Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A little something nice for the holidays

I like to read things to my yoga classes, either at the beginning when we're settling into ujjayi breath, or at the end either at the start of savasana or right before we close. I will be reading this to my class this evening. It does mention God, but please don't let that be a hindrance to your understanding and accepting its meaning. If you like, you can substitute the word "Spirit," "Energy," or "Universe," or whatever you like that is meaningful to you.

Why have I chosen it? This time of the year we tend to go into the holidays with anticipation and sentimentality and the hope that everything will go smoothly with our families and that everyone will get along well with no conflicts. Our expectations are meant to soften our experience of the world and provide security for our own egos. Often, though, reality falls short of these expectations. Do we decide to dread the holidays or those family members? Do we shrink into smaller versions of ourselves to protect our own egos when met with conflict? I hope I can face situations as myself. I hope I can honor the light within myself and let it shine. These days I try be courageous enough to act from a place of truth, of real love, and not out of fear. My wish for you is that you can find your truth and your love, and recognize opportunities to act from that place.

Our deepest fear
is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light,
not our darkness,
that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finished... with this step

Today I completed the training for my 200 hour Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT200) certification.

I am not at all sure if I'll go further. At this point I am settling into the quiet realization that I have maintained and achieved a goal for well over a year... and it has been a long time since I could say that. Before I started this journey I was completely depressed, I'll admit even edging toward suicidal, about the habits I had created for myself and what consequences they held for the rest of my life. I had a job that I was completely passionless toward, had become stagnant in my relationships, and had a complete lack of connection to anything meaningful... but worst of all, felt that my own happiness was completely out of my control, that I was so far from myself that I might never get back, and that all of this was due to some cosmic force that regarded me with animosity and was punishing me for past mistakes I had made. Essentially, my unhappiness was the direct result of the exodus I had made away from my own heart.

I now understand that I live in a state of happiness always, because I am always in the now, whether I realize it or not. All I need to do is bring my attention back to my breath and I can remind myself of this fact. Everything after that is just an extra bonus. Whatever harsh opinion or idea I may have about the world around me, about others, and especially about myself, pale in comparison to the light that lives within me and within those I encounter. It's a simple fact, not a belief. In fact, beliefs would get in the way. This doesn't mean I can't discern that there are things that are good and bad for me; quite the contrary. Knowing who I am and what I'm made of make me even more able to choose among options from a place of centeredness and presence, not fear or a conditioned mind. I can't wait to see all the possibilities!

Yesterday we had a challenging two hour practice and a long day of reading and discussing The Power of Now and Your Body Speaks Your Mind. It was a challenging day for me personally, but the end of the day made it all worthwhile... Meredith, Melissa, Jennifer and I (and a few others)all attended a Kirtan in Atlanta led by Bhakti Messenger and the experience was so sublime... we chanted, laughed, swayed, cried and rejoiced along with the four musicians and singers... what an experience. Some events have the sparkle of absolute beauty and have the power to inspire... and this was one of those times.

I had a great conversation just prior to the Kirtan with Melissa about a situation I am dealing with in my professional life that has left me blocked and anxious... and the overarching message was, Let Go. What a way to end the day.

Today was a chance to go a bit deeper. I also witnessed an uncomfortable exchange between some fellow trainees that helped me realize in even greater detail the ways in which our egos only serve to feed themselves and divide us from what's real and true and also from the knowledge of the goodness within each other. What a valuable lesson for me.

At the end of the day, Meredith, Jennifer and I received our certificates for Level 5... 'paperwork pending,' as I like to say, we're RYT200.

Meredith and I went out for margaritas and tacos and then to visit friends in Atlanta to celebrate. I am drained emotionally and physically, but ready to return to life with a renewed sense of purpose and a strong inclination to teach from a deeper place spiritually.

* A note about some other issues I am having... I have been suffering injuries lately as a result of the physical demands I have been placing on myself and I have come to realize this is not sustainable for me. I am exploring ways that I can teach that honor my body and still provide my students with what they need... it will require getting out of my comfort zone, but completely necessary. I will expand on this further in future entries.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Finishing line?

I am nearing the end of my RYT200 training. It's hard to just enjoy the moment and not look forward to the next step. I'm constantly reminding myself to be present, to just enjoy where I am at the moment and not think about the journey I've made and its highs and lows or look ahead to what might be.

Yesterday I completed the Senior Yoga specialty course. We learned how to effectively modify poses for folks in advancing years or those with special conditions of any age. In the past I have been somewhat hesitant to teach that population because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to give them what they needed for a safe practice. I often have seniors and other folks with unusual conditions in my mixed level classes and I usually remind them to listen to their bodies and take lower options whenever available... but in this course I learned ways that poses can be taught to support poses and let people truly feel that they are okay working with where they are... such an important lesson as we age and begin to realize that in order to practice we don't necessarily have to move into advanced poses to truly reap the benefits... and as a teacher, being able to help someone with functional mobility can be so rewarding in itself. And it's okay that sometimes people don't have the goal of eventual samadhi or enlightenment. They just want to be healthy and happy.

Today was Pre and Post Natal. We focused on achieving a safe practice that truly honors women at this special time... honoring the process, nurturing, feeling supported. I realize that, having never been pregnant (and not planning it anytime soon) I might have fallen short in the empathy department... being here today helped me realize ways that I can help women maintain their flexibility, endurance, strength, and inner peace, even... during this time. I loved the partner poses...

Tomorrow and Sunday are Level 5. I'll talk in more detail about that experience as it's being led by Beth Shaw, the President of our company. I'll admit I'm a little intimidated by this!

I am so fortunate to have Meredith who has hosted me so graciously, shared her space, her bathroom, her car, her time with me as her guest. What a great way for the both of us to finish this part of our journeys together. I eagerly anticipate Sunday afternoon when we can finally say that we're finished with our certification. At least, this stage of it! We're already talking about India...

For me personally to finish in Atlanta, the city where my mom lived her final years and passed away just over ten years ago, is especially poignant. It's sad that, once again, she won't be here to celebrate with me, just as she wasn't here for my engagement, my wedding, the purchase of my first house, or any other milestones from the past decade. But she is with me in spirit, reminding me that I am strong and have the resolve to be both comfortable in my own skin and brave enough to reach ahead for things I never thought possible.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I am full of gratitude these days.

  • for having had the courage a year ago to undertake a completely new chapter that I knew had the potential to change my life in every way possible
  • for realizing the beauty in both my strength and in my weakness
  • for accepting in a real way all the painful and hurtful things that I have done and that others have done to me
  • for taking the time to notice the beauty in the everyday and even in the ugly
  • for being able to step back and notice the blessings in my life that I would not have were it not for the support of family, friends, dogs, and especially my husband
  • for allowing myself to sit in the moment and not think too hard about the future or dwell on the past
  • for the ability in every moment to choose love over fear no matter the situation
  • for finding ways to bring my actions in line with my thoughts and beliefs about the world
  • for choosing healthful ways to live my life and also allow myself to slip a little
  • for the big things: a car, my scooter, my house, my job, my health
  • for my dogs, for my husband, for my friends, and for my family, blood and in-law, who all love and accept me no matter what I choose to do
  • for the little things: the lines around my eyes and on my forehead, which remind me of laughter and fun times in the sun; for the tiny broken veins on my thighs, which remind me of my mother who is not with me in her own body but lives on in mine; for the callouses on the tops and bottoms of my feet from rolling over my toes from Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana; for the little squishy parts of me around my hips and rear, which remind me I'm a woman; for the definition in my arms, which reminds me that I can hold myself steady even though it's hard sometimes; and for the little sprouting grey hairs I allow to show not often enough, which remind me now that in my mid-thirties with all my flaws and baggage and highs and lows, I am happier now than I have ever been... and for that I have the most gratitude.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hood River- Day Four

Today the theme will be contemplation. We'll do a walking meditation followed by our asana session, then lunch, and our afternoon discussion. As I sit here with this beautiful scene before me I have such a range of feelings: excitement, anticipation, hope, faith, connectedness, sadness, and yet somehow, more than anything, peacefulness. Will I be able to return to my life with everything I've learned and be able integrate it, to apply it?

More on today's session later.


The theme for our morning was contemplation. We walked about a mile and a half (I think) through the morning traffic, around the marina, past the park, to the little sandy beach where we put our feet in the Columbia River. The feeling of expansion was overwhelming to me. A little too overwhelming, and so I had to take a step back with my awareness and snap a few pictures of the scene. First, one of us walking toward the beach (I didn't actually photograph the group standing in the water, in Tadasana, taking it all in; seemed too sacred a moment):

Then, a shot or two of the surrounding area:

And finally, the walk back:

After the three long days of asana, satsang, kirtan, and so much more, which brought my emotions very much to the surface, even just a quiet walk was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Once we returned to the training room, our asana began again, this time with the theme of courage, which brought me back full circle to my realization on Day One. It's hard to convey the sense of beauty that I experienced on my trip to Hood River. The connection I felt to the group and to the lessons learned will be with me forever. I now know I have the courage to allow myself to be connected to people in meaningful ways, regardless of the risk. I know I have the strength of wisdom and the beauty of inner happiness to withstand any outcome.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hood River- Day Three

Today was all about joy. When do we remember feeling true joy? What was that experience like? What do the Sutras and the Gita say about relieving unhappiness, pain, stress, and suffering? Today's training might have been called Yoga Psychology.

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu- may all beings everywhere know freedom and happiness; and may my own actions, words and deeds support that freedom and happiness.

The cause of all suffering, according to the Sutras and the Gita, are obstacles (kleshas) : ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), excessive attachment to the pleasurable and impermanent (raga), excessive aversion or hatred (dvesa), and fear of death (abhinivesa); and distractions (antaryas), which cloud the mind and interrupt our self-reflective awareness and mental clarity. These antaryas are disease, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality (relying on sense encounters), false perception, failure to reach firm ground, and slipping from ground gained. So even back before the time of Christ, people were looking for ways to cure the human condition. This is why I feel that it's time for the world to learn yoga (note, I am not talking about asana here; I'm talking about the practice of yoga off the mat as well as on). Our lives are so much more complicated now and we have so many sense distractions and means by which we come disconnected. And we see every day on the news the result of that disconnectedness.

is a big issue for me. Recognizing ignorance (note, ignorance here does not mean stupidity, it simply means lack of knowing or understanding) is a constant battle. When am I reacting to a situation I need to ask myself, am I seeing things as they really are? Is the person who's offending me really coming from a place of unhappiness, pain, stress, and suffering?

The way through suffering towards real joy is through our attitudes (brahmavihara): through friendliness towards the joyful (maitri), simply being in a positive place with a joyful or successful person; compassion for those who suffer (karuna); celebrating (even delighting in) the good in others (mudita); and healthy detachment from those who have harmed us through word, action, or deed (upekshanam).

So rejoicing with kind and happy people, viewing that person who suffers from the obstacles and the distractions with compassion, and putting up healthy constructive boundaries to honor ourselves in hurtful situations are all ways that we can reduce suffering in the world as we and others experience it.

I realize I am boiling this down a lot, but it's all very important stuff in the study of yoga and I want to get it all down now so I can remember it. The ideals described in the Gita and the Sutras are all ways to help us achieve true freedom and happiness, and they are meant to be seen as a work in progress. They recognize that we are all to one degree or another limited by one or more of the obstacles and distractions; it's our duty (dharma) to work toward a more enlightened state through the practice of self-reflective study (svadhyaya). It's perhaps most important that we remain compassionate toward ourselves during this process.

Our asana today focused on opening the hips. We store a lot of emotion and stress and pain in our hips, and being seated for long periods only serves to lock in tightness in that area. We practiced surya kriya again, a long lunge sequence, and several advanced poses including eight angle pose (astavakrasana) and one foot to head pose (eka pada sirsasana). I really enjoy hip openers- they're my favorite- so this was my favorite sequence so far.

We also prepped for headstand by trying it near a wall, and for the first time I held tripod headstand (salamba sirsasana) away from the wall for close to a minute (I think). But I'm learning not to celebrate success in asana too much; every day is different, and tomorrow I may have a different level of strength, balance, or flexibility. And for me, watching my neck is really important because of my history with injury to that area. So even the physical practice of yoga teaches us to regard ourselves with moderation, compassion, and respect.

After lunch, we invited 20 or so folks from other trainings to participate in chanting (kirtan) which was wonderful... 50 plus people of all races and ages singing variations on Om, om mani padme hum, il alaya al alayhu, shantih, shantih, and gloria in excelsis deo. It sounded like a symphony. Some people cried.

My most joyful times are when I'm honoring those things in myself and others. So if I continue to practice it, every moment has the opportunity to be my most joyful moment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hood River-Day Two

Today was all about love-- not in the romantic sense, with all its striving, ego, and attachments; today we talked about and tapped into universal love. (As I'm typing this my roommate Tami is dancing in front of the window so if I'm all over the place with my thought process, please forgive me.) Om mani padme hum-- may the jewel in the heart of the lotus within me shine and illuminate all the world.

We began our day with a nearly three hour practice honoring the heart energy center (cakra) and celebrating openness, compassion, and connection. We were guided to stretch our arms outward in mountain pose (tadasana), warrior one (virabhadrasana eka), and one legged king pigeon (eka pada raja kapotasana).

Our practice contained several flowing devotional movements (kriyas) including a sun dance (surya kriya) and a flowing sequence honoring joy, peace, love, and gratitude. I cannot express in words the emotions that came forth during these times. All I can say is that feeling the devotional energy of 35 amazing men and women at one time can cause one to shed quite a few tears!

So our practice was transformational in so many ways. My automatic reaction to an opening like this is to want to run home and share what I have experienced with all the world. But I understand that not every person is willing or ready to hear it and accept it and so I will keep some of the feelings to myself. I know that they will infuse my classes with a renewed sense of spirit and I am thankful for that. I hope that my "off the mat" yoga will also be re-energized with love, joy, peace and gratitude.

About yoga and religion...

We here in the "west" as it's called have such a tendency to want to put things into little boxes, categories, this is "good," that is "bad," so on and so forth. It's a linear, or dualistic, way of viewing the world and results in all sorts of disconnectedness. Even choosing not to believe is a category into which we place ourselves. The so-called "eastern" traditions have a more holistic view of things. Rather than place ourselves at one end of the spectrum, the traditional yogic view is to reside in the center of a circle and remain balanced or harmonious within ourselves and others, or to put it another way, to live in a state of grace.

Where does that leave people who do traditionally subscribe to a particular religion? It absolutely allows for any belief system. For example, if you are a Christian, one teacher (guru) to which my group receives guidance, Anand, says, "Your love lies in Christ and it creates union between yourself and Christ. Your practice of yoga {which is, after all, seeking unity, not division} allows that union to grow stronger." There is room within yoga for every religion. As one of my classmates said, "The ocean refuses no river."

And if you're an atheist or agnostic or simply have a more scientific view, yoga even can be meaningful because the asana and pranayama (mindful breathing) and pratyahara (sense withdrawal) are all intended to simply awaken you energetically-- creating space in the body and mind and an awareness of connection. No faith required in either case!

Does this mean that there is no good or evil in the world? No, absolutely not. Ignorance (avidya) creates all the obstacles. An "evil" person who reacts in violence or anger or hatred does so in part because he does not allow himself to see the connectedness of everything and everyone. On the other hand, a person who reacts from a place of universal love, sees that the source of everything and everyone is the same. In that way, we are not the same, but it's our choices that make the differences.

We add names and attributes and associations to our true inner nature to help us make sense of the world, but oftentimes, we mistake those things for the inner nature itself. What is the first thing a person asks you when they meet you at a party? "What do you do?" Why is that so important? Even our language contains evidence of how much we identify ourselves with things that are added to our true nature. For example, when we're hungry, we say, "I'm hungry." But you're not hungry; it's your body that needs food. You're you. "I'm 35 years old." No, your body is 35 years old. It's a small thing that says so much about our culture. More about this later.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hood River- Day One

Today was a challenging day emotionally. Simply waking up after only in five hours of sleep (in a strange apartment with new sounds, not to mention the anticipation of what lie ahead stirring my restfulness) left me in a vulnerable state.

Yoga Fit Level Four (out of Five, for folks not familiar) is a 40-hour training centered upon the primary texts and philosophical traditions of yoga, which are alluded to in previous levels but are not studied in great depth. We read from and talk about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita as well as delve into the origins of Sanskrit posture (asana) names and their pronunciation, chanting (kirtan), devotional movement (kriya), the meaning of Om, and share personal experiences and feelings surrounding our own self-study (svadhyaya). Yoga instructors from every background travel from all over the country to join and learn from one another. Each level is charged with its own raw testimony, but so far this is the most intense for me personally.

Even our morning introductions brought me to tears. The first woman who spoke, named Diana, was a long time Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma patient who talked about being weak and fearful in her early trainings and wondering whether she'd have the strength to face the emotional and physical demands they placed on her. The safety she found in that environment let her know she was where she belonged. Another, Louise, lost her mother in June to ovarian cancer and the emotional wear and tear of the event was easily apparent in the crack in her voice. She described being acutely aware of her mother's final suffering as she drove from her evening yoga class and looked at the clock precisely at the moment of her death. Still another, Teresa, spoke of a troubled yoga studio she and her husband had purchased and were now using the space to assist individuals with disabilities experience the beauty and power of yoga.

My own personal story involved a little family history (alcoholism) and the resulting fearful nature instilled in me from a very early age and how that fear had influenced every decision I had ever made (or had avoided making, to be more precise) in my life-- from jobs to relationships to education. A year and a half ago I left a job where I had been stagnating for some time, even moving past stagnation to decay, to an unknown future. Someone familiar with my decade-long sporadic personal yoga practice suggested that I teach, and though the idea frightened me somewhat, I felt ready. A year ago to the day, almost (August 15, 2008) I began my first training. I met Tami, who became a dear and close friend who has supported me every step of the way and whom I'm rooming with here in Hood River. {Side note: While most of my friends are on their own equally challenging paths, I truly feel that Tami "gets" where I'm coming from. And although she moved to Portland six months ago, I feel that our friendship has bloomed in a way that I felt was not possible at this stage in my life. It had been quite a while since I felt that closeness to another female. Not only does she have all those wonderful qualities, she is completely goofy and helps me relax and be goofy too.}

I shared my experience the past six months working one-on-one with Cherryl, an early onset dementia patient who had been a lifelong dancer and yogini (having trained with Bikram himself in the 70's and 80's) but who now was unable to attend regular group classes. One day as we lay in salambha setu bandha (or supported bridge) she told me that whenever she's experiencing a stressful situation, "I breathe in love, and breathe out fear." Having hidden in a place of fear my entire life, this moved me in ways I can't explain. Teaching yoga has opened me up to receiving lessons from everyone I encounter-- my students are no exception to this. They continually remind me how connected we all are and how much strength we possess. Other people in the training said that my sharing helped them to open up. I am so grateful to them.

Our two and a half hour morning practice, led by the wonderful Kristen Mabry, had a theme, "Discovering Our Truth (Satya)." We were guided to peel away the layers of judgement, expectation, and competition, of attachment and aversion -- not only of and with and to each other, but also ourselves-- and see what truth lies beneath it all. Our practice was to reflect that truth. I realize that my truth is courageousness. I have the courage to be honest about who I am, what I'm afraid of, what I need to do or not do to support my best self and reflect that courage for the world.

Mahatma Gandhi said "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." Someone in the training today said that when we're honest with ourselves about who we are, we subconsciously invite others to do the same. That courageousness, then, is a link to other people and their own personal truth. For so long, I held myself at arms' length from people or avoided true intimacy in relationships across the expanse of my life. I think in a way I have recognized the path to start to overcome this.

So in the spirit of that courageousness I earnestly tried poses that are physically and emotionally challenging for me: side crow (parsva bakasana) firefly (tittibhasana), and bound one leg angle (baddha utthita parsva konasana). I am glad I was reminded to listen to my body and honor the truth of the pose-- meaning, only attempting advanced versions of poses if the basic alignment remained intact. Sometimes being courageous means letting oneself not know it all...

Our discussions the rest of the day involved Yoga and Religion. Is yoga a religion? How does a dedicated yoga practice affect whatever religious affiliations we may have (or choose not to have)? How do the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita regard the observance of spiritual practice?

In tomorrow's blog I'll go into greater depth about this. So much was said that I'm still processing it. Suffice it to say that I feel so much more comfortable addressing the subject with people who ask me about it now. That's what these experiences do for me-- they demystify the world of spiritual practice and help me connect my own experience to that of others around me. And after all, yoga means union (yuj).

I chased the sun westward across the sky to find that the light I was seeking is inside.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vegetarianism, Part Deux*

I was "vegetarian" for a time in my high school years. I put the word in quotes for several reasons: I totally lacked both the knowledge base to provide myself with the nutrients I needed and the family support to make it happen; worst of all, I lacked the discipline. It was too easy to be distracted from my goal and if I was hungry enough I'd pretty much eat anything.

Things are different now. I'm in charge of the food purchases in our household, I worked for a long time at a local health food store, I have the internet with its vast resources, and best of all, I have a supportive husband who will eat anything I cook!

The reasons I've decided to take this challenge on again are many. Meat, and red meat in particular, has a negative effect on my body. My digestion slows and I feel heavy after a meal where meat (and for that matter, dairy) is the main offering. I don't enjoy meat dishes any more than vegetarian ones. I have seen so many videos of the violent and inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms that have brought me to tears. I know that the safety regulations around the production and processing of meat are often ignored or abused. I know the potential for negative health effects of meat-rich diets. The chemicals and antibiotics that must be used to keep animals healthy enough for slaughter have a cumulative effect on our own health and the strength of our immune systems. There are so many reasons to not eat it anymore that it is time for me to finally listen to my own heart.

Recently, though, due in part to my dedication to my yoga practice and study of the traditional philosophies surrounding it, not being vegetarian feels unnatural and out of place. The first two limbs of Astanga (the eight limb path) are the Yamas or moral restraints. The first Yama is ahimsa, or nonviolence (also sometimes translated as nonharming). I had begun to feel some time ago that I needed to cross this hurdle before I could even begin to work on the others... additionally, the mindfulness that yoga affords me lets me think before acting, so if I do see a temptation here or there, I may be less likely to give in.

Please note that I don't suggest that being vegetarian makes one superior to another. It's a choice that makes sense for me. Ideally we could all embrace a life path designed around a desire to eliminate suffering and harm to others, but I recognize that the change has to start within me, first.

*For now, I'm still allowing seafood in my diet, but with time that will go, too. My friend Carol said I'm a Pescetarian. Works for me. It's been two weeks since I started... more later.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Little Inspiration on a Monday

read to my class this morning

We are all on a journey together...
To the center of the universe...
Look deep
Into yourself, into another.
It is to a center which is everywhere
That is the holy journey...
First you need only look:
Notice and honor the radiance of
Everything about you...
Play in this universe. Tend
All these shining things around you:
The smallest plant, the creatures and
objects in your care.
Be gentle and nurture. Listen...
As we experience and accept
All that we really are...
We grow in care.
We begin to embrace others
As ourselves, and learn to live
As one among many....

~Anne Hillman

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Black Dog Lessons

We've been assaulted with news of celebrity passings lately. We never knew these people, never met them, but having witnessed their talent we feel a connection. The media has spent countless hours cataloguing their achievements and documenting their scandals. We must sift through the debris and come to our own conclusions how to best remember and honor them.

But today, in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, we learned of the passing of our own local celebrity-- the legendary Black Dog. The dreadlocked black chow was a roaming resident of the affluent near West End area and could be seen regularly wandering the streets, seemingly oblivious to passersby. He'd keep his distance and occasionally accept food offered to him by neighbors in the area, but more often would cast a glance and keep on going. His stoic attitude and survival instincts were an inspiration to me, and I always looked forward to seeing Black Dog as I passed through the area. My husband used to feed him early in the mornings when we lived in our apartment on Hamilton Street. Our dogs would go wild at the sight of him, but Black Dog just shrugged them off.

As friends learned of his passing, they have posted various tributes recalling what Black Dog meant to them. I think one of the greatest gifts Black Dog gave us was to demonstrate his resilience, especially his ability to move from situation to situation with ease and grace. I think most of us wouldn't mind having the skills to maintain balance in our own day-to-day affairs. It's so tempting to attach our perception of happiness to this or that outcome. If anything, Black Dog taught us to change our course when necessary, but keep persevering without hesitation. It has been estimated that Black Dog was between fifteen and seventeen years old. A stray dog doesn't live to that age without a degree of wisdom and balance. We'd be wise ourselves, indeed, to learn that lesson. In the practice of yoga, this skill is known as sattva.

We're also reminded of the impermanence of life. Every day brings its own changes to which we must adapt. As we find ourselves mired in sadness for the loss of Black Dog, we should also remember that we had such lovely moments observing and admiring him. Turning our attention to the special moment-to-moment-ness of life allows us to remain content and grounded amidst life's great sorrows. This concept, known as santosa, reminds us that being in touch with the awareness that life does change and reach an eventual end helps us to remain in the present, connected to the things that truly matter, and thankful for the times that we are fortunate to have with those people and places (and in this case, animals) that we love.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Robert Thurman on Compassion

Sorry for the long vacation! I'll try to post updates weekly.

Compassion is a big one for me. I try very hard to remain in touch with the feelings of others whom I encounter. This is often a challenge when confronted with an angry or gossipy person. I try to realize that everyone has a bad day or is not always conscious of his or her words and deeds. I often "fall off the wagon" myself and catch myself saying or doing an unkind thing. It's nice when a respected scholar like Robert Thurman gives a talk that reminds me of the value of compassion and why it's worth the effort.

view it here

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Breaking Negative Habits with Yoga

Here's a Yoga Journal perspective on breaking negative habits

Here is a bit from my own perspective:

Often, our practice on the mat is a microcosm of the world off the mat that we've created for ourselves. If we're traditional "Type A" individuals, we might seek to rush to the end pose, as in pigeon pose, missing the opportunity to lengthen the spine, exhale as we fall forward, breathing at the point of resistance and giving our bodies time to open up. Once there, our mind tends to wander and we think about what the next pose will be or what we need to do after class is over.

If, however, we lack self-confidence, we may hold ourselves back and miss the same opportunities. Staying upright, we look around the room and watch what others are doing, maybe even beating ourselves up a little for not being able to go further!

In either case, we have removed ourselves from the present moment and missed the real purpose of yoga: to connect our mind, body and spirit. A lack of awareness in the present moment creates ideal conditions for stress-related illness. Through a regular practice of pranayama and asana, we can regain our connectedness and release stress.

Remaining present also helps us be more able to avoid foods and activities that are bad for our bodies. An awareness of self at any given moment gives us the tools to question why we are choosing this or that negative habit. We are better able to step away from it and replace it with something positive.

It's all a slow unfolding into the promise of true freedom.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Love and Yoga (an exercise for couples)

Showing true love for another person requires conscious choices in our words and deeds. It doesn't just have to happen on Valentine's Day. Do we really listen to what our partner is saying? Are we in the present moment with them, or are we thinking about our other obligations that day? Are we looking into our partners' eyes, or are we fidgeting about, eyes over here, eyes over there, hand on our keys or the doorknob?

Being present means choosing to connect in that moment. What are we waiting for? If we constantly are thinking about the past or the future, we are missing the beauty of the present moment. Even in our darkest, most stressful moments there is beauty to be shared.

If we are not in a relationship, our awareness of the present moment creates lasting and meaningful connection to people in our lives. We have the power to make or break someone's day, with a kind gesture or smile or word.

Learning to center our focus on the breath allows us to be truly present. We can use this pranayama, or mindful breathing, as a daily exercise and come back to it whenever we feel our mind and our awareness darting about. Whether you practice yoga or not, pranayama will help you to be a better friend, parent, spouse, or partner... a gift more valuable than any chocolate or flowers.

This is a great exercise to do with your partner. Have him or her read this to you slowly and take lots of time before switching places. With practice it will come naturally to you.

Simple Pranayama

Sit in a comfortable upright position in a quiet space. Allow the top of the head to extend up, as if a thread were pulling you up. Feel the vertebrae separate, allowing the tailbone to sink toward the ground. Place the hands lightly on the thighs or knees. Roll the shoulders back and release tension in the neck. Close the eyes. Relax the muscles of the face. Let the tongue hang loose in the mouth. Begin inhaling and exhaling deeply through the nose. Try to make your inhales and your exhales the same length. Try not to force the breath; try not to resist it. Notice where the breath goes in your body. Place your hands on the belly around the area of the navel. Feel the belly rise as you inhale; your hands will move out. On the exhale, allow the belly to sink inward and the hands follow. Try to notice the space at the end of the exhale; pause there briefly in that silence. Your thoughts are like this- there is space between them. Bring your awareness to the space between the thoughts. Find the peacefulness that is there. If thoughts come, and they will, simply let them float on by. Try not to attach any intention to them. Continue this breath for several minutes and slowly open your eyes.

If you like, you can close with the hands together in prayer position, and speak the following words: Namaste. The spirit within me honors the spirit within you.

Intimacy and Ecstasy

What better time than Valentine's Day to think about how our own connection to ourselves and our own breath affect our physical relationship with our partner? Love is a choice; true intimacy requires a deeper choice... to have interest in the needs of another... to enjoy the moment... to be aware and present at all times.

Read more about it here, in Yoga Journal.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Yamas, or moral restraints, and the Niyamas, or observances, are two limbs of the Eight Limb (or Ashtanga) Path of Yoga. Rather than a set of Ten Commandments, the five yamas and the five niyamas are a set of guidelines in the practice of yoga meant to open the mind and heart and provide the inner peace necessary for eventual samadhi, or union with the divine. Whether or not this is your ultimate goal, the yamas and niyamas are chock full of common sense that, in my opinion, if everyone attempted to practice would make a world of difference.

The niyama santosa, or contentment, teaches us to be okay with whatever ups and downs might come our way, to be in love with the present moment. I might be disappointed that I had a low turnout for a class, but instead of fretting about it, I could use the time to work one-on-one with the people who did come in. It might be a more rewarding experience for both me and my students. Having positive energy about a challenging time can reap rewards in other arenas, too. People want to be around positivity. It tends to build on itself. I had a student tell me that I am a pleasant person to be around and that she feels happy being around me. That's the best compliment I can receive, I think!

When you are an open and warm person, people tend to gravitate towards you. Just today a young lady who works in my neighborhood coffee shop offered me some extra smoothie that she made... it ended up being a full size, for free! If I were a gloomy or "too cool for school" kind of person I don't think she would have felt comfortable extending that kindness. It's true for me too... so even when that positive person that I encounter has a down day, if I have had a comfortable, easygoing history with them, I am more willing to talk to them and hopefully brighten their day too. So contentment and openness are a two-way street.

The idea of "every man for himself" doesn't fly with me. I think our attitudes and their resulting choices influence not only our own lives and those in our immediate circles, but also everyone with whom we come into contact. Her extending that kindness to me no doubt will be repeated somehow and "paid forward" to another person in my own life. Perhaps even just reading this will motivate you to act with kindness toward the rest of the people with whom you interact today.

In these uncertain times, we are challenged to find ways to feel safer and fulfilled in ways that might not be in line with what have come to be our cultural norms of doing, buying, and having more. Sometimes "having more" is simply being content with what we do have: our health, our happiness, the love of the people around us, and the love that we are capable of extending to others.

I saw a bumper sticker today on the way to class: "Life is the School. Love is the Lesson."

I couldn't agree more.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Private Yoga Sessions

I teach one-on-one private sessions that are 75-90 minutes and can be customized to your individual needs (i.e. more intense, more restorative, shoulder/hips/hamstrings, etc.) Private sessions offer the opportunity to ask questions and correct undesirable habits before they begin.

I think if you check costs around the area my rates are quite reasonable-- $40 for a session at my home studio which is centrally located in Richmond-- $45 if I come to your house to teach. You can add a partner to split the cost for no additional fee. To add a third person, it's a mere $10 more.

For more information visit my website:


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wii Fit Review

The following is an oldie but goodie from

I tried it: Wii Fit Yoga

wii fit Nintendo released the Wii Fit game on Wednesday (see my original July 25, 2007 post). Players use a wireless balance board, which is reminiscent of a bathroom scale, to practice yoga, strength training, and aerobics, in addition to balance games such as Ski Slalom and Tightrope Walk.

My husband found the review copy on our doorstop Wednesday morning, and had it hooked up in 45 minutes and had gone running and skiing before I even had a chance to look at it. Naturally, I was most interested in the yoga component. But first, I chose a Mii character that would be my on-screen personality (Gema) and completed a body test that revealed my BMI (20) and my Wii Fit Age (eight years younger than my actual age. Yahoo!). Then it was on to yoga. There are 15 yoga poses, but only four were "unlocked." I needed to practice for a certain amount of time before the next yoga pose was available to me. After doing Deep Breathing, Half Moon, Warrior, and Tree Pose two times each, I was allowed to practice Sun Salutation and Standing Knee pose. But after 65 minutes of practice, I still didn't have access to the other nine poses, which was frustrating. Even though I executed the poses "perfectly," I could not move to the next level until I had exercised the required amount of minutes.

As I did each pose, the game could tell if I was balancing correctly or if I was favoring one leg or another. In fact, it is easy to become more focused on the Balance Indicator than doing the pose properly. At the end of each pose, the game gave me a ranking of Yoga Newcomer, Yoga Novice, Yoga Trainer, or Yoga Master. It also ranked me against my past performance and other yogis who used the game earlier. My friend, Grace, didn't like this feature. It made her feel too competitive, she said.

The balance board is two inches high, and it was a little strange doing Warrior Pose with one foot elevated on the board, and the other on the ground. But at the end of the day, I do think Wii would be a fun way to help beginning to intermediate level yogis develop a home practice. Wii Fit, with the Wii Balance Board, retails for about $90. To play Wii Fit, you must first have the Nintendo Wii game system, which costs about $250.


I have Wii Fit Yoga at home and I agree with the comment following the original review that there should be a longer "game" so that you don't have to stop and manipulate menus after each pose. I am not sure yet if one exists now.

Also some of the cues and info about the poses are strange: for example, Tree Pose as a spine stretcher? If you add the arms-as-branches component, maybe...

Still, I always say it: any yoga is better than no yoga. So Wii away!


Why I Practice

I can't say it any better than this.

from Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison

Day 218:

"If your eyes and ears are open, you will see the windows of opportunity around you." --Cherie Carter-Scott

In asana our eyes are open, our ears are open, our minds are open, our hearts are open. As the months turn into years, we realize that our practice is a long unfolding, an opening into promise. We learn to stand easy, firm, and relaxed, and our problems become the open windows of opportunity.

Day 219:

"True men of Yoga, striving, see Him within themselves." --Bhagavad Gita

Success in asana requires stamina. I forget this in times when I am not working very hard at my practice, and remember it when I am. If I train hard and long enough, usually over the course of a few months, something magical happens. I find that in posure after posture, I can endure past the initial difficulty. The pain softens, and the training of my mind begins to kick in. I invite myself to relax, to breathe, to enter the dance of the asana, mind, body, and breath. I encourage myself to have faith, to smile, to have fun, to feel gratitude, to be in love with the moment, the opportunity, the posture. This requires strength, physical endurance, and mental discipline. The fruit of this strength, this discipline, is that I am able to pause in each posture and connect to life pulsing in every cell of my body-- life dancing in me, life dancing through me.


One of my clients gave me this poem. I love that I have a job where people hug me and give me poems. The next day when I taught a group class I read the second half to them as they lay in savasana.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann

Dog Yoga

Article on Martha Stewart about doing yoga with your dog. While I think it's a cute idea, it doesn't seem safe to me for either the yogini or the dog. If you do try it please be careful.

Sasha Cohen on her Yoga Practice

Olympic Ice Skater Sasha Cohen talks about her yoga practice and demonstrates some common poses. She has great form!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Looking Up

I began practicing yoga as a way to engage in exercise without the impact produced by other activities, such as step aerobics, kickboxing, and running. But what I have received from my practice has become and continues to be so much more.

Things are looking up since I truly committed myself to the practice of yoga. I have practiced in some way or other dating back over 12 years but going through the postures without mindfulness and healthy habits is a less than true yoga practice. It was only when I began to see yoga as more than a physical action and began putting the philosophy into play in my life that I think the benefits really began to show themselves. I feel calmer in traffic. I don't lose my cool so often. I am more tuned in to how I am feeling day to day. I know to listen to my body and avoid things that make me unhealthy. I feel stronger, more centered, more in control of the things I can control and less worried about the things I can't. I think I am kinder to people. I sleep better.

It's a constant process for me. I re-booted my practice two years ago when I took on a nearly daily habit of strapping on the ipod with the latest from, hoofing it to the gym (before we moved to this house with the delightful yoga room!) rolling out the mat, and getting to it. Eventually it became easier to see yoga as part of a regular day and not just icing on the cake.

The off-the-mat stuff has been longer in developing. I remember feeling a connection to ancient Asian traditions as far back as ninth grade, when we studied Taoism and other Asian traditions in World Studies. I remember the appeal of a philosophy rooted in human behavior and our connection to a greater, less definable underlying entity. It seemed like the easiest way to feel integrated spiritually but able to relate to other religious traditions. Later on, while minoring in religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in the 90's, I began to notice that nearly all religious traditions have some unifying qualities in that they all have a meditative inquiry component and all strive for unity with a higher power or greater entity. I grew up agnostic, but wanted to believe in something bigger than myself, so this element was very appealing to me and gave a name to what I already felt inside.

So-called "new age" philosophy never appealed to me personally, though I understand its value to other people. Using crystals and hypnotherapy and past-life regression and those sorts of things were untested in general, but more importantly, for me, they lacked a unifying quality.

The practice of yoga, however, dates back prior to the time of Christ. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which means yoke, or union. It refers to the union of the mind and body through the breath, but it also refers to union of the individual with the divine. So a physical practice that could lead to spiritual unity sounded pretty good to me.

So anyway, that's how I got into yoga. It's not that unusual and probably not that different from others' experiences. I haven't been to India (yet). I am not a vegetarian (today). I can't do headstand away from the wall (yet). But I am more focused than ever on my practice and also on teaching others to open themselves to the possibilities that yoga offers on and off the mat, and this blog is an extension of that.

I love reading what others have to say about their own experience of yoga, and I will share those insights here along with my own. I also will gather literature that is out there that inspires me in my own practice. Perhaps I will even throw in some suggested poses to help unlock difficult areas. I hope you get something from it all.