Sunday, August 25, 2013

Welcome 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.

PS. Maybe consider coming to this year's Fall Yoga Retreat where we will explore replenishing the source with yoga, meditation, food, fun, ceremony, poetry, music. massage . . . 

Monday, August 19, 2013

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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Paris: A Movable Feast

“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.” Earnest Hemmingway. Excerpt from A Movable Feast

In Paris, we rented a very small and completely perfect half-room apartment on the third floor. To call it a one-room apartment would be to grossly exaggerate its scale. Our only window looked out onto a common space, a sort of chimney of light that allowed each apartment both the pleasure of natural night and the pleasure of being a voyeur into the lives of our neighbors. For breakfast we ate warm omelets with fresh melted goat cheese that Seneca cooked on the hot plate. Seneca said the cheese was too strong and tasted like a sheep’s utter. I loved the strong cheese and we both swooned over a small salad of fresh arugula and the freshest tomatoes and strawberries so flavorful that it made me feel like I’d never before eaten something called a strawberry.

After breakfast we left the apartment and descended the old but sturdy stairs down the narrow, winding staircase and made another day of walking the streets of Paris. Walking down our street I again felt like a voyeur looking into the lives of the people around me, like those sitting outside in the small seats of the Café Italien on the corner that served fresh-squeezed orange juice and delicious smooth coffee by the owner who was as warm as her coffee one day and as cold as her orange juice the next. Sitting in his usual seat was the middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and neat moustache who seemed not to mind to run the errands on his scooter, nor mind being readily criticized by the other regulars of whom there seemed to be the same three or four, always with their commentary of the goings on in their petite corner of the world. We walked along the Rue Du Pont Aux Choux to Rue Vieille Du Temple, the small road which seemed to my navigational senses a main artery into the colorful quarter of the Marais and 3eme Arrondissement with its small, bright shops, historic buildings and boulangeries. This road led us directly to the Rue Des Rosiers, the small jewel of a street, like a vein of gold in the rough, that was home to the both the orthodox Jews and the gays, a street that served the finest falafel from boisterous Israelis, and where you can find the tidy shop of the most master crêpe-maker I believe I will ever know. 

Later that day as we left the Musée d’Orsay, the canvas of our mind painted by the colors of Cézanne, Monet, Van Gough, and Renoir, we walked down the narrow streets searching for the artisan pâtisserie and some mineral water. Looking around, the thought entered me that people are just people wherever you go. Whether in Paris or anywhere else, people need to belong. We all need to be loved. We all need to find purpose and beauty in the world whether that is through art, music, architecture, numbers, teaching, children, nature, or all of it. And looking around at this city showed me the miracles that people can perform when they believe in something. Everywhere I turned, I saw a spirit of strength and determination and capacity for beauty and meaning. I saw it in their architecture, their cathedrals and palaces and their houses and most poignantly by simply watching them live out another day in their regular lives. I saw it in the way they decorated their little shops and showed great care about their cafés and restaurants, the prim waiter with his pressed shirt and manicured mustache and his full-length apron, standing at elegant attention hoping to show off his mastery of service because that was his art, to impeccably serve un café and croissant and make correct change and whisk you away when you were finished with a polite “Merci. Bonjour!” The next evening we sat in the small wooden pews of Nôtre Dame at the free organ concert. Here, I felt the beauty and strength of the human spirit, past and present, like a weight in my heart and lump in my throat as the deep pedal tones of that organ shook that holy palace at its foundation and opened my eyes perhaps for the first time to the height of the ceiling and light of the stained glass windows, a peach sunset at our backs making color dance upon the giant grey stones. I felt the strength of those rough hands that built that edifice of solid rock hundreds of years ago which stands in the form of a giant cross to remind us all what is directly in the center of vertical and horizontal, that magical place between what is spiritual and what is temporal, that place that is now. And whether on the yoga mat or at Nôtre Dame, presence allows us the same vision into the divine part that is within all of us.

Whether it’s the tourist who snaps a photo of the Mona Lisa on their phone and rushes off to something else hoping somehow to take it now and maybe look at it some other time, or it’s the local who never takes the time to get up into the mountains because there will be plenty of time later, it all speaks to the same thing: presence. It’s about this moment which if lived fully might express itself into something that could last into centuries or if wasted by living too much in the future or past never really happens. Without presence, we will never have our movable feast, we will never taste the cheese, see the stained glass, or feel the beauty of anything.

I invite you to come to yoga this week and practice presence. I invite you to move about your daily life with presence and experience your own movable feast.

Monday, August 5, 2013

You Reap What You Sow

I'll be home this week and will be teaching some classes but will be in full swing next week. I can't wait to tell you about all the experiences I had on this retreat. Until then . . .
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.