Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 31: Original goal accomplished

Today was my 31st day of yoga in a row. My original goal - to practice yoga everyday for the month of January - is complete. This month I have learned a lot of things, but most of all, I've learned that daily practice isn't just a goal for me, it has become my way of life.

At the end of December, when I looked out over the month of January and what I was aiming to accomplish with my daily yoga practice, I had my doubts. I wondered if I would get bored - I am a person who likes to do a lot of activities to keep my body in shape. I wondered if I would find a daily yoga practice monotonous. I wondered if it would be hard to fit the practice into my days, especially since I was taking on two additional jobs. I thought that I would be relieved when the 31 days were over.

But I'm not. At all. In fact, my daily practice has become a priority. Similar to brushing my teeth or eating dinner. When I am tired, my practice invigorates me. When I am energized, my practice takes me to a level of endorphin-filled ecstasy. When I am stressed, my practice and my breath turn my mind into a sanctuary and allow me to forget my worries.

I look forward to a year of practice. I'm not sure that I will be able to accomplish 365 days of asana practice, but I know that I can accomplish 365 days of yoga - whether it's asana, pranayama, or another yoga modality. I really want to explore parts of yoga that I don't know as much about - different types of pranayama, yoga tradition, and different asana practices - while I continue to learn and teach. I'll continue to blog about my experience here.

Thanks for following me thus far. I hope that my blog has been as helpful to you as it has been for me. I hope you'll continue to read and offer your comments, discussion, and support. Namaste.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Days 29 and 30: Programming

In San Diego, the return of the sun after a week of rain feels like springtime in the mountains. Today, I felt like it was time for spring cleaning - to get out boxes for old clothes to donate, clean behind the stove and clean up the back yard (or, in our case, create a backyard worth being in). And although it's not really spring, we can practice aparigraha, or non hoarding/non possessiveness, any time of the year.

Gates says, "We must let go of the old to make room for the new." That's true. Just last night, my girlfriend gave me a dress from her closet. "Awesome!" she said, "Now I can buy another dress!" Most often, we think of aparigraha as letting go of material possessions, and indeed, this is a challenge in itself. But we also need to be able to let go of old ideas and beliefs in order to make room for freedom of mind and spirit.

Most of us don't even realize that many of the choices we make each day are guided by unconscious assumption or beliefs. Over our lifetime, and I would add over many lifetimes, we have accumulated advice from several sources about basic decisions - how to change the tire properly, how clean the house needs to be, how we treat people who are rude to us, how a fashionable outfit is put together, etc. Sometimes, the decisions we make are based on information that doesn't speak to our highest truth. Instead of consciously making the decision for ourselves, we rely on all the information we've accumulated in our past. Gates says it best. "The point is, we have all been programmed, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, to an extent that most of us are only vaguely aware of."

Programming, or the accumulation of ideas that aren't yours, is nothing to be afraid of, but it is something to start to notice in your life. Programming occurs constantly, and it affects you when you believe that information as truth. For example, your mother reminding you time and time again that a polite woman never calls a man first. Or your brother taunting you that tough kids stand up for themselves and fight. Are those really your own beliefs and your own information?

Aparigraha asks us to let go of outdated beliefs, since they act as energy that robs us of the present moment. As Gates says, "Yesterday's definition of a man or a woman, a race or a religion, a blessing or a curse no longer has any power over us." Wow, can you imagine what would happen if politicians practiced aparigraha?

After yesterday's practice inside, I decided to celebrate the sun today and practice out on my deck. With the sun on my skin, I worked to shed the cultural programming inside my head that said that only women size 2 or 4 should practice in shorts and a sports bra, since those are the only bodies worth looking at. Well, "Watch out," I thought to the programming center in my brain, "because here comes size 8 in hot pink and turquoise." One outdated idea let go of, many more to go.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 27 and 28: Intention

The power of intention is incredible.

I like to think of intention as setting the energy of an action. Intentions can be as small and as focused as eating slowly during a meal, bending the front leg to 90 degrees in Virabrudrasana II, or speaking to a friend with compassion and patience. Intentions can also be large, like when we decide to live our lives centered around love or try to see ourselves as infinite beings, dwelling in the light, encompassed by spiritual powers.

Gates says, "Either we believe in our innate goodness and beauty or we do not; it is up to each of us to decide. We may spend our entire lives believing a lie about our true nature, or we may put our trust in our own grace. Either way, most of us have to choose what we believe about ourselves each day, each hour, each moment of our lives."

I believe, as Gates says, in the true grace of my spirit and my being. But I didn't always. It can be hard to see yourself as the epitomy of spiritual grace because in many circumstances, we weren't hard-wired to think that way. We have to decide to change our thoughts and then adjust our intentions accordingly. Intentions are the way that we set our thoughts, the same thoughts that influence our actions. Intentions can also help us to manifest our dreams, overcome difficult hurdles and survive an otherwise rocky situation with grace.

I love my new job (in case I haven't told you, I'm coordinating the completion of an Artists Colony and retreat center at Sacred Rocks Reserve - check out the website at I want my project to succeed, and so, believing in the importance of the project, have set my intentions for success. Yesterday, I a meeting in order to find funding. I set my intentions (and the energy in my aura and anything else that might help) and met this woman with grace. At the end of the meeting, I had an additional appointment to meet at the home of a foundation director.

People blame good interactions on coincidence all the time. I don't believe in coincidence. I believe in the power of good intentions and the law of attraction - if you hold good intentions and show those intentions through your actions, you will attract others who use their intentions for good also. And I don't believe it just because I want to believe it - I see it work in my life all the time.

Recently, I've made the decision that I am ready for my spine and hips to open up. Thus, I've set the intention in my yoga practice to work on opening my spine and hips safely. Before, I hadn't decided that I wanted to move into backbends and hip openers, so I tended to avoid backbends, not sure if my body was ready for them. Today, with my new intention set, I was able to happily complete more backbends than I've done since I was a gymnast at age 14.

Intention, intention, intention. Play with your intentions and see what comes. If nothing else, they may enable you to find more joy when things otherwise would have seemed tough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 26: On and on

Sometimes it just takes a good night of sleep to put things into perspective.

Truly, I should have taken a good, long nap before I sat down to blog yesterday. Instead, I sat down with a beer and let my emotions run wild. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - sometimes I think it feels simply delicious to cry and release. I just probably shouldn't blog at the same time. Lesson learned.

I'm feeling much more optimistic today about teaching and life and tight hips and all that. As I sat down with some cereal this morning, I opened Meditations for the Mat and read this: "Most of us have high hopes concerning our practice of yoga and our ability to live our yoga. We entertain lofty visions of newfound equanimity, of a harmonious balance between our inner lives and our outer reality." He goes on to say that often times, we fall short when real life gets in the way. Huh. How perfect is that for my morning's bit of inspiration?

So what to do when I feel like life is suffocating me? Keep trying. Keep acting great. Keep finding my sense of humor and the strength to laugh even the most serious of situations. In other words, we all need to keep our heads, our sense of ourselves, and our moral ground, rather than throwing it all away when things get rocky or you end up digging yourself into an emotional mud pit. What does Gates say about living our yoga through real life, even when we feel like it's three a.m. and we're squinting through the rain (or let's say, hypothetically, it's 6 p.m. and we're squinting through PMS- and alcohol-fueled tears)? He says that it's at these hard times that the world most needs us to live our yoga. "But can do it," Gates says. "And we will do it beautifully."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Days 24 and 25: Fun and Not so fun

Yesterday, I spent the entire day with friends, feeling loved and supported. Today, I feel like I spent the day alone, trying to justify my worth in the yoga world.

Yesterday, I spent they day shopping with one of my best friends and her mom, one of my other-mothers. It was a fabulous day; a great way to celebrate the return of the sunshine. When shopping was over, I felt a little shopping-fried and was so thankful to be doing a yoga class with another of my best friends, who's also committed to 30 days of yoga, via Skype. I lead the class and we both practiced, stopping every now and then to discuss a posture or to talk about how our 30 days of yoga are going.

Today, I taught my 6 a.m. class, with a room twice as full as it normally is. What a blessing. I usually keep the class a tad more simple on Mondays mornings, but today I felt inspired to make it a bit more interesting and challenging with a long standing series, arm balances and inversions. After the class, a student - new to our studio but not to yoga - came to me and discussed her frustration with yoga studios in the San Diego area. "All the classes are exactly the same format," she said. Although she said that she enjoyed my class, and especially appreciated the free time to work on inversions, she was disappointed that it felt like many of the other vinyasa classes she'd taken in the area.

I've been struggling since day one with whether or not I should teach. With the advent of corporate yoga, anyone can take a teacher training and be in the classroom nine weeks later. I struggle with this. Am I a good enough yogi to be leading others through classes? Do I know enough about the yoga tradition, the postures and the anatomy to be the guide? Every time I have this argument with myself, I opt on the side of "yes" because of the joy I find in teaching, and the (usually positive) feedback I get from students. However, I've been doubting myself the last few weeks because of low class numbers in my early morning classes. My conversation with the aforementioned student didn't help, either.

Later today, I practiced at my favorite studio. I really struggled today. On the outside, it looked simply like my instructor was asking me to work into hip openers that my body wanted to reject and that pulled on the muscles in my low back, knees, and ankles. But more than that, forcing me to get my hips open made me question a lot about myself. Was my injury an excuse to not have to look at the deep-seeded emotions tying my hips into knots? Was my back injury, although real physically, an excuse for not moving forward in my practice? With all of those thoughts running through my head, it was hard to have room for more. But of course, there's always more, and so all those doubts came to the forefront in my yoga sanctuary - if I can't sit comfortably in half lotus, or hold my headstand for more than two minutes, should I really be teaching others? I cried through the last half of the practice. I felt ashamed and tried to hide the tears, but they just kept coming.

Tonight, I got word through the grapevine that a student requested that my classes be more challenging. I appreciate the feedback so that I can become a better teacher, I just wish that whoever made the comment would have told me directly. What I'm offering in class is what I feel will challenge the students present without going over their heads, and I always want to know if someone needs more. I must have misjudged. Maybe I'm not doing as well as I thought. Hell, maybe I shouldn't be doing this anyway.

Yesterday was fun. Today was not as fun. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Half of my income depends on me teaching yoga. I don't want to teach if I'm not offering something unique, challenging and beautiful. Most of all, I don't want to teach if I'm not inspiring and helping my students. I want to be a positive part of this world. I want my intentions to be pure and my interactions to be positive. I want to have laugh and have fun, no matter what day it is and no matter how tight my hips are. Hmmm, sounds like I need to find a little amusement. Isn't that what I always say in class?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 23: Tired Yogi

I'm finding it so much harder to practice the yamas and niyamas when I'm run-down.

Translation: It's hard to not be bitchy when I'm tired.

I've always been very aware of my body; I know almost exactly how much sleep I need, what foods make me feel lethargic or those I am intolerant to, and how much physical activity I need to feel good. Part of the reason I pay attention is that I'm quite sensitive to some foods, many medications, sleep deprivation, alcohol and other people's energy. So to try to feel my best each day, I like to plan. Some friends would call me Type A. Others, like my more spontaneous friends, just roll their eyes at me when I ask them what their "plan" is for the day, the week, or the month. (As Sam would say, "I don't even know what day of the week it is. How am I supposed to plan tomorrow?"). Although I've become a lot more laid back in my later 20's, allowing myself to be more spontaneous, I also notice that as I age, I'm becoming even more sensitive to certain things.

Usually, I need about nine (yes, I said nine) hours of sleep a night to feel normal. On the two days a week that I teach a 6 a.m. class, I lose two or three of those hours. I feel great all morning long, but come the afternoon, I either need to nap or go to bed really early. When I'm not able to make up that sleep, like yesterday, when I opted instead to spend time with a friend (totally worth it), I feel awful the next day - partly like I have a hangover (which I don't) and partly like I'm getting sick (which I'm not). When I'm not feeling up to par, I find it difficult to stick to my yogi principles.

I worked at the front desk of my yoga studio today (feeling so yucky that it was apparent to my coworkers) and interacted with many people. While it wasn't difficult to speak warmly and smile outwardly with clients, I found it difficult to keep negative thoughts out of my mind. Why is it that when I feel tired, I am less accepting and compassionate than when I feel good? On a good day, I can almost always find compassion, even on the freeway (oh Lydia, you'd be so proud), but on a tired day like today, I take out all my yucky-feeling frustration on the Ford Wind Star driving five miles under the speed limit.

Obviously, I need to try harder. On one hand, I want to feel my best each day, and to do that takes some planning. On the other hand, I want to feel like I have the option to be spontaneous with what I eat, who I spend time with, and what my activities are. What is the balance between feeling great, meeting your responsibilities and being spontaneous? I don't have the answer today. All I can promise is that when I'm tired, I'll do what I can to keep the mental monsters from finding their way out through my words and actions.

From time to time, I'll offer some (very) home-made videos on certain sequences or postures I'm working on, are having lots of fun with, or are especially challenging to me. Here, I was playing around with Taraksvasana A in my living room. My back has a long way to go, and I know I need to work on jumping into handstands, but I had fun during this play time.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 22: Checking in with Reality

How many times in the past year, month, week, or even day have you checked out of reality?

In the past week, I've checked out several times. There are the times when I consciously checked out, like when I picked up Breaking Dawn for the sixth time or immersed myself in a two hour season premier of Grey's Anatomy. But there are also the unconscious check-outs. Those times when I'm driving down the freeway and suddenly realize I don't remember the last five miles because I was lost in thought, or when I became so obsessed with finding a decent rain jacket that I don't remember what I did at work that day. Often times, when we're out of reality too often, some sort of force moves in to police us. For example, if you're out of reality when you're driving, chances are the actual police will pull you over and bring you back. In my own life, the TV show or the book comes to an end and reminds me that I'm not immortal or have a dramatic love life. In our yoga practice, Gates says, injuries often act as the reality police.

I've talked about my back problems before (which are healing very nicely, by the way), but this was a perfect example for me. For years, I was moving incorrectly in almost every sport I competed in. I'd strained my back before, but thought those episodes were caused by specific incidents, rather than from me being out of touch with my body. When my back finally gave up giving me signals, it pulled me over and gave me a sentence of 6 months to a year.

So often in our yoga practice, we become lazy in the postures we do over and over again. In astanga yoga, those postures are often the vinyasa (chaturanga, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog), and many of the common standing postures, like virabrudrasana I and II. When we just "hang out" in these postures, or get bored and lazy, we are mentally checking out of reality, just for a moment, until we get to the "hard" part again and need to concentrate. Then when we injure our elbow or shoulder, we wonder why. Injuries in the body are almost always a result of something happening in the entire self, or as Gates says, "the interconnected web of our mind, body, spirit, and relationships. Most often than not, injuries are lessons." Or messages; metaphors for our life.

Not that we deserve to have our injuries, or that our subconscious mind is trying to sabotage our practice. Rather, our injuries are a reminder for us to come back to reality, to pay attention not just to the difficult postures or moments in life, but to the mundane - the chaturanga and the commute to work.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 21: (non) Attachment to Progress

Like so many other days, Gates' message to me today was so on target that it was almost ironic. Gates talks about our attachment to progress and results in our yoga practice, and says that they must be let go of. If we are attached to the outcomes of our yoga practice, we are missing the point. Indeed, I would agree. At the beginning of most of the classes I teach, I ask my students to notice what expectations they have of themselves that day. I ask them to notice what those are, and then let go of them.

I try to do this also. But I have a hard time not wanting to move forward, try new things and see what my body is capable of. There has to be some balance - on one hand, I want to allow myself a celebration, a moment or two of joy, when I finally find myself in an elusive posture. I also have to be able to recognize the difference between a celebration of the joy of finding myself in a new posture and the ego boost that happens when I realize I can add it to my list of party tricks. There is joy that comes from the heart, out of love - that "wow" feeling. And there is joy that comes from the ego, out of fear - "Just let (so and so) see what I can do in class. Now she'll have to respect me."

What's ironic about this advice for me today is that I decided to video tape my practice. It was interesting to see a practice that I had only previously felt, or seen parts of in a mirror. It was hard not to get caught up in the little things - my arm is out of alignment here, my belly looks really awful when I'm upside down or I should really work on my handstand approach. The main motivation behind the video was to create new material for my blog posts and websites, and I should see it as that - as an aesthetic addition to a practice that feels good in my body and mind - rather than another sports video to critique.

Non-attachment to results is hard, especially in our culture, and I'm sure I'll be working on this lesson for a long time. Some lessons, I have learned, like don't look around the room and compare yourselves to others. And if you practice in front of a mirror, do so with compassion rather than judgement. If you can learn to truly have your own practice, in your own head and your own body, you'll find a joy that comes loving and accepting yourself, treating your mind and body right and aligning yourself with the rhythm of the universe. It's the joy that comes from love.

I've switched to Blogspot!

Welcome to my new Passionate Life Blog. I've decided to switch formats since my website is limited in what it offers as far as formatting, leaving comments, and posting videos/photos. I hope you enjoy this better! I welcome your feedback. I'll get to blogging again as soon as I figure all this out!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 20: Acting great and keeping your sense of humor

Today was one of those days where I just felt great.  What makes one day great and stand out from other days that are just mediocre?  
Some days, it’s so easy just to “hang out” in life.  Hang out in your yoga class (because you’ve done virabrudrasana II a million times), hang out at work (because you’ll get to it tomorrow) and hang out in your conversations, interactions and actions in the world.  Gates says that the key to living the 8-fold path is through our actions--good intentions mean nothing.  So the key to having those great days, to really living what we preach, is to act great all the time.  But what about those days when you just don’t have it in you?  Fake it until you make it.
I often ask my students if they want to get half the benefits of their practice, or all the benefits.  It’s definitely their choice.  There’s no way that any instructor can force their students to find every last crack and crevice of a posture if they don’t want to.  An instructor can inspire their students to act great, but the choice is ultimately up to them.  Somedays, even I don’t feel very good and want to hang out.  Next time I have an off day, I’ll try faking how great I am until my body, actions, mind, emotions, whatever gets in line to support me.
Act great everyday.  What a concept.  If we act great, maybe those great days will be closer together.  What made my day great today?  I had an honest conversation with a friend and client, I was able to give my dog a walk between the heavy rain storms we’ve been having, at work I was fully vested in the project at hand and felt that my boss was interested in my comments, and in yoga practice I found sanctuary of mind that included a wonderful camaraderie of new friends.  And throughout the day, I kept my sense of humor.  Always, always keep your sense of humor.  That way, when you realize you’re not acting as great as you’d like, you can laugh at yourself and try again.
“What is the key to untie the knot of your mind’s suffering?  Act great.  My dear, always act great.” ~Hafez.  And, I would add, always keep your sense of humor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 19: Moving through the (energy) body

Yoga can be a physical practice.  That’s why many of us find it in the first place.  As we practice, we realize that it is also a mental practice, building strength of focus.  Yoga is also an emotional practice, or an energy practice.  Have you ever felt an emotional release during or after a posture?  Cried after a handstand? Laughed after a twist?  That’s because when we practice yoga, we are releasing energy stored in the body.
How many times during eka pada rajakapotasana (one-legged kind pigeon or half pigeon pose) have you heard an instructor say, “Our hips are our emotional suitcase.”  If I had a dollar for every time someone said that without further explanation, I’d be a wealthy woman.  Today, Gates talked about how when we practice, we begin to move back in time, unraveling the layers of our former selves.  Sometimes, this can be difficult as we stir up emotions or memories that are uncomfortable.  Other times, this can be exhilarating as we move beyond limits or beliefs that kept us stuck.
Our hips may in fact be our emotional suitcase, but why?  If you take a look at the chakras, the hips are adjacent to the first and second chakras--the root and the emotional center.  Our root chakra contains our survival information--everything from the basics of how feed ourselves, find shelter and make money, to the more complicated issues of what kinds of foods to eat, what type of house will satisfy us, and if it’s okay to make money the way we’d like to make it, rather than how Dad wants us to.  The second chakra stores our emotional and sexual information, as well as our clairsentient abilities, or our abilities to feel others’ energy and emotions.  So yes, that area is quite a suitcase, isn’t it?  
Have you ever had a stressful week and found that by Friday, your shoulders were up around yours ears and you couldn’t look from side to side?  Or alternatively, you had a tough week with your boss and had a constant headache?  These are the other common places we store stress, and in these areas, it is often easier to see the causal relationship between emotions, energy, and stiffness in the body.  
When we first start to practice yoga, we ask certain areas of our bodies to open up, to be more flexible.  As we dive deeper into the practice and begin to focus on our mental and emotional well-being as well as the physical, we can start to see the links between what we think or feel emotionally and where our bodies require attention.  Sometimes the connection is more obvious--a boss who likes to micromanage and tries to get in your head?  Headache.  Sometimes the connection takes longer to uncover--a limit in your space that says you are only supposed to make $14 per hour?  Really?  How odd and how did that get there?
The point of this energy lecture is that yoga is the perfect physical medium for moving and releasing energy in the body.  As we learn to become more aware of where our bodies are in space and how they are feeling, we begin to create a subtle line of communication between the physical and mental bodies.  As we deepen our practice and include meditation, we can forge a line of communication between our mental and energy bodies (sometimes called the subtle body).  When this happens, all information is available and, with time, attention and practice, the body and aura can be set free.
If you are interested in learning more about energy, auras, and chakras, contact me.  As a clairvoyant, I can help you learn about energy in and around your body and help you become more aware of your space.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 18: The Sanctuary of Yoga

My practice has become my sanctuary.  It’s the place where I feel most at home, least alone and embraced by the prana of the earth and the universe.  When I started this journey, I thought that half way through my month of yoga, I would find it hard to find the time or the want to step onto my mat or to constantly question the motives behind my actions.  But instead, the opposite has happened.
I look forward to my time on the mat immensely.  It is the only time of the day when I am welcomed to work into my muscles as I breathe, where my breath is the only care in my mind, where my body becomes fluid and bends into new and familiar shapes.  Sometimes, my muscles complain, sore from the day prior, but other days, the practice is endless and my body finds new favorite positions to work into.  Upside down, right-side-up, sideways and every way in-between, my body glowing in the happiness of slowly returning to the fluidity of the womb; a coming home.  Some days, my mind works harder than my muscles to concentrate on the breath, other days, my mental endurance is unfading.
I have more to let go so that my body can open to its fullest.  My hips--which carry all that first and second chakra baggage--are extraordinarily tight and still pull at my fragile low back when I’m not careful.  My neck and shoulders, or my “stress indicators,” as I like to call them, are beginning to tighten up again, and I need to learn to let stress drip off of them and to open my heart fully.  I find so much comfort and, strangely, motivation in the fact that yoga has no finish line, no perfection, no over-arching goal except to practice honestly, openly and with compassion, and to make conscious decisions from a place of love, rather than fear.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 16 and 17: Rigidity

By the time the weekend comes, I am tired.   An early and long morning of teaching on Fridays just tends to wear me out, and combined with a late Friday night, I’m still tired on Saturday.  My practice on Saturday was to jump into a heated level one vinyasa class at Sculpt Fusion, expecting to flow effortlessly from one posture to another and find easy breath and movement.  My experience was much different, and I can only guess that it’s because my body is more worn out than I thought.  Instead of gliding effortlessly through practice, I found the heated studio stifling, the slow pace difficult, and the air too thick to breathe comfortably.  And I was hungry, I think, because I kept blacking out every time I stood upright.
Today, I was still feeling unusually sleepy, and fell asleep on the couch at 3pm.  When I woke up, I immediately rolled out my mat and stepped on, knowing that if I ate dinner first, practice would not happen.  My husband joined me for a gentle 45 minutes of vinyasa, mostly working into the hips, hamstrings, and quads.  Well done.
Gates’ message for the weekend really hit home with me.  Another way to look at brahmacarya, he said, is as “suppleness of spirit.”  He says as we step onto the mat each day, we experience rigidity in many ways. He says, “We become rigidly attached to practicing at certain times, certain temperatures, in certain styles, certain sequences, with certain teachers, certain clothes, certain mats, certain places in the room, certain towels, certain results . . . The list is endless.”  He’s right, of course.  While many of these attachments are harmless, others block us from really opening our hearts to the beauty of change and difference.  I’ve noticed in my own practice how attached I am to certain postures, wanting them in each and every class and not feeling satisfied when my instructor leaves them out.  
Where else am I rigid?  Well, I really only like to practice in the mornings, when I have the most energy.  Just last week I did an evening yoga class for one of the first times in months.  It was fabulous!  Instead of heading home at 5pm, eating dinner and watching TV or reading all night, I was able to meditate and move my body on my mat, and relax much more easily afterwards.  I vow to try that again.  I also notice that I like to use my own mat, my own Yogi-toes towel, and practice vinyasa or astanga.  But, to balance that, I’ll try harder to practice outside on the earth and try different styles of yoga when given the opportunity.
Rigidity is difficult to let go of, and easier to see when the rigidity is not your own.  Teaching yoga has really opened my eyes to the common places where rigidity lies.  Many students will only practice in a certain spot in the room, while others will ask other students to move so they can see themselves in the mirror while they practice.  Other students are so attached to certain instructors that when a substitute arrives instead, they walk back out the door.  I like what Gates says about this last fact: “I know that if I don’t like a teacher, it’s because she reflects an aspect of myself that I have not made peace with.”
The bottom line is that letting go of rigidity means not becoming complacent in life and always questioning the motives behind our actions.  When we open up to suppleness of spirit, not only do we find balance and the surprising joy that comes with spontaneity, we also open our hearts to compassion for ourselves and others.  If we can’t see the mirror one day in our practice, perhaps we learn that day to find compassion for our body rather than judgement.  If our yoga instructor is sick and a stranger is in her place, we can offer compassion for the position she is in and open our hearts to learning something new.  When we find brahmacarya, we let go of the attachments we have and, since the root of all attachment is fear, we act out of and open ourselves up to love.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 14 and 15: Courage

There are things in my life that I am afraid of.  I’m not talking about the small things--spiders, too-tight spandex or falling on my nose in bakasana.  I mean the bigger things, like starting a family, dropping my caffein addiction and being open about my relationship with the God of my Heart.
Where I grew up, it was unusual not to have a testimony to the god of the predominant religion.  My family and I were in the minority in our area as we chose to ski or boat on Sundays, rather than attend church.  I didn’t even know what types of spiritual beliefs my parents had, but they encouraged me to find what it was we needed spiritually.  I tried out several different types of worship, never feeling completely right, and then I left home for college--my spiritual path a bit scarred from the hostility of a large group of church-goers.  
I’ve spoken to several friends who’ve had similar experiences--feeling scarred by an upbringing in or near an exuberant religious power-house.  During the next several years, while I finally had a “coming home” of sorts about my spiritual beliefs, I was still surrounded by people who, spirits broken, found power in uniting together as agnostics or atheists and putting faith in science or logic.  While this type of belief wasn’t my own, and although I felt comfortable and inspired by my own beliefs, I never felt comfortable expressing them around my friends or family.  It was as if any mention of spirituality would drudge up un-favorable memories of the past.
I understood this--I am still scarred too, in may ways.  While I am very comfortable with people talking about a God-power as the Universe, Supreme Being, or God of your Heart,  I start to feel uncomfortable when anyone speaks of God as “God,” or “Lord,” or any of the more traditional Western religious titles.  Although my very own beliefs tell me that this universal power is the same given any time, I still shudder uncomfortable memories I associate them with.  I think that my fear in openly discussing or casually mentioning my spiritual beliefs come from how I felt as an outsider as a child--no one in my home town ever worried about offending me with their believes, but I am still afraid to do that to someone else.  My peers growing up never found the want or need to have an open discussion about religion in general, so my voice was never heard.  So it has been lost ever since.
Two things have happened this week that make me believe that it is time to come out of the spiritual closet.  First, I received a job that was the manifestation of almost 10 years of dreaming--not necessarily working towards, just dreaming and praying.  And second, Gates said, “If we are to seriously consider enacting all of the yamas and niyamas in our lives, we must begin to examine the idea of spiritual force, spiritual momentum.”  While I believe in this force, I haven’t been honest or vocal in my home and in my daily life about how much I believe in the power of prayer, manifestation, and the abundance of the Universe to provide.  
I am starting now to face this fear.  To come out of hiding my beliefs and allow them to be enacted through me for the world to see.  And perhaps, when I find the courage, I’ll mention Goddess directly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 13: Moderation in work

Moderation, or brahmacarya, gets a bad reputation in our culture.  We’re driven to push ourselves to the limits in the way we shape our bodies or in the way we work to get ahead in our career.  As Gates says, “The hero of the story loves the fair maiden, loves her passionately. . . .No one ever seems to dedicate poems, screenplays, or odes to the joys of moderation or the rewards of passionate balance.”
This really hit home for me today as I started a new job.  When I’m doing something I love, I work hard at it.  But no matter how much I love my work, I won’t let it take over as the only thing in my life.  My husband and I argue about this often.  He has a job that he loves, and that takes his attention away from home at least 60 hours a week.  When I was explaining the aspects of my new job, including the 20 hours I would be working, he said, “But you could always work more if there was something you wanted to finish, or something you wanted to understand better.”  I could, I said, but unless it was really necessary lest I failed, then I wouldn’t spend extra time at work, sacrificing time set aside for other things in my life.  A balance has to be struck between everything, including work and other activities, and to keep that balance, choices have to be made carefully.
Moderation seems to threaten the work horse that our culture is based on.  Can we really have moderation in work and still “get ahead?”  Should we be so focused on getting ahead, or would live happier and fuller lives if we focused instead on balance between family and work, the required and the “just because,” the stress and the joy?  Is it too much to ask that family time be awarded as much importance as office time, or that stress-releasing activities such as yoga and meditation be awarded as much importance as the stress-inducing activities often found at the office?
Needless to say, my practice today was unfocused and scattered, mostly due to the excitement I had about my new job today.  I realized half way through my practice that I didn’t know how many breaths I was taking in each posture, and I didn’t even know where my practice was leading.  I finished with three very mindful postures, then rested for a short svasana.  My body was tired from two rigorous practices the days prior and a deep tissue massage, and forced moderation on my practice--forced me to slow down and save the next rigorous practice for another day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 12: Moderation

The Yoga Sutras state, “When the practitioner is firmly established in continence, knowledge, vigor, valor, and energy flow to him.”  
Today, Gates talked about the yama of brahmacarya, or to “walk with God.”  Although this yama is often translated as chastity, it’s more of a call to practice moderation, or temperance, in every aspect of our lives.  As example, Gates points out that an inventory into different aspects of our lives will shed light on where we could use more brahmacarya.  For example, does food (or sex, or exercise, or time management, etc) fill me with “valor, vigor, knowledge and energy?”  Or is it cause for anxiety, stress, or obsession?  
I spent most of my teens and early 20’s obessed with food and exercise.  Eating too much, exercising too little, then vise-versa, to the point of ill-health.  And while I can’t pin-point the exact moment of change, I can tell you that my transformation into a state of moderation and good health around food and exercise came when three things happened: I started practicing yoga, I moved away from the mountains and next to the ocean and I started meditating.
Practicing yoga was the first physical activity I’ve participated in that directly improved my body image.  Most of the sports I participated in were very competitive and results-based, and although I’d feel strong at certain points, there was always a failure looming somewhere up ahead.  The result was that my body wasn’t strong enough, thin enough, fast enough.  In yoga, there is no finish line, so my body was always just enough.  My husband even noticed the difference in my body image and encouraged me to keep practicing.
I lived in the mountains for the first 25 years of my life, and it’s the place I truly call home.  But just as different physical activities or sports have different energies, so do different geographical locations.  Take the two sports, football and dance, as extreme examples.  Football has a decidedly masculine energy around it, whereas dance often has a more powerful feminine energy.  When I lived in the mountains, especially Montana, there was a very masculine energy about the place that drove me to use and abuse my physical body in the desire to “keep up and be hard-core.”  My body was always tired and sore.  When I moved to the ocean, this desire all but left me.  While I still felt the desire to do the activities I loved, such as mountain biking and running, I didn’t over-do them, and so enjoyed them even more.
The final key for me finding moderation with food and exercise was when I started meditating.  Meditation was the positive feedback mechanism my body needed to find moderation.  When I meditated, I began to open up to clairvoyance, and began to analyze my physical body less and less.  The less I analyzed my body and the food I ate, the more my clairvoyance opened up, and so on and so forth.  
There are other aspects of my life that need moderation--consumption, for one.  But I do believe in the truth of brahmacarya--that energy, vigor, and knowledge will flow to me when I’m fully established in continence--because I’ve seen it happen already.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 11: (over) Abundance and Coming Home

When it rains, it pours.
Or so they say.  I’ve written a lot about looking for more ways to make money, and finally sitting down and meditation on brining abundance into my life.  Well, it’s here.  As I weigh my options, I’m already worried about over-commitment, which is something I’ve been accused of in the past, and which is something that, after almost of year of part-time employment, sounds really, really tiring.
I’ve been offered three jobs; two in yoga teaching and another building an artists colony/retreat center in the mountains.  The retreat center is a life-long dream of mine and I wouldn’t dream of passing up this part time work.  It has also been my goal to expand my yoga teaching to additional venues, and I’ve been offered two opportunities this week, both at different studios.  I am unsure of what to do.  I want to make sure that I’m not over-committing my time and energy.  I want to have time for my yoga practice and meditation each day, so that I can continue to grow as an instructor and yogi.  Not to mention the extra time needed to recover from teaching two 6am classes (nap time is essential!).
My yoga practice felt wonderful today, under the steady guidance of Tim at Asana One.  I thought a lot about the spiritual guidance I received today from “Mediations from the Mat,” which is about the body and mind finding a sense of place, a sense of grounding and moving home, when we practice yoga.  Gates says that this instinct that our body has toward a yoga practice is the same instinct that moves a flower to face the sun, or animals to care for their young.  Gates says, “There is a wisdom within us that is more powerful than our despair.  There is a movement toward health that our intellect can merely glimpse, once in a while. . . .This life force has provided us with the priceless, miraculous opportunity of our yoga practice.  All we need to do is cultivate an open heart, to express our gratitude on and off the mat, and to celebrate the return of our hero.”  I apply this to the state of my body and mind.  I know that I have within me the power to heal my back and to have a healthy body, and that yoga is the way to get there.  I also apply Gates’ message to my current job/choice situation.  If I am open and honest with my self and show my gratitude toward the universe, the decision will be easy because it will feel like coming home.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 10: The posture never ends

I love the message that Rolph Gates talked about today in “Meditations from the Mat.”  He reminds us that in a vinyasa yoga practice, the posture never really ends--that the transitions are postures in and of themselves.  So often, we pay attention only to the postures and not the transitions.  This is also true in our daily lives.  So often, we pay attention only to the items on our list, or to the activities we’ve planned, not the “down-time” in between.  But both, Gates states, the posture and the space in between, are holy.
This observation by Gates played out painfully today.  Some friends of mind are visiting for a few days.  Our home is their San Diego stop on a three month journey toward their new home and life across the country.  They had just finished showing me pictures from their adventures in red rock country, Utah, the coastline trails of Oregon and Northern California, and then maps of their next planned adventure at Anza Borrego State Park and beyond, to Joshua Tree.  
We spend the middle of the day bouldering out at Santee.  I did my yoga practice here also.  Atop a granite boulder, I breathed through 20 or 30 minutes of vinyasa, only stopping when the sharp rock began to penetrate the delicate skin on the tops of my feet.  About an hour into our bouldering session, my friend climbed back onto a traversing problem where she left off, and we hovered around to spot with the bouldering pad on uneven terrain and rocks.  As my friend jumped down from the rock, her ankle was folded unnaturally into the hovering crash pad, and she sprained her ankle.
Suddenly, their plans to backpack and climb their way through the southwest were over, and we were all left wondering what would happen next.  The lesson, as Gates might put it, is that this injury is also part of the posture.  This “down time” has its own spiritual implications.  
It’s so hard to see our “down time” as important, because as a society, we are so externally based.  Only those items on the check list, or those items that bring in a pay check, are worth paying attention to.  Perhaps that is why we feel so forlorn when our plans change abruptly or when “down time” becomes the focus of our life, such as during an injury.  The question is, can we learn to see all of our time as valuable and find the spiritual implications and the importance in the space between?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9: Amusement and Mindfulness

When life on or off the mat gets stressful, sad, or troubled, are you able to laugh and find comfort in the fact that the loving universe will provide?
Ernest Holmes said, “Our vision is beclouded and the pathway of our progress is obstructed until we come to know that God can and does express as Good in every person and every situation.”  How often have you had a problem arise in your life and, in your attempt to be mindful to the situation, you’ve reacted immediately in an attempt to control the outcome?  Usually, a response like this results in high stress and a feeling of no control.  This year, I applied for dozens upon dozens of jobs that I was fully qualified for, but I rarely, if ever, received a callback.  After eight months of this, I started to feel like a failure--I couldn’t get a job, therefore my family didn’t have enough money, therefore we couldn’t complete the yard, paint the house, pay the insurance, etc., etc., etc.  Although I was being mindful to the “outcome” of the situation, that type of mindfulness was digging me into a hole of depression.
Gates asks us to break down the word “mindfulness.”  It is the art of paying attention, he says, but rather than sitting anxiously on the edge of our seats, waiting to respond quickly and control the outcomes to events, we must instead pay attention with “an abiding faith in a loving universe.”  I would add that having amusement--being able to find laughter or a simple smile--in every situation aids us in this type of mindfulness.  If I had been mindful this way, found my smile and moved on, I would have realized that those lack of callbacks were a blessing in disguise.  The “Good” in the situation was that I was able to spend more time figuring out exactly what I wanted to do, so that I would recognize when the universe sent it my way.  I was also able, as I’ve written before, to spend more time on yoga and spiritual growth.  In the process, I’ve met a myriad of wonderful friends who support all the of the changes my life has taken.
In my classes, I often ask students to notice if they’ve brought their sense of humor.  When we are too serious in anything, including our yoga practice, we often aim for perfection rather than mindfulness and the energy or the prana slows down or stops all together.  The result is a mental, and sometimes even physical, block.  Imagine a student learning Bakasana, crow or crane pose, for the first or maybe the hundredth time.  The posture is difficult and can take years to learn.  If the student takes herself too seriously, chances are she’ll become fed up with her perceived lack of accomplishment and either stop trying or move on all-together.  But the student who can laugh at herself when she falls and be open to any outcome is more likely to keep with her practice and grow into the posture.  
Today I practiced in a beginners vinyasa class, the type of class that has the same structure to allow beginners to gain confidence.  Although I’ve taught the structure many, many times, I focused on staying mindful--paying attention with faith in good things--through each posture and not anticipating what came next.  I was able to feel the joy in each posture, rather than anticipate or focus on the stress.  And when I fell over moving through a posture that is difficult for me, I laughed, then moved on.