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.