Tuesday, December 20, 2011



Sound, Creative identity, oriented to self-expression

This is the chakra located in the throat and is thus related to communication and creativity. Here we experience the world symbolically through vibration, such as the vibration of sound representing language." ~ Anodea Judith

Today represented a milestone of a day for me. Since, oh, 1998 or 1999 I have dreamed of playing the harmonium-- that portable combination accordion/organ used in Kirtan, devotional chanting and mantra. There's something so amazing about the sound of a harmonium-- hearing it alone immediately opens my heart. And even just chanting Om along to a couple of well-placed chords becomes a transformative experience that turns my day around.

Since I received my harmonium on December 1 from Kristin Brooks of the Bhakti House Band, I have played sometimes for two or three hours a day, not actively trying to learn chords or tunes but just delighting in the sound I'm able to make with it-- and how resonant the vocals are on top of it. It's so powerful to me, the sounds reverberate in my mind and in my throat long after I am done actually playing and singing.

There is the feeling that this is a new way of being, and at the age of 38, finding those moments is pretty special to me. There was probably a time in my life when I thought I had seen it all. I'll save my story for another time, but suffice it to say that this year has represented a beautiful shift for me-- from the unreal to the real, the safety of the known to the juicy mystery of the unknown, the darkness to the light. I've been stunned and touched by my students, most recently the ones who allowed me to share my new love of the harmonium with them today. I'll say that the experience of teaching has shifted for me in a big way this year. It's not always been easy-- goodness knows I've found more ways than I care to admit that I have made everything about me-- but there is now a release of all that, a willingness to live in service of something greater, even though I am not sure at this moment what exactly that "something greater" is. In any case, 2012 promises to be more of the same awakening, unfolding, revealing... and I am ready for it, here, now, receptive.

asato ma sad gamaya
tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
mrutyor ma amritam gamaya

From ignorance lead me to truth
From darkness lead me to light
From death lead me to immortality

Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, I.iii.28


I bow to the light that shines within.

Om shanti.

Infinite peace be with you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Schedule

It's been a while since my last post... time has been at a premium lately as my efforts have been joyfully given to Project Yoga Richmond, a cause with which I am truly grateful to be aligned (check us out!)...

With PYR we're working toward our mission to make yoga accessible to everyone. In 2012 we're expanding our offerings in the community as well as evolving our fee structure to mainly a donation-based system. This is the realization of a dream of mine for sure. I'm so unbelievably lucky to have great alliances and friendships with my team-- J, Michelle, Pam, Wendy, Liz, Natalie, Stacy, Cate, Jenna, Kalyani, Carolyn, Sandy, Amanda, Madeline, and Renee-- as well as countless others who have donated their time and money and energy. There's some great things in the works for PYR including teacher trainings, Acro and Hoop Jams, outdoor classes at parks and museums, and so much community service our impact will be felt far and wide. That's my intention for the coming year for 2012 and now it's just about aligning with that intention.

In the meantime, while I am still teaching a lot of private lessons, here's where you can catch me for group classes (I am keeping my schedule light for a while in order to give myself lots of time to align :) :

Mondays 5-6 pm at Om On Yoga (320 Libbie Ave) for Gentle
Mondays 6:30-7:45 pm at PYR (6517 Dickens Place) for Yin/Yang Yoga

Tuesdays 6:30-7:30 am at Om On Yoga for Sunrise Vinyasa
Tuesdays 12-1 pm at Om On Yoga for Slow Flow

Here are other classes at PYR that I wholeheartedly recommend (check the schedule for more events, for details, and to make sure nothing's cancelled due to events and workshops):

Tuesdays 6:45-8 pm Hatha Beginner/Intermediate with Cate

Wednesdays 6:30 and 7:30 pm Hoop Dance with Natalie

Thursdays 6:30-7:45 pm Community Yoga with J

Thursdays 6:45-8 pm Hatha for Beginners with Cate

Fridays 5:30-6:30 pm Energetic Flow with Jo

Sundays 4-5 pm Pay What You Can Gentle Yoga (taught by various instructors on a rotating basis)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Food Frenzy

After about October 15, all my determination to cling vainly to summer begins to evaporate. By that time we're venturing into 40 degree weather at night and the humidity comes and goes intermittently until the air outside resembles the taste and texture of a Honeycrisp apple. Sharp, sweet and tangy. (?)

Anyway, I start doing the same strange things everyone else who nests a home probably does: buying pansies and chrysanthemums and decorative gourds (click that link only if you have a strong stomach for the f-word and a taste for the hilarious!) to put on my front porch.

Food-wise the purchasing shifts from cucumbers and watermelon to butternut and acorn squash, cauliflower for soup and mashing, and bread. Sometimes, when I have a craving for a certain ingredient but have no idea how to use it in an interesting way I will visit my favorite vegetarian website for fresh ideas.

I don't eat a lot of bread at all, because the remnants of the Adkins Diet debacle in the early 2000's are still hanging around in my consciousness... BUT being that I am much less restrictive these days (unless you count the whole vegetarian thing, of course) I like to eat it from time to time and especially during the Fall and Winter months. I can always put on a big sweater, right?

When I do buy bread I try to buy whole grain bread with a good chunky texture and a nice crust on it. If it has nuts or seeds or chunks of whole roasted garlic, even better. However, I usually am so sparing with it that I end up with essentially a big lava rock with a flat edge on my counter in a plastic bag. What to do?

Feeding the sweet wild birds in my yard is one option of course and sometimes I do that. Last night though, I got this overwhelming craving for stuffing. So I went in the kitchen and rattled off the ingredients one typically finds in stuffing. Bread, onions, celery, sage, parsley, celery seed, broth, olive oil or butter, salt and pepper and boxed vegetable broth. I also had some walnuts and dried cranberries, so I was good to go! I added some carrots that were hanging out getting ready to go limp. I got the husband into the preparation which was fun and made it go by really quickly.

Here's the breakdown for last night's Fall Cranberry Walnut Stuffing (of course you can play with the measurements as these are just by memory and the recipe made enough for 2-3 meals for two):

3/4 loaf stale whole wheat artisan bread
1 skinny carrot, peeled and diced into small pieces
2 celery ribs, diced into small pieces
1/2 medium red onion, diced into small pieces
3/4 tsp sage
3/4 tsp dried parsley
2 pinches celery seed
3-4 twists Himalayan pink salt (or sea salt is fine, of course)
3-4 twists black pepper
sprinkle of olive oil
2 tbsp Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread
3/4 cup Imagine Foods Organic No-Chicken Broth
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or oil a medium sized baking dish.

Chop all the bread into about 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
Put all diced vegetables with the spices, olive oil, 'butter,' and broth into a medium sauce pan and simmer until the veggies get slightly soft and everything blends well.

Right before baking, add the bread cubes a little at a time, tossing thoroughly so they are coated with seasonings and well blended with the vegetables. Then add the walnuts and cranberries. Spread it all out in the baking dish. Make sure the mixture is a little damp (not saturated) by adding a little more broth anywhere it looks too dry.

Bake for about 30-ish minutes uncovered. I like a slightly crusty top so I moved it up under the broiler turned on low for about 2 minutes right at the end.

I served it with my curried butternut squash-coconut soup (thanks Fresca restaurant for the inspiration-- I went home and copied your recipe as best I could and it's so perfect and easy, I keep coming back to it!):

I had a half a medium sized squash already baked (cut in half, seeds scooped out, 45 min at about 375 degrees, open face down in a baking dish with 1/2 inch water and covered in foil) so all I had to do was scoop it out and puree with about 3/4 can light organic coconut milk, a little more broth, and a little of the following spices: cayenne, curry, allspice, salt, pepper. Then I allowed it to simmer a bit so it would all blend well.

The combination of the two dishes together was awesome! The creamy-spicy-sweetness of the soup with the crusty bread and slightly crunchy fresh veggies and walnuts were a lovely combination. It's all I can do now not to go buy silly things like cornucopias and more decorative gourds for my dinner table. I'll leave that to the more Martha Stewart-ish of my friends :)

Enjoy and let me know if you vary the recipe and how it turns out!

Monday, August 1, 2011

This week's class schedule Aug 1-7

Hello friends!

Here is where to catch me this week for publicly available classes.

5:00 pm Gentle Yoga at Om On Yoga, 320 Libbie Ave
6:30 pm Restorative Yoga at Project Yoga Richmond, 6517 Dickens Place

6:30 am Sunrise Vinyasa Yoga at Om On Yoga
12:00 noon Slow Flow Yoga at Om On Yoga

10:00 am Free/Donation based Yoga In Monroe Park (on VCU Campus) (co-taught with Liz Sussan)

6:30 am Sunrise Vinyasa Yoga at Om On Yoga

Can't wait to see you on the mat.

"I catch a glimpse of such peace when I can allow my body and my postures to be imperfect, when I can simply let things be as they are. In class I remind students that swimmers who fight against the water tire and drown. Those who relax into it float... On our mats we learn to float." ~Rolf Gates, Day 213, Meditations From the Mat

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inside- Out

"I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside!"

The above quote from Jalal ad-Din Rumi, 13th century Sufi mystic and poet.

This month, so far (and it's not half over!) has represented a shift in the way I see myself. If you'll allow me a moment to indulge...

On June 3-4, I and my fellow Rolf Gates 500 hour graduating class presented on Fundamentals of Vinyasa Flow practice at Blending the Rhythms: Inspiration and Flow, a two-day asana, meditation and kirtan event in Virginia Beach benefitting Wounded Warrior Project. Our goal was $10,000... after expenses, that's almost exactly what we raised!

Friday night I presented a piece on Mountain Pose alignment. Here's what I presented:

Yoga practice, when practiced with right effort and in full integration, can begin to correct and align imbalances physically, in the muscles and connective tissues of the body, as well as awaken the energies of the body that might have lay dormant. Feeling aligned energetically may give us an immediate connection to our truth.

We may feel more at ease; we feel both grounded, stable, secure, but also comfortable enough in our own bodies to soften and open to the possibilities that each day brings us, with steadiness, with comfort and with joy. Right alignment/right effort creates ease in a posture, just as right action/right effort creates ease in life off the mat.

Let’s focus on balanced action as we move into Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. I’ll be highlighting the corresponding energy centers (or “chakras”) as we move up the body in order to awaken our awareness of how the body and its energy work together. For additional reading on the subject I recommend works by Caroline Myss and Anodea Judith.

Begin by standing at the front of your mat with your arms at your sides.

Feet: Feel your feet. Press down on the inner and outer edges of your feet as if you were spreading X’s on the soles of the feet. Feel the places that your feet connect to the mat, the floor beneath that, and the earth beneath that. Steadily lift the arches of your feet. As you do, feel the entire leg engage-- the shins, calves, thighs, backs of the legs. Keep a small bend in your knees to soften the knee joint and engage the muscles supporting the knee. Press the inner thighs back.

Hips: As you lift the arches of your feet and engage the legs, slightly lift the front of your hips. Allow the tailbone to drop, but create balanced action in the pelvis by continuing to press the inner thighs back. Feel the stability in your low body. Feel anchored, rooted and balanced.

The feet, the legs and the base of the spine correspond with the first, or Muladhara chakra. In this energy center lie our basic connections to the earth beneath us, to the groups or “tribes” with which we identify ourselves. A healthy, balanced root chakra means that we can stand firm; that we feel like we belong, like we are in the right place.

The hips and lower abdominal organs correspond with the second, or Swadisthana chakra. In this center lie our relationships to people, and to elements of our immediate environment: food, money, partnerships, work, and anything we create in our lives. A healthy, balanced second chakra indicates healthy, balanced relationships to these areas; that we are creative, that we interact respecfully, that we are good partners.

Belly: Place your hands on your belly just below the spot where the right and left ribs meet at the center. This is the solar plexus chakra, the Manipura chakra. In this center lie those aspects of ourselves that we define as truly “us”: our wants, needs, inclinations, personality traits, goals, intentions and our will power. A healthy, balanced third chakra means knowing who we are and what we want to accomplish; and that we have the will to accomplish it. Draw the belly in slightly and lift the belly up toward the ribs. Feel a slight heat build in this area. Keep this, and release your arms by your sides.

Heart, shoulders and arms: The fourth or heart chakra, Anahata, represents our capacity to feel and experience emotions. It has a special element: air. It is into and out of this heart center that our breath flows. A healthy, balanced fourth chakra indicates that we are willing to feel and experience all the emotions that come up-- not just the so called “good” emotions like love, gratitude, forgiveness, and joy, but also the tricky and often problematic emotions like envy, anger, shame and guilt-- and to manage them in a way that brings us and others ease. Please lift the shoulders and roll them down the back, allowing the lower tips of the shoulder blades to move together behind your heart space. Elongate the side ribs. Roll your palms forward and gently spread the fingers. Feel the heart lift and open. Breathe deeply. Balance the opening of the heart by drawing in the low ribs, engaging the solar plexus as the ribs move toward the hips and the navel softly pulls in and up. Marrying the third and fourth chakras in this way is an indication of our will to experience and endure bravely and honestly all that might come our way, no matter how it may make us feel.

Throat: The fifth or throat chakra, Vishuddha , represents our ability to express ourselves, but also to allow others to express themselves. To engage the throat chakra, bring your attention to the back of the throat. Draw the jawline back slightly and lift the muscles at the back of the throat. You will feel a slight constriction of the breath. This is also how we engage Ujjayi or Victorious Breath which we frequently use in our practice. Hope will explain this further in a little while as we begin our asana practice. Another way to engage and balance the throat chakra is to make some noise. So let’s inhale, open our mouths, nice and wide, and exhale loudly, filling the room: AAHHHHH! Let’s repeat twice more. Close the mouth; notice how you feel. Listen for a moment to the subtle sounds of others breathing around you. A healthy, balanced throat chakra means you are able to speak your truth, but also to allow others to speak theirs.

Brow: The sixth or brow chakra, Ajna, represents our vision, not just the ability to see physically, but to connect to our intuition and to follow it when appropriate. For example, what intuition told you to register for this weekend? How did you envision the experience? If you are able, close your eyes; or, just drop the lids slightly and gaze out over the bridge of your nose. What images or thoughts come to mind? Open the eyes again. When the eyes are open in asana, it’s important to establish a steady gaze point during our practice, which helps us focus on our mats. We are then able to move in the direction of our vision and remain steadfast in practice. Learning to trust your own intuition and follow your vision, as one of my fellow graduates, Amy Perri, so beautifully stated, is to be inspired to live in spirit, your spirit, allowing yourself to be guided from the inside out and to trust enough to take action in the direction of where you are being led. Which leads us to the final point of focus: The seventh or crown chakra, the Sahasrara.

Crown: Lift and extend the spine by bringing the crown of the head up slightly, as if you are growing an inch taller. The crown represents the ability to connect to spirit that is both of ourselves and much, much larger than ourselves. What we find though, is that when we are in balance in the other chakras, when our relationships to others, to ourselves, to our emotions, our words, and our ideas are all in balance it’s so much easier to feel connected, supported, a part of something greater; to feel gratitude; to have faith; and above all, to live our lives for the greater good. Yoga gives us the means for balancing our bodies and our energies so that we can live skillfully in this world, fulfilling our dharma, or our duty, in this lifetime.

Feel and breathe into right alignment. Mountain pose appears in some way at every moment in our practice, so let’s create an intention to find this alignment again and again. Feel balanced, steady and comfortable; the body is challenged physically, but open and relaxed energetically.

Following a presentation on working together in Tree Pose, our asana practice started, and I led centering and warmups ending in Sun Salutations.

Our group presented to 100 people (including Rolf and all our fellow teacher trainees). Just prior to our presentation, out in the hallway, I asked John Yax, co-owner of Hot House Yoga who so graciously hosted our program these past 16 months, to give us some encouraging, relaxing words. He looked me square in the eye, and said, "It's not about you. It's about what you can do for them. Don't be selfish; remember that." This hit me really hard. What a simple concept that completely takes the pressure off!

This weekend there were two events that I was so lucky to be able to share: Project Yoga Richmond's free community class yesterday at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and my free class at lululemon athletica Short Pump today. I just kept reminding myself of John's words: It's not about you. It's about... them.

Honestly, there was a time not too long ago when the mere thought of teaching a group of this size would probably have made me pee in my pants! But it truly is an honor and a privilege. When I teach these days it comes from such a genuine desire to serve that I can't imagine anything else motivating me. If anything outside of this idea does move me, it's so that people will know what Project Yoga Richmond is all about (though occasionally, like today, in my haste to get class underway I will forget to talk about it) so that we can achieve our goals...

Anyway, my life these days seems to be all about living from that place inside myself that is just dying to get out. Being the person I was meant to be... Paige Elenson, founder of Africa Yoga Project, talks about the moment she was visiting Kenya and jumped out of her comfort zone to practice yoga with some native Kenyans she'd never met... and that 'jumping out' led her to meet herself head-on. My life has come full circle lately to the realization that for me to meet myself head-on, too, I must also let the door swing wide open, step outside my confines, and greet the person I see there on the other side with open heart and open arms. At the same time, greet the world with that same open-wide heart. It's truly the only way!

The top photo is from today; the second photo is our students from the Museum event, in Savasana.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


It's been a busy few weeks.

There's been so much to do for PYR: working on our mission statement and values and goals, coordinating teacher workshops and community service work (we have our first official community teaching gig!), lining up everything for us to file for 501 c(3) [non-profit] status; all the while teaching all my regular classes, settling my grandmother's estate, teacher training, trying to be a good, patient and mindful wife and doggie mom; and taking care of myself physically. I have found pranayama to be my biggest ally in remaining grounded and feeling centered and focused. Whenever I catch myself getting overwhelmed, I just sit or stand a little taller, align my spine, soften my gaze (or close eyes if possible), and take long, slow breaths, holding at the end of each inhale and exhale. It only takes a minute, and I always feel better immediately. It's not always easy to find time to meditate or practice, but pranayama always fits in.

I also have some exciting news-- I am now an ambassador for lululemon athletica here in Richmond. What this means is that I have been chosen to keep doing what I am doing but do even more of it, represent the fantastic brand that is lululemon, and be a helpful role model to those in the community. I was completely surprised when I went to the showroom (summoned by Val, the fantastic manager) and found my name written in giant letters on their chalkboard with my partner Jay standing there beaming. It was pretty cool. There is a new store opening in Short Pump in May and each of the 10 ambassadors chosen will have a large photograph on the wall in the store. My outdoor photo shoot is next week, so of course that means eating, hydrating, practicing and getting good rest. Nothing like a little low-grade vanity to kick the healthy lifestyle back into gear!

Last weekend I was in South Carolina with Rolf Gates again (I had a missed weekend to make up). The weekend was titled "Embodying the Light: Vinyasa Intensive." Rolf started with an hour long talk on aligning our values and our actions as sadhana (spiritual path or quest). He said yoga teaches us to bear witness to our habitual patterns of suffering and not let them rule our lives any longer. Contentment comes with acceptance of our circumstances as they are. We stick to this path by being rooted in the higher good and being willing to change and to let go of the person we once were, when that role no longer serves our purpose for higher good.

He spoke about how alignment in a yoga posture creates new opportunities. If I am fearful for example in ardha chandrasana (half moon) that I might fall while balancing on one leg, if I root my supporting leg and pull the lifted leg into alignment, there's much greater freedom in the posture because I feel safer and can reach more fully through the arms and head-- and even, on a great day, catch my back heel and work the posture into more of a backbend-- ardha chandra chapasana. When I'm that focused, that grounded in purpose, and that willing to explore and change, my heart opens so wide that the possibilities seem endless. It's like that in life. If I know what I believe in and remain rooted in what I am all about, my possibilities for expression of that intention feel limitless.

What a beautiful lesson!

Oh, and there were these raw chocolate truffles -- maybe it was my blissful practice or maybe it was these that were making me feel so happy all weekend :)

While I was traveling I also had the opportunity to visit a beautiful studio in Hilton Head, SC called JivaYoga. My friend Susan and I went there for two classes, Slow Flow/Deep Stretch with Jean and Dynamic Flow with Vicki and they were both fantastic.

In my next blog, if I remember, I will talk about how acupuncture is changing my life. :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Yesterday was Friday, February 18, no spectacular date or anything, but it was about as close to perfect as a day can be. I had no classes... and it was 75 degrees and partly sunny.

I woke up early and showered and did a small amount of housework (laundry mainly) and then went to run a few errands. I went to Ellwood Thompson's to eat breakfast and read Yoga Journal (March issue is fantastic) and just enjoyed being by myself. Oddly, I had to sit there for a good half hour before anyone I knew walked in... and then they all came in at the same time. First I saw Elany, a sweet fellow yogini who teaches at Om On Yoga with me. She had her son with her who refused to go to school today! Almost at the same time I saw Jennifer who owns a local coffee shop and Taylor, a former local hardcore legend who is now in real estate (I love how we grow up). I love the randomness of seeing people I know out in public. I have gotten so accustomed to doing all my work (contacts for work, class plans, reading up on yoga literature, etc) from home and being on and off the computer in some way all day, that it was really refreshing to get out for a while.

After that I went to Maymont Park and set up my yoga mat and practiced for a good hour or more under one of the gazebos in the Italian Garden area. There is a lovely, unobstructed view of the area across the James River from there and it's probably my favorite place to practice. And for the first time in a while I felt really, really connected to the flow and had a blast exploring transitions including poses like Vasisthasana, Wild Thing and Eka Pada Koundinyasana. Even Urdhva Dhanurasana felt fantastic yesterday. More and more, I prefer practicing on my own than in a group class. People who read this who don't get to practice on your own~ you should. It's fun to experiment and watch where your attention goes when you're listening to nothing but your own breath and the sounds of nature around you.

After that I rolled up my mat and walked the perimeter of the park, skipping the Zoo. I am not a big fan of zoos. To do this I had to cut through the fox pen and saw this adorable silver fox pacing quickly from one end of his area to the other carrying what looked like a leaf in his mouth! He never stopped the whole time I watched him. I wonder what was making him so agitated. His pen is pretty big, but even so, I'd probably be agitated too if I were him.

Right at that moment a lovely Hindu couple walked by, in full garb and everything. They were both caucasian but the man wore full white dress and the woman wore a beautiful sari in gold and fuschia. The man had a red bindi and I didn't want to stare, so I didn't notice whether the woman had one. I did, however, greet them both with my hands together and "Namaste," which they returned, smiling. Quite a nice moment.

After I left the park I did a little shopping in Carytown and leaving there, saw three mounted police officers. Those horses are so beautiful and so big!

Getting home, I tidied up around the house and waited for Ben to arrive. We went and had Mexican food and then did something we've never done before that was so amazing... went and skywatched! There is a group called the Richmond Astronomy Society that sets up their very elaborate high powered telescopes in front of the Science Museum of Virginia every third Friday, weather permitting. My friend Thomas posted something about it on Facebook which reminded me that I had always wanted to go but never made the time. It was so interesting! There were half a dozen men there with their equipment set up and they were all so friendly and chatty and full of information. We looked very closely at the almost-full moon, Pleiades, and at the Orion Nebula. I think I could really get into astronomy. In my 500 we were studying photos of the universe against photos of the neural network of the brain. It's so stunning how closely they resemble each other. Not only that, but you get such a sense of the relativity of everything.... how large we are compared to neurons, and how small compared to universes. SO nice to know there is a group that gets how big and beautiful the mysteries of space really are. I was telling my friend Thomas that yoga is about creating vast spaces in the body and mind that experience closes off... Seeing these sights made it feel very possible.

After we got home I watched Toy Story 3... kind of a random choice but that's what Netflix sent us. It was actually very good!

Yesterday was a great day for just being out in the world and getting out of my comfort zone for a while. I am always so much happier after I see new sights and faces.

Tonight we're going to Ashland to hear a friend's band play and relax together. It's our Valentine's Day since we didn't have a chance to celebrate on Monday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

for Valentine's Day

If you were to hear me imitating Pavarotti
in the shower every morning, you would know
how much you have changed my life.

If you were to see me stride across the park,
waving to strangers, then you would know
I am a changed man-- like Scrooge

awakened from his bad dreams feeling feather-
light, angel-happy, laughing the father
of a long line of bright laughs--

"It is still not too late to change my life!"
It is changed. Me, who felt short-changed.
Because of you I no longer hate my body.

Because of you I buy new clothes.
Because of you I am a warrior of joy.
Because of you and me. Drop by

this Saturday morning and discover me
fiercely pulling weeds gladly, dedicated
as a born-again gardener.

Drop by on Sunday-- I'll Turtlewax
your sky-blue sports car, no sweat. I'll greet
enemies with a handshake, forgive debtors

with a papal largesse. It's all because
of you. Because of you and me,
I've become one changed man.

~Robert Phillips

I've always loved this poem.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Niyama Challenge, Week Five

Isvara-pranidhana. Up until about 4 years ago I had no use for higher power. Or else, I thought I did. After I recommitted to a regular yoga practice following a debilitating and humbling head injury, I realized that wellness of mind and body aren't enough... and healing was a gift given to me by someone, or something. Personally, a name isn't necessary for whatever it is that guides me every moment of every day... I just know that it is within me and without me all the time. I am stronger, more connected, more aware and especially more joyful because of it. I fear less, love more, and live fully. I make the effort to see it in everyone. When I stumble, I rise again. It's what led me to teach yoga, so that others, in their own time and way, might find in the practice some of what I am so lucky to have found.

This challenge was made all the more rewarding because of the members of my teacher training who went through it with me. I am sure everyone ran up on their own reasons to quit; maybe some, like me, even let loose the reins a bit along the way. But one thing I did learn is that doing something positive is so much easier when you have the support of likeminded people. And even though we are spread far and wide around the country, I feel even closer knit to them than ever.

Coming up in my next blog, I'll talk all about the exciting developments that are taking place in my personal life, with PYR, and with our concluding months in Rolf's program. And try to make sense of what it all means in the bigger picture.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Niyama Challenge, Week Four

This week's challenge is svadhyaya. In The Living Gita, Satchidananda defines it as "reading scripture; spiritual study." Rolf defines it in Meditations from the Mat as "education of the self, or self-study."

It's very interesting that this week's challenge is the one I have dreaded the most, because despite all my studies in psychology, yoga, and religion, and being married to an English teacher, and loving the written word, I am not much of a reader. Or should I say, my brain has become accustomed to not being disciplined enough to read. I find that sitting down to read becomes an experience fraught with many of the difficulties that yoga students and meditators alike face: a very, very busy mind indeed. And even when the subject is a topic I am interested in, my mind wants to personalize the information, take me off track, and send me in a zillion directions. So my reading is usually limited to short bits of text that I can really allow to sink in and simmer rather than try to cover a lot of ground at once. Because of this, it may take me months to finish a book. Or, I may read something and have a really hard time connecting to the material, but want to know more, and become a bit frustrated by the process.

So I was happy to read the following today from Rolf and start to realize I am doing just fine in the area of svadhyaya:

"As in every other aspect of the yogic way of life, there is a magic to this process of seeking out and reading those works that speak to our true nature. The words of our teachers slowly work their way into our consciousness. Often we find that statements or concepts that we couldn't understand, or had no use for when we first read them, come alive days or months or even years later, as the circumstances of our lives confirm their messages. There is also magic in the ways in which our teachers eventually speak through us. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are informed by the writings of our teachers. It is a magnificent experience to see the beauty of our teachers' souls become manifest in our own lives, to see the loving hands that have touched us touch others through us. Through spiritual reading we gain communion with the divine power on which our hearts are set."

It's so true that I find myself recalling and saying things that Rolf has said to us at different times, and realizing I am saying them in my own voice. I know the process of integrating what I read and hear is an ongoing one that will change and evolve and that space will be made for new information and influence to take root. There's a great power in learning how to allow and disallow what information we will assimilate into our experience. We start to learn so much about ourselves in the process, and ultimately that it's just another way in which the human being is really a vessel for divine expression. It's a great unfolding for which I am so grateful to be present.

More later in the week.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Niyama Challenge, Week Three

This week’s challenge has been Tapas, or fiery dedication. I feel lately, as I mentioned in my last post regarding santosha, that the tasks required of me lately have not afforded me the time to be less than contented. If I am to be successful in my goals, it’s counterproductive to make the time to regret, worry, over-project or over-speculate.

That same situation applies to the observation of tapas. My dedication to this chosen path (to be a business owner, a student, and a teacher) definitely feels fiery at times, and most times, cannot feel otherwise. The moments that I allow myself to entertain another way, all I can envision is the people who I already teach and my fellow students and what we have to learn from each other in order to grow as people. I can’t imagine my life without them, without this discipline I have chosen. It’s that steadiness that allows me to walk through even the most challenging times with relative ease.

Where I have noted a lacking is in my practice. I have become adept at practicing “off the mat” most of the time, but sadly, sometimes that’s my only practice all week. This week I resolved to change that, and freshen my practice by attending some classes with some new-to-me teachers or ones I hadn’t practiced with in a while. I went to Randi Weiss’ Flow class at the Jewish Community Center, where I also teach. I actually attended the class that she and I share teaching on an alternating basis. She has such a solid foundation in the Ashtanga tradition and such a lovely voice. It feels great to be a student, and I am getting a little better at turning off the “instructor control panel” when I attend a class. It’s in those moments when I do, that I really connect to the practice and then walk away feeling stronger, more balanced and centered, and rejuvenated.

Last night I went to Sue Agee’s Power class at Om On, where I also teach. This was my kind of power! Her teaching style is very grounded in knowledge of anatomy (which I have to admit, I have become a bit of a geek where anatomy is concerned-- talk to me about pelvic and shoulder girdle stability!) but her delivery is very elegant and soft.

My intention was to get up and go to Peggy Boon’s 6:30 Sunrise class, but alas, tapas took a long winter’s nap. :)

Still a day and a half to observe tapas (and continue if possible-- I contentedly report that santosha and sauca are still in effect-- Day 20 no caffeine!)...

I am also including one of the quotes from my fellow teacher trainees about tapas that I think is beautifully put (I may post others)-- Thanks to Chris Yax of Hot House Yoga in Virginia Beach:

Tapas: It seems to me that tapas is the energy that gives life to the fulfillment of intention. It's fascinating to me that the energy needed to commit to an asana practice, meditation practice, or writing a book is the same energy required to take better care of yourself, to be more compassionate, loving and open hearted. It is the energy of discipline. I've been conditioned! I hear that word and immediately feel it means I have to do something I really don't want to do, but I should. I can honestly say that anything that I've felt I should do, but would rather not do, has never stayed long in my life. Rolf turned that on its head last weekend (or the one before) when he said to be disciplined is to be a disciple of that which I seek to have in my life. To rather be doing nothing else than what I'm doing. To rather be with no one else than who I am with. I am a disciple of my meditation practice. I am a disciple of my asana practice. I am a disciple of taking care of myself. I am a disciple of love. And when I forget, I am a disciple of forgiveness. Love Always in All Ways!

Aren't I lucky to have such wise people to study with?! Namaste!

Here's another post on Tapas and Svadhyaya, Week Four's Niyama, written and submitted by my teacher, Rolf Gates:

A friend and I were sharing the mellow moments in the parking lot after a 12 step meeting. The day had been warm and the evening around us gentle and fragrant. We talked for a while about family and sobriety and then the conversation drifted to surfing. We talked of good days on the water and bad and at one point my friend called another surfer “salty”. This is high praise. It means the surfer in question stays on the water. She’s out there everyday sometimes twice a day. She embodies tenacity, consistency, a passion for practice. It is the salty surfer who trains so hard on the small days that when the waves get big and courage and skill are called for she shines.
In the days following this conversation I reflected on the quality of “saltiness”. In Yoga this is called Tapas, zeal in practice. Tapas and being salty are not about a pumped up moment. They are about long-term commitment. They are about putting in your ten thousand hours in order to earn the right to be truly excellent at something. As I reflected on the nature of this kind of commitment my thoughts turned towards a personal inventory. Where in my life have I been willing to pay the price to achieve excellence? Where have I not? What is the nature of the price of excellence? What is the nature of the price of settling for less than excellence?

This does not feel black and white to me. "Salty" can also be obsessive. "Low sodium" can mean that someone has chosen balance. In either case there is Karma, cause and effect. sat nam Rolf

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Niyama Challenge, Week Two

So last week ended magnificently. I feel I have successfully conquered my caffeine addiction. Honestly, just taking deep breaths and remaining focused on the idea of sauca (and also remembering what horrible withdrawal I went through on Day Three... never want to experience that again!) and staying in sync with my fellow trainees... it all helped. I feel that sangha (or community) is so important when you're focused on accomplishment. Reading everyone's posts and having people keep my spirits up made such a difference. I had one glass of wine, and a tiny bit of feta cheese, at a memorial service I attended.

On Tuesday I found out that my former private student, Cherryl, had passed away from Alzheimer's complications the previous Sunday. I wasn't surprised, but glad she was relieved from her suffering. I also began to reflect on how working together changed me as an instructor. She was so content in her situation, and seemed to really enjoy our time together. I remember her words, "I breathe in love, I breathe out fear." I still talk about that, because it made such an impact on me. I have ever had such a profound experience like that with a student, not before and not since. At her memorial on Saturday (which was day one of santosha or contentment, how appropriate) the people who spoke talked about what a dancer she had been. I can totally see it. She was this lovely, tiny little lady with this bright smile and beautiful eyes. She was still so flexible even as she moved into the later stages of her disease. I think the saddest part was her inability to get up and move on her own. I can't imagine not being able to step onto my mat, let alone practice a sun salutation on my own. So I dedicate this week to her.

I can't say I have had a choice in the matter in terms of santosha. I have to practice it because I am too busy not to! With many classes and private lessons this week, and three meetings: for Project Yoga, for my grandmother's estate, and at one of my teaching venues. All that, along with planning a workshop I am conducting on Saturday. If I don't have steadiness and balance in my attitude, navigating this week skillfully would not be possible.

Here is what Rolf says about santosha.

"Come into any posture-- Warrior Two will do-- rest your eyes at one point, and just breathe into every cell in your body. Listen with every cell in your body. Experience the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands, the length of your spine, the sensation of air against your skin. Allow the posture to bring you deeply into the moment and you will experience contentment-- not as resignation but as the vibrant experience of all living beings, as the song that is sung by a world that is sacred."

Two more days of santosha, then onto tapas, or discipline. I plan to attend a yoga class each day or at least practice at home with a Yogaglo class. I may even take in a cycling class. I know I need to sweat more often, so that will be my intention for the week.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Niyama Challenge, Week One

So as you may know from previous posts, in my 500 hour teacher training we are split into smaller groups of 3, 4, or 5 and each weekend our groups present on various topics... either something from the Sutras, or something around teaching (class formats, theming, focus). One group this past weekend presented on the Niyamas, which are the second limb mentioned in the Sutras. The Yamas are moral restraints for living an honest and authentic spiritual life (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, non-hoarding). They are mostly concerned with how we conduct ourselves in the outer world. The Niyamas are their counterparts. They are observances for sustaining spiritual growth. They are sauca, or purity; santosha, or contentment; tapas, or discipline; svadhyaya, or self-study; and isvara-pranidhana, or devotion to higher power.

The group that presented (amazing ladies, all) challenged us to start 2011 by observing and focusing on a different Niyama each week. We are to connect with each other via a private Facebook group page where we share our journeys and support one another. The first week's challenge is sauca, or purity. Here is what Rolf says about sauca in his book Meditations from the Mat:

"Practicing sauca, we keep ourselves clean on the outside through ordinary means, and we keep ourselves clean on the inside through asana, pranayama, right eating practices, and right attitudes... Sauca is not about what we eat but about the cleanliness of our choices... It is the observance of loving-kindness in thought ... On the mat, begin to experience the asana and pranayama as purifying your body as well as strengthening it. Off the mat, cultivate consciousness and care around the choices you make concerning your mental and physical environment. Begin with your physical cleanliness... and then work outward. How are your surroundings affecting you? ... Ask yourself, how are my thoughts creating my emotional reality? Think of five things to be grateful for in this day, and then ask yourself this question again. Over time, as you apply the principle of sauca to your life, you will find that a peace settles over you."

So today, I awoke to the New Year by lying in bed, imagining all the ways I planned to observe sauca in my day. I did a little pranayama (and by that I mean, a very little bit), got up, drank a big glass of water (one of the ways I am choosing to practice sauca is by purifying through hydration- 72 ounces a day!), had herbal tea (instead of coffee as is my normal habit), made a delicious organic breakfast of steel-cut oats, apples, pecans and cranberries, then started cleaning up the house with Ben. We did laundry, vaccuumed, cleaned the dust from behind the furniture, put away clothes and tidied up our holiday decorations. I made a walnut-arugula pesto and we had whole wheat pita pockets and tomato soup for lunch. I am cooking black eyed peas and stewed tomatoes (Hoppin' John) for good luck this New Year.

In a little while I will practice some asana and pranayama and then meditate for a few minutes. Before bed and then again in the morning, I'll use my neti pot to clear out the sinuses.

As for the inner work, I know there are a lot of less-than-pure thoughts that pop into my head and affect my emotional reality. I tend to over-reflect on past mistakes, which makes me feel sad and guilty. I tend to over-project into the future about what might come, which makes me feel nervous and inadequate. I also tend to place pretty unrealistic expectations on my plans and how much I rely on other people to live up to what I expect as well, which creates all sorts of problems. It's a bit of a trap, seeking the highest but unwittingly judging self and other. I take a small degree of comfort (and indulge in letting myself off the hook a little) in knowing that it's probably the human condition, stated right there in the first couple of lines in the Sutras, to make these mistakes, to let thought patterns muck up the consciousness and keep us from peace. Sometimes, I wonder if it's a bit of a curse, having done so much work on awareness that now I am hyper-sensitive to my own thoughts. Hmmm.

Here are five things I am grateful for today:
~my loving husband, who likes to do the dishes, vaccuum, and do yardwork.
~my two dogs, who keep me from taking life too seriously.
~my friends that I have made along this journey who support me and who ask the right questions when I have a problem to discuss.
~my dad who I think doesn't really understand my yoga path but who tries to listen and give advice anyway.
~my aunt, who was brave enough a month ago to pack all of her things in containers and leave her unhappy marriage in Wisconsin and live here in Virginia.

"When the body is cleansed, the mind purified and the senses controlled, joyful awareness, needed to realize the inner self, also comes." Yoga Sutras

More later on my week long journey with sauca.


Update. It's day 4. Yesterday was terrible. I had the most debilitating migraine which I attribute to caffeine withdrawal... and I only drink one or two cups of strong coffee in the morning, not all day. I felt nauseous, weak and had terrible pain all over my head like it was being squeezed in a vise. It is very hard to focus on anything when you are going through that. I was checking out at the grocery store and the clerk asked me a question and it was like being in a movie and the sound gets messed up. I had three classes scheduled yesterday. I realized in a very intense way how the mind and body are connected, because with all that going on it was very hard to be positive. I felt angry at myself, confused, depressed, and especially fearful that I would not be able to teach or teach well. Somehow, though, I got through it, and feel a little better today (although missing that morning cup). One of my friends said yesterday that some studies show that a little caffeine is good for you. So perhaps after this week is over I'll allow that back into my routine.

I have also given up alcohol and dairy products and junk food (I already don't eat meat). So for snacks I am eating nuts, apples, carrot sticks dipped in hummus, arugula pesto with whole wheat crackers, things like that. I did allow myself one tiny piece of dark chocolate with fruit in it last night as a reward for getting through the day.

I am trying to focus on the great things going on in my life right now. Also, coaxing myself to feel good about the not-so-great things because, hey, it's all about perspective. Sometimes when we're going through things we can't detach easily and the weight becomes seemingly unbearable. Once we're on the other side we're able to look back and compare and contrast. I've just got to stay focused on the goal because tomorrow, the week is half over and santosha or contentment lies ahead... right?