just focus on each step, bringing me closer and closer to my front door. on my way through the hills and curves in my neighborhood, i couldn’t help but think: ”What is the universe trying to tell me? What in the world does this mean?”

It took me awhile to recover from the initial wave of denial and pain, but eventually, i was able to turn this challenge around in my mind. Instead of staying angry at my situation, i decided to see the positive in it. All my injuries have been my greatest teachers, teaching me how to deal with pain/ suffering, how to heal and rehabilitate my body through yoga, and how to be more knowledgeable in teaching my students. this week, i have learned so much about how to walk slowly and consciously, how to adjust my posture and yoga practice to negotiate for this physical limitation- and to truly understand from an embodied experience the benefits of Rest- Ice- Compression- Elevation (yes, “R.I.C.E” really does work, and it feels amazing!). i’ve felt myself wanting to avoid the pain in my ankle- yet by shifting the weight onto my other leg, it created intense stiffness and discomfort in my opposite hip. at first, i was embarrassed to teach with this injury- to walk into my class with my ankle brace on and hobble around the room- but i turned it around in my mind and thought: well, this is an excellent opportunity for me to model for my students how we can be with our injuries/ limitations, how to be with pain, and still practice yoga. i was even able to connect with a few of my students who are also recovering from injuries- how it’s less about these injuries restricting us, and more a lesson in how we decide to react and deal with the situation that we are presented. we can move toward healing and recovery in a mature and open minded way, in learning to appreciate that the ways of the universe are out of our hands, and that we can learn to accept the unpredictable.

(yes, that’s the real color of my foot! it looks like a rainbow watercolor!!!)

the second: on wednesday morning, i showed up to teach the early 6:30 am yoga class, and in the dark, was joined by a gathering group of yogis. we were outside the yoga studio for awhile, but no one came to unlock the door. after a couple of calls, i figured out that the person who was to open the studio was on their way, but was stuck in terrible LA traffic. instead of getting angry or frustrated, i said, “let’s sit together and meditate!” it was amazing to sit on the sidewalk that i have walked on hundreds of times on my way to the yoga studio! in all the years i have practiced and taught in LA, i had never sat down, with a circle of yogis, to practice at the ‘foot of the temple.’ we heard the sounds of traffic, and pedestrians starting their day… and yet, even with the early morning city noise, we were able to connect with our breath and steady our minds. after a while, we decided to begin our asana practice- so… into sun salutations we went! it was a delight to guide these true yogis in their practice under the sky that was slowly brightening into day- to hear their sounds of surprise when the pavement came close to their faces in chatturanga!!! and to connect to all the sensations of being in this different environment: feeling the cement under their hands… the cool morning air on their skin… the sounds and smells of the morning… i waved to the CVS truck driver as he passed slowly by, watching us. i was struck by how these incredible yogis were so flexible, mature and non-attached, as to enter their practice from this new environment. and many of them did so with a smile on their face! when our beloved yogi arrived with the key, allowing us to enter the studio and into the yoga room, it was truly a remarkable experience. inside was so serene, peaceful and silent- it gave us a renewed appreciation of this wonderful sanctuary we practice in every day, and i think it deepened their practice in a really unique way. i was truly impressed with these yogis, able to embrace the discomfort of beginning their practice on the sidewalk- and a few of them told me after class how much they actually enjoyed that it happened! i was so pleased with this experience, it had me smiling with such an open, joyful heart through the rest of the day.

as i sat down to write this, i remembered an important practice that is described in Patanjali’s yoga sutras (one of the crucial ancient texts that describe the elements and practice of yoga): Sutra 2.33. Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksa Bhavanam, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” (Satchidanada). it’s amazing to think how the ancient yogis understood this concept thousands of years ago, and that this ancient knowledge is still extremely useful and effective for helping us reduce our suffering. its not easy to be human, and encounter all the incredibly difficult situations of being alive- but its a relief to have a practice like this available to us. when given an obstacle, its our choice how we deal with it. it is certainly a refined, mature practice to turn our thoughts from the negative into the positive… to be given a challenging situation and see it as an opportunity for personal growth and positivity. instead of resisting, clinging, or struggling with challenging situations as if they are poison, we can welcome and even embrace the unexpected… let us raise our glasses, and drink in the mystery… celebrating the challenges of life as divine substance, and receive their healing lessons as nourishment.

the Time is Now…

Our perspective of time is relative to where we are and how we look at it. When we were children, and we were anxiously watching the clock for the school day to end, time seemed to move so slowly! But when we are engaged in a good conversation, immersed in an art project, Being with our beloved, or watching a beautiful sunset- it is as if there is no time at all… time seems “timeless.”

From a Western Perspective, time moves forward. Time is linear, it passes by like a river- and usually, we know time as Past, Present and Future. From the perspective of many spiritual wisdom traditions, time is understood to be cyclical in nature. Every cycle has a beginning, middle and end. Each phase in the cycle is significant.

Examples of cycles: the cycle of the day/ night, the seasons, the calendar year, the life cycle (birth-life-death-rebirth), the breath cycle (inhale, pause, exhale, pause), the blink of an eye. There is a time when the flower is in its seed, then in bud, then in blossom, then in dissolution in its return to the earth.

The Vedic or ancient Hindu culture saw time as cyclical, composed of Yugas (epochs, or eras) within a cycle of four ages, with alternative Dark and Golden Ages. The four Yugas correspond to the four Greek Ages, which are represented by metals. “The Yugas are driven by celestial motions, and affect conditions on earth. According to Hindu cosmology, life in the universe is created and destroyed once every 4.1 to 8.2 billion years, which is one full day (day and night) for Brahma. The cycles are said to repeat like the seasons, waxing and waning within a greater time-cycle of the creation and destruction of the universe. Like Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn, each Yuga involves stages or gradual changes which the earth and the consciousness of humankind goes through as a whole. A complete Yuga cycle moves from a high Golden Age of enlightenment to a Dark Age and back again.” (Wikipedia)

The four Yugas: Satya Yuga (Golden Age), Treta Yuga (Silver Age), Dvapara Yuga (Bronze Age), and the Kali Yuga (Iron Age).

One of my spiritual teachers, David Patten, a Celtic Lingust, raised in the ancient Druid tradition of the Oghama  (the “celtic tree alphabet”), understands the nature of time to be cyclical. The following is my interpretation of his incredibly rich teachings on the four Yugas:

The Golden Age: the Satya Yuga, the era of Truth.

Every manifestation is close to the purest ideal- humankind will allow intrinsic goodness to rule supreme. Everything is divine: i am you, you are me. We are all the same. Everything reflects everything else. i am God, God is me, God is you, i am everything. Just to be awake is living in the divine. It is believed that many of the important sacred texts were written in full emersion with the divine during the Satya Yuga. ‘Satya’ roughly translates to mean ‘truth.’ During this period of time, we experience the truth of Being- the veil of illusion, Maya, is removed, and we live in the reality of the world.

The Silver Age: the Treta Yuga, the age of Mankind.

Now you have to go someplace to experience the divine. God is missing… you need to go out and find God. God is no longer inside you, or reflected within you. God is further away. God is separate from you and me- we see the duality of our divine nature- of Prakriti and Purusha. We experience a division between what is nature and what is divine- that which has form, and that which is formless- distinguishing between the visible world from the invisible world.

The Bronze Age: the Dvapara Yuga.

You have to earn the right to experience the divine. You need a teacher, or a Priest, or Priestess. You need to go to the temple and study God like a discipline, with a teacher. We can’t find God on our own. If we find a teacher, or a spiritual advisor, then we can reach God. In this time period, God is very distant. It takes discipline and effort to get to God.

The Iron Age: the Kali Yuga.

At this point in the cycle, the divine is nowhere. You can’t get to the divine, because of the grace of God. God is so distant now, that you may never see God. You might see God at the end of your life, but it is unknown- maybe you will, maybe you won’t.

Some interpret that we are currently in the Kali Yuga Age. (I have also heard some interpret that the Middle Ages were more likely the Kali Yuga) But it makes sense to me why we might interpret 2012 as being within the Kali Yuga.

Why is this important? Arriving in the middle of the year 2012- with all the discomfort, suffering, noise, isolation and chaos of these times- 2012 has been largely interpreted to be the end of things. However, many spiritual wisdom seekers, yogis and peaceful activists interpret this time as being of utmost importance. That this year, as Erich Schiffmann fondly calls “the year of the miracle,” is really a new beginning, an opportunity to re-evaluate who we are as individuals, who we are as a people, and create a real shift in human consciousness as a way to return to the Satya Yuga.

This is from my beloved teacher, David Patten: “There is a problem concerning so-called linear time. When is the past, past, and when is the not yet, not yet? How long is the duration of the Present, and are there strong boundaries between these three? Or are they merely “ideas” “about” time. Today we are forced to talk about “nanoseconds” dividing the past from the future, and the “speed of light” which can be broken down to “moments” of extremely short durations. Most of all this is not something of experience but something (time, t’is said) “as fast as thought.” In India (as well as everywhere else) there is an interest in bringing time back to something experienced. “Unity,” being “bound together” (yoga) is something experienced rather than thought. In experience we begin to notice when something begins, or ends, something we are caught up in, and something we are apparently apart from. Time “thinks” but is not thought, and the “passage of time” is not seen from a vantage point alongside the river but from the river itself. In experience there are cycles and contradictions, samadhi and ignorance, incubation and resurrection, self and other, clarity and confusion… completely Tantric and Yoga… However, Nothing does not exist, for all IS. The interesting “thing” about circular, or experiential time, is that the origin and the destiny is really the same, except that in the origin we do not know that, and in the end we do. So, before we are aware is the world and after we are aware is the world. Beginnings and endings in cyclical time meet, like the famous symbol of the snake eating its own tail. In the Golden Age, Time is circular and experienced. In the Kaliyuga, time is linear and abstract.”

This to me is really the key. That time can be experienced, “not seen from a vantage point alongside the river, but from the river itself.” Yoga means union- to merge, to integrate, to unite. When we meditate, practice yoga, or do any practice that brings us into the present moment, we make a conscious shift in our attention. Instead of clinging to the past, or projecting into the future, we accept where we are in the great cycle of things, and we Experience what IS.

To change our perception of time is Yoga. If we can shift our perception of time, to see time in its cyclical or experiential nature, rather than in a linear form- (that which has happened to us, and that which inevitably will be) and to practice Being here- right here, right now- we unite with the only moment that ever is, and that which will ever be. Instead of watching the river of time flow from an external vantage point, we sit deliberately in the flow of the current, and ride the wave. Practice connecting with your senses- breathe this breath, taste this taste. Open your eyes, and truly see what is before you, see what is around you. Take a deep breath, and smell the fragrance of the air that nourishes you. Practice living every moment as it arrives- and become in perfect union with the moment, no matter how strange or uncomfortable or blissful it may be. When we do this, we wake up in the middle of our life. This is from Donna Farhi: “Yoga… is a means of waking up from our spiritual amnesia, so that we can remember all that we already know. It is a way of remembering our true nature, which is essentially joyful and peaceful.”

Every day, i step into the yoga room, and together we practice Being. We become aware of our breath, practice becoming awake and conscious, and unite with every moment as it arrives. Every day, after class, all those yogis leave the yoga room and go out into the world… and they bring with them what they experienced, perhaps they connect with the people they meet, or share this idea of conscious Being… i am so grateful that in my world, this happens every day…

Building a Bridge, over troubled waters…

Setu Bandasana, or Bridge Pose, is one of my all time favorite backbends. It is a simple posture, but very effective for toning the muscles along the spine, strengthening the hamstrings and legs, opening the hips, enhancing posture, revitalizing energy, emphasizing breath and for opening the shoulders, chest and heart. To begin, place the feet hips width apart. Turn the feet straight forward- so the second toe points straight ahead. Keep the thighs parallel with one another- so the knees do not collapse too far in or out- the knees point toward the second toe, the central pillar of the foot. Place your arms down by your sides, and take a few slow, deep breaths to center yourself before moving into the posture. With an exhale, press down through the four corners of the feet, lengthen the tail forward, and slowly lift the hips and spine. You may interlace the fingers behind the back, or hold the edge of the mat with your hands- press down into the shoulders and upper arms, lift the chest, and draw the shoulder heads lightly underneath you- so that the chest widens. To create a steady foundation of  your bridge, continue to press down through the four corners of both feet, especially into the center of the heels, lift the inner arches of the feet up, as you draw the outer ankles in. Press the tops of the shoulders, the upper arms and elbows into the ground. As you root down through your foundation, allow the thoracic spine (upper back) to move up into the body. Breathe into the upper corners of the chest, as you press the shoulder blades forward toward the chest, allowing the chest to spread wide. Lift the chin slightly, so that the throat is open, and the cervical spine (neck) is lifted slightly away from the floor. Notice the more you lift the chest and deepen the backbend how the thighs may begin to sway out to the sides, how the arch of the bridge exaggerates into the lower back. Instead, keep the knees tracking to the second toe, steady over the center of the ankles, and roll the inner thighs toward the floor. If this is difficult to access, use a block between the inner thighs- hug the thighs into the block to engage the adductors, and roll the inner thighs down, as if to roll the block toward the floor. The tail will probably want to roll to the floor as well, so to balance your pose, lengthen the sacrum toward the back of the shins to elongate the lower back. Keep the eyes focused on a point above you, maintain a smooth and steady breath. When you are ready to come down, release the interlace of the fingers, open the shoulders, and slowly roll down through the spine, massaging the sides of the spine down until the hips land softly on the ground. You may rest your hands on your belly, and take a few breaths to experience the effect of the pose.

In the picture of me in Bridge pose, i should walk my feet a little forward, so my knees are directly above my heels- that would give my spine even more length to open!

i’ve been thinking alot these days about bringing balance between the opening of the chest, while maintaining length in the neck and low back. When we move into backbends, especially those postures that “open the heart,” we tend to push the lower back forward, and sit in the curve of our necks- as if, by opening that vulnerable space for our hearts to open, we lose the strength and integrity of the spine giving us support and length. As soon as you move into your backbend, notice if you are straining in the lower back or the neck. Because those regions of the spine are more mobile, the brunt force of the backbend usually goes there. Ideally, we want to create an even elongation throughout the spine- moving the emphasis of the backbend into the part of the spine that tends to be more mobile (usually, the thoracic spine or upper back), and resist movement where we are more flexible (usually, into the low back and neck). Even if it means making your backbend ’smaller,’ find more length in the lower back, by extending the tail or the buttock away from the back ribs, and in most backbends, by lengthening the base of the skull away from the nape of the neck. In bridge, you can lower your hips until you can create this length, but keep lifting the chin, so the back of the neck maintains its natural curve. A good backbend creates an even extension throughout the entire spine- as in any sturdy archway from an architectural standpoint. The breath should be steady and freely able to deepen.

In the yoga sutras, Patanjali teaches us that Asana should be steady and comfortable, “Sthira Sukham Asanam”… as Desikachar describes “Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation.” When this idea is practiced, it creates harmony and balance- the poses feel natural, organic. In Setu Bandasana, when we align the bones well and engage the muscles of the legs, upper arms and back to support this integrated alignment, the posture is steady. In rooting down through the legs and feet, the shoulders and arms, we create steadiness in the physical form- and we initiate freedom in the spine to elongate, space in the chest to open- and the breath can freely move through the body, tension in the physical form is dissolved, and the thoughts in the mind are pacified. Always seeking the balance of strength and ease, action and rest, effort and relaxation, the yogi experiences the true benefits of this practice.

Metaphorically, i think of this relationship like a bridge that, when built well, can lead us from one place to another. Creating balance and harmony in our postures, as in our lives, gives us the gift of being at peace and ease with ourselves. The more we create steadfastness in who we are, peace within ourselves, the more we can bring peace back out into the world. The longer i practice yoga, the more i think this is part of my mission in this life: to bring peace into the world. i admit (most humbly) that i guess i am looking to lead a quiet revolution- of spiritual seekers and peaceful rebels- who begin to look for this harmony and peace by drawing our attention at first within, to the vast universe of the Self- in order to radiate that peace back out into the world… radiate that healing light of peace out into the vast universe, where every beating heart in the whole of Infinity can share in this union of joy and harmony. We may begin in bridge pose… and who knows where that bridge will lead us to? ;)

Downward Facing Doggie!

what is god? it is the breath inside the breath.

“Are you looking for me?

I am in the next seat.

My shoulder is against yours.

you will not find me in the stupas,

not in Indian shrine rooms,

nor in synagogues,

nor in cathedrals:

not in masses,

nor kirtans,

not in legs winding around your own neck,

nor in eating nothing but vegetables.

When you really look for me,

you will see me instantly —

you will find me in the tiniest house of time.

Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?

He is the breath inside the breath.”

Kabir


let the phoenix fly!

i’ve been working on this mandala since october of last year. it appeared as a very clear vision- a phoenix, embroidered on my chest (like a tattoo made of light! wooo!), flying from high heart, through a loop of galaxies and interwoven star worlds. flying through me, flying beyond me. this vision appeared during a time of intense introspection, healing from an injury, and needing change. it is inspired by the art of Susan Boulet, and my teachers Julia Weaver and Megan Wagner, three amazing visionaries and incredible artists.

this mandala was a surprise birthing. the vision of it took my breath away, and the initial shape was put onto paper very quickly. once i got the initial composition onto paper, i wasn’t sure how to complete it. i would stare at it for extended periods of time, looking for something to add. finding myself unable to continue, i would tuck it away again. It sat quietly near my desk for weeks at a time. i knew there was something more to it, but i couldn’t figure out what it was. i think part of the reason it took such a long time to finish was that:

1. i liked how it looked, and i didn’t want to mess it up. (this is true with most of my art work).

2. i struggled with self-judgement and intense criticism. (i am my own worst critic!)

3. i wanted it to be “good”, and yet nothing i did was “good enough.”

every time i looked at it, i heard my own critical voice saying: “its not really a mandala, its just a drawing”… “this is not original” … “you will never be an artist”… “it looks weird”… i felt frozen and stiff, using my eraser more than my pencil. i even created a second version, thinking it would free myself up from making a mistake (because i always had the original!). but i was too attached to how it looked, and i wasn’t allowing the mandala to express itself. even after i sent it to my mandala group, receiving loving support and encouragement, i couldn’t enjoy what i had made.

somehow, a few days before my birthday, i made a breakthrough. i knew in order to proceed, i needed to release my grasp and let go. i took a deep breath, and softened my body. once i surrendered control over what i thought the mandala needed to be, the mandala took flight. looking at it now, in what i feel is the final piece (or at least very, very close to it!), i realize that it is speaking to me on many different levels. it is a statement to allow my constantly evolving transformation to occur. it is a prayer to release the struggling phoenix that is burning inside me… to celebrate the being that i am, with the love, joy and vulnerability of being both known and unknown. where instead of resisting, i welcome those critical voices as an opportunity to burn my deepest fears and discomforts, and transcend what i think i am possible of. i bow humbly to the sacred Ouroboros, (a snake eating its tail), a symbol of the infinite, creating a full and complete circle- to remind me that i am already WHOLE, fully integrated and perfect in imperfection.

looking for mandalas in nature

i am looking for mandalas in nature.. this image was taken in joshua tree. we had such dynamic weather the week i was there- unpredictable rain, extreme heat, amazing dawn and dusk light, cool nights. the mandala that i see in the sun radiates at least six bursts of light- i see a rainbow of colors circling the sun. there is also a blue-violet orb, and a small rainbow, with some other reflection of light, that appears in the upper right hand corner of the picture. it was absolutely magnificent.

Radiant Heart Mandala


It Felt Love

How

Did the rose

Ever open its heart

And give to this world

All its

Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light

Against its

Being,

Otherwise,

We all remain

Too

Frightened.

–Hafiz

Child’s Pose- Warrior 4

Child’s pose- Balasana: from hands and knees, bring your big toes together, separate the knees slightly, and draw the hips back to the heels. The knees can be as wide as the shoulders, so that the side ribs may rest on the thighs, and there is space for the belly to breathe. If the forehead cannot rest on the floor comfortably, use a block or stack your hands under the forehead, so that the neck can relax. This pose, if comfortable for the knees, can be deeply relaxing, especially for the muscles of the back and the hips. I enjoy closing my eyes, and moving the breath into all the areas of my back. Focus on softening deep inside of the hip sockets, relax the shoulders, the neck and the face.

Child’s pose can be a deeply transformative pose, even in its simplicity. We use this pose to rest, and it can be soothing, nurturing and deeply introspective. We place the head slightly below the heart, which is different from the typical position we find ourselves… standing upright, with the head (and in particular, the mind), placed well above the heart. With many elements of our 21 century culture depending largely on the mind’s intelligence, the capacity of our brain to understand who we think we are, our IQ, SAT and GRE scores: “i think, therefore i am”… the mind suspends physically above the heart, in the upright hierarchy, as the organ that determines most of our life choices. But in child’s pose, this subtle inversion, we kneel and we bow, humbly resting the forehead passively on the earth. The heart then sits slightly above the head, and we breathe space into the back of our body, into the space behind the heart. Especially when we close the eyes in this position, we turn all the senses within, and the focus draws softly toward the heart.

Is this why we call this pose child’s pose? Because we shift our gaze toward that sweet innocence, deep wisdom, and compassionate one, we understand as the heart? The purity of the heart that as children, knows only kindness, generosity, compassion and unhesitant love.

Sometimes we call child’s pose Biijasana, the seed, the original being before the child… where in the womb, we entered this life at the very beginning. That mysterious beginning created from love. We return to that seed, that original moment of life, as we fold our body into a soft fetal position.

I do have a fondness for the name my teacher Max Strom calls child’s pose- Warrior 4. Warrior 1, 2 and 3 are complex, vigorous standing poses, that require stamina, determination and balance. Max calls child’s pose Warrior 4. I’m sure he would describe it differently in his own beautiful way, but the way i understand this name is that when we understand that it’s not how physically demanding the poses are, how much we sweat, how vigorous the posture… but when we make the conscious decision to rest- to take pause in stillness- to place the heart above the mind- that is the true Warrior’s practice. The content, peaceful warrior that bows to the earth and to the Ultimate One… in gratitude… that is the essence of this pose.

love is… meditating on each other

mandala: embracing the metamorphosis

may 4, 2010

Tonight is the seventh night in our new home. We are still surrounded by many boxes, all those material things that we gathered through the years in our last apartment, and carried here in our arms. And after an exhausting week of moving-patiently cleaning-unpacking-organizing-purifying-shouting-laughing-staring in awe-and blessing this space, i sit tonight gazing at this piece of art that i created earlier this year. i feel like i’ve been through an intense initiation- going through that rite of passage of leaving one home, and going to the next, with all the normal stresses and anxieties that go along with making such a dramatic life shift. i definitely feel i’ve singed a few feathers going through the gate, even with my absolute excitement to be opening this new chapter of my life.

Before the chaos of moving home, i created this mandala, which i have to admit, is still a work in progress, and i hope to continue to work on it when things settle down. It is an image that has been slowly materializing over the last year or so. When i look at this image, i feel strong and confident in my body. i feel like she is me, and i am she- this butterfly earth goddess… that moved from my heart, down my arms, into my hands and onto the page. for me, this image describes what i feel when in true harmony with myself. Whether i am practicing yoga, meditation, enjoying a delicious meal, walking in the forest, fully emersed in art or engaged with my breath… it is experiencing the moment… of true presence… and noticing that i am IN that moment completely. It is my creative interpretation of what my teacher Erich Schiffmann describes as “moving into stillness”, and at the same time, with outstretched wings, i open myself to the will of the universe, illuminating the tree of life within me, radiating the brilliance of the light, within and around me.

My prayer tonight, as i sit in my new home, among boxes and subtle material disorganization, is that even in intense challenge and chaos, may we all embrace the constant waves of change with humility and grace. With unhesitant dedication, may we allow our wings to open, and shine the light that is within.

Sunrise in October

God is the ultimate artist.