Monday, March 29, 2010

Root Energy

"At a Native American gathering in Arizona for the 1999 summer solstice, a Hopi elder said: ‘There is a river flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and suffer greatly. Know that the river has its destination. The elders say we must push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves, for the moment we do that, our spiritual growth comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves; banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred way and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’ Now, go to your mat and push off from the shore.” ~From Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates

So I have been reading a lot about root energy and the first chakra. The areas of the body affected most directly by this energy center are the legs, knees, hips, lower back, and elimination organs. According to Caroline Myss, however, most afflictions can be traced back to imbalances in our sense of connection-- connection to what she calls the Tribe. In modern day society we probably define tribe in a number of ways, from family ties to groups we're a part of to how we make our livelihood... things and people that ground us, secure us, and connect us to earthly matters. It's those things upon which most of our daily experiences are centered. In the above quote, I think the special challenges our society gives us are highlighted. We're in turbulent times (it could be argued that every time is turbulent, and that is why I feel the above quote is so meaningfully universal)... and it's our willingness to be steadfast in our practice that helps us navigate and endure the turbulence.

I recently had the absolute blessing to begin working with a beautiful young woman afflicted with anorexia and pelvic and spinal osteoporosis. As she told me her story it became clearer and clearer to me that issues of safety and security in her life had been plaguing her for a long time. As a result, she suffered bouts of depression and anxiety that an interest in healthy eating helped alleviate. The problem was that the more and more she restricted her diet, the less and less she experienced the anxiety, so she began to go deeper and deeper into the disease. Now she is bravely facing the fact that this practice is not sustainable for her, that she wishes to get back to a more balanced way of living and eating.

I think we all find little (or big) crutches to get by with in this life we live. Each step brings us closer to the light, and we need only to take that first step (or that first swim, in the above quote) for other steps to follow.

Namaste, brave people.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

I have been feeling more of a connection to things around me lately. My energy levels have ebbed and flowed, and my classes have felt heavy and painful to slog through or easy and light and exactly what I meant them to be. I've been extremely aware of these shifts and changes. This awareness also affords me the opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture. Physical issues that have been more or less of an issue for me in recent months, I now realize, almost perfectly correspond to stresses in my life that I allowed to take root and affect my body. I'll elaborate later, probably not in great detail, but I am finding that my second chakra (swadhisthana) has been way out of balance. At varying points in my life this has affected my back, my digestion, and my creativity, along with other things. I have been reading Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, which is an amazing read. Her insights have been so valuable to me. I meet with a student once a week who has some fairly significant physical issues and I read excerpts from this book as part of our lesson last week and the words really resonated with her. I think people need to be validated in ways that empower them. It's not enough to say that someone is justified in finding themselves at a disadvantage. That does not help anyone heal. What does heal is giving people the tools to make their situation better. Myss' book gives us specific tools for recognizing the power we give away willingly, and the means to reclaim that power. I am finding that an amazing resource now, at this time in my life. I feel so fortunate to be able to say that I know myself well enough to understand when it's time to engage in deeper self-study and when to back off. We can't be immersed fully all the time... the intensity would burn us alive. However, accepting the information we're given and being able to put it in a meaningful order can open us up to the possibility of renewal, if we let it.

{Oh, and on another front, but definitely related... I hurt my back really bad on Thursday morning. It was so painful and scary I was emotional all that night, thinking I had really hurt myself, but I got up, called the chiropractor, got in early, and as the day progressed, felt better and better.

My afternoon client session (the one mentioned above) went so well, I felt buoyed enough by our session and went to the Nissan dealership and traded in my old car for a new one. I had been planning on doing this for a while but hadn't gotten the nerve to do it. The new one has so much lumbar support and rides really easy on my back-- not to mention it sits up higher and the storage is fully accessible (it's a small SUV but it gets mileage very close to that of my old car) so it's much better for my day to day needs. I know a car cannot make you happy, but this one is so wonderful I think I might be a little in love! Is that terrible? I really only went to the dealership to get an estimate on my trade-in and look at possible cars to buy... but... I felt ready, what can I say... and bargained myself a pretty good deal.}

Okay, I am headed to bed now. I have been putting off writing two papers for my 500 hour training and need to get rest so I can get up and bang them out.

Here's a quote from Caroline Myss:

"We are all living history books. Our bodies contain our histories-- every chapter, line, and verse of every event and relationship in our lives. As our lives unfold, our biological health becomes a living, breathing biographical statement that conveys our strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears."


Wednesday, March 17, 2010


So I am feeling like a little bit (okay, a lot of a bit) of a whiner after yesterday, when I was feeling sorry for myself. Woe is me for having too many opportunities to share yoga, for being successful and comfortable and therefore exhausted enough to warrant a nap during mid-day at a time when people all across this nation and around the world are suffering immensely. I have no debt, a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood, a supportive family, a thriving business, a great education, and assurance that I will eat three healthy meals every day.

I had a great day today, despite an empty classroom at one of my gigs (I'm choosing to blame the absolutely gorgeous weather that kept people away-- the weather was another thing for which to have gratitude!)-- I really felt things beginning to take an upswing. I started reading Judith Lasater's YogaBody which is so interesting! I love reading about anatomy, but I admit it's all so murky no matter how much I read. I feel really overwhelmed with information, and I only today read about the lower extremity (hips, knees, and feet). It's amazing the way the body has evolved to support our movement and how joints are supported and connected. It makes yoga an even more awesome thing to behold. Just walking is a miracle, but being able to do a forearm balance seems superhuman when you think of how we're made!

I am reading for my first weekend at the beach with Rolf Gates next month. I have to read this book, or about half of it, read some of Caroline Myss' The Anatomy of the Spirit, and write three papers in addition to the two I still have to write for the weekend in February that I missed. Sometime during that time I have to teach about 35 classes, visit with Tami while she's here from Portland, and go on a short vacation to Atlanta during Ben's Spring Break.

Here I go whining again. I am actually energized by a challenge. I remember in college I used to wait until the night before a long paper was due and stay up all night to finish it. I remember printing out the paper in the University library (this was before everyone had computers and printers! unbelievable!) about 15 minutes before class time. In many ways I'm still that person.

Wishing everyone the ability to stop and notice your blessings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Down Cycle

This week has felt a bit of a let down. I finished a fantastic weekend at the Anusara workshop and hosting a sweet friend at our house... and thought that heading into the week I'd be riding high. Then the weather yesterday was really harsh, cold, windy, and wet, and despite a great morning session with an always-uplifting and inspired private client, I began to feel my energy dip as the day wore on. My day today started out alright today, but after a challenge early this morning I am feeling a bit de-centered. It's sometimes hard to follow my own advice to ride the wave with ease and contentment. Most of my struggles are internal. I have a beautiful, blessed life with many comforts and loving people supporting me. But feelings of joy and gratitude are so often tempered with feelings of doubt and remorse for things said and unsaid, mostly to myself... or ways I could have handled different situations. I feel often that I either say whatever pops into my head or that I fail to say something that is so obviously important upon retrospect, I silently curse myself (yes, me, curse myself!) for not thinking to say it.

I know I am not drinking enough water for the amount of classes I am teaching lately (14 this week!) and my breakfast too often consists of a Lara Bar (the banana ones are delicious, by the way) and a cup of coffee with soy milk. I need to learn more to pay attention to my body's needs (something I also preach but often fail to practice).

The sun has just come out and the weather is said to be warmer as the week progresses. I have a calmer (sort of) end to the week. Maybe I will go get a massage or something, break up all the gook that is clogging me up.

I sure wish someone had some smart, comforting words to make this feeling of heaviness drift away.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Anusara Weekend

This is going to have to be a little short which is unfortunate because I could probably go on and on about everything I learned this weekend. I always thought Anusara was more about the spiritual side and the breath and the heart chakra (Anahata) and in many ways it is, I am sure... so it always intrigued me, but I avoided it a little because I always thought it would hurt me physically. I have major SI joint issues for which I am receiving several different types of care and that's how I tend to define myself on a personal level. In my experience all that heart opening ends up jamming my lower back. But in a workshop setting you have time to hone and refine the technique and learn how to fully engage the legs and the upper back to create opening in ways that you don't need to jam the lower back. I guess on some subtle level I always knew this to be the case, but I am stubborn and aren't we all a little addicted to our various syndromes?

Anyway, I was sure after this weekend I'd be hobbling around and in pain, and yes I feel sore in an exercise-y sort of way, but my back feels fantastic. I had some tough moments during the three modules I attended, but here were some of the accomplishments:

1. Pigeon pose with less emphasis on the hips and more on the lift created when you bring your legs energetically together, (the back-leg upper front thigh area rises off the mat a little, but it's okay) and pull the waist in and toward the back edge of the mat.

2. Handstand with shoulder girdle stability and scapular retraction. Okay, for like a few seconds, and with a spotter, but you have to start somewhere!

3. Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance) away from the wall! Again, for a few seconds. But I did feel well aligned and strong throughout.

4. Chaturanga with wider elbows, broader chest, and scapular retraction, softening the upper spine between the blades. We almost always lowered to the floor in our transition from Chaturanga, whereas typically the "end pose" is to hover, roll over the toes, and press up into Cobra or Up Dog. Doing Chaturanga this way gives the opportunity for space across the chest and the heart to come forward into the eventual inhale. I'm so used to laying my body (practically) on the inner arms in Chaturanga that while it looks nice on the way down, my shoulders get all squinched (?) up on the way down with no room to move as I rise from there.

5. Cobra on the fingertips... feels weird as heck, but really helps you strengthen your back. In the past, during my teacher trainings and classes I've taken you are directed to lift your hands off the mat. Usually your shoulders shove up toward the ears (at least mine do). On fingertips, however, you still feel grounded, yet the back must work to draw the shoulder blades together and you're less likely to sink down through the chest. The elbows stay bent a lot until the strength is there, then you can straighten the arms without putting ALL your weight on the hands. The legs draw toward one another, and the whole pose feels stronger. We did that all weekend and my upper back is feeling sore for the first time in ages. It's grand.

6. I think finally I am ready to immerse myself more in the anatomy of the postures. For awhile I've been a bit afraid of it, like it was too technical and somehow I'd lose the more spiritual side of the practice. But now I see so much power in the balance of both. For example the psoas muscle... such a huge muscle that it's really responsible for connecting and integrating the movement of the upper and lower body, yet it rarely gets a nod during yoga classes, especially mine! I am planning on studying the psoas and its role in every pose. I am now convinced that weaknesses and imbalances in the psoas are a big contributor to most postural problems and also misalignments in yoga.

7. This beautiful chant:

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave

I honor the essence of Being, the Auspicious One, the luminous Teacher within and without,

Satchidananda Murtaye

Who assumes the forms of Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss

Nishprapanchaya Shantaya

Is never absent, full of peace,

Niralambaya Tejase

Ultimately free and sparkles with a divine luster.


Friday, March 5, 2010

The Law of Pure Potentiality

"Power based on object referral is false power. Self power is permanent because it's based on knowledge of Self." ~Deepak Chopra, "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success"

I don't think I realized it at the time, but about three years ago I began to make space. I had just had an accident that was the culmination of a very self destructive time in my life. To say that I was not living my yoga is a profound understatement. The details of this pattern I had established are not that interesting or different from how I suspect many people live their lives on a day to day basis. My actions truly reflected on the poor self image I had developed and seemed designed to uphold my own ego-gratification.

I had a breakdown on my 34th birthday. I came home from my part time job and sobbed uncontrollably. I hated that I worked for someone else, especially since that someone didn't appreciate me, and hadn't done so in the nearly six years I held the job. It was my own fault, I realized, that I had backed myself into this corner, stagnated in lack of knowledge of self, and buried under my own image of how a dutiful person lived: did the job, didn't complain, and came home and dealt with it in any way that made it easier to get up and do it all over again.

This lifestyle didn't work for me anymore, and although it took me eight months to make a real change, I truly believe that this "waking up" was what I needed. I could never say that everyone who is unhappy in their work/life situation has to completely abandon it and start over, but for me, that's exactly what was required. I didn't even know what I wanted to do, until someone gently nudged me in the direction of Yoga Teacher Training. That was a first step, and since then I have felt the presence of God (there, I said it!) guiding me every step of the way. Whether it's a mysterious man in a robe and a white beard floating on a cloud or an elephant wielding an ax to break the obstacles in my path or a glowing white light... doesn't matter much to me. The fact is I am HERE NOW and will always be.

"We are divinity in disguise, and the gods and goddesses in embryo that are contained within us seek to be fully materialized. True success is the unfolding of that divinity. When we begin to experience our life as the miraculous expression of divinity-- not occasionally but all the time-- then we will know the true meaning of success."