Monday, December 21, 2009

The Longest Night

Part of me feels like she’s already dead. I say “already” as if I know that somehow she’s not long on this earth. She has left and come back, you know.

The Winter Solstice is today, December 21st, the astronomical occurrence where the earth is the furthest point away from the sun. It makes me think about those times in life when life gets dark and warmth and brightness seem very far off.

I guess it was me thinking about Celeste’s accident on the 15th of January 2006 after a grueling, stripping day of terror and pain at the University Hospital after Celeste was crushed in a car accident. Her accident occurred at noon. I was in the hospital with her. It was now 2 am or something, I hadn’t eaten in 14 hours and searched for food. I walked alone along impossibly long hallways, down fields—miles—of, of fluorescent lights, millenniums, through the universe. I exited through the double doors that I was sure they’d told me to go through, only to find myself locked out and in the cold, no coat, in the dark, nighttime, winter—alone. I walked outside in the dark, hot clouds of steam rising from my mouth as I clamored around packed snow mounds and found my way back. Eventually I walked across a hallway that floated above the ground, connecting one part of the hospital with the other. I felt the hallway connected this world to the next. I found a cafeteria and bought some sorry excuse for a chicken sandwich and gobbled it down, eating in pity of myself and in fear that I would miss something if I didn’t hurry back. I fear that the doctors would come, something would happen, some complication would occur, something we’d not foreseen. We’d not foreseen any of this.

I swallowed and rushed back. I knew my way back up and when I entered into the small, impersonal, partitioned hospital room, I was greeted with an empty sheets and only a dim light above her bed. The machines that had tracked her heartbeat, that recorded the signal, the proof of her life, were extinguished. Where was she? It was like she was dead. Taken. They had only taken her for more tests. I didn’t know that. All I could do was sit in the dim light of that hospital room and steep in the dark, bitter tea of wonder and worry.

When she was hit, she blacked out. More serious, though, she went away. She told me later that she saw herself dancing barefoot upon a green field set on a cliff in Ireland overlooking the sea. The wind was tossing her hair, the air was sweet and perfect. The ocean rose in waves to greet her. She was content and felt she belonged there. She looked over and saw me a few steps away further from the edge on solid ground, a calm but focused look on my face. I simply reached out my hand and beckoned her to take my hand. She had a moment of choice. She paused then grabbed my hand.

Immediately she was back, conscious, in the cold, smashed car, forehead leaning on the steering wheel, shattered glass everywhere. She became aware of an emergency worker asking her probing questions through the shattered driver-side window. “Do you feel any pain?” he asked directly. “I think my sacrum is broken,” she proffered as equally direct. “Do you mean your tailbone?” he encouraged. “No, my sacrum,” she corrected.

16 hours later she lay in a hospital bed upon a multi-fractured pelvis, her head supported by a neck brace, life-support machines pumping oxygen into her lungs which were surrounded by several broken ribs. A menacing blue-grey bruise wiped a long swath across her left temple and forehead. It was the middle of the night. I sat in a chair next to her, worry and fear rattling my soul, exhausted and destitute. Two desperate souls alone in the dark with one borrowed iPod shuffle, a single ray of light. It’s a genius contraption; designed with two ear-pieces, one for each ear, mine and hers. Two voices in the dark singing together softly at almost a whisper, Dave Mathews, “Celebrate we will, ‘cuz life is short but sweet for certain.” These destitute moments of beautiful desperateness.

And it seems that we celebrate this longest night, this Winter Solstice because the light and warmth are on their way. We greet them upon their return.

Celeste has recovered fully from her car accident. She is working seriously with some other, pre-existing health issues. And despite all of it, we have seen the return of light and warmth after long nights of pain and frustration, some of which endures, but we look over the mountains and expect the sun to return.

The following is an excerpt of something I wrote for two dear friends who held their wedding ceremony at Dead Horse Point. It comes to mind and seems to fit here. It fits because by chance, circumstances, and destiny, I’ve learned a little about relationship and the deeper meaning of marriage.

As we stand on the edge and look over to the immense gulf below, look up toward the elevated mountains, what confirms the majesty of this scene in our hearts is not merely its beauty but more specifically our own vulnerability. As we see our own insignificance against the backdrop of such immensity, we are humbled and awestruck. . .So in this vulnerability, we stand on the edge and cling to each other in that fierce heat and embrace of deep pounding love. We hold tight, not knowing any other way, like two moths beating their wings furiously at the screen door, looking for the light and warmth beyond the threshold. This is our hope and our faith. And the rain and the hail, the snow and even stones rain from the sky and bring it on because, here we are, standing on this edge, willing to take anything that this enormous, loving universe can throw at us, and by God we will stand here all day and all night, this furiously long night, with death below us and heaven above us, and we will be here when the morning light creeps over that horizon, still clutching each other tightly. We will be here on this edge. We will be here with this one heart, not just beating but pounding. We will be here, still bleeding from this long night. And we will be here, weeping with joy at the divine privilege of standing on the edge of heaven and hell and earth combined, in the majesty of these mountains, in the wonder of this wind, at the hope of heaven for we have tasted heaven in this fierce embrace.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Dog Thinks I'm Perfect

There is a fantastic bumper sticker that says something to the effect of, " May I be the type of person that my dog thinks I am."

For those of us who own dogs. . . who am I kidding, every person in this town owns a dog-you get one free when you buy your Subaru. Anyway, dogs know us better than we know ourselves. Our dog worships the ground we walk on, even though, ironically, we are the ones who pick up their poop, go figure. Back to dogs' undying love for us . . . yes, in our own mind we could be the most miserable wretch who ever climbed out of the pond, the dumbest thing to ever darken a doorway, but at the end of the day, we'd come home to sit on the porch and revel in our misery, only to have our best four-legged friend, come prancing up to us with nothing but profound love and worship for us.

Maybe dogs can see something about us that we can't see. The same way that a dog's sense of smell is dramatically more sophisticated than our own, perhaps the K-9 sense of goodness, the ability to sniff out the best parts of us (not just our crotch) is somehow innate in those creatures. They remind us that we, too, are lovable and amazing creatures.

In yoga, we are trying to see that our own inner-awesomeness, as one wise woman (my wife) puts it, is just beneath the surface. In part, yoga is finding focus, strengthening, and removing the physical obstacles of an unhealthy body. Yoga is also cultivating a relationship with both the numinous parts of ourselves as well as those ethereal parts of the world around us. Yoga carves away the crap that blinds us from that lovable person that our dog sees all the time. If our dog can see it all the time, then why can't we? Maybe it's because we forget. Yoga helps us to simultaneously discover and remember who we really are and perhaps see our selves the way our dog sees us: supercool.

Come to yoga and practice being the person your dog thinks you are.

Check out this video that illustrates this point.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Heavenly Distortion

A few years ago, I decided to run a marathon. I was ready. I’d trained for weeks. I’d even completed as much as a 13 mile run. All I had to do was essentially double the furthest distance I’d ever run in my life. Easy.

The race was like life. There were up-hills and down-hills. There were really joyful times, and really hard times. There were times when I had to run off the side of the road and pee on a tree. Miles 16-20 were the hardest for me. This is where my hamstrings began to cramp. My calves were aching. My lungs were burning. My lower-back held a vicious knot.

At mile 21 Celeste somehow found me on her bike. I felt like I had emerged from a battle, bruised, bleeding but strong and virile, pumping my way to the finish line. When she approached me I was in a surprisingly good mood. Her first words to me were, “Wow. You’re not running very fast.” I was happy to still be in the race and moving forward without the aid of a wheelchair. I suppose I was creeping along compared to how I normally ran.

At the last mile I stopped communicating. I really dug in and kept my mind on each footstep. I became very focused, very present. It so happened that there was a big gap between the runners in front and behind of me so I felt like I was running all by myself, like I was the only one in the race.

The last leg of the course took me down the long stretch of road that bisects the Gateway (shopping center). There were people everywhere, on each side of the road and on the second balcony level to the shopping center. The whole last partial mile was buzzing like a hive of cheers, encouragement, and excitement. As I rounded the corner, a burst of cheers hit me directly like an explosion and for a moment, it felt like everyone was there simply to cheer me on. At that same moment, the rockin’est blues band in the history of rockin' blues bands was positioned to greet me as I rounded the corner. They were playing ferociously. I could feel the music as much as hear it; the bass and the rhythm punched clear through me. Gathering my last drop of energy, I surged forward. As I limped past the band, the electric guitar player began to rip out a loud and nasty, bluesy solo. A grimace uncontrollably spread across my face, not because of the 26.1 miles I’d run, not because of the double hamstring cramp I was experiencing, not because my lungs felt as if I’d hacked them out somewhere around mile 19, but because the music was so right on, so dirty and so perfect that it evoked uncontrollable Blues Face, that face one gets when the music, the experience is rich with soul, rich with spirit. Blues face is what some musicians get when they enter the timeless. So good it hurts.

I believe that this is what heaven will be like some day when I get there. As I’m rounding the corner, finishing the race that has been hard, long, challenging, but beautiful and joyful, I’ll be greeted by a chorus of angles-friends cheering me -and a rockin’ blues band will be playing a song called, Welcome Home, Scottro P (my nickname). If any of you beat me to heaven, I hope to see you in my angelic chorus, even if you don’t think you have a very nice voice. And I hope that some of you will be wielding electric guitars.

Come to yoga and let's practice life in the form of yoga. Let's feel yoga; so good that it will give you blues face.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Sacred Has a Way of Sneaking up on You

St. George Utah can be kind of a quirky place. It’s a remote and arid landscape that grows outlet malls, golf courses, retirement communities, tanning salons, and time-share condominiums. Despite this oddness, St. George is simultaneously sublime: red rocks, eternal desert wilderness trails, breathtaking desert landscapes, and so close to Kolob canyon and Zions National Park. Besides, compared to St. George’s next-door neighbor, Las Vegas, everything seems mild.

Celeste and I were enjoying a warm Thanksgiving in Zions and stayed in St. George for a few nights before coming back north. Like an oasis in the wilderness of red rock-desert and frozen yogurt shacks stands an amazing restaurant named after its owner, Benja which serves wonderful Thai and Japanese food. We had ordered our meals and were sipping some aromatic jasmine tea when Celeste noticed the music playing in the restaurant. It was very minimal, a soft chant set to simple and basic music. Celeste closed her eyes, leaned back in her chair and listened. After a moment of reverie she said, “We may as well be in a Benedictine monastery in Europe. It’s amazing how the sacred has a way of sneaking up on you.”

And it is amazing how it seems that in the most unlikely of places, this oasis in the desert, both culturally and literally, how we could find this snippet of time at a restaurant where we can sit and enjoy such a beautiful reminder of the Divine. With awareness, one begins to see the sacred in everything, how indeed it can sneak up on you and surprise you when you least expect it. It may take stepping out of our own personal paradigm prison but with a little awareness, we see how not only the desert is a spectacular landscape, but somehow even the tanning salons, outlet malls, and golf courses contain some magic about them. Somehow, if we look deep enough, everything points back to the Divine.

We are being hurled into the holidays and it’s so easy to become cynical and jaded by the commercialism and rat-race of it all. With a little awareness, perhaps we can see how the Divine reveals itself in many ways, from the various spiritual traditions around this time, to people’s desire to give something to others, to somehow even the hustle of holiday shopping. There’s something of the Divine in it all. Perhaps we can see the nuggets of the Divine in the least of likely places this season rather than chalking it up to another year of the same. It’s amazing how the sacred has a way of sneaking up on you.

Come to yoga and let’s practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

All Weepy and Such

This is my vulnerable letter. It’s the one where I decided to tell you what I love. I make it vulnerable on purpose because in my mind it doesn’t count unless I let you in and let you see past the wall that has taken me years and years and years to build. We all have one. It’s the wall that we build so that people can see our general form, the basic shape but they can’t see our soul, they can’t see all the way in. Because if they did see in, if we were exposed naked and raw, then people would know our secret, that dark secret that no one would believe but us: that what’s deep inside doesn’t matter. And this week I’ve decided I don’t care and that the real way to give something back, to offer gratitude for all that I have is to give that biggest thing, give up the wall and let you see what’s inside.

Let’s go straight for the jugular here. I love, love, love—heart -aching, squeeze my breath out, leave a pit in my gut, a pull in my throat and tearing up as I type kind of love—my wife Celeste. It’s that kind of love that makes me stupid. I’d do anything for that woman. She understands me better than any other human on the planet. She gives me eyes to see this world.

I love my twin brother. Yes, I have a twin. In addition to sharing DNA, we share our sense of humor, although he was portioned much more of it, and much more creativity than me. Good thing I was given all the good looks (understand that we’re identical). I love that I can call him (he lives in LA) and that we can drop suddenly and seamlessly into the mundane details of each other’s lives and both understand that it’s not the minutia that we’re talking about but that we’re holding an underlying tacit conversation of connection and support.

I love yoga, this amazing path toward self-understanding. It’s beautiful, challenging, mentally, spiritually, and physically engaging, and at the end of the day just feels damn good. I love this healthy body, my vehicle for driving me toward understanding this crazy/beautiful world. I know unequivocally that not all bodies work like they should and to have one that does is an amazing blessing.

I love to feel this body move whether that’s by yoga, running or dancing. I’m a closeted dancer, you know, who is starting to come out into the light. I love Ecstatic Dance for inviting that part of me to live.

I love God.

I love waking up and lying there in bed, warm listening to the silence, soaking up that peace and contentment. I love watching someone play and sing their guts out on a guitar. I love the sound of a cello. I love to listen to someone who knows their business on a stand-up bass. Who ever invented the concept of hot cocoa with whipped cream and cinnamon, I want to kiss you on the mouth! I love stepping into my apartment, closing the front door and standing there for a moment in the dark and the quiet, safe. I love my dearest friends who’ve got my back and who know my problems and secrets and neuroses and who still want to hang out with me and drink tea or eat Indian food. I love those people who really get me. I guess I feel that I really need that. I love my mentor, Teri. I love hanging out with my dad and just listening to music, no need to talk, just sit and listen, mostly jazz. I love stepping into my moms house and smelling her home-made rolls. I love my Thursday morning ritual: led by my sax teacher, spelunking into the heads of John Coltrane and Miles Davis and others and I find my own voice as I blow through my saxophone on maps that the masters have drawn. I love to sing though my sax. I love Jazz’s freedom and language, it’s soul. Then getting chocolate after at Hatch Family Chocolates.

I love to be privileged to have found work that feeds me. It never feels like work. I love the sacred privilege you give me to sometimes step into your lives. I love you all.

Most importantly and simply I love. Along my own journey, it’s taken me years to take down the walls. Thanks for visiting this soul. And here’s the paradox, I’m trying to give something back and have spent the most beautiful hour filling my heart with all the things I love until I’m weepy and sappy. Any you know, I can’t wait to live this day! Hey everyone, try this. It’s fantastic!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Angels in the Rafters

I love rituals. They make the everyday special. I also love chocolate. So it's no wonder that one of my rituals is to regularly and consciously go to my favorite chocolate shops and deliberately enjoy. Everything about the experience becomes part of the ritual, including the people who work at the shop. It turned out that as part of one of the rituals, one of my sister's good friends worked at one of these shops. His name was Ryan.

When Celeste and I lived in Korea, one day I was talking to my sister on the telephone and she mentioned that Ryan had killed himself, tragically, along with his sister in a joint-suicide. Even though I wasn't extremely close to Ryan and had never met his sister, this news weighed on me immeasurably. I couldn't shake the thought from my head. Lucy, my sister, asked me if I would go to a Buddhist temple and light a candle for Ryan and his sister. I didn't know if they even did that in Buddhism but I told her I would.

It was about this time that we went on a meditation retreat up in the mountains with our dear friend and guide, Jin-Soon. After our time at the retreat was spent, Jin-Soon suggested that we go on a light hike up the mountain to her favorite temple. It was late Autumn and we hiked, swimming in the warmth and light of the sun, especially after the biting cold of the morning.

We came to a small temple and quietly, we took off our shoes and stepped inside. Already sitting inside the temple were 2 female monks, both with shaved heads and gray habit, sitting on mats deep in meditation. I thought about my own meditation experience, how difficult it can be at times, and I wondered how long they had been there or planned to be there. They looked as though they may as well have been permanent fixtures in the temple. Jin-Soon handed Celeste and me a mat, and we all sat down and began our own meditation. The sun shone through the window of the door in a perfect rectangle that surrounded my body like a picture frame. I was warm and quiet. I don't know how much time we spent there. Time just dissolved.

Once we finished our meditation, outside of the temple, I remembered the promise I had made to Lucy to someday light a candle for Ryan and his sister. I asked Jin-Soon how to go about getting candles lit in the temple. She kindly walked me to the center of the compound not far away and helped me buy two 14 inch candles.

With the candles in hand, I walked to the main temple, took off my shoes, and solemnly entered the door. Just inside the door was an old monk whose face was perfectly wrinkled, obviously from a life-time of smiling. He saw the candles in my hand and speaking no Korean, I motioned that I wished to place them on the alter. He understood and beckoned me to follow his lead. I watched as he approached the enormous, golden Buddha in the front of the room and performed a dramatic bow, lowering himself to the floor then standing up again with his hands together in a prayer motion. I was amazed and how similar this bow was to the Sun Salutations, Surya Namskar, we practice in yoga. The monk performed this beautiful bow simultaneously honoring both the Buddha and the Buddha Nature in himself and all beings. I approached the Buddha to give it a try. I kept Ryan and his sister in my mind and intended to honor their Buddha nature as well as my own and that of every other being. As I accomplished my bow, I tried to remember all the steps I saw the monk perform. I did my best version and then together the monk and I walked to the alter and placed the candles gently on the candle offering.

After placing and lighting the candles, I retreated slowly backward and made motions to leave. My monk, however, had more to teach me. He held up seven fingers and motioned that it was now necessary to complete seven more bows. Again, he made dramatic motions for me to see the precise actions to perform this rite. I tried to follow his exact gestures but got lost in the details. The kind smiling monk instructed me to do it again and made me watch him again to get it right this time. Again I tried and by now the monk was softly laughing. Despite the spectacle I was making, I couldn't help but smile as well. With my every attempt at a bow, the monk hovered over me and corrected me where I forgot. Before too long, the monk decided that I was all but hopeless and encouraged my actions by physically helping me put body in the right places. After what seemed like 30 tries, I eventually performed seven correct bows. I guess this is how I learn the best; by experience. This is the process: Stand with legs together, hands in a prayer stance. Kneel down and cross the left foot over the right while placing the palms on the floor and lowering the forehead to the floor. The butt must come down and touch your ankles (which must be much easier for him than it was for me because the monk couldn't figure out why I couldn't get that right and corrected me repeatedly on this point). With the forehead on the ground, raise the hands off the ground, palms facing up. Replace the hands on the ground, palms down, uncross your feet, and press yourself to a squatting position. Then stand up, feet together, without using hand. Finally, with hand pressed together in a prayer, make a deep bow toward the Buddha. When I completed my offering, my monk gave me a gentle bow and an enormous smile. I reciprocated in bowing and smiling my deep thanks to him.

As I left the temple, I was certain that Ryan and his sister were sitting as angels in the rafters, laughing at my tutelage and grateful for my gesture. I'm sure of it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not an Escape

Something unique happens when we come to the yoga studio. We close the door behind us, shutting the noisy world outside. We remove the dirt and insulation of our well-worn shoes, forgetting for a moment the path we trod to arrive. We shed our coat, those heavy responsibilities we carry like burdens. We even drop our bag carrying our identification card proclaiming who we are. And then, lighter, like walking on sacred ground, we enter the yoga studio and roll out our mat, our sacred practice space.

It’s difficult not to feel like we are escaping from something. The irony is that the more we try to escape the world, the more the world seems to be on our heels. You may say to yourself, “I’m consciously escaping the world. Ah how sweet.” But what happens the second you step out of the studio? “Darn you, World!” you say as you pump your fist in the air, “I was escaping you and here you are again!” Unfortunately, our problems don’t go away because we choose to ignore them.

Instead, as we practice yoga, we choose to momentarily hang up our responsibilities and problems like our coat on the hook. Yes, and so doing, we refine the conversation with our truer selves, the constant part of us that is the same whether or not we made our mortgage payment on time. In yoga practice, we quiet and focus our minds, open our hearts, and ground ourselves as we move, strengthen, and stretch our bodies, the divine vehicle for mind and spirit. And as we get into the groove of our practice, our practice feels more real than even our mortgage payment.

After class, having touched this truer self, we now have the privilege to go back and grab our bag, don our coat, and put on our shoes, now with a different relationship to our responsibilities. Either they are no longer a burden but rather a sacred stewardship, one that grows from the relationship we have with the brilliance of our truer selves, or we now have the clarity and courage to change that which doesn’t make us feel alive. Our problems don’t change but our relationship to them does.

As we practice yoga regularly and apply this concept of relationship, we begin to treat our life like our yoga practice, balanced with steadiness and ease, with power and grace, and with an open heart and full attention. Now, we are summoning our highest selves to lead this life. With this higher self in control, what we finally escape is not the entire world, just the part of it that contained that old self who carried all those burdens and who lacked the power to make courageous changes.

See you in class!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Now is Harvest Time

It's Harvest time. I think that this meant a lot more to our grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom were raised on the farm or who were agrarian for much of their lives. Even if we aren't running our hands through the soil for our daily sustenance, I believe there are many forms of harvests in life. These Harvests equal understanding what you've cultivated, understanding what is, and learning to enjoy the present moment. Yoga teaches us that now is the time to feast on the banquet of what life is offering.

We celebrate the life that causes us to grow. We celebrate understanding that we are all somewhere in our season of growing, of blossoming into our own potential. We make several harvests along the path to this potential. These harvests are not only harvests of years or experience, but also harvests of understanding and realization. Perhaps we have ripened in our career and its time to ask for a raise; perhaps its time to try a more advanced yoga practice, or commit to a consistent meditation practice. Or perhaps our harvest is realizing that things are perfect the way they are and we can learn to be still and appreciate that. I believe one of the richest harvests is simply being present with what is right now. These harvests come and go, and if we are not prepared to see them, if we are not present and mindful, the opportunity, the realization, will pass us by. Rainer Maria Rilke says in his poem, "Ripening Barberries," that unless we learn to harvest what is here and now, unless we come to realize this cornucopia of abundant being inside, we are lost in a world of seasonless stagnancy. Kinda harsh but very true. Here it is:

Already the ripening barberries are red
And the old asters hardly breathe in their beds.
The man who is not rich now as summer goes
Will wait and wait and never be himself.

The man who cannot quietly close his eyes
certain that there is vision after vision inside,
simply waiting for nighttime
to rise all around him in darkness--
it's all over for him, he's like an old man.

Nothing else will come; no more days will open
and everything that does happen will cheat him.
Even you, my God. And you are like a stone
that draws him daily deeper into the depths.

We cannot wait for some other time to gather what we are searching for. We must find it, to whatever degree, now. We cannot base our life on contingencies. Unless we learn what abundance is present here and now, we can never hope to see it in the future. Yoga, meditation, breathwork are all ways of learning to open our eyes and see what is here. Every practice is a harvest. We practice until we find the harvest in every minute, where the regale of the world opens up to our understanding and we feast on our lives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Wake Early

I awake today and sit enjoying the silence of a Sunday morning. Even as I sit, I'm watching the bright morning sun dance its procession around my front room. It is playing with the crystal hung in my eastern window and splattering rainbow prisms across each wall. Even as I look, the color changes and fades, showing me that the earth is revolving around this sun. Things are changing. As I look out the window the sun is celebrating these autumn trees with its light, making the yellow leaves explode with color against a cloudless and pale-blue sky. I see a small bird sitting in a shadow who decides to leap up higher and rest in the bright sun's warmth. And then it begins to sing.

Aren't we all like this bird, eager for the creature comforts of warmth on our skin, eager to leave the shadows for the sun and the opportunity to feel life pulsing through our veins, eager to feel how we may reflect that same brightness and joy through our song?

And perhaps this is why in yoga we practice celebrating the sun with Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations. Surya means "sun" and Namaskar means "a deep honoring." You might notice the same root word Namas as the base of the word Namaste, another Sanskrit word meaning to honor the True Nature or heart of hearts, the most sacred element and potential of another. Surya Namaskar is like offering a Namaste to our source, the sun, as it brings life to us and everything on this planet and we're dependent on it for all aspects of our well-being. Sun salutations are also a physical practice, a ritual, for acknowledging and honoring anything else you feel is your source (God, Creation, the Universe, Buddha nature, or whatever). But just as important, this practice reveals that we are part of that source and reflect a bit of that same light within ourselves. By acknowledging this similarity between ourselves and our source we empower ourselves with the memory of our True Nature. We are not dark creatures in a dark world, and where there is shadow, we can choose to leave it for the sun or shine light into it. We are beings of light, filled with life and love. And we are here to celebrate that, to learn from it, and to shine our light everywhere. Mary Oliver says in her poem Why I Wake Early:

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light -
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Please join me this week as we practice Surya Namaskar and other poses to remind ourselves of this bigger picture. We show gratitude, rekindle our fire, and celebrate our own light.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Seeing Clearly

The Yoga Sutras is a book written by an ancient yoga scholar, Patanjali, (200 AD) which outlines much of the philosophy of the practice of yoga. A major principle in the Yoga Sutras is the principle of Avidya, or misapprehension. In Sanskrit, the word Vidya means to see clearly. Avidya is the opposite of clear seeing. Unfortunately our human experience is rife with Avidya, this unclear seeing. I believe that one of our major lessons in this earthly existence is to learn to recognize our Avidya and enlighten ourselves by learning to see clearly.

Seeing clearly precedes good judgment. The world exists. Things just are. We all translate what is and color it with judgment: good, bad; right, wrong. Often, our judgment of the world, our misapprehension, prevents us from seeing what is and makes us see only what we believe about what is. An old story goes like this: Once, a man was walking through the jungle at night and was very afraid of being eaten by a tiger. He heard something coming toward him and knew that it was a tiger so he pulled out his knife. When the animal stepped out onto the path in front of him, he immediately stabbed it and it fell dead. Only after he killed it did he realize that he had killed his best friend. His Avidya prevented him from seeing what truly was and caused death and suffering.

With the practice of yoga we can learn to place a little space between occurrence and judgment. With this space we reduce our Avidya by practicing seeing things as they are and not how we judge them. The principle of reducing our Avidya is not about being emotionless and dispassionate, but rather learning to stop our judgment for a moment and attempt to see things as they are before making a mindful next step.

A simple but effective way of practicing Vidya, clear seeing, is by doing a simple form of meditation which I learned from my teachers and which I call the There Is Practice. You can do this anywhere and while doing anything but one way to do it is by simply sitting comfortably with a cushion on the floor (a chair or couch works nice, too), close your eyes and acknowledge all the things you are currently experiencing with the phrase There Is. “There is the sound of traffic. There is apprehension. There is a 20-pound cat sitting in my lap and licking my big toe.” Anything you sense, feel, think, do, point to it with the phrase, “There Is. . .” Try to erase the personal pronoun “I, Me, or My” from what you perceive. This tends to change our apprehension of what is as something that is only in relationship to ourselves. The There Is practice is about seeing things just how they are without our own personal judgment getting in the way. It allows permission for the world to be the way it is and not just the way I think it should be. I like to set a timer and practice until the timer rings. Start with10 minutes and increase the time as you like.

I invite you to practice Vidya this week by coming to yoga and also practicing the There Is practice. With more accurate perception, we will be less reactive and more mindful in our decisions. With practices like yoga and the There Is practice we reduce our Avidya and begin to see the world and what really is.

Monday, October 12, 2009

To Whom Are We Beautiful as We Go?

I wish I knew the beauty of leaves falling.
To whom are we beautiful when we go?
David Ingnato

And to whom are we beautiful as we go? This poem seems to point to the fact that even in our failing, there is a part of creation and therefore a part of ourselves that can grant a magnificence to any loss. Such a beautiful concept. Such a bittersweet truth. And perhaps this is why Autumn is so colorful: it is the opulent funeral procession of the death of so much. It is the rush of fireworks before the quiet stillness of winter.

Open Heart Great SAlt LakeMany of the Hindu icons tell stories. The Dancing Shiva is a story-telling icon depicting Shiva, the creator of the universe, and illustrates the five acts of Shiva. The concept is the same whether you call the creator, Shiva, God, the Universe, or Krusty the Clown. In this statue, these 5 acts are depicted by his many arms, one of which is celebrating creation, another that is sustaining his creation, another is allowing death, and another that is not only inviting things back to life, but to live again with a higher consciousness than before. This statue reminds us that our job is to allow Shiva to lead in this dance of life, to follow along as we are slowly refined into greater beings. It reminds us that death is a part of life and with a broader perspective, we can, to some degree, appreciate it as a necessary part of the cycle.

Mary Oliver writes about learning to accept death and loss in her poem, Maker of All Things, Even Healings. I love the title of the poem because it suggests that the healing, the bringing back to life for a fuller measure of life as in the Dancing Shiva, comes only after accepting death which she does so humbly.

All night
under the pines
the fox
moves through the darkness
with a mouthful of teeth
and a reputation for death
which it deserves.
In the spicy
villages of the mice
he is famous,
his nose
in the grass
is like an earthquake,
his feet
on the path
is a message so absolute
that the mouse, hearing it,
makes himself
as small as he can
as he sits silent
or, trembling, goes on
hunting among the grasses
for the ripe seeds.

Maker of All Things,
including appetite,
including stealth,
including the fear that makes
all of us, sometime or other,
flee for the sake
of our small and precious lives,
let me abide in your shadow--
let me hold on
to the edge of your robe
as you determine
what you must let be lost
and what will be saved.

Mary Oliver

As we celebrate the panoply of fall colors, may we too remember the beauty of leaves falling, the beauty and magnificence of this amazing dance in which we are all twirling, living and dying.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When Life Gets Real.

Something happens when life slaps you in the face. You wake up from that doldrum dream of your tired routine and start to see what is really going on. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes tragedy to strike before we realize how far we had dozed off into a life of meaninglessness.

The spiritual teacher Pema Chodron says, "Before we can know what natural warmth really is, often we must experience loss. . . .The natural warmth that emerges when we experience pain includes all the heart qualities: love, compassion, gratitude, tenderness in any form. These feelings that we've become so accomplished at avoiding can soften us, transform us." (Shambala Sun Nov. 2009)

Years ago, my wife, Celeste said something similar when faced with the stark reality of a friends death: "When you prepare to die, or get close to death (perhaps someone you know), you might finally get awake enough to realize and experience the part of yourself that doesn't die. You are free in that moment. I am alive in that moment. I am experiencing everything in that moment. And I am grateful and I weep--thank you, Missy Barron for your presence and the reminder. You pass in to that place of the whole. You remind us to experience ourselves as whole and alive more often." (Please read the whole story: Destiny's Willing Student.)

Yoga helps us practice mindfulness so that we can live fully and appreciate life every day, and not only when tragedy knocks you about the head. Yoga is not an escape from life but a way to carve right into the heart of it, with presence, so that every day is beautiful, not only the ones after near misses.

May I suggest this week we practice experiencing this rich and colorful life, and let it open our hearts.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'll Take "Inner Guru" for 500, Please.

All good teachers or interviewers know that the secret to evoking answers lies in asking the right questions.

As I was training to teach yoga, I would meet regularly with my teachers. We'd practice together. My teachers were available to answer questions I had. After several weeks of working together like this, I found that sometimes entire sessions would pass, their expertise readily available, and I hadn't so much as said hello to them. I really wanted to engage them; I wanted to be taught by them but didn't know what to ask. I came to understand that my teachers were willing to give me what I asked for. Judging by the type and quality of my questions, my teachers understood how much and what type of teaching I was ready to absorb. If I wasn't asking, they weren't teaching. In these sessions, they gave neither unsolicited information nor information I wasn't ready to absorb.

I started to formulate questions, often several days before our sessions. By searching and contemplating, I was amazed at how many of my questions were answered by experience and my own insight before I even proffered them to my teachers. The questions that did make it to my teachers were refined; they were specific, honed. With this specificity, my teachers and I were able to engage on the level I had craved.

After years of study, I approached one of my teachers and with wonder and confusion in my eyes I asked, "All of this knowledge is beautiful and inspiring, but what does it have to do with teaching a yoga class?" Wisely, my teacher smiled and without saying a word, she simply shook her head. Nothing else needed be said. I knew I was to find this out for myself. This question lit a flame inside me to find the answer. Years later, I'm still looking for this answer, pleased with each new discovery that seems to piece together the puzzle. Not long after, I asked my other teacher who was moving, "What else do I need to know? How will I be taught?" To which he looked at me solemnly and said, "You have everything you need. You have the answers."

And somewhere inside we do have the answers, or at very least something inside knows where to look. Yoga is in part understanding our place in this Universe and appreciating the conversation between us and it. It seems to me that our opportunity to participate in this conversation depends largely on the questions that we ask, by how much we search. If we aren't asking, our teachers aren't teaching. Searching for and asking the right questions refines the listening of our everyday lives and prepares us for the type of learning we hope for. Carrying these questions into our yoga practice, our meditations, prayers, work, and daily lives prepares us to receive answers, sometimes in the least likely of ways. It teaches us in the ways we crave for.

Sometimes it is just enough to ask the question. Let the answer come organically, when it's time for you to receive it. In the meantime, enjoy the game of watching the Universe respond. Enjoy the mindfulness of listening. Herein lies many of our answers. And maybe there are no answers. This is the answer.

Every part of you has a secret language.
Your hands and your feet say what you've done.
And every need brings in what's needed.
Pain bears its cure like a child
Having nothing produces provisions.
Ask a difficult question,
And the marvelous answer appears.


I encourage you to contemplate your big questions. Bring them to yoga class and listen, feel, experience the ways your practice, your inner-knowing, responds.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Coming Home

A really good friend of mine today bemoaned the fact she hasn't been to yoga in awhile. She said her body and heart and mind all missed it. She's been neglecting this important and basic way of taking care of herself, and now she's feeling it. At a time when she needs it most (school, kids, relationships, LIFE), she let it go.
Without yoga, her well was running dry. And even though she was hiking and biking, her body missed the consummate depth and body/mind/spirit connection of a yoga practice.
Now she's committed to coming back again and taking care of herself as a first priority, as a way of replenishing the source.

There really is something special about a yoga practice. The way it meets the needs of both body and soul is hard to replace. The way it gives such a focus to all the other aspects of life. The way it energizes you and provides deep relaxation. The way it makes everything make sense.

Does this situation sound familiar? We all go through this. And sometimes it can be difficult and overwhelming to come back. But, like my friend, you eventually reach the point of understanding that going to yoga practice is about honoring yourself. Taking care of yourself is taking care of all the other aspects of your life. Besides, it just feels so dad gum good.

Even if you can't make it to a practice, on your own do 5 minutes of something: a few favorite asanas, some deep breathing, some smiling. Try counting your breaths down from 50, focusing on LONG exhales.

So I invite you to come back. You'll be met with a smile. And it'll feel great.
Welcome back home,


Monday, September 14, 2009

A Holy Moment in Hell

It was my Folsom Prison moment. I stood there on stage with my sax around my neck, stunned like a trapped animal while 200 prison inmates wearing light-blue prison scrubs came walking single-file past guards wielding shotguns into the meeting room. The inmates quietly took their seats and looked up at the 4 of us with silent anticipation. We stood on the stage and met their stares in a speechless tremble.

Months previous, a relative asked if I knew anyone who could possibly tune the prison pianos where her uncle was incarcerated at the maximum security Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. The piano player in my band tunes piano as his day job and had agreed to tune the pianos and suggested we bring the whole band down for a concert. Brilliant!

Up to this point, the idea of playing in a prison had seemed pretty nostalgic, but I hadn't realized how proximal I'd be to these guys. . . you know, the criminals. As we were setting up, I kept looking over my shoulder. I couldn't help but be suspicious. I mean these guys were in here for doing really, really bad things, right? You don't arrive at a maximum security penitentiary for shoplifting candy from convenience stores

Once everyone was seated, the crowd turned very quiet and all eyes bored strait into us. The lights dimmed except a spotlight that shone directly into our eyes. I turned and faced the band as much to escape the probing glares of the criminals as to begin the concert. "Alright, everyone," I said to the band with counterfeit confidence, "Blue Skies," and began to snap in time, counting off the first tune. Our singer's voice came in with: "Blue Skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see." After the tune, I expected the audience to be silent, like they way they came in, and feared possibly worse, a snicker or a boo. And for a second or two there was nothing but silence. Then, almost like someone had cued them, suddenly the room erupted with applause and cheers.

With only slightly more confidence, we entered the next tune: It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing. We played the melody, and then I nodded to Brig, the piano player, to take a solo. He bowed his head in an act that seemed like reverence to the piano and began to play--or maybe he, too, was praying. He got right to work and pounded out a great solo, his fingers rippling along the keyboard like a small blur of falling water. After a couple of choruses, he nodded to me.

My turn. I closed my eyes and put my horn in my mouth. Then something magical happened. The feeling in the room turned completely electric. Even with my eyes closed, I became vividly aware of this impossibly perfect moment. Every eye and ear was riveted on me. I held everyone's complete and unflinching attention. We were their prison visitors who were bringing them Blue Skies and a chance to swing a little. Suddenly, I relaxed and my playing opened up. Something incredible was channeled inside me as I began to sing out the bell of my horn. Maybe I was channeling my great uncle, Lester, who had given me his horns when he died, the horns I was playing on then and still play now, the horns that I believe still hold a portion of him.

I played. And I played, and I played, and I played and let whatever grace my soul held at that moment find some sultry voice out the end of my saxophone. A sound came out that I'd never heard before. Notes like I'd never imagined flew off my fingers and out my horn into the ears and minds and hearts of 200 expectant people. I was in conversation with something inside that I didn't know, something that had never been tapped. And though I had never driven this thing before, whatever it was, I stomped the pedal to the floor. I'm convinced that I was not the only one that night to feel this pulse, this magic.

Eventually, I finished my solo, we played once more through the melody, and in unison, we stopped together after riffing on "Do wa, do wa, do wa, do wa, do wa, do wa, do WA!" Then, without even a fraction of a pause, out burst deafening cheers and whistles, an applause twice as loud and long as the previous. I couldn't control myself from laughing: it was a mixture of equal parts self-consciousness and pure amazement at what I'd found in my soul and had somehow translated through my saxophone. It was feeling the excitement and appreciation and somehow even the love of these people in the audience, these prisoners who for a moment were free. Brig leaned over and shouted above the applause, "Scottro! That was the best you have ever played!" It was the single most incredible musical experience I've had in my life. And I realized that for a moment we were all the same: we were all in prison and we were all free, groovin' on jazz and feeling something together.

The band played several more tunes, played a few encores, and then the lights came on. With a rush, I looked happily into the crowd and I saw smiles and happy faces. I didn't see criminals anymore. I saw people. They hadn't changed, of course. I had. I saw past the prison ID sewn on the chest down to the heart of these people that held a fundamental identity of goodness. I put my horn down and stepped off the stage and walked into the crowd and was welcomed with handshakes, slaps on the back, and congratulations and thank you's from these new friends, many of whom had an impressive knowledge of jazz music. "Hey, I used to play the trumpet!" one guy said. "My son plays the saxophone," another one interrupted. These were regular people.

As we were driving home, completely elated, I realized that if given the chance, I was capable of accessing something beautiful and amazing and unknown inside me. And if that magical part could be somehow liberated and expressed in me, then such was true for each person, even those doing time in prison, despite whatever sour notes they may have played in the past.

This is the essence of yoga. This is oneness.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Running in the Light of Darkness

A few years ago, I was with my wife, Celeste, and our friend Ben spending an afternoon in the paradoxical desert of the Great Salt lake. The texture of the sand, crusted with salt, weather, and time is a sensational feast for bare feat. We played a game: in this extremely barren , extremely flat land, we decided to close our eyes and run blindly at full speed in any direction for 100 paces. Eager for the adventure, we closed our eyes and shouted, "GO!" I bolted into the darkness of the afternoon sun. My other senses came alive. I could smell the mud, the salt, the sulfur, the decaying brine. I felt the texture of crusty-soft sand beneath my feet as they beat across the surface of the desert. I could hear my companions several paces from me, their feet slapping the sand, laughing and panting.

Then a thought entered into my head, "Hadn't I seen some ominous-looking spikes sticking out of the sand? I would reallyprefer not to impale my foot on one of those." Regardless, I tightened my closed eyes, quikcened my pace, and began to laugh, wild with wonder and worry. " . . .53, 54, 55 . . . " My paces were whizzing by but the thought of stepping blindly onto something sharp had almost put me into a panic. " . . .71, 72, 73 . . . " I could no longer hear my fellow runners and wondered if I'd veered wildly off-course. " . . .83,84,85 . . ." Still running with only fifteen paces to go, I desperately wanted to stop and open my eyes. Instead, I let out all the stops, opened my running to as fast as I could, and sprinted madly in any direction, no direction, the only direction--forward. From deep in my gut came a raw and uncontrolled cream of anticipation and fear and fun. ". . .98,99,100!" at which point I dug my feet into the sand and did and immediate halt. I stood there panting then slowly opened up my eyes and looked down at my feet, muddy, unspoiled, unharmed, these feet who willingly had leapt me through space as I ran through the darkeness toward fear, away from fear. After a moment, I looked up and around for any spikes. None. Nothing for miles. What a rush!

An important concept as explained in the Yoga Sutras explores the relationship between perceptions and actions. If our perceptions are incorrect, we'll often find ourselves in difficulty or fear. if we know what creates such problems, it is easier to avoid them. If I knew for sure that there were no obstacles in my path, I'd have had an easy run. These misperceptions are called Avidya. One of the most common misperceptions is called Dvesa, the action of rejecting things because of fear. We have a difficult experience and are afraid of repeating it so we project the effects of the past to try to illuminate the future and end up making our present moment unpleasant. Unfortunately the effects of Dvesa tend to make us reject things that are unfamiliar, even if we have no history with them. Along human history, we've often been afraid of and rejected that which we haven't understood.

Until we are enlightened, it is impossible to avoid all fears, and therefore we have a model to face those that remain with a sense of adventure. I've referenced a few times one of my favorite movies, Wings of Desire (if you haven't seen it, go out and rent it tonight but bring a glass of milk to wash it down--it's rich). In this film, an angel, Damiel, decides he'd prefer to live one life, fully human, sentient, and alive, than an eternity of the colorless, only observational life of an angel. Once mortal, Damiel happens upon another angel-turned-mortal (who, interestingly, is Peter Falk playing himself). Damiel pleas for Falk to tell him everything there is to know about being human, he want's Falk to solve this mystery for him. Peter Falk turns to Damiel and playfully shouts, "No you have to figure it out for yourself. That's the fun of it!" You've got to shut your eyes and run full-out and experience what you are going to experience. Since we can't avoid all fears, to the extent that it is possible, we must somehow learn to see the beauty and adventure in them.

Even in our fears and failings there is amazement and beauty. Poet David Ignetow says, I wish I knew the beauty of leaves falling. To Whom are we beautiful as we go?" He says that even in our failing, there is a part of the Universte that finds us astonishing in that going. In yoga, we explore the relationship between what is personal and what is universal--the Universal inside. Therefore, there is a conrner of your heart that can grant a magnificence to the most difficult of circumstances.

Through yoga and mindfulness, we learn and experience more about our Ture Self, Home, who's opposite is fear and worry. With the remembrance of our True Self, we are less and less persuaded by Dvesa's misperception of fear. Against the backdrop of the magnificence of our True Self, even the smallest understanding of it, many of our fears simply dissolve. And from this courageous plce, we face what fears remain with presence and boldness. We run into the darkenss screaming, laughing, and fully alive.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Wendell Berry

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sthiram and Sukham: Stediness and Ease

Of the 196 versus in the Yoga Sutras, there are only two which speak uniquely about the quality of our asanas, our yoga poses. The Yoga Sturas summarily advise asana to be negotiated with the skillful balance of , Sthiram and Sukham, stediness and ease. In our asana practice, if we do too much too quickly, our body will stiffen and resist the movement or release and we will likely injure ourselves, If we don't do enough, we get bored--we don't feel the exhilaration and joy of moving and approprately challenging our body.

Each pose, and even our practice as a whole, should be balanced between these two qualities of Sukaham and Sthiram. When we get the balance just right, something magical happens: suddenly, everything feels amazing and the pose comes alive! At that moment, you feel like you are the center of the universe and that you could stay in that position for the rest of time. For a moment everything makes sense. And to a samll degree we are able to tast that allusive True Self we are searching for in yoga practice. One may go for months or years without ever experiencing this feeling but as we continue to practice regularly and negotiate Sthiram and Sukham, sooner or later, you too will have this experience. As we become more skillful in our practice, we will find it easier and easier to get into this perfect balance of Sthiram and Sukahm.

Our yoga practice is the mirror of our lives. So, when we then apply this teaching of balancing Sthiram and Sukham to our practice of every-day living, we feel how the effects of balanced living affect our experience at home, the office, kids, and our relationships, including the vital relationship with ourselves. Just like in our yoga practice, things will come alive. And just like our yoga practice everything will make sense.

This week in practice, I'd like to find a fun sequence of poses where we can use our power of negotiation to find a test our perfect balance, looking for that "yoga glow" you get when everything feels right. Then, once our bodies are warm, let's do some long, slow, and deep muscle releases that will help us seek for balance in a different way. I hope we can all walk out of class feeling balanced between body, mind, and spirit with the desire to apply this same balance to all of the other aspects of living.

I'll see you in class.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Yoga Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

One of my favorite and most useful books in my library is one called The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Its bright yellow hard-backed cover makes is durable so I can take it with me everywhere and easy to find Open Heart Great SAlt Lakewhen I'm in a pinch. This Survival Handbook, contains a lot of information; you know, practical and essential know-how for things like giving your cat the Heimlich Maneuver, how to escape your car when it has been completely submerged in water, and how to escape from killer bees.

One section that is glaringly absent from this essential how-to is a section on what to do for those "Worst-Case Scenarios" involving your yoga practice. So, in the interest of helping humanity avoid any preventable disasters (and I realize I may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for this) I would like to offer my own appendage to this already very informative book. I offer this information from personal experience either in practice or teaching. It cannot be overstated that I have experienced or seen everything in a yoga class--EVERYTHING.

What to Do in Class When Your Cell Phone Rings
1. Look disapprovingly at someone else in the room.
2. Pretend it didn't ring and pray the battery in your phone dies.
3. Calmly walk over and silence then turn off your phone. Under NO circumstance should you answer the call.
4. If you are a doctor or have a young child at home who may call you during an emergency, tell the instructor before class that you will put your phone on vibrate and if in the rare circumstance it should ring, that you'll discretely leave and take the call out of the studio.

How to Come in Late to or Leave Early from Class
If possible, plan your day to arrive early, and leave unrushed but I'd personally rather people come late or leave early than not come at all.
1. If coming late, while standing outside the studio, unroll your yoga mat and place it longways over your shoulder. Do not whip open your mat in the studio.
2. If possible, scout a spot in the studio to place your mat quickly and quietly.
3. Listen and make sure to come into the studio after the class has chanted and once the class begins moving.
4. If you are leaving early, tell the instructor beforehand that you'll be leaving. Plan to sit or rest in savasana for a few minutes before you leave.

How to Keep from Coughing in Savasana
In this desert climate and with all the ujjai breathing (whisper breath) we do during class, it's common to have a dry throat at the end of class.
1. Hydrate before class and keep water close to your person.
2. Most studios allow students to bring water to class. Swig several ounces right before savasana.
3. If you feel a cough coming on, focus on a different chakra than your throat chakra and repeat this mantra, "I am hydrated. I am calm. I am the ocean. . . or something."
4. If you begin coughing, discretely leave the room and find liquid.

How to Survive if Someone in Class Has Severe Body Odor
Unfortunately some practitioners do not apply the ancient yoga philosophy of Sauca (pronounced sow-cha), the virtue of cleanliness, in body, mind, spirit and relating to personal hygiene.
1. Focus on pranayama (breath work) that emphasizes your exhale.
2. Slip the odiferous individual a copy of the yoga sutras with highlighted passages pointing to this philisophical point of cleanliness
3. Remember that we are all sentient beings (though some of us have more acute senses than others) and each are part of the Whole, even those individuals who have really, really, bad B.O.
4. If you realize that you are the one with the B.O., discretely find a restroom and rinse your pits. Hand sanitizer contains mostly alcohol which kills bacteria. Rubbing some under your armpits may neutralize the odor. Shower regularly and use deodorant.

What to Do When You Are Trying to Impress Somone and Can't Do the Pose.
1. Fake a cramp.
2. Mutter in semi-audible tones that you are tired from performing this same pose (which is usually very easy) earlier on that day in your 3-hour personal practice and need to rest.
3. Complain that you learned how to do the pose differently.
4. Perform a different pose that you can do very well.

What to Do When You Have a Real Muscle Cramp
The exact cause of muscle cramping is not well understood. Cramps are thought to be the result of overexertion and fatigue of a muscle and loss of vital minerals such as Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, and Magnesium. Oxygen deprivation is also a possible cause for muscles to cramp (inefficient energy resources in the muscles when oxygen is deprived).
1. Stay well hydrated to prevent cramping.
2. Ease your way into and through each pose. Practice the balance of steadiness and ease (Sthirum and Sukam) while performing every pose, especially if it is an unfamiliar pose or you have previously fatigued the targeted muscles.
3. Maintain your deep and slow breathing. Oxygen may help muscles perform regular energy production. See Krebs Cycle
4. Increase the aforementioned minerals into your diet by eating bananas, watermelon, low-fat milk, kale, spinach, leafy greens, or broccoli however make sure that these foods are appropriate for you Prakruti according to the Ayurveda model.

How to Avoid Passing Gas in Class
Yoga is designed to be very cleansing . . . on several levels. Unfortunately social norms don't support all methods of cleansing caused by yoga.
1. Avoid eating at least two hours before class.
2. Visit the restroom before class.
3. If you feel air moving in your digestive organs, descretely leave class, visit the restroom and practice a squat pose until gas is releived.
4. If you or someone proximal does pass gas, apply similar methods as sections: How to Survive if Someone in Class Has Sever Body Odor and What to Do In Class When Your Cell Phone Rings

How to Avoid Doing Partner Yoga Postures with "Sweaty Guy"
1. Fake a cramp
2. Invent an injury and explain that you will need to do a different pose.
3. Pretend your cell phone rang, that your a doctor and need to take the emergency call.
4. Use this opportunity to use the restroom.
5. If you are the "Sweaty Guy," consider bringing a towel to class or and perhaps and extra t-shirt to put on in case you are partnering in poses.

For your own copy of The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, please support our fabulous local bookshop, The Kings English Bookshop at 15th and 15th


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sankalpa: Planting the Seed of Intention

I believe intentions are powerful. Salkalpa is the Sanskrit word for our intention and is likened to planting a seed. Setting intentions has everything to do with what we feel we are worthy of in this world, and then having the courage to ask for what we want. Yoga is one way of holding a conversation with that something that is larger than us. Yoga is a practice of becoming mindful, and conditioning body, mind, and spirit to do something about our intentions. It is preparing the soil for our intentions to grow.

We prepare the soil of our intentions by making the time (even just a few minutes daily) to clear the chatter in our minds. Clear your mind, and then tune in and plant the seed of what you want. The seed you plant, your Sankalpa, could be for greater health, mental or spiritual clarity, an improved relationship, a better work situation, financial abundance, world peace, a lifetime supply of chocolate, or anything else. As we start our yoga or meditation practice, we give ourselves a moment to reflect on why we are practicing, even if what we need or want seems like it has nothing to do with yoga postures. Then, as we practice, each step, each breath, each yoga posture, is a move forward, in that direction, a dedication to our Sankalpa.

Our internal conversation could go something like, "I may not know what to do to help make the world more peaceful, but that is my intention and at this moment silencing my distractions and practicing Warrior II is the step I'm taking toward that end." Remember that yoga is a gift to help us understand a bigger picture of who we are. With that greater experience and knowledge, with that health and clarity, we have the tools to accomplish what we set out for. At other times, our attention and effort of yoga are a type of preparation, so that we eventually can see more clearly and act more purposefully. Some might even see yoga practice best as a prayer in body and breath. In any case, it is starting the conversation with the universe regarding what we'd like to see grow in our lives.

Whether consciously or not, or with clear wise purpose or not, we are intending things all the time. Where are you putting your mental, emotional, and physical energy? Like one of my teachers, Judith Lasater says, "What is worrying, but praying for what you don't want."

So, what do you want? Put it out there. Then work and watch and see how God or the Universe (or whatever you feel is that bigger "something") responds. Be ready to learn from that response. Open your mind to possibility, but do not deceive yourself. We are not dictators in this large universe; we are not in complete control (thank goodness!), but we can confidently join our voices in the song, confidently twirl our bodies in the dance--creating with Life, in a partnership. In this cosmic game of chess, Sankalpa is making a move and watching to see what comes next. This is yoga, aligning ourselves with what's bigger.

Be thinking about what you need or want in your life. Come to class with this intention and place it on the proverbial altar. We'll plant the seed and watch how it grows.

The following is a very old mantra (taken from a hymn in the Rigveda) that you may want to learn as you are working with your Sankalpa.

Gayatri Mantra

Everything on the earth and in the sky and in between
Is arising from one effulgent source.
If my thoughts, words, and deeds
Reflected a complete understanding of this unity,
I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment

oṃ bhur bhuvaḥ svaḥa
tat savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayat


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Satya: Truth

If it hasn’t happened already, there will come a time when we stop trying to produce that infallible vision of ourselves and allow ourselves the radical permission to be exactly what and how we are. This permission revolves around the yogic principle of Satya or truth. To be honest with who and where we are, both our strengths and weaknesses, allows us a solid platform from which we can skillfully step to the next place. We stop trying to be everything that we’re not and finally find how perfectly we belong to exactly where we are.

With intention, direction, work, and most of all appreciation for our present situation, our dreams of where we want to end up will start to fill out. If we feel stuck, indecisive, depressed, or angry, our truth is to speak to that place. We can speak to all our situations with yoga, an embodiment of all our inner landscapes.

What we want is within our reach; it’s simply laced with a bit of irony: the key to fulfillment in the future is to be content now. If we’re committed to the honesty of where we are and are content for what is, knowing things change, we create a bridge of present content moments which links us to contentment in our fulfilled future. Without present contentment, without appreciating the truth of where we are, we may find ourselves where we previously hoped for only to discover our habit of malcontent, and, disgruntlement, wishing we were back where we started or somewhere else. We’re back in the viscous cycle of hoping for anything but what is true, what is here.

Our main task as I see it is to understand where we are, where our love lies, and bravely organize our lives to focus on what matters most.

I hope that this truth and brave path may lead you to yoga this week.

Here is an offering I learned from my teacher that you may want to use in your meditations:

By the power and truth of our simply practice,
May we and all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May we and all beings be free from sorrow and any causes of sorrow.
May we and all beings never be separated from that sacred happiness which is beyond sorrow.
And may we and all beings live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion.
And may we live recognizing and honoring the equality of all that lives.

Sarva Mangalam (May the greatest goodness unfold)


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Baking a Difference

Hey, everyone. My name is Nan. I'm a friend of Scott's and he asked me to be a guest writer on his weekly email this week. I own one of the Great Harvest Bread stores in Salt Lake City and am passionate about baking and making a difference in people's lives. Please read my story below and check out the opportunity to help less-fortunate families AND check out the coupon below to get a free loaf of artisan bread from the Great Harvest store at 9th and 9th.

Last week I had the opportunity to be with bakery friends serving dinner at the Road Home family shelter. I have been there before serving dinners to homeless families, but this time was a bit different. Instead of serving approximately 75 people as we had in the past, I believe we served closer to 150. This time, the line of people, mostly young children, seemed unending. Ashley, the volunteer coordinator, explained that the shelter is currently overflowing with so many families that many have to sleep on cots in the halls. I assumed that many service groups would be bringing dinners in the summer, but Ashley told me that the dinner we were serving was the first brought in over a month.

We came back two nights later to share a family bread making activity with the shelter. In my time at Great Harvest I have led hundreds of bread making parties and field trips; kneading dough, reading The Little Red Hen, grinding wheat into flour, and teaching kids about whole grains. Like all the others, this activity was fun but it was also uniquely challenging. Children participating ranged in age between 3 and 12, all of them eager to take part and be noticed. The only space available for this activity was the crowded and unequipped common shelter kitchen- it is the communal living space for all the families and there is a lot of comings and goings making it difficult to stay organized and be heard. With a lot of help from my bakery friends, all the kids kneaded their own dough and baked their own bread. Against all odds, eventually the smell of fresh baked bread filled the kitchen. The highlight of the evening was helping the kids take turns grinding wheat on the small mill. When they turned the handle, we had everyone count "One, two, three.." Something about having a whole room full of people counting out loud for them really lights kids up. From the curly haired three year old girl to the teenage boys trying to look and act a lot tougher than they felt, every kid was just beaming when it came to their turn.

Although I went home tired and feeling discouraged about all the things these kids are lacking, I held joy in remembering the small shiny moments from our evening. I thought about how Scott's guided meditations of Yoga Nidra (Thursday nights at Centered City Millcreek) have taught me to hold joy and pain at the same time while understanding that my divine essential nature is bigger than both. In the past, without this perspective, I have sometimes collapsed under the weight of a broken heart and chosen not do anything just because I can't fix everything. With a Yoga Nidra perspective, I am able to do something else: to remember that a broken heart is an open heart and to use my open heart to do all the small things that I can, remembering that life is nothing but an accumulation of small moments and each one makes a difference. My invitation to you is to join me in some small things. Here are three easy things that you can do:

Join us at our Great Harvest pancake breakfast to benefit The Road Home on Saturday, August 8th from 8:30 to 10:30. All you can eat, 100% whole-grain pancakes will be served for a suggested minimum donation of $3.00 per person. Feel free to give more because all proceeds from the breakfast will be donated directly to the Road Home. The Holladay, Draper, Downtown, and Taylorsville Great Harvest bakeries are all participating. (See www.greatharvestutah for addresses.) Our goal is to raise $5000 with the breakfast.
Buy a great looking limited edition t-shirt designed specifically to benefit the Road Home. Shirts can be purchased at, but are only available until August 31st so order yours today. The shirts look great and our goal is to help sell just 500 shirts in order to raise an additional $3000 for the Road Home. ( Christmas gifts, if you are thinking ahead!)
* Please forward this message to your friends and family and courage them to participate.
* Forward to a Friend

Thanks for reading and helping. I hope to see you at Scott's Yoga Nidra class on Thursdays. Peace and love.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The experience of yoga and the practice of yoga are different things and both are different for each person. When I feel the experience of yoga, I feel like everything is perfect, like the world is just the way that it needs to be and I am a privileged be a guest here. When I feel yoga, I feel boundless, like my body is able, lithe, and strong. I feel like my heart is huge and sturdy enough to hold any pain. When I experience yoga I am aware and intuitive. I am still. Sometimes the experience of yoga is subtle and fleeting, just happy and aware. Mostly, when I feel yoga, I feel like I've sourced something inside that I knew was there all along: a wellspring of creativity, love and understanding and a contentedness to just be.

The experience of yoga is about transformation, the transformation of recognizing our True Selves. It's not that our current self isn't real or true, it's that yoga helps us see the big and deep part of ourselves that doesn't change. It's about coming home and seeing ourselves in our true identity.

The practice of yoga is about making the conditions right in body, mind and spirit, for the experience of yoga to happen. In our asana practice, we become stronger, more flexible, and balanced. We ease tension from muscles and set our nervous system at ease. We focus our minds and learn presence. All these qualifiers are vital for the experience of yoga to happen but don't replace the experience of yoga.

We may not feel the experience of yoga each time we practice. Some of us may have never felt or maybe just haven't recognized the experience of yoga. That doesn't mean that we are doing anything wrong or should stop practicing. The more we practice, we find how to most effectively travel our own pathway to transformation until the path is well-worn. Simone Weil said, " Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul." She's saying to keep practicing and one day it will all pay off. Often when we are least expecting it, going about our practice like any other day, we'll find ourselves in a posture or something and suddenly everything opens up to the experience of yoga, or some sudden insight about ourselves will come flooding in. Sometimes its not so grand, but rather subtle and sweet, a simple feeling of contentment. Either way the more we practice, the more frequent these moments come.

I'm excited to be on this journey with you all. Every day I experience the value of this practice. I feel honored to be able to help direct you down your own path of transformation. I am a practitioner first and foremost and a teacher second and I am humbled by the privilege to walk this path next to you. I hope that through yoga you can all taste of that rich experience of yoga, transformation, and experiencing your True Self.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Join the Dance

Everything, down to the last molecule in the last corner of the universe, is moving. As we seek to find stillness for body, mind, and spirit, ours is not to hold up our hands and try to arrest this inevitable motion. Instead, we are to join the dance--and by so doing, find the stillness that comes from moving in tandem with the larger motion, like a surfer riding a wave, like friends walking together, like the fluid motion of a yoga class. Please join me this week, as we enter the dance of life, and thereby find stillness.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Road to There is Here

Wherever you hope to move in life, be that physically, mentally, spiritually, or anything, that journey begins with the first step. And though we envision our end point, we must first look at the ground at our feet to calibrate our our first step. We must find solid ground where we stand before we can move forward.

To move forward, to find there, we must first
see here. This means learning to take an objective look at ourselves. Equipped with compassion, hope, courage, appreciation, praise, and a healthy sense of humor, we take a good look at ourselves and try to see, not judge. As closely as possible, see what is rather that what we fear, detest, or covet. If we want to improve our asanas, loose weight, stop smoking, become more financially abundant, or anything else, we have to honestly accept and thrive exactly where we are with what we have. The refusal to inhabit where you are ironically makes you a prisoner of that place. It's like we have to learn the lesson on how to move past that place and the only instructions are at that place.

One we've become clear and comfortable with where we are, next we view where we wish to move with a pure intention, like a guiding star. We can move forward with clarity based on the real information of our practice of seeing clearly. We move forward driven by the hope of Intention rather than the hindrance of expectation.Though we may have a direction, we must realize that part of the fun of this journey is the improvisation along the way. We know the direction, not the exact path. This allows us the freedom to feed our spirits by working creatively toward our own unfolding.

And like Antonio Machado, a wonderful Spanish poet, says:

Why call
those random paths
Everyone who walks
like Jesus
on water.

We're all moving forward and every step for every person is a miracle. Thus the entire process makes us grow, not only by the measurable strides of seeing what we'd intended come to pass, but also by the refining heat of moving through the process. Soon, we habituate living with presence. Its walking around the next bend on the path of life, fully aware yet totally surprised and thrilled to experience the unknown steps toward there.

Soon we'll realize that we may always be looking forward but the one constant, again, is here. Always here will eventually take us there. The present is the only firm platform from which we can project ourselves to there.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ayurveda: Science of Life

Ayurveda is the fascinating and practical science that studies the world and how we can best come into harmony with this world. It is the sister-science of yoga. One of my teachers told me that to truly understand yoga, you must also have a working relationship with Ayurveda.

Ayurveda studies three basic qualities, called Doshas, which in their combination describe everything in the universe. To simplify, these qualities are: Vata, wind quality; pitta, fire quality; and kapha, earth quality. Just like everything in the universe, each person has a unique expression of these qualities called a prakruti.

Understanding your prakruti empowers you to negotiate the elements in your life in order to guide yourself toward radiant wellness for body, mind, and spirit. Have you ever wondered why you don't feel fantastic even though it seems like you are doing all the right things that should make you healthy and feeling great? Have you ever followed a popular diet or exercise regimen only to feel worse? Sometimes even the kind of yoga we practice makes us leave feeling off. Understanding your prakruti helps you to guide yourself toward specific types of life-practices that optimize your unique chemistry.

Excessive amounts of any dosha causes us imbalance. Understanding this and correcting imbalances, often by simple and practical means, puts us back on the path to balance. Ayurveda acknowledges that what may be health promoting for one person may be diminishing for another. I appreciate the idea that each person is different and therefore has a different avenue to wellness. Regarding anything that affects our health, be that medicine or food or yoga, Ayurveda always asks, "For whom, how much, when, and why."

Sometimes it takes an Ayurvedic practitioner, a trained guide, to help you figure out your prakruti and place yourself on a regimen that will guide you toward optimal wellness. With even a little understanding of Ayurveda and your prakruti, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to keep yourself feeling wonderful. With this understanding you will find the best food choices, sleeping, yoga and exercising patterns, and even scheduling, that will keep you feeling amazing.

This week, perhaps you can choose which yoga classes you attend based on what you feel like would balance you out the best. Feeling Kapha, (earth): sluggish, slow, or weighed down, or unclear? Try coming to a power class (classes listed on the left column of this email). Feeling Vata (wind): ungrounded, flighty, agitated, nervous? Try coming to one of the Restore classes. Feeling Pitta (fire): overheated by a project or feeling of expectation or perfection? Try balancing with a gentle class or Yoga For Stiffer Bodies, an active but balancing class. Use Auyrveda to direct your yoga choices.

Also, please consider learning more about this fascinating science by attending our workshop hosted by me and Sunny Rose on July 10, 11, and 12. Sunny will also be around to conduce private consultations for specific information about you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Radical Simplification

When something isn't working in life, if you feel stuck with some sort of quandary, often the best remedy is radical simplification. Simplify to the point where our body, mind, and spirit can digest easily and clearly the task at hand. Simplification means choosing to release the unessential. Simplification means finding what for you is most essential, what makes you feel the most alive, then organizing your life to place your energy there. It means choosing what is superfluous and letting it go.

One mode of radical simplification is to connect back to our bodies through the grounding practice of yoga. In yoga things boil down to inhale and exhale, expansion and contraction, tension and release. And from that simple, most basic place, our awareness opens up and we see clearly from the vantage point of our True Self, that deceptively simple place of being.

While doing yoga this week, we'll practice simplifying by focusing on our breath. Breath is such a simple yet essential part of our practice. It is one of the secrets to find our True Self through the union of body, mind and spirit. As we focus on our breath and the simple practice of connecting to our body, my hope is that we leave class feeling freedom and clarity as well as a deeper understanding of what is essential in our lives. I hope to see you in class this week.

Outside of class, may I also invite your to consider ways in which you could simplify your life. Try sitting in meditation for 10 minutes every day this week and contemplate how to simplify life.