Unfolding on the Mat
Expanded Content and Thoughtful Guidance
Here we go! It's YAMA time!
These are the first five ethical disciplines of your yoga practice. Fun word, bummer topic ;)
Actually, I really enjoy studying these teachings and thinking about them as I engage in society.
The first Yama is Ahimsa, or non-violence. Upon first glance, one might say, "Yep! Got it! Don't be violent. I shall not kill. Check!" But you know it's more than that, right?
In this week's podcast, we are informed by BKS Iyengar's Light on Yoga to help us wrap our heads around going beyond non-violence and into love of all. We are encouraged to EXPERIENCE what we believe, not just think about it.
Start by experiencing it in your own body--pain can be thought of as the body's signal that there is some violence going on. Stop, back off, breathe, and re-enter what you are doing with more attention, ease, and self-compassion. Or perhaps change your activity entirely. Sometimes it's helpful to treat your body the way you want your best friend or partner to treat their's.
Then take the practice to the world.
We're all complaining that the country is divided, right?
Do your part to practice love of ALL.
Besides, how do you feel in your own mind, body, and spirit when you are thinking or speaking of someone in a violent or negative way? It blocks your joy! It makes you no better! There's no shame to it--this happens! The key is NOTICE it, and apply the opposite.
Try this the next time you catch yourself thinking negatively of someone or a group of people:
Let me know how it goes! I love to have stories to draw from for my teaching. Your experience could help someone else, so don't be shy!
May the world you create within and around you be one of love, compassion, and non-violence.
I am writing to you from Austin, Texas, where we are in a winter cold snap. I don't ever remember bundling up on the first of April! But this seasonal change makes me want to remind you to tend to your digestive fire. When the outdoor weather changes rapidly, or just into the next season, our AGNI, or digestive fire, wanes. It's like the flame within you that transforms your food to energy diminishes. This means it's best to eat easily digestible foods, or do a seasonal cleanse. When I search for recipes to help my fire, I turn to Eat-Taste- Heal, An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Living. Kitcharie is regarded as the best meal during these seasonal transitions. (Weekly subscribers receive a FREE downloadable PDF of my favorite kitcharie recipe from Eat-Taste-Heal. Opt-in to my newsletter, and never miss a free give-away!)
As we cleanse our bodies from the inside, we also continued last week on cleansing the veils of perception (kleshas) that cause us suffering. We explored our aversions, or DVESHA, and had a BLAST doing all the poses we think we hate! I learned that more information about the poses, i.e. alignment, intention, etc., transformed the experience from dread to enjoyment. Well of course! It's removing ignorance! (Need to catch up or refresh your memory on the kleshas we've covered? No problem! Just listen to my podcast!)
This week will certainly be challenging, as we explore the klesha of ABHINIVEŚAH: attachment to life. This might give our practice of Savasana (corpse pose) a whole new meaning!
Speaking of corpse pose, in Calm Your Nerves, Lift Your Spirits class Monday, we spent a good amount of time doing a body scan in supported downward facing savasana (see image below). Resting with your head and shoulders supported, belly on the earth, is a very grounding and nervous system pacifying experience. We worked with the theme of embodiment, and left feeling very grounded and refreshed.
Here's something fun: I'd like to invite you to come be in the audience for a panel I'm sitting on tonight! Abi Robins of Conscious Enneagram has asked me to join her panel of other Enneagram 3's for a fun and lively conversation about what it means to be a 3 (The Achiever) and how the Enneagram has informed our lives. You can get tickets and read more about Abi and her amazing work, Conscious Enneagram on her website. Her podcast is a must-hear!
Wherever I see you, and wherever this week takes you, I hope you are happy, healthy, and grateful for your life.
I hope this Tuesday morning finds you well :) I just finished a great spring break with my kids, which included a fun weekend in Houston, lots of time with friends, Barton Springs, and my first attempt at Frisbee Golf! That's gonna need a little work...
I hope this Tuesday morning finds you well :) I just finished a great spring break with my kids, which included a fun weekend in Houston, lots of time with friends, Barton Springs, and my first attempt at Frisbee Golf! That's gonna need a little work...
The whole week ended in a deep house cleaning and getting out those Easter decorations: bunnies: check! eggs: check! Last week I sent out a PDF for you with some yoga spring cleaning tips. (There might have been a technical glitch last week that I HOPE I fixed. PLEASE let me know if you can't access it!)
My therapeutic series Calm Your Nerves, Lift Your Spirits started yesterday. There were about seven of us (so there's room for you to join us!) who learned about LINKING. Linking is where you are placing your attention. I asked the questions: what are you paying attention to the most? What is occupying your attention throughout your day? Are you aware of the effects of what comes in through your senses? How about that 24 hour news cycle? Are you linking to beauty and nature?
Actively linking to peaceful images and natural scenery calms the nervous system. Any opportunity you take to deposit time in the peaceful bank helps you accumulate healthy stress response and positive vibes around your life. You can learn more by listening to my podcast Episode 35, here.
Last week in my public classes we focused on the obstacle of ATTACHMENT, or Rāga. This week is the other side of the coin: AVERSION, or Dveshah. We'll explore how those things that you avoid, detest, or downright hate, could actually cause you less suffering than the thinking you do around them. For me, one example is the icky feeling of mud between my toes if I'm stepping into a pond or lake. On one particular occasion, it kept me from enjoying the water with others on a yoga retreat. Well, my teacher MADE me step in until I stopped caring and could enjoy the water. Aversion destroyed; enjoyment commenced! (One-to-one yoga therapy sessions are the perfect opportunity to explore your attachments and aversions, and get you started on a practice toward greater life harmony!)
Wherever you are, I hope you enjoy life this week by linking to nature, releasing harmful attachments, and ignoring those pesky aversions.
I LOVE Wednesday and Friday mornings. As in, can't wait to get up and get going, LOVE it. Why? Because I'm DANCING AGAIN!! Not for a show, not for a judge, not for an audition or an audience--for FUN. And it's so much more! I'm releasing old stories of perfection of form, competition with others, and fears of appearance. I'm shaking off inhibition and dancing like no one is watching in a room full of people. I haven't danced like this without tequila ever before in my LIFE! And at 9 AM for heaven's sake! Dr. Deb Kern is the goddess that leads us. This is my story of a class I took in early January when I was trying figure out (or listening for, really) my new year's intention...
January 23, 2019
After much dancing and energy clearing, I step out to get a drink of water. It is here that my 2019 intention comes to me: DECISIVENESS. This year, I will make a decision, and just keep going.
With this new intention and energy within me, I re-enter the dance class to experience what this FEELS like.
When I return, it is to the free-form, music-filled, suggestion-driven part of the class, where Deb calls out to us with words of encouragement and suggestions for how to break habit and move freely through the space. To practice decisiveness, I choose a straight line from one corner of the room diagonally across to the other side. There is a sea of women dancing and moving. Some are staying in place, arms waving and swaying. Some are traveling and turning, spiraling as they go. They look like a swirling sea of kelp and mermaids!
I begin my journey with eyes forward and steps determined, arms moving slowly like a locomotion. Obstacles in the form of dancing women cross my path or are right in it. If I move too quickly, we will crash. Sometimes I'm almost walking in place, but each step is at least inches forward. On occasion, I meet the eyes of one of these obstacles--we smile, but I do not stop my forward movement. I make it across, and turn to look back.
The obstacles now look like milestones on my path of progress. They were there to teach me and challenge me. What do I learn when someone steps in front of me? What do I feel when it seems I can will them to move? If they were to question my path, my decision, could I maintain my courage and conviction? YES. I decide where I want to go, and with Divine guidance I will get there. I remember times I have adjusted my plans, acquiesced my goals, stepped aside to let life flow more easily. I have no regret of the past, but a future like this feels exciting!
No turning back feels scary and vulnerable.
But so does dancing in a room full of people as if no one is watching.
I hope you stay with me as I unveil where I'm heading. There's no turning back!
What is your intention for this year? Tell me in the comments section so we can support each other!
I’ve never considered myself an activist. My yoga practice has always been a source of calm and peace, helping me navigate the world with compassion and understanding of our humanity. Not really an agent of big change or sweeping reform. Plus, the vision I had of an activist was someone angry with their face set in a frown, a furrowed brow, and fists in the air demanding someone listen to them! Not really my style. Although I applaud them and am glad there are those of us on the planet with this dharma, I didn’t see myself among them. I also felt helpless. It seems there is SO MUCH WRONG in the world, where would little ‘ol me start, and what could I really do?
Then Sera Bonds of Circle of Health International (COHI) told me I was an activist. What? I don’t think so. Lemme think about that...
In yoga practice and meditation, we often draw ourselves into our heart, our inner sanctum. Those of you who have practiced this for a while might agree that it’s lovely in there. It’s an escape. It can be a peaceful sanctuary in a tough and busy world. Also, as humans, most of us are seeking happiness. As Swami Muktananda puts it, “happiness lies within.” If we can leave our attachments in the outer world and go inside, true and lasting happiness can be found.
Then on February 14, 2018, there was the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Seeking happiness started to feel trite. The inner sanctum as a retreat did not feel right.
I began to realize that if we draw ourselves to our heart, it’s not to go to the inner sanctum and stick our head in the sand and say, “ah, it’s cool in here.” It’s that we go to the inner sanctum where things aren’t so messy, so that we can respond with clarity. We can respond to the world through love, not hatred. From there, the uprising that comes is not, “I’m going to change this and use my fists and fight against it.” It’s, “I’m going to help change this because I love people so deeply.”
We go into the heart not just to be happy, but so that we can respond to the world through wisdom and love and STILL be an agent of change. Rather than go in and get complacent, we go in and find deep abiding joy and love, as well as clarity on right action. We go to the inner sanctum not to get stuck, but to go in there and realize, “Oh, ok. I know what to do. I know how to love so hard that it will change things.”
That will look different for each of us. Some of us are called to global activism, some of us take small actions that have a ripple effect. We are anywhere along that spectrum. And we are ALL activists. As Sera puts it,
“We do it through choices we make: where to shop, what to drive, how to vote, where to pray, who to marry, what to eat. Some of us also do this work through organized social and political actions, some of us want to do this but don't know where to start.”
On April 29th, you have an opportunity to ask your deepest, wisest Self, “What can I do? What am I passionate about? What can I offer the world? Where do I start?” Join us for an Activism: On and Off Your Mat Retreat at Yoga Yoga Westlake. Sera and I aim to help you on this journey. I will guide yoga and meditation towards the stillness of the heart, and Sera will help us all create our own mission statement for the change we want to be in the world. And there’s a freebie! COHI is providing one free activism kit for each participant in the day-long retreat, a $25 value!
Hopefully you will finish the day feeling clear, loving, passionate, and empowered. I look forward to walking the path of yoga and activism with you!
In my fall semester at UT, I first learned about the "ghost light" in a theater. I remember stepping from backstage into what I thought would be a dark empty stage, but there was a single bulb on a stand, lit up. There was nothing around it but a dark theater. Yet this small bulb shed light on the house, very faintly, but enough to see the first level of seats. It stood alone, keeping the ghosts appeased and the perimeters visible.
If this lone bulb had been lit in that same place during the activity of the performance, we would not see it. It would be insignificant. The stage lights would overwhelm it. It was only when surrounded by darkness that its light proves illuminating.
So often I come to my practice, or my life, with an intention-- a reason for showing up. There is something I'm directing my energy towards. There is a show I want to produce. There are fruits that I desire. Today I practice without intention, without a script, a ticket sold, or a single designed set. My practice, my prayer, is simply a single bulb shining in a dark theater.
Inner room, darkened theater, inner sanctuary--a place within that is vast, lit simply by the single light of the Soul. We see the light because there is no performance, there is no distraction. It is simple, pure, illuminative, quiet, and deeply personal.
The dark of the theater is not frightening. It is necessary. In our dualistic world, we tend to categorize things as good or bad, black or white, yes or no. But we need the dark to see the light. Our challenge is to see them both, hold them loosely, and let them be what they are in our lives. They are the performance space and the performer. The audience is the Divine.
These days, yoga can be (and is!) combined with just about anything: creative writing, dance, music, acrobatics, kung fu, tai chi, art, and even beer! I think my favorite, though I’ve never participated, is yoga and goats. Yes, goats. So I must say I wasn’t surprised when I heard of yoga and cupping, but I was certainly surprised at how effective it is!
Cupping isn’t new. It’s ancient. It goes back to ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern traditions of healing. Today it is considered an alternative medicine used for muscular aches and pains, increased blood flow, detoxification, and excess fluid drainage. It has gained popularity recently due to Olympic athletes, such as Michael Phelps, showing up with the tell-tale cupping circles on their bodies. More information on cupping can be found at the Cupping Resource website.
Recently I was treated to a cupping massage with Cindy Anderson at the Yoga Yoga Westlake Spa. After giving me a little background knowledge of the process and a demonstration of the silicon cups, Cindy got to work on my back, shoulders, legs, and chest.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t often treat myself to massage. I have always enjoyed the process, but like so many of us I don’t set aside the time. This experience rejuvenated my interest in having regular massage as part of my health routine. The cupping was fantastic.
As the cup was placed on a muscle group, it gently created a suction which lifted skin and soft tissue into the cup, drawing blood and fluid towards the surface. Then, as Cindy moved the cups in a zig zag across one area, it felt like she was massaging me from the inside as well as the outside. I imagined muscle and connective tissue being smoothed out from underneath. When she placed two cups on opposing points and moved one cup, it created a lengthening sensation. None of this was painful to me at all, though I have heard of it getting quite intense for some.
Perhaps the best part was the lasting effects. Once I got in my car and drove away, I realized how easy it was to turn my head side to side. Any tension I had before the massage had melted away. Delicious.
So where does the yoga come in? Yupping. Yoga + Cups, of course! As I went through various yoga postures I like to use for detox yoga, I placed the cups on certain points to help create that same sense of inner lengthening as in my cupping massage. Forward folds with cups on the low back: ahhhhh. Seated postures while cups draw on the facia on the soles of my feet: wow. It goes on.
Seasonal changes are a great time to detoxify your system. Summer heat has accumulated in the body, and detox yoga is an effective way to let it go. The detox yoga postures and sequences are designed to squeeze and wring out organs of digestion and elimination, as well as improve circulation to move blood and lymph through the body. It’s like your internal body takes out the trash and cleans the house! With the addition of cups, more of that trash can be drawn from muscles and tissues and taken away by the lymph. Think baseboards, tile grout, ceiling fans, nooks and crannies, to continue the metaphor.
On September 24, Cindy and I are collaborating on a yoga and cupping event at Yoga Yoga called Radiant Everyday: Cupping and Seasonal Detox Yoga. Participants will receive their own set of high quality cups and learn how to massage themselves with this technique. I will guide the group in a detoxifying yoga class, including cup placement ideas and enhancing stretches. It is sure to be fun, informative, and effective. I hope you can join us!
Mondays are “calendaring” days for me. I sit down with emails, requests, invitations, carpool schedules, and after- school activity times to lay out the week ahead. I find it very satisfying to plot things in on my calendar. I get them lined up perfectly to go seamlessly from one thing to the next, allowing for travel and hiccups. I set up my Waze app to send me notifications for 10-minute warning for when it’s time to leave, taking into account all Austin traffic along my path. I think about what bags I’ll need each day and what goes in them to be sure I have everything I need to stay out as long as needed. And yes, mealtimes and potlucks are accounted for as well.
Like so many of us these days, my Google Calendar is full of colorful blocks. Sometimes very few blank white spaces are left. Most time is accounted for. I used to look ahead trying to find “time off.” When will there be nothing to do? When is my break?
One of my past yoga teachers once said,
“There is no time off. There is only time.”
This I had to chew on for quite a while. I lived for time off! I looked forward to it! Then I realized what I think he was trying to convey.
There is only time. Sometimes we are spending time traveling from one activity to the next. Sometimes we are spending time in our vocation. Sometimes we are spending time preparing. Sometimes we rest. Sometimes we engage with others. Sometimes we serve. All the time, we are spending time. What is different or the same in all of these times? Perhaps it is our presence.
In yoga we “slow down time” by slowing down the breath. The mind begins to settle, the nervous system relaxes, and we have a chance to have a moment of clarity. A chance to really see what is happening in the present moment. In a moment such as this, I remembered the yogic teaching of attachment and aversion. In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, (yogic teachings), Sri Swami Satchidananda says,
“We attach ourselves to pleasure because we expect happiness from it, forgetting that happiness is always in [us].” (p 90)
Aversions, on the other hand, evoke strong feelings of dislike, or unhappiness. This leaves us swinging from one side of the pendulum to the other, depending on if we are in a “like” or a “dislike” activity or place in time. Or “like” time off and “dislike” time on!
Now I try to stay tapped in always to my timeless inner experience. In my head it sounds like this: “Now I’m doing this...and Now I’m doing this…” I try to stop looking ahead to when there is nothing happening (because there never is! Even while resting, something is happening) and be present in what Time is offering me now. I remember the “hard times” teach me, and the “good times” nourish me. The “doing” times move life forward, the “resting times” rejuvenate my body and soul. They are not on a scale of good to bad. They all just...are. Happiness, Joy, Ananda, The Kingdom of God--all of this is within--not in the clock or on the calendar. It is unattached to space and time. This is where we are fully present.
Now I try to see calendaring time both as something in and of itself, and as setting up for a successful week. The structure of my week lays out ahead of me, so I can fully live into each moment, just as Time presents it.
My morning meditation space is in my front room, facing the window. It faces east, so when I begin, often it is dark outside or just starting to glow. This time of year, however, I'm facing the Christmas tree that stands in front of the window. It has its own glow. It's covered in ornaments. As I'm "supposed" to be meditating, I can't help but reflect upon these ornaments. They are like stories of the past whispering to me as I look at each one. There are faces of my kids, crafts, ornaments from our travels, gifts from friends~ they each bring me to a place in time that was lovely. I FEEL that sense of lovliness as I look at them. My meditation is happy.
Why focus on these ornaments? This is active linking. It gives my whole being/system a sense of joy, peace, and love. This moves me away from suffering--stress, grief, etc--and towards satva, or equanimity. Yoga is the ability to keep focus and attention on a single object and maintain that direction of the mind. As I look at an ornament and maintain focus there, I link to the memory, and I feel what I felt when the ornament was purchased or received. Now I have a tool, through this image or symbol, to recall a sense of peace when I need it. Through active witnessing, I see when I begin to move out of balance towards overactivity, negative thought, or anxiety. Once I witness this, I can call upon this symbol and the feeling from my meditation and return to a more satvic state.
Symbols of this season keep our hopes alive and evoke peace in our hearts: light of a candle shining through the darkness, a star that leads the way, a baby full of possibility and promise, gifts given and received because you care for one another, evergreen to show life continues during what looks like earth's death, warmth of the fire, miracles that show God's providence.
This is not nothing! The active linking of the mind to these and other hopeful symbols changes our experience of life for the better. But it takes effort.
What is your symbol of the season? Look for something from around your house that, when you focus on it, gives you peace. Or go into your memory to a place of sanctuary for your soul. Listen to your breath and breathe slowy as you look at or recall your symbol. Witness the thoughts and feelings that arise. If your thoughts move away from the symbol, bring them back with love and patience. If you are kinetic, you can inhale and reach toward the symbol, exhale and bring your hands to your heart. Experiment to see what works best for you. Give yourself this gift of meditation!
May peace, joy, laughter, warmth, and prosperity be with you now and into 2017. I hope to see or hear from you in the New Year!
Thank you for your interest in my first-ever blog post! I hope the thoughts I share here will serve you in your own life journey. Here is mine...
In the big “pink” room of Yoga Yoga, Westgate, in Austin, Texas, I have evolved from a young 200-hour teacher with a couple classes per week, to an “Experienced” 500 hour teacher, and now level 1 Yoga Therapist teaching six classes per week and serving many students one-to-one. Over my first years of teaching, I had two babies and created a class where I could both teach and be a mother at the same time, hence Postnatal Yoga. As my babies grew, we needed Crawlers and Toddlers, so that evolved.
For many years I worked diligently in my lineage of Anusara to achieve their highest certification (a grueling process of written exams and video assessments), only to see the lineage fall due to the abuse of power by its leader, John Friend. After a few years of feeling a bit lost and studying with various teachers and exploring my own philosophy, I again found my footing and began applying therapeutic concepts in my public classes. I imagine this, too, will continue to evolve as I step into a mentoring role and guide new teachers in their own journeys.
That’s my professional yoga journey. Those are the major moments of my teaching career.
That’s what was unfolding on my mat.
My life off the mat was a full reflection of the changes in my career, or vice versa. When I started teaching, my father had just died, my husband and I had just moved to Austin, and we were preparing to enter parenthood. I needed a strong lineage and teacher to hang my hat on in such changing times. I taught a lot on themes of fortitude and courage. With my local teacher, Christina Sell, I went deeper in my asana practice than ever before. I was strong, flexible, and growing in understanding the mechanics of the human body.
With motherhood came a new body and a new phase in life. From meditating on strength, I moved to acceptance and Grace. It was a time of creativity and problem-solving both in the studio and in the home. With the fall of Anusara came a crushing break of trust and a bit of a crisis of faith (especially in myself), not to mention anger. Long-held friendships seemed to vanish overnight. This really launched a campaign of self-inquiry and study to both figure out how I got there, and how to avoid having the same experience again.
We can’t really separate what’s going on emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually on and off the mat. They are a reflection of each other. When I sit and tune-in before practice each day, it’s like gauging where I am compared to the last time I sat and tuned in. It’s tuning into the current of my life. Is my mind racing more? Am I agitated? Do I feel calm? Am I connected to God, or do I feel a sense of separation? Does my body hurt?
I once had a student write me a funny and poignant email, explaining to me all the various parts of his life that he “brings to the mat.” He mentioned everything from the joys and challenges of work, marriage, children and grandchildren, to the difficulty of Crohn’s disease and struggles with the past. It all shows up. This is a beautiful thing. It demonstrates a continual study of and reflection upon one’s life. As BKS Iyengar puts it in Light on Yoga, “the [practicing yogi] reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it.” By paying attention to what is unfolding in our life, to what is evolving in our practice, we have an opportunity to see the path that lays before us most clearly. We will make decisions not based on attachments or aversions, but on the truth that lies within the stillness.
Contrary to this, several years ago a student walked out of class on a September 11 anniversary when I invoked it’s memory in our intention. When later I asked what upset her, she said she didn’t want to bring her outside life into her practice. Her yoga is her escape. Though I completely understand this desire, and have certainly escaped through practice myself, what a missed opportunity that was! (Unless of course the memory was still so charged that her emotional response would have left her too vulnerable or felt inappropriate for a public class.) What if, instead, the breath was a vehicle of letting go of the grief? What if her Om was a vibration of healing? Couldn’t her asana be a way to wring out the trauma? How about her meditation as a prayer for the love and healing of the world?
Each time we sit on the mat and tune in, we are met with our life. We see it, we study it, and, eventually, become intuitive within it to know the next step in the journey. Daily suffering decreases as we write our story from a place of clarity, rather than reaction or fear, ignorance or delusion. When we close our eyes we see the whole picture unfolding together, on and off the mat.