Sunday, December 11, 2011

Singing in the Dead of Night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night.
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life, you were only for this moment to be free. Lennon-McCartney.

People have problems. We grant ourselves a certain majesty by allowing ourselves to simply see, and be a witness to our own circumstance, even before trying to change them. Just be there. I suppose this being where we are is what we practice when we do yoga poses.

The Sanskrit word for yoga posture is Asana. It’s sometimes translated as your seat. In yoga, like in life, it sometimes feels like you’re in the hot seat. Sometimes it feels like you’re sitting in the epitome of bliss. And sometimes it feels like you’re sitting behind the wheel of a 1960 Ford Falcon with whitewall tires, red leather interior, and a tired song on the am radio as you travel down some unknown dark road (random, I know but work with me). It’s hard to imagine that even in the darkest of nights, in the deep, cold winter when it feels as if the world will never warm again, that something miraculous can happen. But just like flashes of brilliant or subtle insight can come during a difficult asana, the light can shine in our dark moments of life and something inside us will illuminate. Maybe it’s because in these difficult places there’s no other choice. From the bottom and the dark there is only up and there is only light. Learn to fly with your broken wings because we’re all broken and maybe that’s the only way to fly. Everybody’s going through their own stuff and that’s why it’s wonderful to practice with other people, because comfort knowing that we are all working our stuff out together. And despite how destitute your situation may seem, this is the moment for you to learn to fly. Now, because there is only now. There is only the present. This is what we are practicing in yoga.

Let’s take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life you were waiting for this moment to arise.

See you in class.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yoga Under a Microscope

Yoga is a lot of things. It’s an art, it’s a philosophy, it’s therapy. Perhaps more than any of these yoga is a science. Science is often misunderstood as a bundle of facts—information that has been proven and is now called Truth. But science isn’t that at all. Science is only one thing: a method of inquiry. It’s a system of asking questions from which comes insight and clarity. So is yoga.

The scientific method is to start with a question: how can I better understand myself or my environment? Is there a better, less harmful, more efficient way to be in the world? How could I help alleviate the suffering around me with a cure for diseases? The question leads to a theory, the theory to experiments. Then comes the most profound part, the observation. Watching. Once the scientist sees, once the mystery is revealed through data, that data organized, translated, and applied, that information qualifies the observer for more refined questions, more refined data, and closer observation. This is the process of unraveling the mystery.

As any good scientist will tell you, the job of the scientist during an experiment is to watch and allow the subject to do whatever it’s going to do. Check your ego at the door. It’s not like the scientist is passionless about what they are studying. The reason they are watching, collecting data, working so hard, is because they feel they might be able to see something which hasn’t been seen before, to learn something new about the world, to understand something more profoundly. The process requires that the scientist simply be an observer and not to mess with the subject. Let it be. But then skillfully apply that information to the betterment or understanding of the world.

And I guess what yoga and scientific have in common is that they both lead toward understanding and they both center in observation. Maybe it’s the intention to understand and heal our bodies or to relieve tension. Maybe it’s the desire to heal a bruised heart or to find some mental quietness. Now we experiment using that which is most practical, basic and real—our bodies and breath. As we observe, we gather specialized information and start to see the nature or our being, pain or disquietude. This insight then invites us to ask even deeper, more refined questions and the process of inquiry continues.

Remember, it is all just a practice. It’s about asking the question even more than finding the answers. So, I invite you to come to yoga ready to observe and let’s practice without expectation.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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.

Here's a supercool video to illustrate this point.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hey You Know What I Love?

Instead of saying I’m grateful for something, I like to speak to all those things I love. Those are the things for which I’m grateful, but it touches my heart more to speak to love, the more refined source of gratitude. I both look forward to and loathe this letter. A couple of years ago, I decided that on the week of Thanksgiving, I’d write down all that I love and share it on my newsletter. I loathe it because it makes me so vulnerable and raw, I love it because it fills my heart up to the brim until it spills out through my eyes. And so, with a lump in my throat and my heart on fire, here she goes . . .

You know what I love? I love coming into my apartment at night, all alone, locking the door and standing there for a second in the dark, silence. I love sitting in my big green chair with a good book and a beverage with Chet Baker blowing plaintive notes through his trumpet on record player.

I love, love, love, the bliss of running on a long, mountain trail, deep, fresh air in my lungs, my feet which feel they can take me anywhere, and this body feeling like it could do anything. I love having running partners who will listen to the long-winded drama of my life as we wind our way through the trails of the Wasatch.

I love practicing yoga. I love the inquiry into my body and heart, the work to focus my mind. I love how fun it is to practice handstands or arm balances or to flow though a great yoga sequence. I love savasana and how solid I feel physically and mentally when it’s all done. I love meditation.

I love Celeste. We split up a few months ago. Yep. She’s doing well, she just moved back to Hawaii. I love that woman immensely and we’re wonderful friends. We just need really different things. She’ll know parts of me that no one else will. We’ve had an amazing journey together, the best and hardest times of our lives and I know our lives will somehow always be connected. So, a special love to you. I love all the amazing friends who have been there for us during this time of change and challenge, tears and transition. Pardon me while I wipe my face free of tears and snot. Ah-Hem!

I love Prana Yoga. Running a new business is the full-spectrum of difficulty and reward. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I love everybody who has wished me well and supported me emotionally, financially and energetically this new endeavor. I love to see you in class. I love the fact that people show up to classes and enjoy this beautiful studio that Matt built. I love my business partners, Matt and Jennifer Ellen. They are amazing teachers, yogis, and business partners. Mostly, they are wonderful friends. I’m very grateful for that. I can’t tell you how touched I am that I get to do what I do. I love it. I am passionate about teaching and still get choked up that people want to come to my yoga class and move and breathe and listen to my voice.

I love Jazz. I love to blow through the saxophone. I love the way it feels in my mouth, the weight around my neck, and the vibration of the reed singing out notes that I couldn’t make on my own. I love to sit with my sax teacher as he’s trying to teach me a song, we will be right in the thick of it and he will blow out some amazing line on his sax to me, his one-person audience. All I can do is shake my head in stunned disbelief that something could be so hip, sophisticated, and soul rending.

I love sitting around dinner table of dear friends, laughing or singing along to the guitar someone brought as their date. I have such amazing friends, people who really get me and know my secrets and my issues and still love me. These are people who also trust me with their hardest things. I love all the people whom I fee have my back in tough times. I’ve had an incredibly transformational past year or two. With transformation comes a lot of the extremes and I feel like I’ve had a legion of peeps around me, picking me up, and reminding me about what’s important. I feel like I have so many friends who really share their heart with me and who are equally willing to let me hold their heart. It’s a beautiful thing.

I have an amazing twin brother, he’s far away but I feel like he’s right here, always there when I need him. He doesn’t have to say a lot because for so much of our lives we were experiencing concurrent variations of the same thing. I love that he’s patient enough to teach me to fly fish. All I catch is bushes and trees. It’s catch and release so the trees go on living. He can read my mind. He’s still the funniest guy I know. I have some pretty amazing parents. They have always supported me and offered love. They gave me a pretty solid upbringing and helped encourage me to follow my dreams, and didn’t freak out when I did something off the wall. I have two fantastic sisters.

I love to laugh until tears run down my face and someone has to stage and intervention to get me to breathe again. I love a poem that will knock me on the floor with its poignancy or simplicity or elegance. I love live music. I love great food. I love to see people who struggle (we all do) and who get up off the floor and try again and try to make a difference, for themselves and others. I love people who stand for something. I love animals. I love motorcycles. I love a really rockin’ and loud concert. I love Hatch Family Chocolates. I love the Tandoor Grill. I love the Coffee Garden. I love Tabula Rasa. I love the Beehive Tea Room. I love Eva’s. I love the Broadway Theater. I love Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. I love Zions and Moab. I love the Farmer’s Market. I love Tony Caputo’s.
Most importantly, I love. I love all of you. A toast you all of us!

May I invite you to write out all the things you love, things you might be grateful for, and watch to see how your entire day turns bright and shines to all around you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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 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 two 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 lifetime 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 hands. 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.

Whatever you may have in your intention for practice, come and make a ritual to honor the angels in your rafters. I'll see you in practice.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wide Eyed

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.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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.

Many 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.

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.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Spirit Playing Dress Up

Since my very first yoga class, I’ve be trying to answer the question, “what is this?” Is it a health promoting regimen, is it meditation in motion, is it a physical ritual on my way to spiritual understanding? It could be all of these. And 12 years later, I suppose I’m still asking that same question. Just when I think I’ve got it figured out, when I think I’ve nailed down exactly what yoga is, I experience or discover something new about yoga and I have to expand my definition to include something bigger.
I believe that everybody’s definition of yoga is individual. Here’s my current working definition (warning: this is subject to change at any moment); drum roll please. . . Yoga is the processes of understanding who I am through the method of listening. There it is. Pretty spare. I didn’t even say anything about physical poses, but of course one of the ways I listen is by feeling and becoming aware of my body.
There are many levels on the pathway to understanding who I am. I believe this understanding starts with the grossest levels of awareness and being like how I treat other people and the ways I choose to organize my life. Then, I get to apply that same sort of attention and organization to something practical and close to home: my bod. If I’m paying attention to my body, I might also feel those parts of me which are more subtle, energy—in yoga we call it prana—and find the ways that prana and body marry. I can feel the animating force of the muscles and bones and get to dance with it with clarity and consciousness.
By the way, I’m convinced that the body isn’t merely something to transcend on our way to higher understanding. The body is one of the most practical ways of feeling and experiencing my own divinity. After all, if you’ve ever seen someone who is extremely physically adept, like Michal Jordan or Mikhail Baryshnikov, it looks like you’re witnessing God. And indeed to some degree you are. You’re witnessing someone so developed in that line of understanding that they are reaching a sublime state of being.
Our physical body gives us such immediate and practical information about our being. And, because this is the vehicle, the container, of heart and mind, it makes sense to not only learn from it, but to also keep it healthy so that it can take us where we want to go. Besides, it’s fun. It feels good. What could heaven possibly be but some variation of those two things. Even when I experience love, I can only do that through the nuts and bolts of this body. When my heart feels like it’s going to grow bigger than my chest and burst out of it, or like it’s being stepped on and smooshed black, it’s still within the container of my body that I experience and understand that.
Someone who understood this beautifully is Mary Oliver in her poem about this discovery of who we are through listening and how the body plays a vital role in that discovery. I’m convinced that Mary Oliver is a yogi but who works with a pen rather than a mat. Check it out.

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is --

so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.
by Mary Oliver, from Dream Work

Join me in yoga this week and let’s practice understanding ourselves better through the pleasure of wonderful yoga practice.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Running in the Light of Darkness

A few years ago, I was with two great friends 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 feet. 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 really prefer not to impale my foot on one of those." Regardless, I tightened my closed eyes, quickened 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 scream of anticipation and fear and fun. "98, 99, 100!" At this point I dug my feet into the sand and did an 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 leaped me through space as I ran through the darkness 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 Universe 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 corner 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 True Self, Home, whose 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 place, we face what fears remain with presence and boldness. We run into the darkness 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, September 5, 2011

It Happened on the Way to Work

Has it really been 10 years? It happened on the way to work. I remember driving in the morning (in a different life I worked in an accounting department before I taught yoga full-time) and listening to NPR, hearing the coverage of the planes striking the towers. I felt like I was living out a bad dream or some prank that just wouldn’t stop. I remember feeling powerless and vulnerable. I couldn’t think straight. I remember feeling surreal that people at work were going about life as normal while this horror was happening in real time on the radio.
I’m thinking about how yoga relates to the anniversary of 9/11. Of course, the first yogic principle of Ahimsa or non-violence comes to mind. I’m thinking that the bigger principle of non-violence is not merely keeping my airplanes to myself, but to make it a practice to cultivate the kind of love and respect that would preclude such an attack and subsequent wars. I suppose the more challenging practice is to practice non-violence through its highest form of expression of love when someone has seriously wronged us. How do you do that? Seriously.

It reminds me of the movie, The Mission, with Robert De Niro where and 18th century De Niro tries to atone for a life of killing and capturing slaves in South America by joining the Jesuit order. As an act of penance, De Niro carries a net full of implements of war and slavery up a mountain and nearly dies in the process. After an immense struggle, De Niro arrives at the top of the mountain exhausted and almost dead at which point he is met by the chief of the indigenous people whom he’d killed and kidnaped for several years. The chief places his knife on De Niro’s neck but instead of cutting his throat, the chief cuts the ropes that bind De Niro to his net, what represents his heavy past of murder and subjugation, and pushes it of over the cliff to be swallowed deep in the ocean below. Both De Niro and the chief cry and laugh at this miraculous display of forgiveness and love.

This kind of love and acceptance is synonymous with our True Nature, the deep, deep part of us that is the foundation of who we are. Call it what you want: your spirit, your divine nature, your Buddha nature, your fundamental humanity. When we practice understanding this True Nature, we see past the smaller part of ourselves that needs to express itself with hate and violence. Yoga practice is one way to learn to understand our True Nature. Every time we practice yoga we, honor each other with the the word Namaste means essentially: “my True Nature honors your True Nature.”

So Namaste twin towers, the Pentagon, and United Airlines flight 93. Namaste, to the survivors of this 10-year tragedy. Namaste to those who fight and don’t fight for this nation. Namaste to those we are trying to lead this nation. Namaste to our nation’s enemies. Yep, them too. Namaste to those who are trying to understand this act of violence a decade later. Namaste to those who are trying their best to make this world one that reflects our communal True Nature.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feel At 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, August 22, 2011

The Good Student

First and foremost, I am a student of yoga. I feel that my ability to teach first comes from my ability to learn and experience. Sometimes we give the teacher role too much credit. There is a great value in being an effective student. I teach private yoga lessons to a gentleman who is much more intelligent than I and who has had many more experiences in life than I, yet when we are in session together he honors me with the utmost respect as the teacher. He ponders and practices what I say and asks the most thoughtful questions. And I believe it is because of his studentship rather than any profound teaching that he progresses so abundantly in his practice.

What are the qualities of a good student? What does it mean to be teachable? Certainly the ability to listen is key. As a good student, one must listen not only to what the teacher is saying but more importantly, one must listen to that quiet inner-teacher. I practice listening to the words of the teacher and how the experience of the practice on my body resonates with that deeper part of my mind and soul. I feel that any teacher worth their salt will always point you back to the real teacher—yourself. Of course listening to your own limits in yoga practice is essential and an effective teacher will help to invite and encourage you to explore those boundaries safely and with awareness.

No matter the level of talent or the experience level of the teacher, I make it a point to always try to learn something from each teacher. You could expand this idea to try to learn something from every conversation you have with another person. As a student, it is easy to become trapped in cynicism incredulity and close off to something potentially opening and changing. There is no one way to practice yoga. Yoga is thousands of years old and what we practice today is most likely the amalgam of several different traditions. Yoga serves the people practicing it. So, to think that there is fundamentally only one way to do a posture is preposterous. The joke is this. How many yogis does it take to change a light bulb? 10: one to change the light bulb and 9 others to say they learned how to do it differently. Since there are several ways to approach what we call yoga, try doing something different in your practice, even if you learned it differently from someone else. Even if what you end up practicing is being humble and teachable. Of course you must honor your physical limits over the instruction of the teacher. Hopefully a skillful teacher will give you permission to navigate that skillfully.

This week in and out of practice, I propose we all practice being good students. I invite you to consider what makes a good student and employ that in your dealings with others as well as yoga practice. See you in practice.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

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 it durable so I can take it with me everywhere and easy to find when I'm in a pinch. This Survival Handbook, contains a lot of essential 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 un-rushed from yoga class. If that’s not possible, 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 long-ways 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. Before entering the studio, listen at the door 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 odoriferous individual a copy of the yoga sutras with highlighted passages pointing to this philosophical tenet of cleanliness
3. Remember that we are all sentient beings (though some of us have more acute senses than others) and each of us are a valued 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 Someone 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. And of course avoid eating anything at least 2 hours before class. Which brings me to my next point . . .

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. Like mentioned earlier, avoid eating at least two hours before class.
2. Visit the restroom before class.
3. If you feel air moving in your digestive organs, discretely leave class, visit the restroom and practice a squat pose until gas is relieved.
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 you’re 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.

Please comment below and add any other additional "Survival" tactics you have discovered along this sometimes treacherous path of yoga.

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. Please know that the Yoga section has yet to be added.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Listening in the Dark

What do you do in life when you are lost, when you don’t know the way? Really, what do you do? I guess I can only speak for myself. For me, I love the honesty of the first lines of Dante’s La Comedia: “In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” I love this because of his voice of vulnerability—he’s saying he doesn’t have the answers. But he says it with a quality that also suggests a willingness to search. While it’s hard to not know where to go, it’s also an amazing opportunity for discovery. Dante finds himself lost and unsure but willing to search and listen and try something new. I love the honesty there. After all, what other choice is there?

I suppose that when we arrive to those dark points in life, we really have no choice but to use our resources and tune into our senses. We must become very grounded and present and first allow ourselves to be exactly where we are—lost. Like I said in my letter a few weeks ago, we have to learn to be here in order to move on. Then, I would imagine that we have to listen really hard. Not just to the sounds, like the crickets chirping out my window somehow in sync with Joshua James playing softly on my stereo, but also to the way our body feels. We must learn to listen to all the things which aren’t said.

Yoga suggests that each part is connected to each other part. Sometimes my body whispers the sentences my heart can’t bear to. I love to look and listen for the symbols that seem to embellish the events of my life with irony and richness, like when I went on a run recently and decided to make a playlist on my iPod that sung to all the different emotions I’m feeling in life right now. I looked down at my heart monitor and it indicated that my heart was almost ready to break. Damn, those Garmin’s are amazing!

So whether you are in a dark place in life, a bright place, or what’s more likely somewhere in between, I invite you to join me at yoga class this week and practice listening to your heart, mind, and body. Come with some of that investigative vulnerability and see what mysterious paths open up for you.
Click here to read one of my favorite poems called Lost.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Naked 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)


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flood the Soul

The Experience and Practice of Yoga

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. In other words, there is a difference between the practice of yoga and the experience of yoga.
When I feel the experience of yoga, I feel like everything is in balance. My body feels great, my mind feels at ease, and I feel like myself. I feel timeless. In these moment’s, it’s easy to see how the word yoga means to yoke or unite. When I experience yoga I feel like everything makes. You may feel a little differently when you experience 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, the easier we discover how to most effectively travel our own pathway to transformation until one day the path becomes 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 it’s 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.

I'll see you in class!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Yoga Reading List

Part of yoga practice is study.We can effectively improve our understanding our who we are, what we are doing here, and why and how to practice yoga as we read or hear the teachings of masters.

I leave it up to you to determine who is a master, guru, or sage. Whether the texts are religious, philosophical, narrative or mythic, with the same awareness and sensitivity we practice in yoga, we can understand and resonate with the message and open ourselves up to higher learning. This deeper knowledge will invariably affect our yoga practice and our practice of every-day living.

Here are just a few of my favorite yoga and philosophical texts that I think you may enjoy reading.

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice

by T.K.V Desikachar

I love this book. For me, this book has everything in there in an understandable and concise manner. The son of Krishnamacharia who is essentially the father of most of the yoga practiced in the west, Desikachar is an amazing source of knowledge, quoting the teachings of his father. In this book Desikachar talks explores the fundamental yoga philosophy, technique, and considerations concerning practicing yoga in a conscious, safe, and informed way. Plus, he offers his complete translation of the Yoga Sutras with commentary in the back of the book. This is number 1 in my yoga reference library.

Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living by Dona Farhi

This is another one of my favorite books. I'm here to say that not all great yogis are great writers. This one is. Not only is Dona Farhi an internationally recognized master teacher, but she is also the author of several books, all of which are wonderful. In this book, she offers light onto some of the basic tenets of yoga philosophy as stated in the yoga sutras in a way that is completely approachable to modern-day mentality. It's less of a how-to and more of narrative/expose. Great book.

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann

This book is more of a how-to with pictures and diagrams and the whole bit, offered by one of the most qualified teachers in the country. In this book, he has very detailed information about poses, meditation, and pranayama. It even lists a few yoga routines in the appendix of the book. I teach yoga as an adjunct faculty professor at Westminster College and this is one of the books I require for that course because of it varied and detailed information.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

I hope that you've read this book in the past. It's a very rich adult book that also appeals to kids. There is so much good stuff in here about valuing what matters most in life and how to care for those things that you have, even if they seem difficult and challenging. It is a book that I will read over and over again throughout my life. If you haven't read it in a while (or even if you have) check out this book. It's a great way of looking at those things that matter most in life. Yoga is really trying to create a practice that does the same thing.

If you read one or all of these books and still find yourself hungry to learn more about yoga or are interested in our yoga immersion and teacher training, please consider attending Prana Yoga's Yoga Immersion and Teacher Training this fall, beginning in September. You can find the details below.

Also if you have another book you'd recommend, please comment for others to see.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

According to the Gospel of Freemont.

There are many kinds of churches. This past Sunday, I attended Fishing Church. I was moved by the angelic hymns of the birds. I performed the ritual of casting: ten o’clock, two o’ clock, ten o’clock, two o’ clock, release. I felt the holy spirit of the wind move through me the same way it rippled through the marsh grasses.

I learned something profound from the gospel of Freemont (the Freemont River). I learned that I must go with the flow of things. As I stood in the water casting my line, it dawned on me that this is what the Universe seems to be saying over and over to me. Whatever I hope for, work for, whatever I desire, be that answers to questions, solutions to life’s complications, or a fat rainbow trout, I can’t reach in and grab it. The “fish” is much too sly for that. What I can do is put myself in right relationship with it. I must align myself to my environment. To catch this fish, I must look at the placement of the sun to ensure that it’s feeding time, careful that my shadow isn’t cast upon the water. I must notice the speed and depth of the river, must notice which insects are floating around. All this helps me choose how and when and with what, and then as I cast my line into the water, my hope is to align my fly with the current, unperturbed, unmechanical. I gotta move with the flow or the fish won’t buy it.

Sometimes all I had to do was simply stay put, grounded in one place and watch the river run, the wind flow, and the sun move around me. Then other times that hole had no lovin’ and I needed to move on. This too was practicing being in the flow.
Obviously, I’m still learning to be in the flow because no fish found their way onto my clumsy line that sacred Sunday. No worries. I wasn’t there necessarily to catch fish, but rather I was just practicing fishing and enjoying the fruits of being there. I was Practicing being in the flow.

In yoga, we practice flowing with the current of our breath and heartbeat and by aligning body with breath. We float on the current of steadiness and ease. We ride gravity and lift. We flow in the current of practicing with a group of people. Come practice being in the flow of a great yoga class.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

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 12, 2011

Holding Space

We don't need to change or be better than we are. We practice deep compassion as we extend this same privilege to other people and things around us and allow them to simply be, especially those things that would easily turn our hearts bitter.

As we practice yoga and meditation, we cultivate and practice being. We also reduce the suffering known as Dukkah, which would hold us back from experiencing our highest self.

One act of holding space is allowing yourself to be with a person or thing and allow them to be just as they or it is. I'm thinking of a friend who is sick or experiencing something mentally or spiritually challenging. Simply being with that person and holding space for them, without the need to fix or change anything, just being, allows a deep compassion to exist between the two of you.

Another act of holding space is the decisive act of making room in your heart for that which would sooner canker your heart with feelings and make your mind fester with "shoulds" and what-ifs." When you hold space for someone or something, you don't have to fall in love with this person or thing but you are simply offering compassion toward them or it by not becoming sour toward it. And by so doing, you ultimately offer your own heart and mind in the same compassion--the heart that flourishes when it feels abundance and love, not bitterness, and the mind that abounds when it is sheltered from shoulds and what-ifs."

Here are a few examples of holding space:

The NYC 4 Train:

stopped en route causing me and my wife, Celeste, to miss our flight home.

Me: bought a NYC 4 Train T-Shirt--holding space for the 4 Train.

World: Just as it is.

Me: Accepting the world as it is.

Holding space is often the first part of forgiveness toward yourself and others.

This week, practice holding space for things that your either don't understand or which bother you.

I'm out of town for the next two weeks hosting my annual Hawaii yoga retreat. I've arranged some wonderful subs. Try out some other wonderful teachers at Prana Yoga.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Daily Dose

We all deserve a moment in the day where we enter the timeless; we forget our job, our responsibilities, the persona that we've created for ourselves, and abide in the part of ourselves that feels the most real. It's coming home. It's not about escaping our lives. It's about everyday building a discipline of presence and awareness where we can enter back into the conversation of what is most real.

This conversation with what is most real depends on awareness--paying attention. There are many harvests in our lives, the opportunity to gather the richness of everyday miracles, and if we are not aware, these harvests will pass us by. The seasons changing, the seasons of our lives coming and going, the richness of sharing the lives of our children, are all examples of our different harvests. Without awareness, seasons come and go unaware. Without presence, we think we are living our lives but instead our lives are living us. We go on day by day simply perpetuating the daily "to do" list without ever getting the feeling like we are experiencing anything real. But with awareness, we can fully receive the richness of the moment because we've apprenticed ourselves to see it. By practicing awareness it's not that our lives suddenly don a reality but now we open our eyes to see the beauty and realness that was there all along. With awareness, even our "to do" list will seem magical and inviting.

To find this realness requires radical grounding, some form of practice to which we can travel each day. Coming to yoga and moving into the practice-realm of our body and breath, this nuts-and-bolts portion of being, gives us passage into the chambers of the more ethereal parts of being, mind and heart. The combination or uniting of these different elements, body/mind/spirit, is yoga. Yoga isn't the only way to do this, meditation, poetry, music, running, Ben and Jerry's (that's right) or anything else that makes you fully aware of the moment and alive are all good ways to practice this sort of realness. With it's emphasis on breath and presence, the immediacy of our bodies sensation, yoga, however, is a particularly effective and calibrated method to help us develop and maintain our awareness--sort of a template whereby we can then base our life's events and decisions from.

Once we've grounded ourselves with our yoga practice and removed the peripheries, once we've practiced being in that space that is so real, we then go back into the conversation of our jobs, families, and relationships armed with that realness, with a quality of being that feels very authentic and very natural.

Then, having replenished the source (us) we can benefit those things that grow out of us instead of sapping them. A medicine man recently told me that if we refuse to take care of ourselves through practices like yoga, we end up becoming a burdening rather than helping those things that depend on us.

Come to yoga and get your daily dose of this essential and vital part of you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The True Love

In yoga philosophy, there are a couple of steps we take toward learning to become our best selves. Once we've been refined through the heat of work, the craft necessary for transformation, once we've come to know our True Self to some degree, one task remains, ultimate and necessary to complete the process: YOU MUST LET GO!

The ultimate act of our will is the act of releasing it in the conversation between you that big thing, whatever you call it, The Universe, Creation, God, or simply Things That Be. This final culmination of will and knowledge is known in yoga as Ishvarapranidhana. If yoga is anything, it is that interplay between what is real and practical in our lives and that which is ethereal, mental or emotional. It is knowing yourself enough to work up the courage to finally step off that edge of the cliff. And only when you begin to fall do you find your wings.

Ishvarapranidhana means to reach out your hand into the darkness and ask to know it. It is asking to be known deeper by what is in the darkness, the unknown. It is stepping out onto surfaces that you are not sure will hold your weight as you keep your fierce gaze at that which you love.

In this wonderful place, we allow our internal achiever to take a break and open up to simply being. And in the cosmic chess game of existence, we pause for a moment and allow for that which is larger than ourselves to make a move. And with this act of letting go, what we thought we knew about ourselves, what we planned on for our existence, doesn't seem to matter much anymore. The divine opens us up and we've discovered something new and magical about ourselves and the world, something exponentially greater than our previous conception.

David Whyte points to this perfectly in his Poem The Truelove

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of the baying seals,

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them,

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly,
so Biblically,
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love,

so that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don't

because finally
after all the struggle
and all the years,
you don't want to any more,
you've simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

Come to class this week and let's practice ways to let go of tension, stress, worry, illness, old ways of being, etc. Open up to the Divine by practicing Ishvarapranidhana.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shine On

Light is fading quickly and the late-spring bright green leaves pop against this evening’s stormy slate gray skies. Scanning the Salt Lake City skyline, my eyes first find the brightly lit Trolley Tower, a beacon showing me the star that I helped to build. But I’m not looking for the Trolley Tower. Instead, my eyes rest on the historic Walker Tower, a tall Eiffel-esque structure atop the Walker building, shining over the city. Seeing it is like rediscovering a constellation, a familiar formation in the middle of the sky.

The Walker Tower shines a different color depending on the weather. Blue means clear skies, flashing blue means cloudy skies, flashing red, snow. Tonight is solid red, meaning rain. The Walker Tower is a monolith of meteorology, a dinosaur outsmarted by my wee phone, which displays satellite-accurate information of the weather, including the high/low temperature and weekly forecast, all in a cute graphic format, I suppose to accommodate for those who, through the simplicity of technology, have lost the skill to read numbers.

The Walker Tower is the lighthouse of Salt Lake, silently sounding the weather to those who might pause and notice. As I stand on the front porch in my bare feet on the cold, wet concrete, I wonder if I’m the only one looking at the Walker Tower tonight. Most of the time I’m like everybody else, too busy to notice. I’m living a life that needs constant attention, like gardenias, a life busied by tasks, like tapping broken, uneven rhythms on my laptop, changing laundry, cooking food, taking and giving love—all necessary things. But right now, living means simply standing here watching the old Walker Tower shine solid red into the night, almost hidden, almost a postscript, between the taller, more modern buildings.

Standing there so solidly and immovable against the turbulent skies, it speaks to what is real and now, and at the same time says that despite the current climate of our lives, the weather changes. Storms pass. They may come again, but so does the sun. Maybe tomorrow night it will be shining solid blue: clear skies. Despite its history (turns 100 next year), the tower stands as something constant and now. The Walker Tower reminds me that there are some things, regardless of new inventions, which stand through the storms and keep shining the way brightly, even when the other lights go out. Celeste is a shining tower for me. My family, and Chris, especially, my twin brother, are towers for me. All these, so important, yet I know that unless I choose to pause every once in a while, especially in those rainy nights of the soul, unless I stop and look inside to what is constant, to that silent, shining light, I’m truly lost to the night.

I could choose to look at my smartphone in my pocket to learn about the weather. Instead, I choose to find the Walker Tower. Shine on, Walker Tower. Even if it’s for just one lonely person living across town, shivering on the porch.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tibetan Caves Are Overrated

I sit on my green cushion resting on my yellow rug that covers the honey-wood floor in the front room of my rented space, and close my eyes to meditate. A single thread of incense smoke, sweet and pervasive, rises as if pulled heavenward by some unseen force, like a wispy prayer into the ether. Two large candles on my alter burn a soft glow as they sit like sentinels on either side of the frantic list I’ve placed there, my list of nerves and worries, big hopes and sterile to-dos. I like to write it all down and put it on the alter. The list seems to be the CliffsNotes version of a prayer I hope lifts upward, like the smoke. Plus, once I’ve written it down, maybe it will free up my mind to not think for a while and just be present.

I am about eye level to one of the several windows in this room—that is, if my eyes were open. But they are not. I’m trying to be present. As I sit, I hear traffic pass like waves, the current of the arteries of our city. I hear a neighbor in the laundry room directly below me, stuffing wet laundry with heavy thuds into the dryer and then listen as the dryer buzzes to life and starts to breathe. Dakota, the German shepherd who lives in the apartment above me, groans and barks excitedly as the pizza deliverer searches for apartment number 1, not mine.

No, I don’t live in a cave in Tibet. Nor would I want to—harder for the pizza delivery guys to find. These city distractions are not distractions at all but merely the environment in which I choose to live. And I guess that’s the point, right? We live here, and despite loud laundry, neighbors, barking dogs, and cars, one can find peace in the gentle hum of a city. When I visit my family in New York, I open the window from the apartment in the high-rise and listen to the sounds of the city, one long, sustained exhale. I actually find it quite peaceful. Part of the quest for peace involves creating a comfortable tolerance for things that would otherwise create aversion. We don’t have to love them, but with many things that are part of our everyday environment, we can simply be present in the moment and witness them. We are but one cell in this larger being, the community, the city, the world. We can circulate and find purpose and stillness in that motion.

Come to yoga and practice finding peace despite the busy world around us.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Drum Roll Please . . .

The moment has come! Prana Yoga is open for business and is offering classes in the most beautiful practice space in Salt Lake City. We (Matt) have been building this studio for several months; Jennifer Ellen and I have been building the infrastructure. We've had set backs, delays, frustrations, huge learning curves, and a LOT of really hard work. But walking through this studio and coming into this space I feel overwhelmed with abundance. You know, I feel like we've been pulling this project, Prana Yoga, up a steep hill for a long time. And last week, when we hosted a sneak preview workshop with Shiva Rea, I felt like we'd crested a small bump on the way to the summit. Now that the studio is operable, this beautiful space is ready to practice yoga in, it feels like this truck I've been pulling up hill now has it's own momentum and is actually much, much bigger than me and will continue to push me to grow to my own potential. And of course this studio is much bigger than me. I feel the collective momentum of all of you who have graciously waited as we've been building and planning, you who have been coming to our classes in our temporary space, and you who have offered emotional support and help along the way. Our hope is that this studio will serve us all for a long, long time.

I'm adding a bunch of classes to my schedule, including Restore Yoga! This week I'm here teaching Monday's and Tuesday's classes but fly to Hawaii on Wednesday to see my love--terrible timing but I gotta go.

Join me this week at Prana Yoga:

Mon. 10:00 am Restore Yoga

Mon. 5:45 pm Power Vinyasa

Tues. 6:00 am Power Vinyasa 6AM CLASSES RETURN!

Starting next week you can find me at Prana teaching 7 classes a week:

Mon. 10:00 am Restore Yoga

Mon. 5:45 pm Power Vinyasa
Tues. 6:00 am Power Vinyasa
Thurs. 6:00 am Power Vinyasa
Fri. 10:00 am Restore Yoga
Fri. 5:45 pm Power Vinyasa
Sat. 8:30 am Basics-- a great class for those who like a gentler pace but want to still move, to receive accommodations for the way YOU need to practice yoga and with more instruction on alignment and cues to make the practice really work for you.

Go to

to see our full schedule and buy passes etc.

See you in class!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Coming Home

Sometimes it feels like we are a house-full of sorrows. Every corner, under every piece of furniture, in every drawer, memories, thoughts, regrets, disappointments, worry, grief. It's all there and what do you do with it?

The ancient Sufi poet Rumi suggests we welcome our sorrows, make them a cup of tea, sit, and listen.

In the highly relative world of emotion, one thing that is certain is that those sorrows do exist, at least for the moment. They feel so real because we can feel them. This is countered by another thing which is true which is: when we learn to uncover our True Nature through practices such as meditation and yoga, we see clearly that what we are is deeper than even these pervasive, transitory emotions which seem to rule our lives. From the grand perspective of our True Nature, which, the ancients say and invite us to discover for ourselves, is boundless equanimity, we allow ourselves to experience our emotions fully, knowing that when all is said and done, our emotions will come and go but this True Nature will stay constant. By experiencing our emotions from this perspective, often these sorrows seem to get whatever it was off their chest, finish their tea, and then see themselves out. Regardless, each thing that comes to our door, like Rumi says, is our teacher.

In yoga, it's nice to know that we're not trying to "fix" anything but rather simply uncovering the most True part of ourselves, the part that is not subjective like our emotions. Plus, it just feels really good to be with that True part of ourselves. It's like coming home.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Rumi ~

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Provocative Evolution

Whether we are new or seasoned practitioners, our objective in practice is always the same: to step up to the the comfortable relationship with our edge. That invitation to step to our edge is so provocative! It suggests leaving the comfort of what we know and move toward our yet unknown greatness. Yet, the invitation is to be in proper relationship with your edge so that it doesn't overcome you. If I were to experience the Grand Canyon by standing on the very edge, all I could think about would be my own imminent death. With a little space, I can appreciate my edge rather than repel from it.

I like the word "frontier." In my mind, it conjures images of rugged people working with the land and wrestling with the unknown, growing and learning and being present with a life that is bigger than them but in which they play a part. The word "frontier" suggests perhaps our edge, our limit of experience or ability. It is the place which we have never been.

I think that whether you are working at a frontier of mindfulness, spirituality, or physicality, to place yourself at that edge of your experience is to truly live. Being at the edge isn't always easy but it is always real.

Simply being at our edge, we become stronger, literally in the case of asanas, but in every aspect of living, we find ourselves more and more able to sit in the heat of our own growth and the inevitable unfolding of the unknown. Because we have to be observant at that edge, we will notice the miracle of what we've created by being there. It's the miracle of watching our frontier, limitations we thought were so fixed and immovable, recede away from us. So that where we find ourselves is no longer the limit of our experience or ability. I could only touch my knees when I began practice, now I can touch my toes. I could only focus for a few seconds when I started, now I can stay in rapt attention for several moments. I barely understood myself before, now I see a divine creature unfolding.

As this edge recedes, we are again provoked by our own potential to take another step closer toward that edge. And again we find ourselves at the familiar relationship and distance with our frontier. Periodically, we may look back to see all the ground we've covered. That growth is a nice reminder that we're moving in the direction of our intention but ultimately secondary to what's real and present and constant--our commitment to be at the frontier. Our commitment to growth.

So here's the biggest paradox: the only way to get there is to be here, where you are currently. And here is always changing.

Until one day we realize that this is where we've set down our roots, in the paradox of constant movement as we chase our frontier, the eternal growth toward our highest self. We have arrived as we witness our own evolution.

Come to practice this week and join me as we practice living at this frontier, especially at the special workshop that Erin and I will teach where we will explore the radical idea of backing way off from the edge.