Sunday, November 28, 2010

My LA YOGA Magazine email newsletter note for the post-Thanksgiving holiday!

With all of the hustle and bustle heading up to a holiday like Thanksgiving, the day after can leave a feeling a bit like having a hangover. There may be the literal or figurative dirty dishes left over in the sink, the afterglow of company well-shared or the tension of explosive or subtle dynamics with which we’re trying to dance. But no matter the aftermath, the messes needing to be cleaned up or the residual smiles of welcome surprises, the antidote for the hangover feels to me like—more gratitude.

After all, our whole lives contain numerous fortunate events and circumstances, roads taken, instances of saying yes or no—which have brought us to this place in our lives—and to the ability to partake in the practice of Yoga. This fact, along with this day, this sunrise, this breath: these are all things for which our gratitude is meaningful.

We have so much abundance in our lives. When we open our eyes to see it, our hearts to receive it and our hands to share it, we recognize our blessings.

And in this recognition, we can look at how to share our abundance with the people in our lives, both at the center of our inner circles and with the people in our peripheral vision.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

This was my LA YOGA Editor's Note from the July/August, 2010 issue. I received a lot of great feedback and today, Arthur Klein asked me if I have this posted on the web, so I'm posting it today.

We are the yogis on the planet and now is the time that we must practice. (I’ve paraphrased an oft-quoted and sometimes varied line by Erich Schiffmann for this opening.) When I hear him say this, as I did recently, it gives me a moment to pause and think about what it really means.

Right now, there are more people practicing Yoga than there have been at any other point in history, at least that we know. This is probably the case if we also consider the percentage of the population, in addition to sheer numbers of people.

Anyone reading this magazine, or at least this editorial note, probably has some belief in the transformative, centering, healing power of the practice, or at least a curiosity. (Otherwise why would you have even picked this up?) If we believe, the next question to ask ourselves is: Are we practicing? And the next question is to ask ourselves: Are we really practicing?

It’s been a question I’ve been asking myself every day lately. Am I really practicing? Am I practicing beyond my personal time on the mat, beyond sharing space with others in class, teaching, chanting, meditating or praying? Am I really practicing? Am I taking the time to pause before I react? Am I treating others with respect? Am I choosing love over fear? Am I following through on my word? Am I paying attention to my family, friends, coworkers, students, clients, people I meet in line at the market? Am I being mindful in the kitchen, on the road? How am I participating in the world we all create?

As the oil continues to spill in the Gulf, are we all really practicing? What choices are we making as we shop, drive, consume or invest? I believe that there is some part of this tragedy that is confronting us, that dares to ask us where are we unconscious? Where are we just going along with the status quo? How are we perpetuating what came before? In what actions are we riding the momentum of something? What decisions do we make because we are worried about economic factors rather than thinking about how we can shift the very bedrock of our economic assumptions to embrace creativity, and community, to truly taking care of each other and support and value long-term solutions and sustainability rather than short-term profit, exploitation and violent gain?

When I think about our practice and the impact on ourselves, our relationships, our communities and our society, the role of education is profound. This is where introducing our children and young people to self-inquiry and self-respect along with providing tools for utilizing the resilience-increasing, stress-reducing, performance-enhancing techniques that are inherent in the Yoga tradition are all vital to transforming our lives and our culture.

These impressionable years of childhood and the time spent in school make a difference. I can still sing the lyrics of songs popular when I was in high school (popular at least among my group of friends). Years of competitive athletics combined with Yoga and meditation has set the tone for my life decades later.
Throughout the Yoga community, people are putting forth the effort, through curricula, multi-media, teacher training programs and seva to reach young people and find ways to introduce the practice. Abby Wills is one of those, and she speaks to several others in this issue. It still seems to me to be a burgeoning movement, with room for growth, the potential and the need for greater and deeper connections and more ways that we can come up with cohesive efforts to make a difference and to work together. Dare we take the challenge? Dare we practice? After all, as Patanjali says in the first of the Yoga sutras:

Atha Yoganushasanam

Now is the time for us to practice Yoga.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy (Almost Halloween)!

This morning, I taught Yoga at a YMCA where both children and adults were parading in and out in a variety of colorful costumes, cheery and exuberant.

Whether we dress up as a superhero or a villain, our greatest dream, someone’s horrifying nightmare, our alter ego or just another version of ourselves, Halloween gives us permission to look in the mirror with a slightly different view.

The practice of Yoga continually asks us to examine ourselves. Svadhyaya, self-study, is the fifth of the niyamas, the observances outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Self-study helps us to see how we are placing our feet on the Earth, how we are showing up for our day, how we pay attention, how we commit, where we flail and fail and need to pick ourselves back up again.

Whether we wearing a mask, have painted our face so it is unrecognizable or are simply meeting the world as ourselves, our self (both public and private) is composed of many layers, paradoxes, conundrums. Each day that we meditate, get on the mat, become more aware of our breath and dive into the yamas and niyamas, the restraints and observances that are part of the yogic path, we sift through the many-layered manifestation of this body, this breath, this life. And no matter what day of the year we are practicing, may we uncover our self with the joyful abandonment of a trick-or-treater inviting the neighborhood to shower them with sweets.

May we be sweet in our self-study.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We really do have the ability to create our reality: the reality that is here in front of us as well as the opportunity to imagine a new one. The caveat is that this doesn’t just happen within our meditation practice, by repeating mantra (even if it’s a good, juicy, magical, spell-casting, powerful one), through pasting images on a vision board or even by trading lists and ideas and more with an accountability buddy. It doesn’t happen by complaining, or wishing it were so.

We create our reality through our actions. We create the reality we would like to have in the future by playing around with our present.

This begs the question: what are we doing now? More than chanting, meditating or getting on the mat? It’s not that these activities aren’t important. They are, they’re more than that, they’re vital to being on the path, they rejuvenate and revitalize the body, mind and spirit. They allow those of us in the choir to keep singing. And of course, the peace that we do create within ourselves is the only peace any of us can ever really create.

But more than the ripple effect of this peace, what are we doing with it? There are forces within us and without us that are a far cry from peace. There have been shifting movements in this world that have created more pollution, more heartache, more modern-day slavery, more inequalities, more abuses of rights of all kinds. And how are we supporting or rising up against these? We have the opportunity to make a statement about the reality we want to create every time we shop, every time we spend money, every time we make a decision about what to watch and every time we decide how to vote.

We have the opportunity to transform the peace we cultivate within ourselves into positive action with inroads toward greater justice, love and well-being for all. This is our responsibility as those who have been given this gift of Yoga, of this birth, of these teachings, of the opportunities we have, of everything that was handed to us by our human family.

I was reminded of the urgency of this recently in discussions with friends and colleagues as we’re approaching election day on November 2. We have the great privilege of voting in this country, a privilege hard-won by groups of us who were not automatically given that opportunity. We can create our reality, when we participate with love in our hearts and hands.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How are we at home? How are we living in a way that we feel at home in our bodies, our living environments, with our families and in our communities? The teachings of Yoga and Ayurveda provide us with information that can be helpful to us to arrange all of the aspects of all of the levels of the way in which we live in order to feel more at home.

As I’ve traveled over the past month, across the desert to Bhakti Fest, across town to the LA YOGA office, to Yoga studios and more, it has been an opportunity to practice the art of making a mobile home. One of the reflections people had at Bhakti Fest was the feeling of being at home, of finding a community of like-minded souls with which to join voices, break bread and cultivate the experience of being at home.

Ultimately, the art and science of Yoga and Ayurveda offer us a method of finding our home in our breath. Our inhalations and exhalations and the spaces between are both the constant in our lives that keeps us anchored in this body, mind, heart and spirit. Our lyrical, rhythmic breath is also the flowing, vibrant, ephemeral, ever-changing creative spark that allows for us to shift our perspective when we need to adjust our stance to live in balance. Our breath is both stable and dynamic and it allows for us to live in the fluid home of this body.

Part of being at home in this body is negotiating the interplay between stability and creativity, between holding steady and dynamic change. And it’s a practice we negotiate lovingly, for best results. When we do, we can find a way to come home, no matter where we are.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My during and after Bhakti Fest newsletter notes.....

As I write this, it’s 1 A.M. and I can hear Bhagavan Das chanting off in the distance, the echo of mantra is carried along the just-past-the-new-moon night air. After delivering Joni Allen, one of Dave Stringer’s bandmates just in time for sound check, dancing through their set and then marveling at the divine storytelling of MC Yogi’s raps, I’m sitting next to Kasey Luber as she completes the editing of the Give Love Tour video for the opening day of Bhakti Fest.

It can be a challenge to bring together all the things that need to happen in order to leave the routine, confines, spontaneity, freedom, restrictions and familiarity of our everyday life in order to engage in an experience beyond the everyday. When we do, whether it is for the timespan of a Yoga class, the commitment of a retreat or the exploration of deeper study, it offers us the potential for transformation that we can then integrate back into the sacred dance of our everyday life. In the friendly festival atmosphere of Bhakti Fest, we have the opportunity to remember the joy that comes from participating in community, in fellowship. It’s a joy that reverberated amidst the Joshua tree sentinels throughout the desert as MC Yogi exhorted everyone to refrain, “Ganesh is Fresh.”

What is fresh and never goes stale is the mantra of friendship, the repetition of what it really means to support each other, to have each others’ backs, to smile and laugh and giggle and know that even amidst the angst, the mistakes, the stress, the misanthropy, the glitches, the missed turns, we have the opportunity to relax into shared space. In moments of extraordinary gathering, we recognize the transcendent in the ordinary.

Jai Joy,

And Written after Bhakti Fest.....

“I love you more than I can Tweet.”

I said these words backstage at Bhakti Fest to MoMo Loudiyi in moments of laughter and embraces, while thousands of people’s voices were raised in chant and musicians harmonized chords and progressions. In all of the ways that we express the multitude of flavors of love to each other throughout our days—through words and actions, through speaking and listening and eye contact and holding hands and sharing food—we have the opportunity to embody the gratitude that is inherent in this life, this breath, this community. The gratitude that is also part and parcel of this joy and this sorrow, the sun rising over and through the convoluted branches of the Joshua Trees in the high desert and the moon’s luminosity dancing among the stars in the midnight sky.

My quip has sparked an ongoing exchange, reminiscent of childhood challenges and whispered confessions of love more than we can speak, can say, love for which there are no words, love for which gestures even fall short. A Tweet, a Facebook posting, a text message, phone call, a letter, answering a plea for help from a friend whose back has given out, these only scratch the surface of how we express our love if we dare.
Whether we are living in the temporary magic of a festival like Bhakti Fest, or the far-from-ordinary alchemy of our everyday lives, each day and each breath is an opportunity to find more ways to share our love, to express it in every possible posture, even when it challenges us.

And for this, I am grateful.

Friday, September 03, 2010

This week's note from the LA YOGA email newsletter:

Yoga doesn’t necessarily take your problems away, nor does it even make things easier. Shiva Rea said something similar in one of her interviews in the new film Titans of Yoga. Yoga does provide us with an anchor, a mat, roots that help us connect into the earth and to our own inner silence, our own well that replenishes us and our ability to touch the infinite.

Because sometimes diving into the practice of Yoga can make life more intense as we uncover and recover, unwind and open up. And there are times when Yoga practice may make everyone around us more intense. So just think, my intensity meeting yours, well, then the excitement of it all can make us wonder why we practice in the first place.

In spite of (or sometimes because of) the practice, we can end up in the dark, weeping, confused, looking for the trailing rope of the life-raft that will secure us. In those moments we remember that life, our feelings, our tears, our joys, our accomplishments, our sorrows, are all ephemeral, temporary. Even our breath is more subtle than the wind and it is our life-long companion.

Life is a bit like walking a tightrope over quicksand filled with crocodiles (at least that’s how it feels to me sometimes). If anything, Yoga practice both added the crocodiles and the ability to negotiate the rope with a greater sense of ease, even amidst the impermanence and the shifting ground. Through the practice and philosophy of Yoga, I’ve learned to better accept it all. To look in the mirror and meet the gaze of my own eyes. And breathe, again and again.

It’s Yoga Month this month. At the close of the Q and A held after this week’s sold-out screening of the film Titans of Yoga (sold to raise money for the Yoga Recess project), we were challenged to find ten friends to introduce to Yoga. With free classes (scroll down for more information), free music downloads (also found here), there may be a few more enticements.

Just don’t tell them about the crocodiles.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

This is my editor's note from the September issue of LA YOGA, that just hit the newsstands. I thought about it again tonight, after seeing the premiere of the film, Titans of Yoga, on the first day of Yoga Month, which featured some moments that made me smile, laugh and brought me to tears. And made me think, what's next? Although, it just occurred to me that more important than what's next is, really, what's now?

“What’s next?” one of my students asked after class recently. “I want more. I go to class regularly, but I can’t really spend more hours each day doing an asana practice.”
What’s next? It’s a good question and one that begs for an answer more thoughtful than “do more downward-facing dogs.”

Sometimes I ask myself another version of this same query, although mine is sometimes worded, “Have I done enough Yoga yet?” Have I sat through enough grueling hours of meditation, chasing thoughts and remembering mantras and fencing with distraction? Have I rolled out the mat enough times? Is there some cumulative effect from all those sun salutations, mornings churning my way through nauli, months of deciding that yes, I am going to be able to practice arm balances, no matter my particular body type. Have I read through enough texts, chanted the Mahamritunjaya Mantra with enough repetitions to matter? Is there some quality of “Just enough” that mirrors “What’s next?”

The answer is found in this moment, right here in this breath, in our wrestling match with despair, in our waltz with joy, in our playful duet with bliss in our exploration of the everyday that we repeat literally every day.

We can study philosophy, try to fit into just the right size jeans, we can query the nature of the universe. And all of these discourses, these mental and physical gymnastics merely lead us back to this moment and to considering the relationship we have with our body, mind, spirit, heart and our place in creation. The outer questions lead us to the inner question: Do we feel at home—in this life?

Yoga practice isn’t something that we can mark with notches carved into our headboard. There is never a next, neither is there enough. What is really next is to get over this idea of striving for more. After hours of practice, daily commitments, wondering what now, the answer is to stop, as Peter Russell suggests in the interview “Sitting Down With.” When we stop, the reasons for our practice are revealed. This very life is a relationship and each day we cultivate a more intimate connection with the divine and with our selves in all available forms.

So what’s next is not necessarily more practice, particularly since practice itself can sometimes be a trap, become a seduction. The reason we continue to practice, from our first breath until our last, is to cultivate the experience of being in relationship. We stop time when in the midst of our practice, when we are sweating our way through an intense vinyasa, turning our world upside down in an inversion or demonstrating our passion and compassion through a standing warrior pose.

To stop time, dive into the infinite space that is the cavernous expanse of your own heart. This is the treasure that is revealed to us. There is no map that takes us there; no X marks the spot, no matter how many teachers we may follow or books we may read.

While we can hope that we reach some milestone, threshold or place in our practice when we get to breathe a sigh of relief or call out with a loud shout celebrating that somehow we’ve made it somewhere, I doubt that’s how it happens. Even in the many stages of Samadhi before we enter the final absorption, there is an impermanence, a need to enter to doorway again and again.
This is practice, this is what’s next and this is why we’re never done.

So, I guess this means I’ll see you on the mat.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Life is easy. It can be far too easy for us to sit and berate ourselves for everything we haven’t done, for the emails we’ve missed, for the cobwebs grown around our “most important stuff” pile, for our misdeeds or for the times we’ve less than skillfully hurt someone, for the moments we haven’t followed through or the times we just missed “getting it right.”

It can be far too easy for us to slide on our commitments, to take the easy way out, to let our own vital energy slip from our bodies not unlike the way we suffer in our collective outer world with mishaps and mistakes.

What it is not so easy to do is to be accountable.

This week, I was reminded of the power of the practice of choosing and committing to maintaining a relationship with an accountability buddy. My Yoga sangha partner (we studied and sat for our comprehensive Yoga and Ayurveda exams together, years ago), Carrie Searles, in Denver, Colorado, revealed that she meets with her accountability buddy weekly. The two call each other out on promises kept and missed—without judgment or falling into the trap of fear and self-loathing. This inspired me so last night I made a commitment with my newly minted accountability buddy. We set our groundrules: a safe space, no judgment, we could speak about anything, we will speak weekly, our discussions would not go beyond our private space. And we will call each other out and enforce tapas (discipline)—holding our feet to the fire, as it were.

There’s a fine line sometimes between being held accountable and feeling guilty. We have to sweep out underneath the rugs of our lives—personally and collectively. But it does no one any good to do so with a leaden heart and pent-up anger. Our willingness to hold ourselves accountable takes hold best with an open heart.

Now, if we could only find a fierce accountability buddy for, oh, say BP and any number of other people and organizations.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

This is my editor's note from this week's LA YOGA Magazine email newsletter:

It all comes down to relationship. This life, this adventure, this play (in Sanskrit, the leela—the divine play) that we take part in is a dance of relationship. Or at least that’s how I’ve been seeing it. Yesterday, that idea was the core focus of my teaching, my process of editing, even updating my Facebook page and considering the upcoming issues of LA YOGA Magazine.

The primary relationship we have in our lives is our relationship with our selves. This is the relationship that frames our life from our first breath to our last. The nature of this relationship sets the tone for all of the other relationships we engage in during this divine exploration of life.
Sometimes our relationship with the self is supportive, loving, kind; other times, it may be insidiously, subtly abusive, controlling, or angry. There is a danger that we neglect ourselves as our attention is drawn outside of ourselves, and this can have negative repercussions for our health and well-being at a profound level.

The relationship with the self is one that requires daily attention and daily cultivation. Just because we were kind yesterday and practiced ahimsa, nonviolence or compassion, the first of the yamas delineated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras—today is a new day. And if we didn’t practice ahimsa—well, today is a new day. Today is a new opportunity to engage in the love affair with ourselves. Today is a new opportunity to examine our choices, to pause before we speak (out loud or within the echoing reverberation chamber of our own mind) and ask ourselves how our actions feed this divine relationship.

Friday, July 09, 2010

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the oldest written texts, and an oft-quoted revered repository of Yogic wisdom, asana is described in sutra II-46. Sthira Sukham Asanam. I love this sutra, as so many of us who seek pithy Sanskrit phrases to elucidate the practice. There are many ways to translate this thread, as is the case for all Sanskrit words. (For example, we printed the 37 definitions of the word “Yoga” in the April, 2010, issue of LA YOGA.) My current favorite is: Find steadiness and sweetness in your seat, your posture, your pose, your shape. It’s been something that I’ve talked about in my classes all this week, including when I was teaching at Yogaglo and there was an earthquake during the class, which was the ultimate challenge of maintaining steadiness.

Sthira is steadiness and sukha is sweetness. People say that Sanskrit is a mantric language, and the sounds themselves hold the meaning of the word. I believe this to be the case with these two words. Shtira just feels steady, there’s a sense of steadiness that is held in the mouth as the word is formed and spoken. Sukha, well, it has the same root as the English words sucrose and sucanut, or more properly stated, the Sanksrit word holds the origin of the English. A lifetime of knowledge adds to the sound.

This is what we are seeking through the practice: steadiness and sweetness. It may come in a moment, in a breath, in the way we finally find that moment in downward facing dog when the pose fulfills the promise of being the resting pose it is rumored to be. In between the sweet breaths, there is plenty of bitterness, indeed. There is effort on the way to releasing effort. We wobble like Weebles on our way to finding a steady stance. Yet we are relaxing, surrendering, falling back into the warm embrace of sweetness.

There are statistics that the amount of sugar, particularly processed sugars, eaten by Americans is increasing exponentially. That’s not the type of sweetness I’m talking about here. Nor am I condoning the proliferation of artificial sweeteners that trick the body at a very deep level. I have a theory that part of the reason why there is this collective increase in sugar intake is because people are searching for sweetness; we’re longing for it. And we don’t always know how to find it. And with each news report, calamity, each day that oil still spills in the Gulf, with each earthquake, it becomes harder to find.

But Patanjali said, Sthira sukha asanam. There is a place we can go to find sweetness and it is within the practice, and most importantly, within us, if we dare to surrender.

Sthira Sukha Asanam.

If you want more Sthira Shukam Asanam, I'll be teaching one day of philosophy and meditation, Friday, July 16, in Palm Springs. Check out more details here.
This was my editor's note from July 2, leading up to the holiday.

This weekend we celebrate freedom. We celebrate the legacy of independence, forward-thinking, rebellion, citizen activism, our collective individual rights, our ability to vote and speak our minds.

This is what this day means to us and what being born, growing up in or moving to this country at this period of time means. With this celebration, I believe we also have a responsibility to cultivate and to maintain these freedoms.

We can look at freedom at an individual level: Where are we imprisoned in our lives? Where are we stuck? Where are we holding ourselves back unnecessarily? What are the blind spots we’re not seeing? What are the obstacles we can break through? When we consider our individual freedoms, when we realize the truth, we know that we are already free. Freedom, liberation, enlightenment—these are our birthrights. This is what we are born to experience.

Living in this time and this place we are fortunate to be exposed to the teachings of Yoga and Ayurveda, in all of their paths, iterations, complexities, traditions—that offer us a template, a roadmap and an ability to discover and experience freedom. When we surrender and soften into ourselves, we know it, believe it, breathe it and embody it.

On Monday morning, July 5, we have the opportunity to go on this journey with Arun Deva (whom I recently had the pleasure of interviewing for the July issue teacher profile) exploring the Alchemy of Consciousness and the Transformative Power of Personal Practice at the Sivananda Center in Marina del Rey.

When we think about our larger freedoms, our ability to choose how we spend our money, what we purchase in order to enhance our health and well-being and our prerogative to support small farmers and ethical businesses, is also part of what it means to live here, in this country, at this time. I believe using our voices to maintain our freedoms is vital. This morning I read community member Tommy Rosen’s account of the recent FBI raid at the private food club Rawsome. (Read the account here.) Whether or not you believe in raw food, unpasteurized milk or the basic premises’ of this club, there are dangers in overregulation, in not allowing us to make choices, in the increased corporatization of our food supply, of factory farming and the dangers we are subjected to with lack of labeling around GMOs, proliferation of dangerous pesticides and other issues. At Rawsome, full disclosure is part of the deal. With true full disclosure, then we really have the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose is part of our independence. And this freedom to choose, I believe, should be more than just freedom to choose which brand of sugar-coated, GMO and pesticide-filled cereal in a box we buy.

If we believe the adage that practice, and all is coming, then do we dare to ask ourselves how are we practicing freedom in all areas of our life, on and off the mat, in and around our minds.
Happy Independence Day and to Freedom!
Has it really been a full year since I published a post on this blog? I've hardly been slacking, as an issue of LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health magazine comes out each month. And, starting at the end of 2009, we launced a weekly email newsletter, for which I write a short note. Those notes have their home only in the newsletter, and the represent whatever I'm thinking about at the time, so what better place to start publishing them but here, too!

I've also been busier since I've been teaching at class in the studio that is also filmed online at Yogaglo in Santa Monica, and I receive notes from people in LA and all over the world who are taking the classes.