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


"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.