Saturday, December 26, 2009

Letting go

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
Havelock Ellis

Letting go gives us freedom. It invites new opportunities into our lives. When we let go there is a feeling of lightness and uplift.

Sometimes we cling to people or things out of the illusion that we cannot live without them. But we never know what lies ahead. We really only have the present moment. Even the present moment is fleeting.

Letting go does not mean that we abandon everything. There are many people and things that we build important relationships with. These people enhance our lives. At the same time we can practice an attitude of gentleness and a sense of detachment to the things we love the most.

We become blinded when our desperate need to hang onto something is actually causing difficulty and suffering in our lives. Fear can keep us holding on. In stillness, with an open heart, we can often find the strength to let go.

If we hang onto an idea of who we are or how the world is, we may miss learning something new or becoming something that is truer to our inner nature. If we are not open to new possibilities and new discoveries, we are cutting ourselves off from the richness and diversity of life. For example if you refuse to let go of the idea that you are unloved, you may not even notice the people who do love you.

Yoga helps to teach us the fine art of letting go and setting a strong foundation. Each breath teaches us the balance of filling up and releasing. We can let go of the idea that we cannot touch our toes or do a handstand. At the same time if we never touch our toes or do a handstand, that is OK. Yoga teaches us the union of opposites. They are both necessary for each other. Without creating muscular energy we cannot balance. Too much muscular energy causes tension. The fullness of the pose is found on the exhalation when we let go of the breath and create a softening of the muscular firmness.

As the new year approaches, think of some things you can let go of. Think of something that you feel you must have to be happy, How would it feel to let go of the attachment to that idea? Think of some idea you have or emotion that for some reason, maybe unintentionally, you are holding onto. We can let go because we know what we want to replace something with. For example we sell a house to buy a new one. Or we can let go simply for the freedom that comes from being fully present in each moment and open to all of life with its challenges and rewards.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Solstice

Winter solstice marks an end and a beginning. It is the end of the lengthening of nights and the beginning of the lengthening of days. Whenever something ends if paves the way for a new beginning.

Even though the days are getting longer, it feels like we are entering a period of darkness. Darkness gives us the opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, and go inward. Some people may be afraid of the dark, but the dark is necessary to appreciate the light. Opposites work together in surprising ways. When it is dark it may be difficult to see, but that is often where we make important discoveries. It forces us to be more careful and to use our other senses.

The actual winter solstice happens in a split second when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. It is testing the edge. Whenever anything reaches an extreme it must reverse direction. We learn from testing our edges. But we must test our edges with sensitivity and compassion. If we go too far we can injure ourselves but even that can teach us important lessons.

Yoga helps us to test our edges if we engage ourselves fully when we practice. It is possible to injure ourselves in yoga. But the injuries can teach us where our edges are. The healing process can teach us how to test our edges safely. The goal is not to be injured but to learn how to test our edges and possibly redefine those edges. Just as the dark is needed to see the light, testing our limits helps us to expand those limits.

Life always begins in darkness. The seed germinates underground and the fetus grows in the womb. Winter solstice is a time of rebirth, reminding us of our own beginnings.

Darkness allows us to see the stars. Embrace darkness as a way to appreciate the mysteries that surround us and keep us feeling alive and on the edge of discovery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dare yourself

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare,
it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.
Seneca

Daring is an opportunity for growth. For some people being silent is daring because they are uncomfortable with silence. For others talking is daring because they are self-conscious and shy. To dare is to put yourself outside your comfort zone.

Proximity flyers dare to leap from high cliffs or a plane wearing a wingsuit and a parachute. When they reach terminal velocity, their wings inflate creating lift and turning them into a human airfoil. The flyers begin to soar like birds at 150 miles-per-hour, at times just a few feet above cliffs, boulders, forests or other terrain. The proximity to the terrain at such high speeds requires intense focus, extreme mental clarity and physical ability to avoid crashing.

What motivates this handful of people to dare to fly so close to the earth? It is a primal dream of flying, it is testing the edge of what is humanly possible, it is dealing with fear and controlling the fear so it does not control you. As Jeb Corliss, one of the most famous proximity flyers, says, "It becomes a journey into one's own mind. If you didn't know yourself before you started jumping, you will after you have done it long enough."

Dedication and training are necessary for a successful flight. Understanding that often our limits are the ones we place upon ourselves is a key motivation for many of the flyers. How often do we stop ourselves before we even begin a project, journey or endeavor? How much does our attitude determine the outcome of our actions?

In yoga we can make a pose more difficult than it really is by expectations of failure. We need training and dedication just like the most extreme athletes. But it is focusing on the experience of discovery and freedom that allows us to practice with enjoyment and a sense of ease. When you find yourself unable to do a pose, pause and notice your attitude. What is your internal dialogue? What if you shifted any negative thoughts to positive ones? Yoga can teach us to know our minds and bodies in a deep and profound way. Use the basic principles of a strong foundation with an open heart to find your way in even the most challenging poses.

Thomas Edison, Mahatma Ghandi, Henry Ford all tackled problems or ideas that were thought to be impossible at the time. But they dared to believe in themselves and their cause. Dare yourself to be inspired by their example.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Follow your heart

If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.
Jack Kornfield

It is not only what we do, but also how we do it, that gives life the most meaning. For example, if you give someone a compliment in a flippant manner, it will not have the same meaning as when you say it with full attention while looking into their eyes. We need love in our lives. It is fundamental to our well-being.

To feel loved and to give love, we need to love ourselves. To be gentle and caring with others, we need to be gentle and caring with ourselves. To feel respect for others we must respect ourselves with all our faults and gifts.

When we move from our hearts there is less doubt. The path seems easier. We don't question the direction. The path seems open and each bend of the path reveals more of the journey.

Often we get too caught up in our heads. Sometimes we think we need to go in a direction that does not really feel right, but we convince ourselves to go there. But if our heart and mind are not in balance, any success we achieve will feel empty.

Being fully present brings clarity even in difficult situations. When we live in the present, the past and future are less important. The pain of yesterday is gone and the dream of the future is just an illusion. When we are present we can feel our true needs, not just our desires.

In our yoga practice our strength comes from leading with our hearts both physically and spiritually. When your chest is contracted, you are disconnected from the strongest muscles of the back. Metaphorically you are protecting your heart because your thoughts are fearful or lacking awareness. Opening your shoulders and lifting your chest creates more opportunity to breathe fully. The breath brings energy and life to your poses. When we express our poses with an open heart, our whole practice takes on a new meaning.

Following our hearts is not always easy. There are many distractions along the way. People may try to convince us to follow their agenda. The path with a heart is not without challenges. But living life fully and accepting these challenges for the lessons they give ultimately leads to a deep inner peace that allows us to connect with others in a rich and meaningful way.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who is the real genius?

Are we born with creativity that exclusively belongs to us or is it a gift that passes through us from some divine spirit intent on sharing this gift with the world? The answer to this question has changed throughout history. Taking all the credit for creativity has moments of glory but also causes isolation and suffering.

In ancient Greece and Rome people believed that creativity came from afar from some unknowable source to invisibly assist the artist in their work for some unknowable reason. The artist could not take full credit for his work. The Greeks called this spirit a "daemon". Socrates believed he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him. The Romans called this creative power a "genius". So the person himself was not a genius but rather was invisibly assisted by a genius. If the person's work was not a success it was not entirely his fault.

During the Renaissance this idea changed. People were put at the center of the Universe. Instead of "having" a genius, people were considered to "be" a genius. This put incredible pressure on the individual to be responsible for everything - success and failure. Since this time artists have suffered from ridiculous expectations causing severe depressions and unhappiness.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the best seller "Eat, Pray, Love" talks about this idea of creativity. She interviewed Tom Waits, the musician. He was the embodiment of the tormented artist trying to control his creative impulses. One day he was driving on the freeway and began to hear a beautiful melody. He began to panic because he no way to write or record this music. He was afraid he would lose it and never be good enough to create it again. But then he did something that changed his life. He looked up into the sky and said, "Excuse me. Can you not see that I am driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? Come back at a time when I can take care of you. Otherwise go bother someone else today." His work process changed when he took the genius out of him and released it back where it came from. His work was the same but the process could be a wondrous collaboration between Tom and this genius that was not just Tom. He felt much freer and released from an enormous self-induced pressure.

If you practice yoga from an ego-centered place, it creates more tension from having to "get" the pose or do it perfectly. But if we come to our yoga practice believing that we are assisted by some divine power we can feel more relaxed. Allowing your yoga to be a collaboration with the divine gives more freedom and embodies the spirit of yoga. Yoga is a union where the sum is greater than the individual parts.

We all have our own individuality. But to believe that is all there is creates isolation and separation. Instead find the balance between individuality and some kind of spiritual entity. Feel gratitude that we are supported on this journey and in collaboration we find inspiration.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The importance of relaxing

During periods of relaxation after concentrated periods of intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight.
Fritjof Capra, physicist

Relaxation is one of the key components of building strength. Without relaxing we can burn out both mentally and physically. Look at nature. All of nature knows how to relax. After a storm there is a period of calm, animals take long siestas after a big meal, plants flower and then go into periods of dormancy.

Stress and tension are the opposites of relaxation. When we are tense we barely breathe, which affects how we think and takes an enormous toll on our health. Somehow we often seem compelled to keep going no matter how hard our bodies are screaming for rest.

Research has shown that deep rest is crucial to our peace of mind, emotional well-being, physical health, and high-level performance. Top athletes know how to relax after workouts and before competition. When watching an athletic event, you can often pick out the winners because they appear more relaxed and use their energy more efficiently. Pressure to succeed can be self-defeating when we push too hard.

One of the great gifts of yoga is teaching us how to use the breath and relax our skin, neck and face even during the most difficult poses. Without a layer of softness the pose becomes stiff and unnecessarily difficult. Trying harder is not always the answer to achieving or holding a pose. What is really important is the balance between strength and softness. Meditation, where we focus only on the breath, is one of the deepest forms of relaxation and one of the most difficult.

View relaxation as a gift to give yourself over and over again. Be in harmony with nature and cultivate the ability to breathe fully and deeply. Tension creates tunnel vision. Releasing fear and worry opens the door to intuition and to a world of possibilities.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The experience of art

-The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
Albert Einstein

Art is full of mystery. It goes beyond the surface of the actual work itself. Viewing art awakens our imagination and takes us on an inward journey. We may remember something from our past, question something we think we know, or see possibilities we did not know existed.

Although it is difficult to agree on a single definition of art, everyone would agree that a world without art would feel incomplete. Paintings, sculpture, dance. music and even athletic performances can all be works of art. They all have the power to inspire us to go beyond our everyday thoughts.

Creating art is a means of discovery that unfolds with the exploration of an idea, emotion or fantasy. Art requires physical skill but it is powered by the imagination. What appears effortless is the result of dedication, time and effort. Art has a dynamic quality; it pulses with life.

Each yoga practitioner can be an artist. Just as art that does not go beyond the piece itself is really a craft, yoga that is done just for exercise is really just stretching. It has value but not the same quality as a true work of art.

When there is a balance of muscular and organic energy, when their is sensitivity to the alignment and when their is an inner joy that is expressed through the pose, yoga becomes art. It invites us to explore our bodies, our breath and our hearts in a way that is uplifting. The details are as important as the overall picture. Yoga involves using the breath to pulse between the details and the whole pose.

Rather than dispute what is art and what is not art, allow yourself to be open to the possibility that art exists all around us. It inspires us to feel more deeply and to see more clearly. Looking at art or practicing yoga we can reconnect with our inner spirit, we can experience the mysterious as it unfolds slowly layer by layer allowing us to feel deeply and discover more about ourselves and the world around us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is it Luck or something else?

Popular belief says that luck is good fortune that is bestowed upon us by chance. Some people are considered to be born lucky because they are successful and happy. We wish people "good luck" before a competition or an important event as if asking some mysterious outside force to help them win or have a desired outcome.

Why do some people seem to be so lucky and others so unlucky? Is it something beyond our control or is it the way some people think and behave? Certainly there is an element of chance in our lives that is part of our good fortune. But luck is more the result of a positive attitude, discipline, setting intentions and taking action.

Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics. Was this good luck? Maybe there was an element of luck, but it was more his 12 years of dedicated training everyday, including holidays. It was his ability to focus in a meditative way that he developed even after having taken Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child. He did not give up when he was behind during the 100-meter butterfly and ended up touching the wall 1/100 second ahead of his competitor in a moment that made history. He was prepared for luck!

There has been serious research that shows that people who are identified as lucky smile more often. They have more positive beliefs than negative beliefs. They ask for things and look for opportunity even in difficult situations. Lucky people align themselves for good fortune.

Yoga can help you become more lucky. When you practice yoga be open to being connected with something bigger, some higher power that is supporting you. Be sensitive to the alignment of your body and to the power of your breath. Explore your limits from the strength of your core. If a pose is difficult for you, let that be your teacher. Learn something new. Remember that every pose is alive and moving.

Luck may appear in many guises. What may at first appear to be misfortune could be the lesson that helps you see other creative options. Thank your lucky stars but more importantly remember that an open heart and open mind pave the golden road of opportunity.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Order in Diversity

Within the vast diversity of nature there is a divine order. This order can be represented mathematically even though all of nature is living and breathing and changing. The Fibonacci numbers, and the Golden Ratio that is related to them, are part of this divine order.

Fibonacci numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc. Each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. These numbers are found abundantly in nature. Seashells, sunflowers, branches of trees, human and animal body proportions, galaxies, DNA, the solar system all have an order containing these numbers.

When you divide each fibonacci number by the preceding number, the ratio approaches the "Golden Ratio" also known as phi. This number is an irrational number that is never actually reached but is approximated by 1.618. The ratio is obtained by dividing consecutively larger fibonacci numbers, and it alternates being slightly above or slightly below phi. For example 3/2=1.5 (below phi) and 5/3=1.666 (above phi). So there is a pulsation above and below the mean. The decimals go on forever without repeating.

People, animals, plants, art and architecture that we perceive as beautiful all contain the proportions of phi or 1 to 1.618. Dolphins, tigers, patterns on moths and butterflies, penguins and the human body have proportions with the Golden Ratio. Your total height is 1.618 times the height of your belly button. The human body is built according to the Golden Ratio. Phi proportions are found in many works of art such as the Mona Lisa, the Parthenon, the pyramids of Egypt, and Michaelangelo's David.

Phi cannot be written as a ratio because the decimals are infinite. The exact value of phi can never be reached but the journey towards it reveals much of the beauty of nature. In yoga the perfect pose is elusive. Each pose is slightly different for everyone because we are all unique. The journey towards perfecting our yoga poses will teach us many things about our body and how to pulse with the breath. Just as the values of phi obtained from increasing fibonacci numbers alternate above and below the Golden Ratio, in yoga we alternate between drawing into our center and expanding out toward our edges.

There is order in nature and there is order in yoga. The diversity in nature can make it difficult to see the order, and the diversity of yoga poses can make it difficult to see the order that is the same in all the poses. The order is expressed in the actions. Every pose requires stabilizing the foundation with muscular energy, aligning our bodies and moving from the core.

Seeing how the same patterns are repeated in so many diverse life forms and how every yoga pose works with the same principles, suggests that there is something bigger to our world than can be seen or explained by the rational mind. But to open up and be receptive to this energy or power or spirit can help us to feel supported, connected and empowered on our journey.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lessons from Merlin

Cats know exactly who they are and they know exactly what they want. Merlin, my feline companion, has a regal air as he trots around with his luxuriant tail held high. He moves with grace and ease. When he snuggles with me and I feel the vibration of his purring, a sense of peacefulness fills me.

Merlin has taught me many lessons over the years:
  • Purr softly and relax with the sound of your breath.

  • Be patient; wait for the right moment to spring into action.

  • Make your desires known.

  • Take good care of yourself.

  • Set your sights high. You never know how high you can leap.

  • Step softly. You don’t need to be aggressive to get attention.

  • Have fun with even the simplest of toys.

  • Explore new territory. There are an infinite number of places you can use for a cozy nap.

  • Move with grace, dignity and ease.

  • Keep your senses alert. Life is more exciting this way.

  • Stretch deeply. Savor your long flexible spine.

  • Fully delight in the small things in life.

  • Be curious. There is always something new waiting to be discovered.

  • Enjoy the company of friends and snuggle quietly together.

  • If you fall, be quick to land on your feet and bounce right back.

  • Believe in yourself. You are beautiful!
Let the energy of the cat inspire your yoga practice. Be curious about how to make subtle changes in alignment and how your mind and body feel with those changes. Delight in the small details of the pose and move with grace and awareness as you transition from pose to pose. Honor your body - do not push yourself beyond your limits. Know that pain is an indication to stop and not a challenge to keep going in the same direction.

Be patient. Changing habits and attitudes takes time. Let the energy of the cat inspire you to walk softly with power, be curious even about the things you see everyday and spring into action when the right moment arrives.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Practice of Resilience

Resilience is necessary for survival. It helps us adapt to change. Life is not always easy. We are going to fall. We are going to fail. We do not know what will happen as the future becomes our present. But if we can pick ourselves up, if we can weather the storm, if we can come back from adversity, that is the practice of resilience.

Turtles have been around for 215 million years. They are a symbol of resilience. There has been a lot of change on this earth over their existence but they have been able to survive. Turtles adapt their internal temperature to the external conditions. On land they move slowly, but they are willing to stick their neck out to get where they want to go.

When life is difficult, or when things change in unexpected ways, what do you do? Do you retreat into your shell? Or do you stick your neck out and look around and then slowly begin to move in some direction. Going into your shell metaphorically is OK. The shell is there for protection, relief and recovery. But eventually we need to embrace or at least accept changes and move forward with our lives despite the setbacks and hardships.

Yoga helps us to be resilient. Part of being resilient is being flexible. Part of being resilient is being strong. And part of being resilient is being sensitive to our internal and external conditions.

Many yoga poses are difficult. They put our bodies in positions we are not used to. But this helps us to become more flexible. We need to engage our muscles to move safely into these new positions. This helps us to build strength. As we go deeply into a pose we will reach an edge. This is a place we need to respect or we can injure ourselves. So we need to be sensitive to where we are physically and mentally each time we practice a pose.

Cultivate your ability to adapt to change. Take time to breathe and notice how you are feeling inside and what is going on around you. Be willing to move slowly at times. Challenging times are inevitable, but if you are flexible enough to bounce back these challenges become opportunities.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reaching for the Roots

Reaching for the roots allows you to reach for the sky. First you need a solid foundation, then you can soar! Sometimes you need to look where you do not expect of find what you seek.

Roots support all plant life. Although they are typically hidden underground, roots always send shoots above the ground. It is the roots that bring nourishment and support to the biggest of trees. A tree cannot live without its roots.

Roots are mysterious because we cannot see them. They live in the darkness. The seed first grows roots before it can send energy above ground.

Humans do not have physical roots. But we do have spiritual roots. They are the hidden parts of us that nourish and support us. It is easy to be distracted by the physical world around us. Going inward requires slowing down which is difficult in our hectic modern world.

In yoga we need to establish a strong foundation as the basis for any pose. So we send rooting energy downward to allow us to lengthen upward. Prana is the vital life force we have within us and that which breathes through us. There are different Prana vayus or functions. Two of the Prana vayus are apana vayu and prana vayu. The apana vayu is the root energy that moves downward from the pelvis. It is associated with the exhalation. The prana vayu moves upward from the heart. It governs the inhalation. Together they lengthen our spine and create a feeling of expansion. Together they give us life.

Examining our roots can mean looking into our past but it also means going deep inside. When we can feel our roots, we have strength and power. Places that may seem mysterious and not fully understood are where we find the answers that have the most meaning for each individual. Just as the roots of tree need the dormancy of the leaves to begin growing again, we need to slow down our busy lives to allow our spiritual growth to deepen. Enjoy this stillness as a time of expansion and awakening.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Being yourself

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.
Oscar Wilde

Who are you? A dancer, a teacher, a carpenter, a banker? Or is who you are something deeper, something harder to define, something that is unique to each individual?

Being yourself sounds easy, but try it! It is easy to wish you were someone else, someone who has more talent, more intelligence, more money, more wit or more beauty. We are programmed by our society to be competitive, to judge others and to define ourselves by what we do. Are you a human-being or a human-doing?

There is pressure in our society to conform and to be something we are expected to be by others. But trying to be someone we are not will feel like something is missing in our lives. For example, if you have strong creative talents and you try to be a banker, you would feel frustrated because your creativity would be held back. And if you loved numbers and working within a tight structure and tried to be an artist, you would feel lost.

We all need to eat, drink, play, sleep and but how we do each of these things is different for each of us. Just as every flower, every snowflake, every bird in nature is different, each of us is unique. That is the marvel of creation.

Being with your breath in yoga brings you to the stillness where you can feel the pose. Thinking is necessary to get us into the pose initially, but ultimately we can lose the thought and find the pose. The pose becomes a reflection of who you are.

Being yourself requires loving and accepting yourself. Let go of the notion of being defined by what you do. You are the perfection you seek. When your heart feels open, when your life feels in balance, then you have found the freedom of being yourself.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Act of Stone Balancing

Shane Hart balances stones. He spends hours using gravity and friction to create sculptures that seem impossible. "It's a meditative art that evokes a sense of amazement, focuses our attention in the moment, and challenges us to examine our attachment to the material world", says Shane.

The key to creating these fleeting sculptures is locating the cracks and crevices in the stones. He says, "Sit and work patiently and mindfully; eventually the stones click into place". His sculpture are not meant to last. A breeze or heavy footstep could send the rocks tumbling. But this does not bother Shane. Impermanence is an important lesson and he views his work as a metaphor for life's ephemerality.

Rocks are alive. They breathe. But it is difficult for us to see the vastness of this geologic time scale. In our lifetime we will not see the formation of mountains or rocks slowly being whittled to sand. We tend to fear our impermanence. But beauty, grace and consciousness are all grounded in impermanence. The stones eventually fall. This is part of the act of balance.

Connecting with nature is an important part of balance in our yoga practice. Every pose is temporary. Every pose is a balancing act. Every pose is meant to be about the journey, exploring our breath and finding the mind/body connection. That is why we do not stay at the edge and do not stay at the center. We pulse between these places. We should not have an attachment to the perfect pose. Perfection itself is only temporary.

Find the balance point in your yoga and in your life. Find freedom in impermanence. Be mindful of every moment. As Shane says of his work, "When I am done, I take it down and I am free."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Risk

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
TS Eliot

Taking risks is almost as necessary as taking a breath of fresh air. It gives our lives meaning and exhilaration. Risks do not guarantee success, but they do guarantee knowledge. We learn from risk-taking. We learn about our strengths and weaknesses. We learn about our limits. We can often surprise ourselves that we are capable of more than we imagined.

By definition, risk includes the possibility of loss or injury or some kind of peril. But it can also result in amazing triumph or gain. Risk involves uncertainty. We can never know the outcome of a risk in advance.

We need to be prepared for a risk we decide to take. For example, if we decide to dive from a high rock into a lake, we need to know that the lake is deep enough to avoid injury. This does not necessarily take away the fear of diving from a high place. Not to test the water first for depth would be a foolish risk. But once we take that dive, the excitement of the free fall and plunge into the watery depths makes us feel fully alive.

Attitude is key for risk-taking. When we reach out to another person we risk rejection. But if we don't take that risk we miss out on the experience of loving and being loved. If we challenge ourselves to reach a goal, we risk failure but we also have the opportunities to grow as a person and achieve our goals. Risk involves taking responsibility and acceptance of the outcome.

When we practice yoga we can play it safe by just taking the form of a pose. We can choose not to test how deep we can go into the pose. We can practice mechanically without putting our feelings into the pose.

Or we can play with the edges. We can feel how far we can go safely within that pose. We can really tune into our bodies and learn something new each time we practice. We can fully engage our minds and hearts in our practice. We can risk changing ourselves. We can take yoga beyond just stretching.

Life is not about certainty. The more we test our limits, the more our limits expand and change. So take the plunge.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Finding the calm within the storm

Life can be overwhelming and chaotic. When your mind is going full blast it is difficult to feel peaceful. How do we find comfort and quiet when we feel exhausted and full of uncertainty?

Just as hurricanes have a calm, quiet center surrounded by raging winds and powerful rains, we too, have tranquility in our deepest core. Inside each of us is a quiet center, a place where we are connected to a higher power. We have to slow down to find this center.

Our breath connects us to this center. We are not really in control of our breath. We are being breathed by something bigger that exists inside of each of us. This power has many different names: God, Spirit, Grace, Higher Power, Divine Nature, etc. But we have all felt it at some moments in our lives. We know its presence.

In yogic philosophy prakriti means all matter, everything that changes and evolves. Purusha means Spirit or that which is constant and unchanging. Our chaotic lives are prakriti. But the deep stillness that lives within us is part of purusha. Purusha exists within prakriti.

The mind and body are deeply connected. When we practice yoga we focus on the breath. We open up to something bigger that supports us - purusha. When we become proficient in our yoga practice we are working from that quiet center. That center is our place of strength and power. The balance necessary for yoga comes from this place of power. That is why we feel relaxed and energized after a yoga practice.

Connecting with the rhythm of our breath and with the pulse of nature helps bring us to this quiet place. When we realize that we are not alone, the chaos loses its power over us. Dance with your breath, connect with the rhythm of life and find the calm within the storm.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Some stories can truly inspire us to realize that we can make a positive impact in our lives and in the lives of others. Greg Mortenson's story of building schools for the children in rural Pakistan touches the heart of all who learn of his dedication to this cause.

After spending 2 months weathering terrible storms at high altitude and a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2 in northern Pakistan, Greg was descending back to civilization when he became disorientated and separated from his friends. Suffering from dehydration, altitude sickness and overall weakness, he stumbled into an impoverished remote village where he was taken in by a local family and slowly nursed back to health.

While living in the village he was shown the local "school" which consisted of the children sitting on an patch of land scratching their lessons in the dirt with sticks. The people were too poor to afford anything better and Greg was determined to help build a real school for the children.

Returning to the United States Greg sent out hundreds of letters to celebrities and other potential donors but received only a one-hundred dollar donation. Greg persevered by giving talks with slide shows until he finally found one donor who gave him enough money to build one school.

When he went back with the money to build the school, the villagers told Greg they needed a bridge first because the only access to the village was across a rickety, unsafe bridge high above a swift river. So Greg had to restructure his plans and work on the bridge first.

After many setbacks Greg was able to complete the bridge and eventually the school. He has documented his journey in his book "Three Cups of Tea". The villagers had a saying, "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything, even die."

If you practice yoga with dedication, your practice will nourish your mind, body and spirit in ways that will keep growing and expanding beyond what you would first imagine. Greg's one school has grown to 80 schools over the past 15 years as Greg remained dedicated to his cause. As you become more centered and focused in your yoga practice, you become stronger and your body becomes wiser. Greg's goal was to give the children of Pakistan more options than just being recruited by the local militia. Education gave them more opportunities. Greg's mission was to promote peace with books.

Yoga helps to educate our bodies and minds to breathe more fully, to feel and develop proper alignment and to build and tone our muscles evenly. It brings us more into balance. With balance we are able to move more efficiently and conserve energy for the things that are important and meaningful in our lives. Yoga gives us the opportunity to connect more fully with our inner wisdom. Connecting with our inner wisdom leads to inner peace. Inner peace communicated through our words and actions contributes to a peaceful energy that takes on a life of its own. Each of us in this way can have a positive impact, big or small, that will grow and touch the lives of others.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kindness: the ultimate renewable resource

Kindness feels good. It is contagious and totally renewable. There are scientific studies done about the health benefits of kindness. Endorphins are released and stress-related health problems improve after you perform an act of kindness.

There is a true story about a man that held a sign on a busy street corner saying, "Free Hugs". At first people passed him by pretending not to notice. But then one tiny woman stopped to tell him how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. So they hugged and she smiled.

That first hug turned into an outpouring of people hugging. The feeling seemed to grow after that first hug. At one point the police stopped the hugging, tried to fine the man holding the "Free Hug" sign and ban the public act of free hugging. But after 10,000 signatures were collected on a petition, free hugs were reinstated. People want to hug and connect with each other.

Being kind includes being kind to yourself even when no one else is involved. Kindness comes from love. If we can support ourselves with kindness and self-love, we will have the willingness and openness to practice kindness as a habit that comes almost without thinking. Just a generous smile to a stranger could brighten their day.

Practicing yoga is an act of kindness to our bodies, minds and spirit if we practice in a mindful way. We need to embrace ourselves lovingly. Being unkind to our bodies even in yoga can lead to injury. So let kindness guide your actions. We want to practice in a way that feels good and not forceful. Kindness involves sensitivity and compassion. So we practice yoga by hugging our muscles to the bone as a gentle embrace. The hugging action is contractive but the feeling created is expansive. There is power in softness. There is power in kindness. And it is a resource we can never run out of.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Simplicity

"From naive simplicity we arrive at more profound simplicity."
Albert Schweitzer

Simplicity isn't always simple. At first something may appear to be simple. But as we learn more, it becomes more complex. When we simplify something that is complex, it becomes profound.

Some might say that simplicity is inferior to complexity. Simplicity implies that something is easy to understand. If a person is thought of as simple. one might consider them to be unintelligent or even stupid. But is this true?

We pulse between simplicity and complexity. This pulsation is how we deepen our understanding of life. Simplicity is about the essence of an idea, person, theory, thought, etc. Complexity involves many layers, and details and can get confusing. Simplicity is very clear. We often get glimpses of simplicity that become clouded with complexities. "Less is more." This oxymoron lies at the heart of the meaning of simplicity.

In yoga we pulse with the breath. The inhalation and exhalation are opposites: one brings the breath in and the other sends the breath out. But together they make up breathing. They are necessary for the other. At first a pose like down dog may seem simple. But the longer you stay in down dog, the more complex or difficult it may become. As you practice and understand the complexities of down dog, it comes back to feeling easier to hold and simple in the sense that we do not feel overwhelmed in down dog.

When practicing yoga or when things seem overwhelming, stop and focus on your breath. Fully appreciate the energy and vibrancy of the inhalations and exhalations. When we simplify our focus, life become easier. Simplicity leads to understanding. It is the luminous treasure that we all seek in this journey of life.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Contentment


"Contentment is natural wealth. Luxury is artificial poverty."
Socrates

Recognizing our innate goodness, our divine nature and how we are all connected and supported by a higher power is the root of contentment. Contentment is like the bed of a river. The water flows, rises and falls, shifts happen but the bed of the river gives shape, support and constancy to the river. Contentment is part of who we are. If we are always looking for something more outside of ourselves to be happy, we will never be truly content.

Contentment does not mean sitting around and doing nothing. Although sometimes if we do sit around and do nothing, we can still be content. Challenging oneself and having goals can either lead to contentment or frustration. If our motivation is trying to be better than someone else or we feel we need to be better to be happy, we will only achieve a false contentment that will not last.

Is the glass half full or half empty? Contentment is not about seeing the glass as half full. The glass is both half empty and half full. Recognizing this and feeling good even though the glass is not completely full, is being content. Contentment is being OK with what we do have now.

In yoga when we are aware of our breath and move from our core our poses will have a feeling of steadiness and freedom. We want to express our poses from the inside. Inner contentment leads to a practice that is non-competitive and will protect us from injury. When we practice a twisting pose, if we try to force our twist to be deeper by using more muscular energy, we can hurt our backs. But if we allow our bodies to expand into the twist from within with our exhalation, we can go just as deep safely and without force. When our strength comes from contentment we do not overextend ourselves. We know when we need to rest and rejuvenate.

Practicing yoga involves testing the edges and coming back to the middle. Exploring our choices, our limitations, and our strengths helps us to find balance. Contentment comes from connecting with the bigger pulse, from energy that ebbs and flows. It is this constant pulsation that connects us to the essence of yoga.

Socrates had great wisdom and always believed that he knew nothing because the world is full of mystery. He was content with this belief. Contentment is like wisdom. It cannot be taught. It comes from how we live our life. Clinging to material wealth will lead to spiritual poverty. Be appreciative of the natural wealth you have with the gift of life. Simplicity leads to the greatest wealth of all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why pretend you are lame?

Deep in the woods there lived a fox with no front legs. A man living nearby saw the fox and wondered how it was able to survive. Then one day while watching the fox, the man saw a tiger approach with fresh game in its mouth. Lying on the ground the tiger ate his fill and left the rest for the fox.

The next day the fox was fed by the same tiger. The man began to think, "If this fox is taken care of in this mysterious way , its food sent by some unseen Higher Power, why don't I just rest in a corner and have my meals provided for me?"

Having great faith, each day the man waited patiently for his food. Nothing happened. He kept losing weight and strength until he was nearly a skeleton. Then he heard a Voice that said, "You have mistaken the way, see now the Truth. You have both your arms and legs and should have followed the example of the tiger instead of the disabled fox."

The mistake the man made was waiting too long for something to be done for him. He acted as if he was disabled. He only saw one side of the picture. The fox was receiving but the tiger was giving. How often do we see only the thing we want to see that will benefit us? Do we stubbornly cling to an idea even when we are receiving messages that we need to change our course of action? The man was starving but he still did not see that his plan was not working.

In yoga we need to actively participate in each pose. There needs to be a balance of giving and receiving. We open up to grace, to the possibility that we can expand and learn something new with every pose. We give our attention to a strong foundation. to engaging our muscles and hugging inward. Flexibility comes by balancing the inward actions with outward releasing. Pulsing with the energy of our breath and the bigger pulsation of nature brings our pose to life. If something is not working with a pose, if we are not breathing, we need to stop and re-evaluate what we are doing. We can learn lessons from our own practice and from the experience of others.

Learn from the tiger and the fox. There are times when we have the opportunity to give and share. There are times when we need to accept help if we are in need. But to ignore messages that are our plan is not working can be devastating. Use your talents and resources. Don't ignore the gifts you have. Strength balanced with softness, giving balanced with receiving and a mind open to change, will allow us to prosper and experience the fullness of life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The art of gentle persuation













The Wind and the Sun were having an argument about who was stronger and more powerful. Suddenly they saw a traveler with a heavy cloak walking down the road. The Sun said, "Whoever can get the cloak off the traveler shall be considered the strongest". The Wind agreed to the challenge and the Sun retired behind a cloud while the Wind began to blow with all its might. The harder the Wind blew and tore at the traveler's cloak, the more closely the traveler wrapped the cloak around himself. Finally in frustration the Wind gave up and let the Sun have a turn. The Sun began to shine all his warmth upon the traveler who soon became hot and took off his cloak proving that the gentle persuasion of the Sun was stronger than all the forceful efforts of the Wind.

How often in life do we try to make things happen, believing that the harder we try the more likely we are to get what we want? Is it possible that "No pain, no gain" is a myth? Intention, hard work and discipline needed to learn and grow, but forceful effort can lead to injury and unnecessary pain. Letting go and being in the moment are keys to allowing what we seek to come to us. It is a dance between intention and acceptance. To believe that we are in control is an illusion. Life is vast and full of mystery.

One of the most important things we can learn from yoga is to relax into the fullness of the pose. We need a strong foundation, we need muscular energy, but if there is no softness, if we are not aware of our breath, the pose will never be experienced with its full benefits. It is on the exhalation, as we gently let go of the breath, that we expand fulling into the pose. Yoga means union, the yoking of seemingly opposites. Too much muscular energy causes restrictions and too much relaxation does not give the needed foundation to support the pose. We need sensitivity to listen to our body and honor the messages it gives us.

When we realize we are connected to a higher power, to something bigger than ourselves, we can let go of some of our willing and effort. Instead we can feel supported and accepting of lessons that are presented to us. Sometimes the route to what we want is circuitous. It is the journey that is the real prize, and the reward often comes with less effort than expected.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The energy of spirals













Mysterious and captivating, spirals are everywhere. Spiral algae (spirulina) has existed on the earth for over 3,500 million years. Odd spiraling gorges are etched deep into the polar ice caps of Mars. They are one of the earliest examples of human expression and can be seen in the art of all ancient civilizations.

Galaxies form the largest spirals with stars expanding outward from a concentrated center into bright, spiral arms. These spiral arms have a high density of stars with continuous new star formations. Flowers often unfold from a bud in a spiral pattern. The seeds of a sunflower, the growing tips of ferns, sea shells, pine cones, pineapples. cactus, vine tendrils, the center of a cabbage and snails all have special and unique spirals. Global weather patterns and hurricanes are huge energy spirals.

Spiral energy is an intrinsic part of human nature. The musculature of the human body has a spiral arrangement and the diagonal pull of these spirals gives our muscles flexibility. Fluid in our fascia, part of our connective tissue, moves in spirals. Even the human fingerprint has a spiral shape.

Circles are closed but spirals remain open and can be two or three dimensional. Originating from a center and moving in expanding circular curves, spirals appear to be going back to the starting point but never really arrive back at the same place. Something is always different.

Our path through life is like a spiral. Sometimes we may feel like we keep coming back to the same place without change, but there is always something different if we look hard enough. Just as some spirals are small and tight, while others are wide and expansive, the change may be barely perceptible or surprisingly different. We continue to have experiences that shift our perspective so there can always be something new in the familiar.

Our yoga practice has this spiraling nature. We come back to the same poses over and over again but each time our energy may have shifted, our bodies may feel different, and our minds may perceive some new nuance of the pose or feeling that arises from the pose. Our breath spirals outward as we inhale and spirals inward as we exhale. We use inner and outer spirals in our legs and arms to create stability and balance. Twists have a spiraling component. They help to massage and rejuvenate our internal organs.

There are the ever-expanding spirals of growth and there are the spirals that pulse back and forth between expanding and contracting. All of these spirals are forms of energy. They connect us to nature and to the divine cosmic energy. They are alive with movement and pulsation. Spirals will always be mysterious. But beauty lies in mystery. Connecting with the spiraling energy that lives in and around us helps life to flow with fluidity and grace.


Friday, July 17, 2009

The beauty of flaws


Once there was a man who carried water daily from a stream to his house. He carried it in two large pots hung from a pole slung across his neck.

One pot was perfect and always arrived at his house full of water. The other pot had a crack so it was only half full when he arrived home.

One day the cracked pot told the man he felt ashamed that he failed to deliver a full pot of water to the house.

The man replied with kindness that the pot was not a failure and told him to look along the path on the way home from the stream today.

The pot noticed the path was lined with lots of flowers. It was still sad feeling that it was a failure because it could not deliver a full pot of water.

But the man told the pot not to be sad. He said, "For all these years I have planted flower seeds on your side of the path only. Every day as we walked back from the stream you watered the seeds through your crack and the seeds sprouted and the flowers bloomed. Because you are the way you are, everyone in the village can decorate their homes with beautiful flowers. Each of us is a cracked pot in one way or another. But there is still no limit to the beauty we can create."

Everyone has what they would consider to be flaws. Often we focus on our flaws and ignore our gifts. But even our flaws have their value. They teach us lessons and if viewed from a compassionate perspective they help us to become stronger, more patient and more humble.

Perhaps you have tight hamstrings and consider that a flaw. But maybe you could use those tight hamstrings to really learn how to engage the muscles of your legs so that you can safely stretch your hamstrings. Perhaps that focus of learning how to engage your legs evenly leads to a greater sense of balance and grounding than you have previously experienced. Your hamstrings may lead you to a practice of better balance and strength.

Take a second look at your flaws. How can you use them to your advantage? How can you use them to help someone else? How can you use your flaws to bring more beauty into the world? We all have hidden gifts, we all have flaws, and we are all human. Our flaws can teach us more forgiveness for ourselves and others. Our flaws can teach us how to use our own uniquenss in a beneficial way.

Know that there is always someone who believes in you even when you feel you have failed. We all share the gift of a divine energy that breaths and lives in and through us. Look for the flowers along the road of life and notice their beauty despite their flaws.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Letting go of limited beliefs

Six blind men were curious to know about elephants. So they journeyed to visit an elephant and discover what an elephant really was.

The first blind man leaned against the side of the elephant and said an elephant was like a wall.

The second blind man felt the round, smooth and sharp tusk and concluded the elephant is like a spear.

The third blind man was near the trunk of the elephant. When he held the trunk he decided the elephant was like a snake.

The fourth blind man felt around the knee of the elephant and was convinced the elephant was like a tree.

The fifth blind man was near the ear of the elephant and upon exploring the ear remarked that the elephant was like a fan.

The sixth blind man grabbed the tail of the elephant and was sure the elephant was like a rope.

So the blind men argued about what an elephant was like and could not agree because each person had experienced a different part of the elephant and being blind they could not see the whole elephant.

How many times have we had this similar experience? We are all blind to a certain extent.We are often blind to the possibilities of another point of view, of another truth. We see what we experience and what is closest to us. The whole reality is often not what we believe.

How can we change that? How can we be open to the realities of others that may be their known truth? Looking at life from a particular perspective can predispose one toward perceptual error - toward seeing the partial truth as the whole truth.

In our yoga practice we may think a pose is complete. But have we explored all aspects and angles of the pose? Have we followed the breath? Have we created a strong foundation? Do we feel inner and outer expansion? Do we feel softness? Can we go deeper? Are we honoring our edges? There are many aspects that make a yoga pose fuller and more complete.

What is yoga? Is it just the breath? Is it just the physical poses? Is it meditation? Is it relaxing? Is it powerful? Is it connecting with a Divine power?

Yoga is a union of many things that may appear to be opposites. But these opposites together bring us closer to the true experience of yoga. Yoga extends beyond the mat into our daily lives. Practicing yoga on the mat is a vehicle for transformation in our daily lives.

Ask yourself: How complete is my Reality? The path to knowledge is like the layers of an onion. Each layer unfolds to a new layer, a new point of view. We need to let go of our limited view points to see the bigger picture. Just as one blind man's experience of the tail is not the whole elephant, our experiences are just part of the unlimited aspects of existence. Open your hearts and minds to the infinite possibilities that exist in each moment and allow more of the big picture of life to reveal itself to you.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In Search of Freedom

What is freedom? Is it lack of restrictions or constraints? Is it the ability to do what we want, when we want? Or does the true meaning of freedom lie at a much deeper personal level?

Christopher McCandless wanted to find freedom by seeking adventures and going to live in the wild in Alaska. He wanted to escape the restrictions of society and expectations of his parents. He sought to live off the land and feel the freedom of the wilderness around him. On his journey to Alaska he met some people and forged relationships with them that influenced him at a deep level.

Living in the wild Christopher had many wonderful experiences. He had a lot of time alone to journal and live off the land. One of his earlier quotes was: "It should not be denied that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations. Absolute freedom. And the road has always led west." He was able to survive for about four months but being unable to cross the spring-flooded river and not finding enough food ultimately led to his starvation. One of his last journal entries was: "Happiness only real when shared". His idea of freedom had shifted and transformed into something deeper than escape and adventure.

Freedom is a feeling of having power and choices. It feels expansive and joyful. It allows us to express ourselves without fear of rejection or failure. Freedom has boundaries but the boundaries are flexible. Reckless freedom with no adherence to anything can lead to injury, unhappiness and even death. Driving through a red light would be an example of reckless freedom.

True freedom comes from a connection with the Divine, with the inner knowledge of your true self. Freedom is a balancing act of testing our limits and coming back to our center. It is a balance between honoring our needs and desires and being sensitive the needs and feelings of others.

In our yoga practice we want to feel that sense of expansion, peace and power. The ultimate form of the pose is an expression of freedom. That freedom comes from an inner expansion and an inner strength. From a strong foundation we can have true freedom.

Allow the breath to move freely and easily. We are being breathed by a higher power that connects all of us. The breath gives us the gift of life. With our exhalations we experience the freedom of letting go of that precious gift. This allows us to receive it again and again.

We all seek freedom. But sometimes the ways and directions we are seeking do not ultimately lead to our perceived goal. We spend our time and energy on various accomplishments, acquiring wealth and possessions with the idea of being happy and free to do what we want. But often the happiness is fleeting or not there at all. We have exchanged our internal freedom for external pleasures and goals. Part of freedom involves letting go. Freedom is not an escape. Freedom is when our internal worlds and our external worlds connect in harmony.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Waiting for the moment to reveal itself

Quieting the mind and being totally present in the moment is a subtle yet difficult art. We have the illusion of control and try to accomplish tasks by willing our way with effort. The idea of allowing whatever we are trying to accomplish to reveal itself to us might seem absurd. Yet in the stillness of the moment is when we receive our greatest gifts.

Eugen Herrigel went to Japan to learn the art of archery. He studied with a Zen master who tried to teach him over and over again to wait for the moment when the arrow would release itself without his control. For months and months Eugen would practice sometimes trying to trick the master to make it look like he had found this magical moment. Sometimes he believed himself that he had let the arrow release itself, but the master had a keen awareness that could not be fooled.

In his book, Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen described what the master was trying to teach: "This state, in which nothing definite is thought, planned, striven for, desired or expected, which aims in no particular direction and yet knows itself capable alike of the possible and the impossible, so unswerving in its power this state, which is at bottom purposeless and egoless, was called by the Master truly "spiritual". It is in fact charged with spiritual awareness and is therefore also called "right presence of mind". This means that the mind or spirit is present everywhere, because it is nowhere attached to any particular place. And it can remain present because even when related to this or that object, it does not cling to it by reflection and thus lose it original mobility. Like water filling a pond, which is always ready to flow off again, it can work its inexhaustible power because it is free, and be open to everything because it is empty. This state is essentially a primordial state, and its symbol, the empty circle, is not empty of meaning for him who stands within it."

A huge part of reaching this state is focusing on the breath. This is the practice of yoga. Focus on the breath. Feel the pose reveal itself to you. When the effort becomes effortless, when you feel free and strong, when your breath is full and easy, you are practicing the art of yoga.

The art of yoga and the art of archery are really the art of living. When we live from our heart center, when we can feel our breath, when we can pause and let the world reveal itself to us, when we can be detached and truly live in this moment, we have found a precious gift. Connecting with grace, a higher power, the power that breaths all of life; this is the key to inner peace and an ease where life flows with an unattached joy and a simplicity that sets us free.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Honoring the Sun

Summer solstice is a celebration of the longest day of the year. It is a time of light, but it is the beginning of days becoming shorter and moving toward darkness. Light and darkness are opposites but they work together. We cannot know light without knowing darkness and we cannot know darkness without knowing light. These opposites complement each other in a symbiotic way.

There are four times in the cycle of a year that have unique turning points. The Summer Solstice, the Winter Solstice marking the longest night and the Spring and Fall Equinox where the days and nights are exactly equal in length.

The solstices test the edges. The days and nights cannot get any longer. There has to be a return to the middle. The opposite is seeking balance. The equinoxes find the perfect balance. But this perfect balance cannot be maintained for long either. So the cycle continues and repeats itself - testing the edges and returning to balance.

This cycle is mirrored in yoga practice and in life. We test the edges, we test our limits. The edges are where we learn but this is also where we need to change direction and move back toward the center. Just as the summer solstice lasts only one day, we do not stay at the edge.

In yoga we move into our poses slowly with awareness and sensitivity. We reach the edge with a softening and expansion, enjoy a taste of that edge and then gently move away with the breath. We can retest the edge but it is not a place to linger. Just as nature pulses, we pulse with our breath.

With a fiery core with an expansive light, the sun illuminates and gives life. In yoga move from your core, your belly, your fiery center and expand outward. On an inhalation fill up with the energy of the sun feeling an inner brightness and fullness. Feel the inner lightness radiate outward. On the exhalation. soften and let go. Just as the sun is a source of renewable energy, respect your edges so you do not burn out or injure yourself. Return to your center to renew and rejuvenate yourself. Feel your inner light align with the brilliance of the sun. We are all manifestations of the same energy. Let the sun inspire your heart to be open and free.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Feeling the joy
















The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon are probably the fastest long distance runners in the world. Christopher McDougall is a runner who was constantly injured from running and decided to live and study with the Tarahumara Indians. They run barefoot or in the simplest shoes and are extremely healthy and joyful. His experiences are documented in his book "Born to Run".

When asked what are some of the secrets you learned from them he replied, “The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.

Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. For them, running isn’t work. It isn’t a punishment for eating. It’s fine art, like it was for our ancestors. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.”

When we practice yoga with joy we are experiencing true yoga. If we practice yoga like it is something we must do and treat it like a competition we miss the true essence of yoga. If your neck feels tight and you are holding your breath, pause. Find the place where you can expand and feel the softness. Find your inner joy. Let that feeling radiate throughout your body. Express joy in your pose.

Remembering joy and having a playful attitude is the key to less injury, achieving more and experiencing our true nature. Sure, there will always be times where we forget our joy, when things are tough and when we feel alone. But just as everything in nature pulses, we can always return to the joy of the abundance of life. Letting go and being able to go with the flow is key to feeling the joy. Releasing expectations is difficult but it holds a freedom and yields many benefits. Believe in your innate beauty. Return to simplicity to experience the complexity of nature. Find abundance in the seemingly mundane. Align with nature to run with the wind.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Empowerment is contagious

What does empower mean? It's oldest meaning is "to bring into power". But today empower has many meanings. We can empower ourselves and we can empower others. So rather than having power over others it is about coming into your own power and helping others do the same.

When we are empowered we feel confident, free and energized. Empowerment means we believe in our capabilities. We believe we can change, make changes or just be who we are. We have choices and we feel that sense of upliftment that comes with feeling strong and having the ability to meet challenges.

Practicing yoga poses creates a feeling of empowerment. We ask our bodies to do things that we do not normally do in our daily lives. Accessing these hidden parts of our bodies helps us to feel more whole and more appreciative of how amazing our bodies are. We have to put the pieces of the puzzle together to do a difficult pose. If we do not use our breath, engage our muscles yet still find the softness to relax and expand, it will not be possible to hold many of the standing balance or arm balance poses. But when we do put all these pieces together, we feel empowered.

When we practice empowerment it is contagious. People gathered together with a common goal can empower each other. The feeling begins to spread and grow into a energy field that keeps expanding. There is often a vibration of empowerment in yoga classes. We uplift each other as we breath, engage and explore together. This is the power we want to embrace on and off the mat.

So take a moment to close your eyes. Feel your breath. Feel how the breath empowers your life. Feel the energy of the air, earth, sun, and nature around you. Notice how when you lengthen your spine, connect your shoulders onto the back, lengthen and align your neck with your spine you feel empowered. Aligning with your intentions, aligning with nature, aligning with your inner power brings the freedom that is our inherent gift for this journey of life.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Balance in Motion

Designed for speed, the cheetah moves with the perfect balance of muscular and organic energy. Recognized as the fastest land animal, nature has endowed the cheetah with large nostrils. lungs, liver, heart and adrenals to handle top speeds. Its bones are light and vertical collar bones help to lengthen its stride. Its spine works as a spring for the powerful back legs to stretch out almost horizontal to the ground when at top speed. The cheetah has been recorded at speeds up to 71 mph. The cheetah knows this speed is its edge and maintains it only for 200 - 300 yards. Its powerful intention to kill its prey for survival helps fuel this incredible speed.

When we tune into nature and tune into our own unique nature as human beings we can maximize our power and potential. If we create a strong intention we can achieve amazing feats. Yoga can help us learn how to balance muscular and organic energy. We have the innate knowledge of how to move, how to stand, how to rest and how to eat. But when we live out of balance, dictated too much by pressures of our jobs or desires to attain more wealth or prestige, we temporarily restrict our potential to live with optimal freedom and enjoyment.

We are all part of nature with similar needs. When we listen and respect the wisdom of our body and move with balance and integrity, we can reach our full potential and feel true enjoyment in our daily lives. So be inspired by the beauty and power of the cheetah. Take a moment to close your eyes and picture the cheetah energy in your body. Feel its supple spine alive with movement and length. Feel the strength in its hind legs and the stretch of its stride. A cheetah is connected to its own power. It does not doubt or second-guess itself. It moves with complete assurance and grace. Connect with the energy of the cheetah and find the freedom that comes from the balance of power and expansion.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Living in LaLa Land

Our perceptions are shaped by the two sides of our brains that are separate and very different. They communicate with each other and are connected by the corpus callosum. One side is typically more dominate than the other. Each hemisphere thinks and cares about different things.

The right hemisphere is all about this present moment and thinks in pictures. Our senses are experienced from this side of our brain. It tells us that we are energy beings connected to the energy all around us. The right brain gives us the feeling that in this moment we are perfect, whole and beautiful.

The left hemisphere thinks methodically about the past and the future. It is designed to take the enormous collage of the present moment and find the details. It thinks in language. It tells us what we need to do to function. It connects our internal world to the external world but reminds us of the separation of these two worlds. It gives us the concept of "I am".

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who had a stroke in the left side of her brain and was able to experience complete right side brain domination for short periods of time during her stroke. Life began to slow down. Her perception had changed from normal reality to becoming a witness of herself having experiences. Every step was very rigid and very deliberate - there was no fluidity. She could not define the boundaries of her body - she could only detect the energy of everything being connected. When the left hemisphere of her brain was silent, she became captivated by the magnificence surrounding her. She felt one with all the energy that was beautiful. There was a sense of euphoria at releasing years of emotional baggage in a split second. She felt like she was living in LaLa Land.

Then the left side of the brain would kick in and tell her that she was in danger - there was a problem and she needed help. When she tried to use the phone to call for help she realized she could not read, talk or hear language correctly.

Jill went back and forth between LaLa Land and realizing she needed help desperately. She was finally able to call for help after much difficulty. At one point she felt a moment of possible transition. She felt her spirit surrender as she said good-bye with a feeling of peace.

Waking up later in the hospital, Jill felt enormous and expansive as she realized she was still alive. She felt like she had found Nirvana when she fully experienced the right side of her brain. The realization that she had a choice to experience this peaceful place had a profound impact on her. She felt it was her mission to share this with the world and wrote a book titled "A Stroke of Insight".

Both sides of our brains are necessary to live a healthy productive life. Which side of your brain do you tend to hang out in more often? Do you feel ruled by goals, to-do lists and planning your future? Do you feel oblivious to what is going on around you because you are so blissed-out that you never get anything done? Or do you feel a balance between feeling peaceful and connected while still being able to function in society?

Yoga is a practice of balance. We need muscular energy to create a strong foundation. We need the softness of organic energy to experience the freedom of letting go to expand with intention. Playing the edges of being too contracted with muscular energy and too expansive and soft to keep our balance is how we find our center. This is how we experience the joy and ease of the two opposites working together. Be aware that you have this place of total peacefulness within yourself. You have the choice to experience this place of connection and the power of the present moment.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

To Be or Not To Be Connected?

The mind-body connection is very powerful and often overlooked in our society. We get caught up in our heads: thinking and planning, running from one activity to the next, figuring out what we want and solving problems that arise.

It is easy to forget about our body or not to listen to our body. When we push it beyond its limits, we get injured. This injury can be instantaneous or it can insidiously develop over an extended period of time without our knowledge until one day the pain is all too obvious.

The neck physically connects our head to our body. Isn't it interesting that so many people have chronic neck tension and pain? This pain is a result of a mind-body disconnect. We ignore our physical discomforts until we gradually do not even notice them. We ignore the signals our bodies are sending. We learn to live with our pain. We are not willing to take the time to feel the mind-body connection. Changing habits takes intention and awareness.

Typically the physical cause of neck pain is that our head is not in proper alignment with our body. When the head is extended forward of the spine, there is tension created from overuse of the muscles to hold the head in place. Even the natural curve of the neck can become distorted. This misalignment happens from how we sit, stand and walk and even how we think.

What causes us to lead with our head and forget our heart connection? When we live in our heads, we live in the past or the future. To be fully involved in the present, to be fully aware, requires us to align our minds and body. When our head is extended forward we are literally leading with our head. When the head is in line with the spine, our head and heart are in physical alignment. This helps bring us into the present moment.

Yoga literally means union. Yoga connects the mind, body and spirit. Moving with the breath, bringing the body back into alignment and relaxing the mind creates an environment where healing can occur. Balancing a connection to the core with expansion and freedom relieves stress and tension in the body. When your body and mind are connected, life just gets easier. When your body is out of alignment it will become tense to protect itself. When the body is in alignment, it will relax and become more fluid.

Take at least a few moments each day to be grateful for this gift of life. Close your eyes and inhale deeply feeling the power of the breath create an inner fullness. Listen to the song of the birds, feel the sunshine on your face or the freshness of a gentle rain. Aligning with nature and believing in the power of each individual moment, brings softness and fluidity into our lives. Feel your mind and body in balance. Choose to be connected.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pieces of the Puzzle

Life is like a puzzle in many ways. As we move through life we find bits and pieces of the puzzle along our path. Some of the pieces fit together easily. Other pieces seem unconnected. And sometimes we may find ourselves looking for a missing piece.

At times we may feel clear about the "big picture" but at other times we may wonder what life is really about. Why are we here? What is our unique mission or gift that we have to give?

Puzzles give a picture of the final form but there can be hundreds of little pieces that need to fit together or many, many ways of working the pieces into the final form. Working on the puzzle can be frustrating, challenging and rewarding.

Have you ever found a piece of a puzzle that almost fit but not quite; yet because it seemed so close you kept trying to get it to fit over and over? Maybe you repeat a pattern or behavior in life because it seems to fit the situation but the results are never really satisfying. This is when we need to take a break and come back with a fresh perspective. Try letting go of the idea of making something fit that does not quite work.

What about the times when you are looking for that special piece of the puzzle but no matter how hard you try you cannot seem to find it. The harder you look the more elusive and frustrating it becomes. Again, this is the moment to step back and take a break. Sometimes when we get away from what we are over-focused on, we may come back and find it easily just because we are more relaxed.

When practicing yoga you may often gain new insights about a pose that is challenging or even about a pose you have been doing for a long time. It is like new pieces of the puzzle are always being discovered or sometimes the old pieces finally fit into place. Even some of the most basic things like muscular energy may take on a whole new dimension when you rediscover them in a way that makes a difficult pose easier.

When you feel a deeper connection to your core and a fuller outward expansion, the puzzle is closer to completion. Perhaps in life the puzzle will never be really complete. There will always be something new to discover and learn. The pieces may come together in new unexpected ways. The puzzle may keep morphing and expanding. But if we keep appreciating each piece of the puzzle, each moment when the pieces fit together and more of the picture or shape is revealed, life will continue to expand beyond our wildest expectations.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Transitions

Starting as a tiny pearl-like egg, the butterfly goes through various transitions before spreading its wings and finding the freedom of flight. From the egg, the butterfly-to-be transitions to a caterpillar with a voracious appetite shedding its skin multiple times during this rapid growth phase.

Eventually the caterpillar goes into hibernation as a pupa, a cocoon-like stage. Here the caterpillar tissues are broken down and the adult butterfly structures are formed. This pupa stage has a dull grey lifeless shape.

Finally this pupa transitions to the graceful butterfly that dances with lightness from flower to flower. The wings of the butterfly appear fragile but they are strong enough to carry the butterflies many miles. The short span of the butterfly's life is a microcosmic example of the many transitions we will experience through life.

Transitions are a passage from one state to another. They can be beautiful, difficult, transformative and/or scary. When we are mindful of the transitions we can flow more easily between the different states. Without this awareness, our new situation may seem difficult and even overwhelming.

Being sensitive to the transitions between poses in our yoga practice is an important part of our practice. When these transitions are done with grace and intention, we bring a fullness and vitality to our practice that otherwise would be lacking. More injuries occur coming out of yoga poses than at any other point of the practice. Instead of injury you can create a beautiful dance, a kind of poetry-in-motion, with the awareness of the transitions.

We can learn many lessons by being conscious of the seemingly unimportant moments. Living in the moment makes the transitions easier and smoother. Although some transitions in our life can be difficult, if we are willing to engage fully in the macrocosm of life, we can ease the pain of these transitions. Life continues to unfold with all its twists and turns, surprises and gifts, while its meaning reveals itself through the journey. Isaac Asimov states: "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It is the transition that is troublesome."