“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”
–Marcus Aurelius

Doing good for others begins with the self.  Whether practicing the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha), or the Yamas and Niyamas (yoga’s moral and ethical codes), doing anything positive benefits both ourselves and all beings.  This month, let’s:

See you on the mat!

On taking yoga off our mats, and into the world.

“Earth, may thy summer, and thy rains, and autumn, thy winter, and thy dewy frosts, and spring-time. May thy years, Prithivī! and ordered seasons, and day and night pour out for us abundance.”
// 36, Prthivī Sūkta, Atharva Veda

The word “yoga,” defined simply, is “union.”  Patanjali, the great yoga master, referred to yoga as attaining mastery over the dynamic forces of the mind.  Once the mind has been purified, disciplined, and brought to one-pointed focus, then union occurs between body and mind, consciousness and mind.  We achieve wholeness.  Ultimately, yoga brings us to the understanding of our interconnectedness with everything in the Universe, including this precious planet Earth.

April opens with the celebrations of Easter, rich with the symbolism of rebirth and renewal.  All around us are budding trees and flowers, hillsides carpeted in lush green grass, baby birds hatching, and extra light at the end of the day.  Earth Day also falls on the 22nd of this month.

The Prthivī Sūkta of the Atharva Veda is a poetic description of Earth.  It’s hymns speak of a deep Hindu tradition of reverence for nature and all forms of life.  The earth supports us, sustains us.  Our health is intimately linked to sources of clean air, water, food, and time spent outdoors connecting with Mother Nature.

If yoga is about realizing the interconnectedness of all beings, how then can we take our practice off our individual mats and into the world?  The answers lie in the foundational ethical principles for living found in the Yamas and Niyamas, the first two limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.  Asteya (the third Yama) is the concept of non-harming, both towards ourselves and other beings.  Non-harming is practiced in thought (how we speak towards ourselves), word (how we speak to others), and through our actions in the world.

This month, as we practice on our mats together we will observe our thoughts regarding our practice from a place of loving-kindness.  As we step off our mats and into the world, we ask ourselves, “How can I help Earth, and all beings who share this planet with me?”

Here are a few ways we can increase our connection with others, and lessen our environmental impact:

  • Plant a garden.  Whether it’s flowers, herbs, or vegetables, it’s about getting your fingers into the earth and a little dirty!
  • Support your local farmers.  Visit your local farmer’s market one or more times a month.  Fresh, organic produce is healthy for you and supports the farmer!
  • Use re-useable cups and water bottles.  The amount of plastic produced and then thrown away is shocking. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/
  • Park it.  Walk, run, bike, ride Light Rail/BART/CalTrain one or more times a week if possible.
  • Unplug and connect.  Turn off the television, your laptop, your cellphone, and connect with your family or friends around the dinner table, on the beach, or for a walk in the woods.
  • Tune in.  Notice your surroundings, the colors, textures, and sounds, and how your energy responds to it.
  • Breathe.  Practice meditation and pranayam/breath-work.

LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom.

See you on the mat!

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Season of Manifestation

“The inside of a seed is far larger than the outside of the seed. Inside of the seed is an entire forest. It is a probability space.”
–R.A. Delmonico

A single seed is a wellspring, a universe of probability.  It is a delicious mystery of unknown potential .  It is energy, fertility, growth, and evolution.

The Spring equinox arrives on March 20th.  As the power of the sun grows, and the nights become shorter, we stand poised between light and dark, receptivity and activity, the unconscious and conscious.  This is the perfect time to plant the seeds of positive growth and change, both for ourselves and for the world.

This month also marks a big shift for me.  After several months of quiet contemplation, I made the decision to step away from a job position that was no longer bringing me joy.  It was a heavily weighted decision for me, and in the afterglow (yes, afterglow!) I am feeling much lighter, more spacious.  Now I begin the process of planting new seeds in open and fertile ground.

As we practice together, we will use the time to balance and bring together what we wish to unite.  Whatever we bring our thoughts to will grow–love, intentions, hopes, and dreams.   As we move with awareness of movement from within to without, we will plant seeds:  Who am I becoming?  What am I awakening in myself? What do I wish to grow more of in my life?

See you on the mat!

The Breath of Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
~Rumi

Put your own oxygen mask on first.  Take a deep, flowing, sweet breath. And, let it out.  Every inhale is an opportunity for something new to enter. Every exhale is a chance to let go of something old.  Each breath brings expansion, softening, and allows you to open wider.

Each breath is a love-note to yourself.  The key to giving or receiving love is to remove the walls and barriers that have become hard-wired into the body, like permanent body armor.  “The breath is the central key that unlocks the body and opens the realm of the heart.” [Anodea Judith]

This month we will continue our exploration of breath and movement.  In particular, we will be working with a variety of krama (step) pranayama practices, that break the breath up into steps or parts.  We will pause to witness the affect that breath and movement has on our subtle energy body.  And, finally, we will rest in the warmth and pulse of our living, breathing bodies.

See you on the mat!

It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new year!

Here in the heart of winter, bitter dry winds, cold rainy days, or a sense of heaviness and stagnation are often the hallmarks of this dark time of the year.   This is a prime time to focus on wellness for body, mind, and spirit; and, to deepen our relationship with self, spending time in meditation and self-exploration.

This month we will practice Bhastrika pranayam, stoking the fire residing in our solar plexus–the Manipura Chakra.  This fire warms us, and lends steadiness and flow to our vinyasa practice as we release stuck energy and patterns.  Ultimately, the vinyasa practice prepares us to simply sit.

In the Modern Western Yoga practice, we have come to associate the flow of poses practiced as ‘asana.’  The direct translation of ‘asana’ is to ‘take a seat.’  If we can achieve a sense of steadiness and ease in each pose, then it could be said we have achieved ‘asana.’  But…….

“By tradition, the conditioning asanas of hatha yoga were practiced in the service of the meditation postures:  they provided enough suppleness and strength for the yogin to remain in a meditative posture–usually the lotus posture–with steadiness and ease for a long time.”  [Elliot Goldberg, ‘The Path of Modern Yoga’]

Once we have released the disturbances that arise from the physical body, our contemplative practice begins.  A still body allows us to move our attention inward and witness the flow of phenomenon–thoughts, feelings, sensations, sound, breath.  As the mind begins to settle we experience the pauses and quiet spaces in between thoughts, sensations, and breath. The pauses, gaps, are where we ultimately connect with the awareness that resides behind it all. Those are the golden moments we seek!

Let’s breathe, and flow, and sit together, shall we?!

See you on the mat!

Count Your Blessings

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” –A.A. Milne

“Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.” –Roy T. Bennett

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” –John F. Kennedy

Count your blessings…….no matter which way they may appear, sorrowful or joyous, boring or stimulating, hateful or kind, indifferent or filled with loved.

When Henry Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond, he wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  Thoreau had come to understand that a conscious life was a gift, and the highest form of gratitude was to know it in all its depths.

‘This grace of conscious life, of having a mind that can know “this moment is like this,” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows.’ [Phillip Moffitt]

This month we will contemplate what place gratitude holds in our daily life.  How often do you pause and reflect on the many things in your life for which you are grateful?  Does the list include a safe place to sleep, clean air and fresh water, food to eat, blue skies, laughter, birdsong?   Do you experience the good things in life to the same degree as the not so good things in life?  Or, do you feel the weight of bad things more?

The antidote is to actively, on a daily basis, reflect on what you are grateful for.  A great example I recently came across, was being stuck in traffic.  This quite often leads to feelings of irritation and frustration.  But, what if instead I felt grateful to simply have a car to drive, that I am able to put gas in it; or that all the drivers around me were following the agreed upon driving rules, keeping everyone safe.  In this way there is a certain universal level of “well-being and community cooperation” that is supporting me even in the middle of rush hour traffic.  These moments stuck in traffic simply are, but how I am experiencing it gradually begins to shift the more I practice gratitude in the moment.

The words ‘gratitude’ and ‘grace’ originate from the same Latin word–gratus.  Gratus means ‘pleasing’ or ‘thankful.’   It has been said that when one is in a deep state of gratitude, you will often feel the spontaneous presence of grace.   As a state of selfless gratitude is developed and then embodied, our happiness is no longer contingent upon outer circumstances.  That moment is when we can truly relax into life.

See you on the mat!

What are you ready to let go of?

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go…”
–Hermann Hesse
Last month, we reflected on the achievements of the year–which goals were met, and which ones were not.  As we move fully into the Fall season, we shift our attention now to the process of letting go.  What outworn, or old patterns, of behavior are holding you back?  Are there habits that keep you stuck circling in these old patterns?  What are the physical things associated with these patterns?  And, what can you do differently?

Fear.  Fear of the future.  Fear of failure.  Fear of the discomfort that often accompanies change.  This four letter word quite often keeps us stuck in our old patterns!  It shuts us down and keeps us from seeing possibilities.  This month, to counter some of our natural (and very normal) fear responses we will play!  We will play with the edges of our comfort zones, and strengthen our willingness to break patterns of habit.   Then, we will rest, and let go.

See you on the mat!

P.S.  Here is a short clip of a plank variation (using a “yoga wheel” prop) that is excellent for strengthening the abdominals (a.k.a., your “power” center).  Make sure to place your hands shoulder-width apart; stabilize your shoulder joints by drawing the scapula (your shoulder blades) down onto the back ribs; and, engage your abdominals by drawing your navel in and up towards your spine.  Keep your legs long and lifted, moving the thigh bones away from the floor by contracting your quads (top thigh muscles).  Working with your breath, exhale as you roll the wheel in, inhale as you roll back out.  Repeat 1-8X, as you build strength and coordination.

I. Am. Enough.

Samtosad anuttamah sukha labhah
–Yoga Sutra 2.42

Contentment brings supreme happiness–so translates Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.42.  This contentment (santosha) is the result of being just as we are, without going to outside things for our happiness.  Things come, and we let them come.  If they do not, it does not matter.  Letting go of attachments allows us to rest in the here and now, content, not living in the past and not anticipating the future.  In this way, it could be said, we walk the middle way.

When we review those occasions when we have been truly happy, “…we shall almost certainly find that they had one characteristic in common.  There were times when, for this or that reason, we temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived–as we so seldom do–in the depths of the present moment without regretting the past or worrying about the future.”  [Christopher Isherwood]

Practicing santosha actively in our lives requires a certain amount of willingness to enjoy exactly what each moment brings, no matter how it arrives or what it contains.  Peace of mind can never be dependent on external circumstances, which are always changing in ways beyond our control.  It is easy to practice santosha when things are going well.   But, if we are able to be content when things are difficult, then we are truly free.

We practice santosha in small ways on our mats, by accepting what our practice looks and feels like, just as it is, on any given day.  Daily, hourly, even moment to moment, we continuously practice letting go of the past.  As my teacher puts it, “Hold close the yogic premise that whatever we have in the present moment is enough.”

A mantra practice to try anywhere, anytime:  Breathe in, “I am.”  Breathe out, “Enough.”

See you on the mat!

Transformational Fire

“The Manipura chakra is like the morning sun; meditating on it with the gaze fixed on the tip of the nose one can stir up the world.”
–Gorakshashatakam (tenth century)

This July, we turn up the heat by building tapas, the fire of transformation.  Into this fire, we place our will and temper our passions.   “A moving object, when it interacts with other objects, creates heat.  Heat, in turn, stimulates movement, which allows new combinations to occur.” [Anodea Judith]  Fire influences change, destroying form and releasing energy.  With this energy, we tap into our innate potential for growth and expansion.

We return again and again to the question, “Are you expanding or contracting?”  (Hint: Expansion is ideal.)  Are you resisting, turning away?  Or, are you facing forward, standing in your power, seeing what is, and then growing larger because of it?

To help us stoke the fire of transformation, we will be practicing Kapalabhati (breath of fire) pranayam.  To do Kapalabhati:

  1. Sit comfortably in an upright posture and rest your hands on your lower belly. If you’re sitting in a chair, make sure to place both feet on the ground.
  2. Take a deep, cleansing breath before you begin, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your belly with air about ¾ way full.
  4. In a quick motion, exhale through your nose, forcefully expelling all the air from your lungs by drawing your navel in toward your spine.
  5. Allow your lungs to fill up naturally, with no effort as your belly expands.
  6. Perform this cycle 10 times, then allow your breathing to return to normal and observe the sensations in your body.
  7. Repeat these cycles of 10 movements, 3 to 4 times.

For a video demonstration, see below:

 

The Lotus Heart

One of the early ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts, the Yajurveda (1200-1000 BCE), puts forth the first suggestion that the essential self dwells eternally inside the heart.  It suggests that the union or merging of opposites (male and female, active and passive, the two sides of the body–the sun/surya channel on the right and the lunar/chandra channel on the left) is celebrated as “always dwelling in the lotus heart.”  When opposites are profoundly integrated, the heart takes the form of a lotus “imbued with devotional sentiment” and leads to “a spirit of unconditional acceptance.”

A well-balanced heart is a compassionate, empathic, and tender heart.  Hardness is tempered with softness.  Softening invites connection, openness, and reception.  We move from doing to being.

This month we play with balancing muscular strength and yielding softness, moving from effort to surrender.  We will also explore the body/breath/heart connection through pranayam practice.  The breath is central to unlocking the body and opening the realm of the heart.  Each inhale brings spaciousness and expansion to the body.  Each exhale invites softening and release.  What journey will your body and breath take you this month?  Come find out!  See you on the mat!  

**I am excited to be subbing this coming Thursday, 5/11, 7:30-8:45pm, Candlelight Flow at Breathe Together Yoga, Los Gatos!!**

Varanasi, India, March 2017.

Tied on a short lead, no water or feed available, I reached over and rubbed her head, scratched around her ears. Her eyes closed, and she pressed her head against my hand, asking for more touch, more contact.  So I gave more.  Love in its most simplest of forms.  Asked for, and given.  Along my trip it was tiny moments like these that broke my heart open the most.