Every day I feel so incredibly grateful to teach yoga and to have students come to my classes. The repeated experience of doing this work, side by side, is profound. Every single class I teach, there is an unspoken communion amongst those of us who have come together, this one time, somewhat randomly. In the occurrence of every unique class, we move together. We try together. We fail together. We challenge our limits and break barriers. We hit obstacles and hold steady and persevere. Like an intricate sand mandala that is painstakingly created as a whole, by many moving, working people, only to be blown away upon its completion, we come together, we practice en masse, and we disperse once again. The time and effort that goes in is the point, not some final masterpiece to hang on the wall. The act of destroying the mandala is to honor what has occurred, to return something singular and finite back to the infinite. What was created isn't what is kept. What is kept is the communion of practice, the time and effort spent in divine concentration together. The singing bowl that I hit and stir at the start and end of my classes resonates a vibration of sound that defines the perimeter of each sacred, albeit, temporary, circle of every class. What takes place within the sand circles of our class time is something ineffable yet tangible. We go home differently than we came. We carry something that fortifies us. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. We have risked our own vulnerability and not only survived but learned there is great reward in the act of trying and doing, no matter the outcome. Participating in a group setting, we place ourselves back in the whole of humanity. We are brothers and sisters again. We are part of a tribe. We are doing our best and forgiving each other's shortcomings. We are recognizing our own strengths. We identify our own limitations, and take great comfort in knowing someone else is out there who can relate, and someone else is out there who can help us along. As a culture, we are deprived of this powerful group dynamic. We may have opportunities to work as a group using our heads, but Intellectual work is front brain and is where ego and mental chatter reside. Yoga operates from the back brain- a more expansive place of peace and possibility. In group yoga we co-exist, co-operate, from a very different head-space. We do the work with our bodies, quiet the mind, and something bigger opens up in front of us. We see the big picture as a group. We witness together this miracle each time, on the big screen of our collective consciousness, 60-75 minutes at a time.
Natural disasters, political frenzy, gun violence, grave environmental reports . If you're like me, you are suffering from news fatigue and the cliffhanger model of problem-based news delivery that effectively leaves us feeling emotionally and spiritually unmoored. We've been rendered dis-empowered and as a result are suffering. As the late, great B.K.S. Iyengar once said, "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and to endure what cannot be cured." Our collective suffering need not be endured any longer. In fact it's time we aim to not endure, not survive, but truly THRIVE. It is not our nature to wallow and rest on our laurels. As complex-thinking, sentient beings, it IS our nature to creatively problem-solve as an expression of our own resilience. As humans, what distinguishes us from other animals is that we are the most extreme. We are very clearly living in times when the negative side of our extremism is apparent. Our work today is recovering and embracing how extremely great we can be. Out of all the news stories that wound our spirits and make us hurt for all of humanity, these extreme acts of greatness are present. Let us take sustenance in the goodness of humanity and point our attention toward love and light. I've highlighted 8 yoga-inspired ways to thrive today for a brighter tomorrow. And stay tuned, as I will be posting updates on my own progress with this list!
1. Act Super-Local "Svadhyaya"
The most local we can get with our activism is to start with our own work. Svadhyaya (self study) is one of the Niyamas (5 observances) in the 8-limb path of yoga . We cannot do great work in the "out-there" world until we study ourselves and make peace within. There are infinite opportunities to practice self-study; on the yoga mat, in meditation, at work, and in our closest relationships. We can't do for the world what we can't do for ourselves. Until we learn to Love, forgive, take care of, and nurture ourselves we cannot do this for others in an authentic way. This is where our radical healing and thriving must begin- with an honest, compassionate, and ongoing study of self.
2. Build Community "Yuj"
Yoga (Yuj) means to join. Yoga takes what is fragmented and restores it to a unified state. We have been divided as a people, and, without a common narrative, have become rutterless. Neil Postman, author of The End of Education, explains that we've drifted away from our founding narratives of democracy and individual rights and replaced them with narratives of economic utility and a belief in technology as the measure of humanity's progress. Instead, he suggests, we can create a common culture among citizens through "unifying, purpose-giving narratives". His five suggestions of alternate narratives are so wonderful, if not a bit tangential, I had to include them here: Spaceship Earth" (the notion of humans as stewards of the planet)"The Fallen Angel" (a view of history and the advancement of knowledge as a series of errors and corrections), "The American Experiment" (the story of America as a great experiment and as a center of continuous argument), "The Laws of Diversity" (the view that difference contributes to increased vitality and excellence, and, ultimately, to a sense of unity), "The Word Weavers/The World Makers" (the understanding that the world is created through language — through definitions, questions, and metaphors). Our work right now is to reunite the people of this country who are the fabric of our nation. Keeping in mind the butterfly effect, know that world peace can begin in our own neighborhoods. We can make our communities whole again by weaving ourselves back into them. Resist the urge to hide under the covers and, instead, step outside to connect with your neighbors and those in your own community. Don't look for differences. Look for ways to co-exist peacefully. Have conversations where listening and understanding occurs. (Check out this Heineken Worlds Apart You Tube video). Many are suffering from profound isolation and loneliness. Take time to visit someone who is isolated. Send snail mail. Make a phone call. Surprise someone with a knock on the door. To thrive, we must make an effort to make "analogue," rather than just digital, connections with others. Next to bees, humans are the most social animal there is. I love this poster "How to Build Community" which provides many ways to create a sense of community in our lives.
3. Enough is Enough "Santosa" & "Ahimsa"
Acting upon the decision that we have enough is a most radical act today. We don't have to subscribe to a culture that strives to consume and have bigger, better, faster. Santosa is the art of contentment. It is finding the exquisite existing in utmost simplicity . Living simply so that others may simply live. Challenge your own materialism. Challenge marketing that tells you you aren't complete without their product. When we decide we have enough we are practicing Ahimsa or non-harming to our planet. Refuse SWAG (stuff we all get) and Single Use Plastics (SUP's). Reduce waste. Reuse what you can. Repurpose. Recycle. And Remind others. Find contentment in the simple things, minimize your environmental footprint, and free up time and space to live your life more fully. Resist the impulse to acquire more. Retool phrenetic Multi-tasking into a single-tasking Low-Volume lifestyle. Slow it down, do fewer things in a day and do them mindfully. Contentment is badass.
4. Media Fasting "Bramacarya"
Bramacarya is a wise conservation of energy. There are only 24 hours in a day and sadly, much of that time is spent wrangling machines and passively consuming media. When we escape to our devices, we separate from ourselves and do not feel whole. In fact, we don't feel anything. Our devices are the machines through which we escape; from the moment, from our selves, and from each other. Pick up your device only to hunt and not to browse. Remind yourself that what you take in needs to be psychically digested. I often say that our yoga asana practice metabolizes the emotional and psychic leftovers from all that we encounter. If we binge on media, we get backlogged with images, feelings, thoughts, worries, etc. Take a break from media. Batch your email and text responses to something you do maybe twice a day at a set time rather than reacting to your phone every time it dings. I will never forget my daughter giving me a tour of a section of woods in which she and her friends had set up an imaginary world. On this tour of elaborate imaginings, she pointed to the trees and said "these are the computers". I asked her, why are the trees computers? She looked at me and without hesitation said, "because then adults will pay attention to them." Life is happening now. Look up from the phone. Be bold, tuck it away for an hour. Maybe touch a tree instead and see what happens.
5. Do Yoga Every. Single. Day. "Asana"
Yoga moves our consciousness from the brain, where it collects, into the entire space of the body. When we move, we replenish the entire body with our awareness which mitigates mental and emotional fatigue. Being Embodied is being Empowered. Asana (the physical practice of yoga) is the third limb of yoga and lays the groundwork for the last five limbs; pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (turning inward), Dharana (concetration), Dyhana (meditation), and Samadhi (union of the self). "Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat." -B.K.S. Iyengar
6. Practice Purification Rituals "Sauca"
We must acknowledge the effect of our environment- both mental and physical- on the state of our minds. How does the state of my home affect my mind? How does this thought affect me? Physical hygiene keeps us clean on the outside. Through yoga, breath work, clean eating and the filtering of our thoughts through a lens of loving-kindness and compassion we can keep ourselves clean on the inside. A daily gratitude practice can have a profound influence on our thoughts. Sauca is an ever-vigilant state that seeks to purify our inner and outer worlds.
7. Be Bold! "Tapas"
"Tapas is, simply put, an enthusiasm for health. All of us have it. It is in our nature. The genius of yoga is that it encourages us to cultivate this enthusiasm. Rather than cloak our childlike wonder in cynicism, we are encouraged to develop an appetite for life." This excerpt is from one of my favorite writers on the subject of yoga, Rolf Gates in his book, Meditations from the Mat. And to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, enthusiasm is the main ingredient in achieving greatness and thriving in this life. Practicing yoga helps us to cultivate tapas and thus, an enthusiasm for the good of ourselves and others.
8. Love & Devotion "Isvara-Pranidhana"
We need to love each other. Simple as that. We need to have faith in something bigger than ourselves. Our love and compassion cannot be selective. Our work right now is in learning to replace hate with love. There is so much hate in our country right now and on top of it, people are so self-righteous about their hate. It looks ugly on anyone, I don't care who you hate. Hate comes again from a disempowered place of vulnerability. Compassion is a way more empowered emotion to harness. What if we could practice compassion at the level we're practicing hating on people right now? Abraham Lincoln questioned, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friend?" Develop a loving-kindness meditation practice. Check out Sharon Salzberg's Street Loving-Kindness Practice for an approach you can integrate into your daily life.
I will report back with updates on my own personal thriving journey in my neck of the woods.
Let us be brave, be bold and be kind to ourselves and one another.
Seasonal change is a privilege we here in the north get to have. Over my time on this earth I've grown to love the gentle upheaval that occurs with each passing season. In thinking of this transition we are now making from summer into fall, the image of stepping off of an escalator comes to mind. We are transitioning and in the process are required to become more attuned to the steps we take as we cross the threshold and move forward to the next phase. The season itself is like the passive and progressive escalator ride which allows for the mind to wander and allows for us to grow a bit complacent. I appreciate the act of stepping over the threshold as each season changes, I feel an urge to take inventory and to line up new patterns to support my own personal growth. In fall, I see many faces from the past returning to yoga. This happens every year. We've inventoried ourselves and remembered ourselves as better with yoga as part of our routines. We are stepping forward in the direction that is best, setting our sites on the destination of our dreams, turning the ship slightly in awareness, after maybe drifting awhile through the end of summer. I love the energy of seasonal change and see people all around me gearing up for what is next. Yoga can help us as we transition into fall by calibrating our inner compass to steer the ship towards the destination of our deepest longings. With the practice of yoga we navigate back to our true selves. I hope to see you on the mat soon this fall.
Have you heard of "the dark playground"? It's the place we go or activity we do when we are avoiding doing something else. My dark playground is the act of cleaning. My self-study topic du jour is to take a closer look at this. What do I avoid and why do I avoid it? And then to lean into the object of my avoidance and be okay with time away from my dark playground. This is yoga. Bend the body first, then bend the mind.
Yoga can be summarized in one word: Relationship. In more words, that is, how we connect (or don't connect) one thing to another; the body to the mind, the head to the heart, the head to the gut, our individual selves to the rest of the world, how we connect ourselves in relationship to other individual people, how we relate to our own bodies, there are so many relationship dynamics going on in all of us that the scope of yoga is infinite.
Stepping onto the laboratory of our yoga mat we can study how we show up in our relationships. How we relate to our postures has a direct correlation to all of our relationships. Pause. Crickets... LOL! Stay with me.
There are two parts to every pose; the architecture of the posture and our relationship with the posture. The physical work to get into and hold a posture is, for most of us, and easier place to dwell in than the second half of the posture which is the "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" journey within. Don't get me wrong- alignment is fascinating and of the utmost importance when it comes to yoga. The correct entry into the posture is the only portal to the full potential to the inner experience. and getting the mechanics of a posture down right is imperative to safely and sustainably holding the posture for any length of time.
...Sometimes we use the technical side of the posture as a way to avoid experiencing our own inner world. And if you've been doing yoga longing enough, you know that the journey one takes during a long posture hold can be a crucible for transformation. In my classes, I often remind students of this relationship with the posture. Set up the pose but then relate to it. Hang out with it. If you and the posture were cornered at a party, what on earth would you talk about? Make it sustainable. Don't wait it out or fidget with your form until it's over. Inquire in stillness. Notice the sticky, resistant parts of your body. Notice the active and the passive- where the effort is and where we can "power down" and conserve energy. Notice what happens to intense sensation when you apply your breath. Notice how the level of sensation affects the nature of your thoughts. Each posture is a full-resolution periscope for viewing the terrain of our own internal world. And we can go there, bravely. We can also stay in the safe harbor of technique and tweak, anatomy and alignment, which is a very cerebral place to be. Yoga is about spreading the consciousness throughout the body. If we just hang out in the head, we miss a LOT of terrain!
If we avoid our own internal world, how do we expect to relate to the external one? We have to be solid in ourselves before we can even begin to expect being solid in our relationships to each other. Steeling our bodies to soften our hearts so that we are strong enough to make ourselves vulnerable. We can't have relationships without becoming vulnerable.
So how does this translate off of the mat? The microcosmic teachings of our practice extrapolates out. How we show up and respond in the heat of the pose is how we show up in our professional lives, with our health, in our parenting, with our money, with our self talk, with the beliefs we have about ourselves, with our activism, with our neighbor, with our self esteem, with every single thing that we do. If we can study our own habits, get to know our clever little ways- charming as they may be, we may be able to perform some alchemy and break out of less healthy relationships into ones that support our own, and, the greater good.
It's late January; a time of scheduling upheavals, dry skin outbreaks, nasty colds, and a blanket of grey fog shrouding the sun. Spring isn't close enough to wish for and a stretch of cold, wet, grey days carries on with no end in sight. Let's face it- we've seen better days and we're starting to feel as if we can hardly remember them. This is the long posture hold of winter. When we're on our mats and ready to leave a pose, it's been said that this is when a posture really begins- the moment we get the impulse to leave it. And because we are in class, we stay beyond that impulse. This, as we know as yogis, is when the yoga gets interesting. The mat is a laboratory and the posture hold is a mirror for our habits, our knee-jerk reactions, our relationship to discomfort, to boredom, to challenge, to whatever comes up when we are holding a position we don't want to be in. In the same way, winter challenges us. We no longer want to be in this season, we want something different, warmer, brighter. The mind escapes when we are bored and when we are stressed. So The posture asks us to make it sustainable. What would it take to make this posture hold engaging enough but not overwhelming? In my classes lately, I've been reminding students to create warmth and light in their bodies- to embody that which they are missing. We are all shining gems which the stressors of life scuff up and dim. Our practice restores, tapas, or heat and polishes us by removing the stuck, the dark, the stagnant- the residue of life's stressors until we shine again and feel like ourselves again. So in the darkness and coldness and dryness of winter, we actually have to create more heat, more light, more breath, to polish ourselves. It's another one of the dualities that exist in this practice, another union of opposition that restores balance and harmony. So today, with scheduling cancellations and another driveway to shovel, make heat, sweat, work hard enough to breathe deeper. Meet the day with enough zeal to neutralize the potential for sloth-like behavior. Bring the balance. It's the yogi way. ~Namaste
I am not the teacher who promotes sensory deprivation in class. I actually like to play with the use of our senses as we move and breathe and notice the interior world. If you've been to class lately you've noticed new smells, perhaps. Each week, I've been diffusing unique essential oil blends to incorporate aromatherapy in my classes. If you know me as a teacher, you know I like to play music in my classes; a treat for your ears. I also offer temple massages at the end of every class; a treat for your sense of touch. And now a treat for your noses with various concoctions misting in the back of the room. This week I blended Rosemary, Lemon and Basil which supports the function of memory. As the first week of the new year, I thought it would be nice to remember who we are when we have felt most alive, most happy, most content. This memory could help guide us in the new year like a north start for where we want to be, where we are going. Some of you have asked where I got my diffuser. After a LOT of research, I opted for this diffuser. I read a lot of reviews and this one won out. I use therapeutic grade essential oils, mostly from Young Living and can tell you more about that if you're interested. Unlike perfumes which can be quite noxious, and often toxic, high grade essential oils are very compatible with most people and very seldom cause any sort of reaction. So breathe deeply and take in the sweet essence of these plants which can aid and support us on this journey we call life.
"The Blissful Relaxation"
Most people sleep without resolving their tensions,
This is termed nidra.
Nidra means sleep, no matter what or why,
But yoga nidra means sleep after throwing off the burdens,
It is of a blissful, higher quality altogether.
When awareness is separate and distinct from the fluctuations of the mind,
When waking, dream and deep sleep pass like clouds,
Yet awareness remains
This is the experience of total relaxation.
Relaxation does not mean sleep.
Relaxation means to be blissfully happy,
It has no end.
I call bliss absolute relaxation;
Sleep is a different matter.
Sleep gives only mind and sense relaxation,
Bliss relaxes the inner self;
That is why,
Yoga nidra is the doorway to bliss.
-Written by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The Wednesday evening Restorative Yoga class includes a final relaxation technique called Yoga Nidra on the first Wednesday of each month. Yoga Nidra is a 'hypnagogic' state of psychic sleep where our consciousness exists at the edge of sleep. This practice is very potent in that it permeates our subconscious with a seed of resolve that we set for ourselves. A regular practice of Yoga Nidra brings healing and personal growth.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
*Powers down the senses
*Deprograms bad habits
*Dissolves physical tension
*Helps you to fall asleep
*Connects you with your inner self
*Penetrates the subconscious
*Supports physical healing
*Explore personal growth
*Foster creative, passive problem solving
How to Practice
Similar to the Corpse Pose (savasana), which concludes every yoga class, Yoga Nidra is practiced in the same fully reclined position. Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and supported. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. Make sure you are warm enough. Close your eyes and settle in. It is best that you remain still throughout the practice so that your body and brain have a chance to fully relax. If you become uncomfortable, feel free to change positions. Unlike the Corpse Pose, Yoga Nidra can last up to an hour and is a guided practice as you are directed to rotate your awareness throughout your body, breath, senses, emotions, and imagery. It is important to remain awake by listening to the sound of your instructor's voice. Try not to concentrate too intensely as this may prevent you from relaxing. Simply absorb what you need in the moment and leave the rest behind. If the mind becomes overactive with thoughts and worries, just come back to the sound of the instructor's voice.
7 Stages of Yoga Nidra
2. Bring attention to the breath.
3. Create a resolve or sankalpa to support your highest good- a short sentence that you want and believe will come true. This will be the same every time you practice. For example, "my body is healthy" or "I am lovable". Try to discover one naturally and keep it in the present tense. Silently state your sankalpa clearly and with awareness three times. This sankalpa you make during Yoga Nidra is a seed that permeates the subconscious and enables profound transformation in our self-perception and our bodies.
4. Rotate your consciousness throughout the physical body. You will be guided through a 61-points awareness exercise.
5. Visualizations and Imagery oftentimes offered in opposition such as hot, cold, something negative, something positive to rotate the consciousness and diffuse reactivity
6. Repeat Sankalpa
7. Return to fully conscious state
Some Remarks on Experiencing Yoga Nidra by Richard Miller, PhD
"Instead of my usual experience of being in the world, I was having a non-mental experience of the world being in me."
"It left behind in me a strong resonance and longing to consciously awaken into and fully abide as this feeling of non-separate presence."
"The key to inner peace is not an impenetrable secret. While it may seem at first, distant and obscure, it is actually always living in plain sight, readily available. This is why our true nature of innate peace and equanimity is often referred to as an "open secret."
Yoga Nidra: The Contemplative Heart of Yoga by Richard Miller, PhD Yoga Therapy Ireland Winter 2012
About a year ago a new friend invited me into a gratitude practice with her. The task was simple; each day we'd email each other three things we were grateful for. It began in the way you might expect; on sunny days I'd be grateful for that. On days when an unexpected check came in the mail, I'd have another thing to be grateful for. And then there were the days of the good old pity-party where I was tempted to wallow and feel sorry for my miserable circumstances and I'd come to my email with a real disdain for this gratitude practice and sometimes even for my new friend pulling me into this. I'd think- she can do this because she has it so easy. This isn't for me!. Nevertheless, I'd force myself to find things to be thankful for like legs and a roof and yoga pants. Occasionally I'd try disguise a complaint in the form of a gratitude. "I am grateful for people who are nice unlike so and so." I plodded on with it and slowly the practice, like anything we practice with regularity, began to gain traction. And to become more interesting.
After several months, I noticed that a shift began to occur. I started to surprise myself with less obvious statements like "I am grateful for my mail carrier" or "I am grateful for the stillness that these less exciting days provide". Things of a neutral nature started taking on a new sheen of their own. It was absolutely thrilling. My friend and I agreed we were onto something. We kept going.
Our gratitudes got more interesting. I wasn't looking out the window anymore grasping for things to come up with. They started coming to me spontaneously throughout the day. "I am grateful for the man at the post office whistling a pink floyd song while sweeping." "I am grateful for the resilience of a perfect stranger who has now inspired me and given me strength." It was like I had new eyes that were feasting on everything in my life as something to be grateful for.
But it wasn't until recently that yet another marvelous facet of this practice was revealed The things that were once considered negatives were now showing up as gratitudes. "I am thankful for my struggle today because I learned that sometimes I make things harder than they need to be." "I am grateful for a daily opportunity to practice remaining calm in living amongst the noise and chaos of small children." "I am grateful for so and so asking me the same question twice a week because her regularity is a comfort to me."
In savasana, the final resting pose at the end of a yoga class, I often remind the class of the process that unfolds. We begin in the pose by noticing. As we continuing the noticing, we learn to allow- to hold space around what is without accepting or rejecting. If we're lucky, we get to the third and final stage; a relishing in the is-ness of what is. Not only an acceptance of what is but gratitude for what is. My daily practice off the mat with my friend has transformed the is-ness of my life into gold. It is a truly liberating practice to no longer feel controlled by the circumstances of our lives. To view the content as another opportunity to work this practice and reap the rewards of a constant invitation to give thanks.
We hear it over and over again; stay positive, surround yourself with positive people, avoid negativity, don’t think negative thoughts, etcetera, etcetera. But these messages only ask us to avoid the negative thoughts and feelings. They don’t suggest the possibility to completely dissolve negativity as it comes up.
Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and one that has changed my life and my relationships. The main objective of this practice is the clearing of mental obstacles- a lot of which are based in negativity towards others- to find limitlessness freedom and reach a state of unbridled possibility in your life. To reach this state, one has to silently or verbally repeat the following mantra; “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you” in the face of negativity.
I taught this practice to a friend recently and she used this mantra but made the mistake of forgiving the object of her negativity rather than asking the source of her pain for forgiveness. Easy mistake. It’s a bit counterintuitive to ask the object of your rage for forgiveness when you’re not even at the point of being open to receiving theirs! The idea here is that we take 100% responsibility for our own actions but ALSO the actions of others. Wow. I think that deserves a pause…
There’s a funny phrase I like to use, which summarizes this notion very well, I think. “Have you ever noticed when there’s a problem, you’re there?” This idea reminds us that we are part any discord that shows up in our lives. To change whatever happens around us, we have to change within. Everything external is a projection of the inner reality. This is the position Dr. Hew Len takes. Dr. Hew Len is known for healing a mental institution full of patients not by seeing these patients and talking to them or treating them directly. Instead, he read their charts, sat with their pain and recited this mantra over and over again, clearing and dissolving the negativity surrounding each narrative, each person. Clearing errors in his own consciousness to ultimately clear the same errors for everyone else.
When you encounter negativity in your relationships with others, think of it as a shared program, like a computer virus running on both of your hard drives. Instead of your first response, which is knee-jerk, to distance and feel righteous in your defenses try the mantra. “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
I use all or part of the mantra daily. The effects are profound. The power to dissolve negativity is unmatched. And it feels good. Try it. But be prepared for everything to change. For the better.
Watch a short interview with Dr. Hew Len below: