Sunday, December 26, 2010

Balancing Heart and Mind

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.
Albert Einstein

Considered one of the greatest minds of modern times, Albert Einstein was a scientist and a physicist who developed the theory of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. His curiosity was endless and he considered imagination his most important scientific tool.

Einstein believed in magic. Nature inspired him to probe deeply into the mysteries of life. We tend to think of scientists of being more in their heads than their hearts. Most people would consider artists to work more from their hearts than their heads.

If the mind controls language and things that can be explained by language, and if the heart represents the mystery of life and that which cannot be explained, then true art and science are a blend of both the mind and the heart. Scientists on the cutting edge of science are motivated from their love of science and their quest for a deeper understanding of the unknown. Artists need to have some kind of technique to express their art or their ideas would never be transformed into a physical form for others to experience.

Sometimes we may be more in our heads. We try to figure things out, but if we ignore the feeling that something is not quite right, we will regret it later. Other times we may be more in our heart, but if we ignore our inner voices we also may find that things don't work out because we were unrealistic or impractical in our plans or expectations.

Our fullest yoga practice comes from working with our minds and our hearts. Our minds tell us the details of how to set our foundation, when to breathe, where to place our arms and legs, which pose to practice. Our hearts help us to feel something that goes beyond the pose that cannot be expressed in words. When we experience a sense of wonder and mystery in yoga, it is more complete and powerful. There is always a pulsation in yoga. Our breath reminds us of that with each inhalation and exhalation. So we pulse between our thinking knowledge of a pose, and feeling something new and different every time we practice.

Experiencing the essence of a person, event, action or just about anything doesn't really happen by chance. It is a result of cultivating sensitivity and cooperation with our minds and hearts working together. Einstein didn't just live in his head, he knew the power of the heart. Our minds and hearts feed each other and we totally depend on both for survival. When you feel out of balance, remember in the dance of life the heart and mind are equal partners and together they create harmony and contentment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Passage from Light to Dark to Light

Something special happens when an alignment of energies comes together in space and time. This year the winter solstice coincided with a full lunar eclipse. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year when darkness prevails. And the lunar eclipse happens on a full moon when the moon, Earth and sun all line up - with the Earth in the middle blocking the sun's rays from lighting up the moon. These two events happening together is rare and in fact the last time this occurred was 1638 - over 370 years ago.

If you are lucky enough to view this event, the moon turns into various shades of glowing orange light. Orange is a combination of yellow and red. Red represents the chakra at the base of our spine, our roots and survival. It signifies courage and connects us with our physical body and the power of the earth. Yellow is the color of the solar plexus chakra located at the base of our ribs. It relates to mental clarity, curiosity and optimism. Orange, the color and chakra in between, is related to the sacral chakra in the lower abdomen. Connecting us to our senses, it helps us to be independent and creative. It is our center of reproduction. So the colors of the lunar eclipse are grounding and relate to our physical survival.

These grounding elements are dense and heavy. This is the time to go back to our roots, our survival, our digestion and elimination. What do we need to nourish ourselves? What can we get rid of? Darkness enhances our sense of touch and feeling. It is a time to draw inward and take time for self-reflection. The sun and the moon have opposite energies. When the earth is perfectly aligned between those energies causing an eclipse, the moon takes on a brilliant orange. It passes from light to dark and back to light again. This passage mimics the different stages of our lives as we move from full brilliance into soft darkness and back again.

The foundation of yoga lies in being grounded. It is also about passage through poses, through the cycle of the breath and through times of difficulty and times of ease. Yoga takes us into places of our bodies and minds that are not often visited in our daily routines. When our skeleton is aligned, when our minds and hearts are aligned, and our intention and actions are aligned, magic happens. A beautiful brilliant transformation occurs like a lunar eclipse.

Light and darkness follow each other, both giving their lessons and gifts. If times seem dark, give yourself the luxury to rest and reflect. Move slowly or be still. When light abounds, take action and tap into that energy. Be spontaneous. Let your creativity flourish. We will always go through times of difficulty and times of ease. It is what we do with those times that will determine how our lives evolve. Tapping into the special qualities of both light and darkness will enable us to experience the flow of life with less struggle and greater appreciation for the passage.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Experience of Fullness

Remember turning your face to the sky to feel the freshness of a gentle rain, the warmth of the sun or a cool breeze on your skin? Have you ever felt the beauty of a sunset fill your whole body as you watch the colors slowly change and the sun melt into the horizon?

Walking through the rain or seeing a sunset with our mind on something else or not really paying attention, doesn't give us the full visceral or cognitive experience of the rain or the sunset. But when we commit our focus to the rain or sunset or anything else we want to fully experience. we learn so much more. We feel the wetness of the rain and the changing colors of the sunset at a much deeper level.

Did you see Shaun White on his skateboard in the Vancouver Olympics? His focus was so directed, he became one with his board, the snow and air. Effort was dissolved into raw kinetic energy. His body, mind and spirit seemed to be joined together as he flipped, spun and gyrated above the ground. He was in the zone feeling the fullness of the moment in every pore of his body.

Great actors are fully committed to their character. They must absorb the emotions of that character and let go of their own ego. Tim Robbins became Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption showing us the determination, patience and cunning that was required to secretly dig his way out of prison one spoonful of dirt at a time. The role of the character being portrayed takes on a life of its own so that often times scenes are spontaneously created by the actor in that moment as he lives through his character.

Try practicing yoga with full attention to your breath. Feel the fullness from the inhalation and the exhalation. Let the inhalation fill your chest up to your collarbones and let the exhalation fill your kidneys expanding the back body. Be sensitive enough to let the breath move you. Simplify your thoughts and let your attention go to your foundation and the expansion of your inner body. That's it. Letting go of other details temporarily will teach you things you might otherwise miss.

Experiencing something to its fullest doesn't really happen by chance. It is a result of cultivating sensitivity with deep focus. It requires an openness to learning and expanding your boundaries. We need to be willing to let go of some control and dismiss distractions. Experiencing fullness requires total absorption in what we are doing, connecting with a bigger energy and being totally present in each moment as it unfolds.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Overcoming Overwhelm

Have you ever seen a flock of seagulls screaming and flying in all directions so that they all appear to be one teaming mass of feathers and sounds? Does your mind ever seem to have this same sense of overwhelm when your "to do" list gets out of control and your mind is scattered in all directions? How do you create a sense of calm amid this turmoil?

Like some kind of dark force, overwhelm can temporarily paralyze you. It can feel like a pressing weight that is impossible to lift. So what would a superhero like Batman do in this situation? Would he let an oppressive force smother him or would he somehow find the power to break this heavy weight into insignificant pieces?

Of course we know the answer to this question. Letting overwhelm stop and control us is like Batman allowing the Joker and the Penguin to take over Gotham City. Instead he goes deep inside his Batcave, away from distractions, and makes a plan. His steady intention to protect the citizens of Gotham City fuels him to take action.

That first step is typically the hardest. Batman does not have any superpowers. But he uses his intuition and the gifts he knows he has to accomplish the seemingly impossible. We all have gifts and skills. When we acknowledge them and use them with a strong intention, their power becomes magnified. Getting past overwhelm requires taking a step, however small it may be.

Our "to do" list can be like an enemy ready to squash even our most valiant efforts. But if we take time to find our inner stillness, our intention can be the force that will guide and inspire us to action.

Yoga can be overwhelming as well. So many poses, so many details, so much resistance in our bodies and minds. This is the time to sit quietly and set an intention. Be mindful of your foundation that supports every pose. Let each breath quietly guide you. Engage your muscles to tap into the strength you have and let your spirit express itself in a light and expansive way. This is the power of yoga that can dissolve overwhelm.

Overwhelm is part of modern day living. Computers, cell phones, iPods, and the world-wide web give us easy access to an enormous amount of information, choices, products and entertainment. In some ways it brings us out of our true element. Human beings need quiet and rest. We also have many gifts that we can tend to push into the background. So when overwhelm is taking control, turn to your breath, listen to your intuition and take that first step to set your intention in motion.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trial and Error

Fall down seven times get up eight.
Japanese proverb

When something very difficult looks easy, you know there was a lot of trial and error involved to get there. Artistic creations, athletic performances, scientific explorations and business endeavors all have this in common. We learn as much from what we can't do (at least at first) as from what we can do.

Our survival depends on trial and error. Watch any baby trying to walk. They fall, they get up, they fall, they get up, and eventually they learn enough balance to be able to walk. Any animal that has to catch its food typically has many failed attempts before it gets its reward.

Richard Branson, one of the richest people on earth, failed many times losing millions of dollars. He started over 300 companies under his "Virgin" empire, some of which were wildly successful and some were not. During his many attempts to cross oceans in hot air balloons and boats he had to be rescued six times, but he also set a few world records. Someday you might be able to visit outer space in one of his spaceships with Virgin Galactic!

We can look at trial and error as something tedious to be avoided or something exciting to be embraced. The many failures that result from this process could easily crush the ego of someone who is only focused on the goal, rather than being aware that this is an integral part of growth.

Watching the dance company Pilobolus is like watching the impossible. How do they come up with such creative ideas and how do they defy gravity to create the unique shapes of bodies supporting each other in unfathomable ways? How many times do they fall? But what a gift we are given from their efforts!

Yoga is a mirror for our everyday lives. If we want to really grow physically, spiritually and emotionally, we need to make room for trial and error. We must tap into our courage and remember our playful nature. Experiment with your body in your poses. Feel how your breath is key to the fullness of any pose. Notice how your mind and attitude determine what you can or can't do. Look at your mat as an opportunity to test your edges. Accept yourself whether you fail or succeed on the mat. Let that teach you how to be just as generous with yourself off the mat.

Growth and creativity involve risk. We are born with the capacity to accept our failures, otherwise we would never learn to walk or talk. Trial and error are the stepping stones on our path to discover the riches that life is offering every minute of every day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanks and Giving

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882 American Essayist and philosopher

Is it better to give than to receive? Many would argue "yes". But, in truth, one cannot exist without the other, so how can one be better than the other? Every giver must have a receiver.

The act of creation involves giving and receiving. The sperm, given by the male, is received in the ovary of the female. A new being is born. Life could not exist without both.

For giving and receiving to work well together there must be a balance. If you keep pouring water into a cup without letting some water out, eventually the cup overflows. The balance is lost. If you keep receiving over and over from someone without genuine appreciation or thanks, eventually that person will most likely become frustrated and depleted. Likewise, if the water in the glass was continually given out, eventually the glass would be empty with no water to give.

How do we give and how do we receive? When we give with an open heart, we receive so much back in return. Ever notice the warm feeling you have inside when someone returns your gift with a heart-felt thank you and a smile? We are all connected, so when we give, we naturally receive something in return. Mother Teresa so beautifully put it: "It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving." When we are grateful for our gifts, we experience a natural high from that gratitude.

On Thanksgiving day we give thanks. Thanking implies receiving. The name itself brings together giving and receiving. Giving thanks daily can help us to remember what we might otherwise forget or take for granted.

Yoga is about the union of opposites and how they work together. In every pose we need a balance of giving and receiving. Contraction is drawing inward, receiving. Expansion is sending outward, giving. At the same time as we inhale, we become fuller and brighter on the inside from the breath coming in. As we exhale, we let go and that gives us the freedom to lengthen, grow and fully come alive in our pose. When we are calm and peaceful, our inhalation and exhalation are equal. But if a pose or life gets difficult, we tend to hold our breath. That creates tension. When our breath comes back into balance, we feel relaxed.

The hand gesture padma mudra, with our wrists together and palms facing upward, symbolizes giving and receiving at the same time. Our hands are open to let go, and at the same time the openness allows us to accept and receive. There is an energy exchange that can be felt although not seen. A hug or embrace brings this same kind of energy. Be free with your giving, be generous with your receiving, and life will reward you handsomely.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Crow energy

Crows are highly intelligent, amazingly clever and mischievously daring. They can be as raucous as a drunken sailor or as quiet as a meditating monk. They are natural entrepreneurs when it comes to getting what they want. Generally social in character, crows know how to mingle. Their roosts can contain anywhere from two hundred to two million crows.

Legend has it that once there was a crow who was dying of thirst and finally came upon a pitcher with some water in it. Unfortunately the neck of the pitcher was too narrow for the crow to reach deep enough to get a drink. Desperately wanting that water, the crow came up with a plan. He kept gathering one pebble at time, dropping the pebbles into the pitcher until the water rose high enough that he could reach it with his beak. Finally he was able to drink the water and save his life.

We see crows almost everywhere. They live in the woods, in cities, around farmlands and in small towns. Considered pests by some, crows are a symbol of magic and mystery in many cultures. With their sharp awareness, they teach us to know ourselves and to trust our intuition and personal integrity. They remind us to see the magic and mystery in the world around us and within us.

A Spanish photographer took a picture of a crow riding on the back of a leonado vulture. The crow looks a bit like Harry Potter riding on his broom. Both have to use their skills and wits to survive in a world filled with mystery and challenges. Both have to rely on a touch of magic and ride with a bigger energy to succeed in their mission.

In yoga we also need to open to the mystery of our breath and our inner truth. We need to ride on the wings of the divine spirit to enjoy the journey of life and to feel part of something bigger. There is magic in the way that yoga helps us to open our bodies, minds and hearts even when working with the challenges that are inevitable. Use your awareness to go beyond the surface of each pose. Practice confidence and it will flow naturally throughout your practice.

Crows are so common they are easy to dismiss as nothing more than noisy neighbors. Don't let the obvious fool you. Although their feathers are black, closer observation reveals a sheen with subtle colors. The cunning of the crow comes from its ability to solve problems. Crows represent a change of consciousness. If you want to be more flexible and strong in your body and mind, let the crow inspire you to find your voice and spread your wings.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kali, a Spiritual Warrior

Sometimes we have battles to fight in life. These are not physical battles where we harm others. Rather they are mental, emotional or spiritual battles when we need to be strong and have the courage and focus of a warrior to overcome obstacles that limit our potential.

The Hindu goddess Kali is thought by some as the goddess of destruction, but she is really the goddess of liberation. From a spiritual viewpoint she represents enlightenment. She is fierce, fearless and wild. With a discerning eye, she cuts through disguises and denials. She calls us to uncover our feelings of anger, hurt and sadness that can lie buried deep within us. The voice of Kali is a call to action. She is the epitome of tough love.

Life can be easy, but it can also be difficult. We can get stuck in limiting beliefs, a sense of unworthiness, thinking that we are supposed to be someone we are not. It takes finding an inner strength, the strength of a warrior, to liberate ourselves from these conditions that keep us from realizing our unique essence. There are times we need to go deep inside ourselves and find our fierce side and stand up to the demons in ourselves and others. (1)

The obstacles we fight can be internal or external. Both require courage, honesty, dedication, perseverance, and sensitivity to overcome. For example, if you tend to feel like a victim because things typically don't work out for you, it is time to take an honest, penetrating look at what is really happening. Are you giving up too quickly? Are you not working hard enough? Are you doing what you really want to be doing or something that you think you should be doing? Or are you blaming others for problems that are really your responsibility?

An external obstacle could be something like losing your job in a tough economy. So what do you do? Do you go into a serious depression? Or do you look to learn a new career or use your talents to start a your own business? Maybe this is the time to truly enjoy unemployment for a while, without being stressed out, and take a needed at-home vacation to do some things you did not have time for when working full time. Then you may find some clarity that had evaded you before.

Yoga focuses on being peaceful and equanimous. But yoga is a union of opposites. There is a time to stand up for what you believe, a time to be passionate and strong, a time to be fierce and wild. This makes the calmness even sweeter. That is why we balance muscular energy, engaging muscles strongly inward, with organic energy, softening our skin and extending outward. We need to be diligent in setting a firm foundation, and playful in testing our edges. The warrior poses in yoga are fundamental to every practice at every level. Keeping an open heart, both physically and metaphorically, is key to practicing the challenging Warrior III with grace and dignity.

Instead of fearing and denying your warrior side, embrace it fully. Turn to it when you feel something is wrong, when you sense you are holding back and not honoring your true nature, or when you are not feeling your joy. The consequences of suppressing your Kali nature can lead to depression, stress and even sabotage your health. Without the balance of boldness and acceptance, a part of us will become lost and we will never feel truly at home. Use the disciplined energy of the warrior to cultivate your inner strength to walk on the wild side.

Footnotes: (1) "How to be fierce." by Sally Kempton Yoga Journal

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dalai Lama: Example of Compassion

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
Dalai Lama

Exiled from his country at 14 years old, and assuming leadership of a persecuted and exiled people at 15, the Dalai Lama, now in his seventies, totally embodies his teachings of compassion. love and kindness. He is revered by the Tibetans as their spiritual and political leader, but the rest of the world has fallen in love with this gentle, humble man who always has a twinkle in his eyes.

I have had the honor of seeing the Dalai Lama in person three times. Each time I was deeply moved by his warmth and light-heartedness. Most recently I saw him at
the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. As he was walking up to the stage to speak, I felt tears welling up inside. They were emotional tears from being in the presence of such an inspiring person, knowing his history, and how he continues to exemplify the best potential inside each of us.

On stage the glaring lights made it difficult for the Dalai Lama to see his audience, so he dug a visor out of his bag and placed it on his head telling us he needed to see human faces to really feel he was communicating with human beings rather than looking out into darkness. This act exemplifies his passionate desire to connect with people and not to be just a figurehead. His empathy is so great that he gave the $25,000 prize he was awarded with the International Freedom Conductor Award back to the Freedom Center.

Listening to the Dalai Lama speak very seriously about issues such as human freedom and the Tibetans' right to preserve their own culture, he was always able to interject some levity with his characteristic chuckle. He never expressed anger in his voice, only wisdom, compassion and respect for his fellow human beings. His main commitment is always the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline.

The Dalai Lama is not blind to the injustices and torture that the Chinese government has perpetrated upon the Tibetans, and I am sure he feels their pain and suffering. But he does not let himself become entangled in hatred. Instead he continuously works to keep the lines of communication open with the Chinese government. He continues to lead with compassion and forgiveness. He continues to smile in the face of adversity and has become rich not in material wealth, but in the highest form of spiritual wealth that continues to inspire millions.

As you practice yoga, think of bringing the quality of compassion into your practice. Compassion requires strength and gentleness. It requires patience and love. Compassion embodies the muscular energy of hugging in and the organic energy of expanding out. Be mindful in your poses but don't force them. If you are not breathing, it is a sign to rest for a moment and bring more awareness into your practice. Let others inspire you without feeling inadequate or less than they are. Find your inner smile and let it express itself on the outside.

When asked if he was a free man after being in exile for over 50 years, the Dalai Lama replied, "Mentally, yes". We can choose our own freedom by being honest within ourselves and expressing that honesty openly with others. Compassion gives you freedom to feel good about yourself and others instead of being a prisoner of anger and negativity. The Dalai Lama can inspire us all to inject some humor into difficult situations and shower compassion on ourselves and others.

Link to watch the Dalai Lama in Cincinnatti

Monday, October 25, 2010

Connecting with Nature

Sometimes when we are still extraordinary things happen. One day I was sitting quietly in the woods reading over some notes. It was a warm autumn day and I was surrounded by the rich colors of fall. I had carefully chosen a sunlight spot so I could feel the warmth of the sun with the cool fall air. Amid the lush carpet of golden leaves, I could hear the sounds of squirrels and other small animals scurrying around hunting for food.

Taking a break from my work, I looked in the direction of the sounds and there was a beautiful white-tailed doe looking at me with deep curiosity. Her large ears flicked back and forth and she was scrutinizing me to decide if I was safe to be around.

I kept my stillness and continued looking at her with as much admiration as she had trepidation. After a few moments, she decided I was not a threat even with her young fawn cautiously following a short distance behind. For the next fifteen minutes she alternated between delicately nibbling on the nearby leaves and checking me out to make sure nothing had changed.

Watching her with an awareness of the specialness of this moment, I could see the details of her soft brown coat. large, luminous eyes, white underside of her tail, and those amazingly sensitive ears that are key to her survival. It was my stillness that allowed this interaction to happen. Otherwise I would have seen the usual fleeting glance of her face and then tail as she quickly ran to get away from me.

In quiet moments ideas, insights, creativity, solutions to problems and even moments of genius come to us. When we are still, we can be more sensitive and open. Intentional stillness creates an inner strength and calm center.

Nature balances stillness with movement. We can see it in the weather, in animals with their habits, in rivers and oceans and even in the way a bird flies.

In yoga we gather strength with stillness. Hugging our arms and legs inward creates stability and steadiness. From there we have the freedom to move with ease. Stillness and freedom balance each other. Shiva is the strong constancy of stillness. Shakti is the expression of freedom we have with movement. There is freedom in stillness and stillness in freedom. Shiva/Shakti - separate but intertwined. Together they are complete. When we fill up with the breath and create an inner fullness, our movements are balanced and free. Without the calm center and inner stability, our movements can become awkward and difficult.

Connecting with Nature aligns us with the deepest part of ourselves. It is magical and gives us a feeling of expansion and freedom. Nature can be difficult and can test us. But it also can heal us and make us whole. Take time to be still in Nature, to feel her presence and to receive the gifts she has to offer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Element Air

Air is all around us, but we can't see it. It is always touching us, but we can't reach out and hold it. We know it is there because without it we would die.

When air is moving, we call it wind. Seeing movement in the leaves of trees, spray on ocean waves, clouds drifting across the sky and birds gliding with open wings, gives us the illusion of seeing air. We can feel air as we move through it quickly while running, riding a bicycle or any other sport.

Man has always been intrigued with flying, the act of moving through air above the ground. The first successful vehicle for flight was the hot air balloon. Since then man has invented hang gliders, para gliders, ultra lights and flying wing suits to experience the feeling of freedom in flight.

Who doesn't talk about the weather at least once a day? Weather basically describes the condition of the air relative to time and place. It affects our food supply, our daily activities and what we choose to wear and often how we feel. As much as we try to understand and predict the weather, it still continually surprises us. Air can be as gentle as a soothing breeze or as dangerous as a roaring hurricane.

Humans with air qualities tend to be intellectual, flexible, versatile, social, and objective. They are good communicators but they can be dreamers, procrastinators, cold and detached.

We can feel air as we bring it inside our bodies as our breath. This creates energy and is vital to life. This energy is also called chi or prana. Air is light and represents truth.

In yoga we lead with our breath. Movements follow the breath. Breathing fully supports our optimal alignment, relaxes our mind and rejuvenates our whole body. There are specific practices called pranayama for breathing. We can lengthen the breath, focus on the inhalation or exhalation, breathe through alternate nostrils and direct the breath or energy from the breath to different parts of our bodies. When we focus completely on our breath, our involuntary and incessant chatter stops and our minds become clear.

Air links everything on earth together. It represents all we cannot see: our soul, spirit, mind and heart. When we inhale we bring in air from the outside and when we exhale we send out air from the inside. Our breath constantly reminds to give and receive equally, that in order to receive we have to let go of something and that the balance of opposites is vital to our lives.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Element Fire

Fire consumes. It can consume like a humming bird sipping nectar from a flower or like a bear ravenously eating as much as he can after the long winter hibernation. A single candle flame gives a feeling of softness, peacefulness and even romance. Inviting people to come together, campfires give warmth and light. Uncontrolled wildfires purge everything in their path with their enormous energy.

Although fire destroys, it also creates the setting for new growth. A forest fire gets rid of excessive undergrowth, adding nutrients to the soil so native species have room and opportunity to grow and flourish. Sometimes we burn items that are associated with painful memories as a way of letting go of the past and making room for new energy and relationships.

Fire transforms. The fire of digestion breaks down food we eat to give us energy and nutrients. Cooked food makes it easier to digest. Burning trash can create energy or pollution.

The ancient legend of the Phoenix rising from the ashes gives us inspiration in hard times. According to the legend the Phoenix is a magical bird that had to renew its life every 500 - 1000 years. It would build its own funeral pyre gathering aromatic herbs, woods, and spices from around the world. Then it would sit on the nest, turn its face toward the heat of the sun and fan its wings to create the fire that would destroy his body. From the ashes a new Phoenix would be born and live another long lifetime. The Phoenix has been honored in many cultures as a symbol of light, rebirth, and immortality.

People with fire qualities are great leaders, passionate, extroverted, adventurous, and enthusiastic. They can also be rebellious, hot-tempered and moody. Fire energy can stimulate or overpower so it should be exercised with some caution.

Manifestations of the fire element beside fire itself are the sun, lava, volcanoes lightning and all forms of light. Looking into the flames of a fire has a hypnotic quality and the surroundings illuminated by those flames have a soft edge that is soothing and enchanting.

Bringing the fire element into our yoga practice gives it strength and helps us to eliminate toxins from our bodies and minds. Twists are a great way to accomplish this as they massage the internal organs and work the abdominal muscles. Several strong breathing practices help to ignite the inner fire and activate more core muscles. When the body is warm, it is safer to stretch our muscles, tendons and ligaments creating more space and length in our bodies. Testing our edges with sensitivity helps to build internal heat. Being passionate about delving deeply into our practice with strong intention can be transformational on many levels.

Fire is never static. It moves continuously like our breath. When your inner light is soft and expansive, it can burn forever. If we let our inner fire rage in anger and negativity, we can burn out quickly. Find the balance of fueling your inner fire with your passion without being consumed with your own needs and desires. Let your light be eternal.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Element Water

Not enough rain and your garden with wither and die. Too much rain and your garden will get soggy and rot. Just the right amount of rain and your garden with thrive and prosper. Water is necessary for all life forms. It can create and destroy. It is the right amount in balance that gives us aliveness and productivity.

Water itself is indestructible. With its adaptable nature, it can change form from liquid to solid or gas. Although formless on its own, it can change to the shape of any container. It is the purest form of liquid and covers approximately 71 percent of the earth's surface. Living cells are comprised of 70 to 95 percent water.

Always moving, water is unpredictable and unstable. It is yielding yet powerful. Over time it can erode the greatest obstacles. Even in its stillness, water has gentle movement and latent powerful energy. The energy is unleashed by outside forces such as wind, gravity and resistance.

You can see through water and it reflects whatever is around it. Water has its own rhythm and it seeks calm as well as high energy. Water will always fill in a void if it can.

Solar energy continually recycles water through evaporation. The vapor from the ocean surfaces condenses quickly and then falls back to the ocean or land as rain. The water on land eventually returns to the ocean from rivers and groundwater traveling through the rocks and sediments of continental margins.

A person with water personality tends to be very emotional; sometimes overemotional. They have deep intuition, strong imagination but can be very moody. They have a gift of understanding others and are very compassionate.

We use water to cleanse our bodies and clean everything from our clothes to our cars. It is refreshing and soothing. Splashing cold water on your face will energize you and it activates circulation. Water is used in various religious ceremonies as a sign of transformation, liberation, and purification. Some water is considered to have miraculous healing properties. An estimated 200 million people from all over the world have traveled to the natural springs in Lourdes, France to be healed.

Practicing yoga, the water element reminds us to be mindful of transitions. Moving is part of the practice and moving mindfully reminds us to move with the breath and go deeper into our practice. Bringing the water element into our practice reminds us to be intuitive and listen to our bodies. It reminds us that with time, intention and patience we can overcome obstacles in our practice. We can change our perspectives that inhibit our happiness and growth.

Whether its up in the sky as a cloud, or down on the earth as a pond, or at the extreme ends of the earth as a polar ice cap, water is all around us. It can inspire you to reach for the sky, contemplate stillness or search deep below the surface of what we see at first glance. Step into the flow of the river, ride the current and feel the vitality and serenity of nature in each and every moment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Element Earth

Most of us have fond memories of squishing mud through our toes. building castles in the sand and digging in the dirt. When we touch the Earth, we connect with the roots of nature. The Earth is fertile and stable. All life forms, as we know them, spring from the Earth. We affectionately call our whole planet Mother Earth.

The diversity of the forests, the majesty of the mountains, and the richness of the precious metals all come from the Earth. The Earth provides the foundation for these entities to thrive and take shape. The metals and stones we value the most such as gold, silver and diamonds lie buried within the deep, rich Earth.

Of all the five elements in the Pancha Tattva and ayurveda systems, Earth is the most solid, and the most supportive of our basic needs. The Earth is teeming with life and is constantly giving birth to various life forms. Plants send roots into the earth so they can rise toward the sky. Nutrients within the Earth are continuously being recycled to keep enriching the Earth as it continues to give its resources to sustain the life above and within it.

Someone who has earthy qualities is thought of as stable, supportive, giving, and practical. They can be counted on as a friend and are strong and reliable. They have an affinity with Nature and are slow to anger but also slow to forgive. Their emotions run deep and they are persistent in following their goals.

Grounding as we practice yoga is vital to having a solid foundation in our poses. The more we ground, the more we can soar. We can use Earth energy to inspire our poses. Connecting with Nature is at the core of our yoga practice. Root to rise. That is our mantra. Remember the larger energy of Earth and Nature and observe how that connects you back to your true self. Use the Earth qualities of sensitivity and resiliency to grow and deepen your practice.

Even though the exterior form of Earth appears to be stable and durable, there is always some movement within. Bones, the most solid Earth-like matter in our bodies, are constantly being dissolved and rebuilt. Rocks are continually in the slow process of erosion. Everything in the Earth and our bodies, no matter how solid and stable, is still on some level changing and evolving.

Earth is everywhere. Ever notice no matter how often you clean your body or your house, it gets dirty again? Some little piece of earth is always clinging to you. Our natural cycle is to be born of the Earth and eventually return to the Earth.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Element Space

Everyone is fascinated by space. To gaze at the stars creates a reverse phenomenon. The tiny stars make us feel tiny. We can feel the distance in space and know that these tiny bright bits we see in the vastness of space are, in reality, huge.

Space is limitless and yet it acts as a container for everything we know. It holds the earth, the solar system, the galaxies and beyond. It is a mystery that physicists are still seeking to understand and define.

Physicists argue over whether space is absolute or relative. Newton believed that space was absolute, its own separate entity. Einstein's theory of relativity describes space and time as being woven together and affected equally by gravity. Petr Horava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, is now questioning Einstein's theory and proposing that space and time are not equivalent at very high energies, but are equivalent at lower energies.

Humans keep exploring space from satellites, by sending men into orbit and from high-powered telescopes. Fictional movies based on space like Star Wars, Star Trek and 2001 A Space Odyssey were enormously popular and continue to keep their appeal years after they were filmed.

Space is something that separates us and unites us at the same time. People tend to want their own space, yet their is an intrinsic need to feel connected to others as well. Space invites us to explore more possibilities than can be conceived by the naked eye and even beyond what our technologies have shown us. It invites our imaginations to go wild.

When we sit to begin our yoga practice we open with the idea that we are unlimited in our goodness and capabilities to give and receive love. We can open to the concept that we are supported by something so vast, mysterious and powerful that we can release our limiting ideas of ourselves and the world we live in. To begin our practice in this way releases tension and fills us with energy. Marianne Williamson states it beautifully when she says. "We learn to trust the power that holds galaxies together can handle the circumstances of our relatively little lives". Throughout our practice it is important to come back to this concept of opening to grace. We can bring the expansiveness of the space around us inward. Magnification creates a new perspective on what is inside each of us. We can use that perspective to perceive our inner bodies as magnificent as the infinite space outside of us.

When you look up at the stars and out into space. allow your imagination to keep soaring. Allow your heart to become as bright as the stars. Let your mind believe in endless possibilities.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Creating Rituals

Habits are routines or actions that are repeated without intention or even awareness. They can become almost unconscious forms of behavior. Rituals are actions or routines done with intention and with great awareness. There is often a symbolic or emotional meaning behind the action and it is done with assent.

Smoking, drinking coffee, biting your nails. reacting to people or situations, sleeping late, our thought patterns can all become habits. Some habits like smoking can become addictions. We tend to label our habits as good or bad depending on if they are beneficial to our lives or not. Good or bad, habits are difficult to break. Because they are basically involuntary, we have to make a great effort to change our habits.

Some of the strongest rituals in nature are the mating rituals. Without procreation a species would die. At the climax of their courting ritual, a pair of grebes will skitter across the surface of the water with their wings spread behind them, their long necks arched gracefully upwards, and then, in perfect synchronization, they suddenly dive together disappearing into the water. Penguins court each other face to face singing to each other and affectionately rubbing their beaks together. Moving with agile, undulating bodies, male humpback whales will jostle with each other to attract the attention of a single female whale until she finally chooses her mate.

Rituals abound in the sporting world. Football players huddle to strategize and psych each other to win. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan always wore his North Carolina college shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform. World tennis star Rafael Nadal of Spain lines his water bottles up with the labels facing the baseline he is playing from. Before each race Michael Phelps listens to Rap music, climbs up on the block, bends forward, clasps his hands behind his back and like an albatross preparing for flight, stretches and flaps his arms back and forth. All these athletes have intense focus and an unstoppable desire to win. Their rituals create stability amid the unpredictability of each performance.

Bringing ritual into a yoga practice makes it more powerful. When we sit and center ourselves with our breath, it helps to relax our minds and let go of incessant chatter. Setting an intention gives a powerful focus for the practice making it more than just a stretching routine. Savasana as the final pose at the end of a practice, lets the benefits of yoga settle into our bodies and minds. Even within the practice you can have your own special rituals. Taking a deep inhalation and opening to grace before each pose could be a personal ritual for your practice.

We use rituals to remember, to let go and for transformation. A simple act can have a great impact when we use it as a ritual. Potent times for rituals are just after waking or just before sleeping. Try the simple ritual of giving gratitude at these times and notice how more and more reasons to be grateful will come into your life.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Seeing with more than our eyes

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.
Helen Keller

When we think of seeing, we first think of seeing with our eyes. But Webster's dictionary defines seeing as something more: "to perceive as if by sight", "to come to know", "to perceive the meaning or importance of", "to imagine as a possibility" are a few of the definitions. Helen Keller could not see with her eyes, but she saw so much more through her dedication, curiosity, sensitivity, and appreciation.

When Helen was 19 months old she became ill and ended up losing her sight and hearing. At first she felt terribly frustrated and alone in her dark world, but then Anne Sullivan appeared as her teacher and helped her to "see" again. Helen's first major breakthrough was when Anne held Helen's hand under running water and spelled the word water with her fingers into Helen's hand. Suddenly Helen understood the connection of the wonderful cool something that was flowing over hand with the word water. As Helen expressed it, " That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!"

Without the use of her eyes, Helen began to "see" the wonders of the world around her. She tapped into her gifts to be able to communicate and connect with people. She could put her fingers on peoples' lips and understand what they were saying. Although she could not see the moon, she knew it was there. The feel of a breeze on her skin, the spaciousness of the air around her, the luminous warmth of the sun, all touched her deeply. She could not take her sight for granted because it wasn't there.

It was the love shared between Helen Keller and her teacher that helped her accomplish things that would never have been expected of a blind and deaf person. Anne showed her how to start learning the connection between words and their meanings. Helen had the fire in her heart to pursue her learning passionately. She opened herself to exploring all that life had to offer without holding back.

When you practice yoga, try closing your eyes and noticing. Feel your breath, feel your feet, feel your core, feel your skin. Go deeper into the pose by moving from your heart. Take time to notice your pinkie toe, notice the space between the top of your shoulder blades, feel deep into your hip sockets. Remember your intention, release negative thoughts about yourself and others, fill this space with love. Find a way of seeing without your eyes. Dedicate yourself to the art of awareness. Remember your teachers that have come to you in many shapes and forms. Practice being a beginner and finding wonder in the simple things of life.

Let the words of Helen Keller find a place in your heart: "Truly there is more in us than we dream; for we are parts or shadows of something more intense and greater. We know ourselves only imperfectly. We never fully realize our possibilities, but very near us, touching every one of us, is the Source of all Light, the Sovereign Alchemist who will enable us to transmute the lead of life into gold if we desire it with our whole being, and are willing to work faithfully for its realization."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Take a ride with the ocean swells

Moving with strength and gentleness, ocean swells often travel thousands of nautical miles before reaching the shore. They are initially generated by wind, but as the storm dies down the waves lose their breaking tops and often combine to form swells that carry a calm, powerful energy on their journey.

Water is not compressible, so swells contain the energy that was created from the original storm. As part of the vast ocean, swells are stable and move in groups. They have different heights, depths, and different periods (time between the wave crests). The longer the period, the more speed and energy the swells carry and the larger the breaking wave will be when it reaches the shore. Swells coming from different directions are constantly joining together or canceling each other out. When swells get close to land in shallow water, the energy of the swell shifts and it becomes a breaking wave as it rolls into the shore.

When we watch the ocean with the swells rolling on the surface, we can feel their calming influence. Their magnitude, vastness and continuous motion are soothing to our nature. We somehow begin to feel part of this energy.

In a way, our breath is like the swells on the ocean. Yoga helps us to slow down and focus on our breath. It rises and falls like the swells moving on water. Breathing slowly and evenly, with more space between our breaths, gives us more energy and more benefits. As we practice yoga, we want to move with our breath. Just as a swell is a transference of energy across water, our breath transfers energy in our body. When a swell gets close to shore, the swell gets slowed down by ocean bottom and sends energy upwards causing the swell to get taller, and form a breaking wave. The same type of energy transfer happens in yoga when we firm our muscles and hug our arms and legs inward. We get an upward lift of energy and our body actually lifts upward.

If you close your eyes and visualize the ocean with its waves and swells, you can begin to feel the pulsation and movement of the ocean energy in your body. Sometimes we loose sight of this intimate connection. That leads to feeling alone and unsupported. But when we come back to this connection, it leads us to the place where we already are; part of the magic, mystery and abundance of the natural world around and within us.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Use knowledge to find wisdom

"It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom."

Are we guaranteed at birth that we will be wise in our old age? "Older but wiser" is a common saying. But is it true?

Wisdom cannot be faked. We can feel wisdom in another person. It is a sense that they know themselves deeply without excessive ego or self-doubt.

Mahatma Gandhi had no military training when he decided to stand up to the well-equipped British army. How was he able to use nonviolent civil disobedience to gain independence for a nation? How did he inspire thousands to resist fighting back when they were being beaten during a peaceful march? The suffering of the protesters worked to unify India in a way that England finally realized they no longer could retain control of the millions of Indians under their colonial rule. Gandhi said, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." Gandhi had a strong belief that the law of love rules mankind. He believed that if hate was the controlling energy, we would have been extinct a long time ago. His wisdom was felt by others and mobilized a nation to secure victory without a weapon.

The wisest men do not think they know everything. They know that wisdom comes from a sense of wonder, a feeling that there is so much to learn and understand, the belief that the mysteries of the world will never be completely revealed. When the oracle at Delphi said that Socrates was wiser than anyone else in Athens, Socrates decided to test this by questioning the men considered wise by the Athenians. Socrates concluded that, while each man thought he was wise, in fact they knew very little and were not wise at all. Paradoxically Socrates knew he was not wise at all, which made him the wisest since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. He only claimed to understand the path to the pursuit of wisdom.

The owl is a symbol of wisdom in many cultures. She is said to be clairvoyant with acute vision, seeing what others cannot see in the dark. These talents, along with silent observation, make the owl a great hunter. Wisdom abounds in nature and the owl is one expression of that wisdom.

So what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Wisdom lies beneath the surface guiding us to we live and act upon that wisdom without conflict of thought. Knowledge is something we believe to be true, but may fail to act upon. Knowledge lies on the surface and has not been totally infused it into our core making it our own.

Yoga can be taught but ultimately the path of yoga is to find the teacher within. We can do a pose, but what we feel is important. The feeling and the doing are in constantly interacting with each other. Without the breath we will never find the depth we seek in our practice. Yoga can be an exercise, but it can be so much more. We can keep yoga on the surface or we can bring it deep into our core. When we know ourselves deeply, yoga becomes an expression of that wisdom. It infuses our poses with strength and lightness.

Knowledge can be taught and sought after. It leads the way to wisdom. Wisdom is a life long experience of learning and seeking. So even though there is no guarantee we will grow up to be wise, if we humbly follow the path of seeking wisdom, we will grow old with peace and equanimity.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Expanding Awareness

"To see a world in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour."
William Blake

How often do you notice the soles of your feet? We tend to hide our feet in shoes and only go barefoot inside or on comfortable surfaces. Our feet are one of the most sensitive places of our bodies with several acupressure points that treat our emotional and physical well-being. Running or walking barefoot over roots and stones in the woods will stimulate these points. Our feet are actually a gateway to our whole system and stimulating the acupressure points is a great way to massage your internal organs and systems.

Everyone has probably jumped into a cold river, ocean or lake. Remember how every cell of your body felt alive, invigorated and tingled with a sensation that made you gasp with a sensation between shock and delight? How often are we aware of our whole body at once in this dynamic way? What a fun way to stimulate our circulatory and lymphatic systems while increasing our metabolism.

When we eat do we truly savor our food? Most of the time we mechanically chew a little bit and then rapidly swallow so we can get another mouthful in. Being more mindful and conscious of each bit of food has enormous takes patience but pays off in the long run. It aids our digestion without building excess toxins, it improves our immune system, it reduces the amount of food we need to feel satisfied, and it promote clearer thinking and a healthier nervous system.

Yoga helps us go deeper into places we tend to just skim on the surface. Focusing on breathing fully through our noses and slowing down the breath is something we typically are too preoccupied to notice. We end up breathing fast and shallow breaths that cause poor posture and keep us alive but that is about it. Although our breath physically goes to our lungs, we can energetically send it anywhere in our bodies to open and relax those areas. The poses help us to feel deeply in places of our bodies that are typically closed and tight like hips and shoulders. By bringing our awareness to undernoticed places like the mound of our big toe, the bottom tip of our shoulder blades or the back of our heads we impact our whole body and nervous system.

What do the soles of our feet, a jump into cold water, mindful eating and yoga have in common? They all teach us to be more intentional and conscious in our thoughts and actions. They help us to expand our awareness and how we live life. Accidents often happen when we are careless and not really present. We can live wide awake or we can live half asleep. Which do you choose?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Finding Opportunity

If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door. ~Milton Berle

Opportunity is around us all the time even if we do not see it. Sometimes it appears as a gift that comes to us effortlessly. Other times it comes in the form of an obstacle that can be transformed into opportunity.

A brilliant example of this kind of transformation is the story of Tom Sawyer who was given the chore to whitewash his aunt's fence one summer day. At first Tom was melancholy at the thought of having to spend a Saturday painting instead of playing with his friends. But as he began to paint and his friends passed by he pretended to be so absorbed in painting that it piqued the curiosity of his friends. By pretending to like what he was doing and telling his friends that it took great skill to whitewash a fence properly, he began to trade his friend's treasures for a turn at whitewashing the fence. Soon the fence was painted by his friends and Tom had become a wealthy lad in the process.

Rocks in rivers can be seen as dangerous obstacles but for the seasoned boater they create opportunities to rest in an eddy behind the rock or boof off the edge of the rock and get airborne for a second. Rocks are what form the character of the river. If you keep looking at a rock that you don't want to hit, then you will probably end up hitting the rock. But if you want to avoid the rock, then your focus needs to be on where you want to go. If you view the rock as something friendly to play with on the river, that is where your focus should be. The same is true of any obstacle we want to avoid or transform into something positive.

Yoga gives us the opportunity to fully be with our breath. Our minds are so occupied with our daily lives that we rarely focus on our breath. In fact, we typically breath with only 10 percent of our total lung capacity. When we focus on deep full breathing we increase our oxygen supply, decrease toxins in our bodies, increase our circulation and improve our mental clarity. Many places in our bodies tend to be tight - like hamstrings, hips and shoulders. Although this may seem like a limitation to yoga, it can be an incredible opportunity to open those tight areas and understand more about those muscles and joints. Yoga teaches us to expand our viewpoints and to listen to and respect our bodies. It helps us to understand how the body and mind are deeply connected and affect each other on many levels.

Life is often what we make of our current situation. Why do some people see opportunities where others see few options? Introspection and sensitivity to others can strengthen our ability to expand our perceptions. Determination, open-mindedness and the desire to learn more about this amazing world we live in, will clear our vision revealing opportunities that allow us to blossom into ourselves.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The song of the birds

A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
Lou Holtz

When you truly stop and listen to the birds singing, their songs go straight to your heart. Their songs are as beautiful as any music created by humans. Many composers including Vivaldi, Beethoven and Mozart have used birdsong as a springboard for some of the most enduring compositions of all time.

Birds sing to communicate about courtship and territory. But they also sing as an escape valve for excess energy, and as a manifestation of the peak vitality reached by a bird during the period of reproduction. Birds perfect their performance through imitation, stimulation and practice. The nightingale can sing up to 300 different songs. The canary breathes 30 times a second to replenish its air supply.

Birdsong is the perfect medium for communicating over long distances, or when it is hard to see the singer. Birds adapt to their environment by using a sound that works best for that habitat. Sounds bounce off trees and are absorbed by leaves in the forest so birds living high in the trees repeat a brief signal so that it will eventually be heard if the message is missed the first time. On the forest floor birds use low-pitched calls that will not be distorted by the ground. In open areas like prairies, birds use a buzzing message that will carry over long distances.

Song birds have a sweet. melodic sound while crows and ravens have a raucous flavor to their calls. Owls have a more mysterious soft sound that aligns with their symbolism of being connected to magic and their ability to see in the darkness. Eagles, ospreys and hawks have a piercing shrill sound that mimics their strength and hunting skills.

Just as we need to be quiet to really appreciate the song of the birds, we need to have a quiet center to be fully present in our yoga practice. Birds have endurance, their bodies are light, and their feathers have an exquisite softness. This combination gives them the gift of flight. Every yoga pose should have a balance of strength and softness. The song of the birds come from a deep primal instinct and when our poses reflect our deep inner knowing, they begin to soar.

Our understanding of what and why birds sing is limited. However they reflect the fullness of nature in their song. They sing with abandon and without regret. Sometimes they sing just because they are bubbling over with joy. What a refreshing way to live.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life is like a river

The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. — (Herman Hesse, Siddhartha)

Rivers are the lifeblood of the earth. Their waters flow from the mountains to the sea offering transportation, recreation, irrigation and inspiration.

Even when rivers appear calm and still, they are constantly moving from their source to their destination. When the banks of the river become narrower, the power of the river increases. As rocks get closer to the surface of the river, they slow the water underneath to form a swell and then a wave. Just below the surface, rocks cause more slowing and the resulting resurgence of energy creates a hole where the water is powerful and recirculates into itself. Rocks above the surface stop the water completely, but the water always wants to fill in that space and become an eddy, a relatively calm spot in the current.

I have always loved rivers. Just sitting by the river calms my mind and is a form of meditation. The sound of the water and the play of sunlight on the surface of the river are magical.

As a whitewater paddler, rivers have taken me on great adventures. The goal of paddlers is to find what we call a "line" where we use the river features like waves, holes and eddies to navigate through turbulent water. When I ride that line and work with the power of the water, there is a feeling of being one with the river. It is simply euphoric.

Wilderness river trips immerse you completely into a world where the distractions of daily life with all its technology and busyness disappear and are replaced by a sense of wonderment and appreciation for the beauty of nature. On calm stretches of river, you can completely surrender to the flow of the current. On pushier, rougher stretches more effort is required, but without the balance of surrender to the unpredictability of the current, your journey will just be a struggle where the river will ultimately win. There has to be a willingness to join forces with the river and give up any desire to dominate or control her.

Our breath is the lifeblood of yoga. It carries nutrients, oxygen and prana, the life force, into our bodies. When we fully appreciate our breath, our life will become more harmonious and filled with power and contentment. Yoga gives us the opportunity to slow down and be with the breath. Just as a river needs boundaries to create its form, we need to be aware of the form of our bodies in our poses and our own boundaries as we practice each pose. Rivers are always moving and pulsing with the current, however subtle that current may be. Our poses should reflect the wisdom of the river so that we move with the breath and consciously pulse between our center and our edges to feel the pose to our fullest.

It is impossible to know every twist and turn of the river. Rocks get moved around, water levels change affecting the character of the river. But the river, with resolution, flows on. These changes are the heart and the soul of the river. Contentment comes from moving with the flow, pausing in the eddies and jumping back in the current of life with enthusiasm, patience and acceptance.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where is the glory?

Although every individual's focus is on the soccer ball when it is near the goal, the real story is how the ball got there. The ball is passed so quickly between players that is impossible to know where it will go next. Of course there is a plan and a strategy but each team is equally determined to score for their team and block the opposing team.

It would be almost impossible for an individual team member to get the ball from one end of the field to the other and score completely by themselves. It takes the whole team working with each other to make a goal.

Each player has a role based on their particular strengths. The goalie defends the goal and stays at the goal line. Defenders stay back with the goalie to help block the opposing team from scoring. The sweeper is a special defender that stays behind the other defenders. Midfielders play between the defenders and the forwards as a link. The forwards are responsible for most of the team's scoring. A striker is often the top scorer of the forwards.

The team spirit is crucial to winning. Each member must be willing to sacrifice at least some of his own ego for the good of the team. They have to be willing to be away from the ball to win the prize. It would appear that the forwards get all the glory - their job is to score a goal. Does that discourage the defenders from being 100 percent involved in the game? No, because they know their role is just as important.

In a bee hive the worker bees support the queen but hive must work together to survive. A colony of ants all have their jobs and a common purpose. A formation of geese support each other creating an uplift for the bird behind making the migration for the whole group easier. A pack of wolves, a herd of gazelle and a flock of penguins all work in this balance of the individual working toward the good of the group.

The purpose of yoga is union. The universal and the individual come together to honor each other. Nature flows through each individual. It is part of us. Yet we are all unique with our own gifts and flaws. Through focusing on the breath, through honoring our divine nature and individual truth, we can move through life with grace and ease. Our poses remind us how to move deeply into places in our bodies and minds that tend to be forgotten. We pulse between expanding and connecting outward with the Universal and contracting and drawing inward getting to know ourselves individually at a deeper level.

Each system in Nature reflects this dance between the Universal and its parts. The solar system, the galaxies, and planet earth all are composed of individual units working together as a whole. What is our grand purpose? It could be as simple as celebrating being an integral part of this big, beautiful world and expressing it in our own unique way.

Monday, July 5, 2010

After the fall....

John Harlin III comes from a lineage of adventurers. His father, John Harlin II, was a legendary climber who fell to his death climbing the north face of the Eiger which is taller and harder than anything on Everest. John eventually was able to complete the climb that killed his father and fulfill a life-long dream.

In the summer of 2010 John made a plan to bike, paddle and climb about 1900 kilometers around the border of Switzerland. However while climbing the Aiguilles Rouge du Mont Dolent, John had a fall and broke both feet. Reflecting on the events leading to his fall, he said, "...Sometimes you get a bit full of yourself and think that you can control things that can't be controlled, or maybe you feel clever enough that you'll solve every problem whatever the mountain of life might throw your way. ...and so far I've always managed to keep it together despite knowing that any time a piece of the mountain might collapse out from under me.

The problem with such success is that it makes you ever more full of yourself. So when we reached the col and looked at the Swiss side of the Grand Gendarme and saw its hideous loose mess of rock blocks held together by rapidly melting snow, the proper reaction would have been to turn tail and retreat."

Unfortunately among the loose and treacherous rocks, one did not hold John. Afterward he said, "You might think that after 54 years of navigating life in and out of the mountains, I'd have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting myself into. But mountains, like life, often throw up surprises. They catch you off guard, knock you down, lift you up."

How often do we get overconfident and ignore signs that we need to back off or change our plans? Even though John was careful, when his hands finally touched a big loose block, he barely gave it a thought because he just climbed over a hundred rocks that were much worse. Even things that are familiar can change. We can be careful but ultimately we do not have total control over what happens. Sometimes we can prevent accidents or misfortune by listening to the warning signs but not always.

How do we respond to the lessons learned when things do not go as planned or something painful or tragic happens? John was lucky to have survived this 20 meter fall when his climbing rope caught on a sliver of rock and held. Instead of getting angry, he said, "Right now I feel an incredible lift, a fresh enthusiasm for living, a joy that swells and embraces the world and the future. ....I have to thank that block of rock for pulling out like it did. My hubris had been building from too much success. Terrain like that can never be made safe."

Life tests us, but our response can bring us a deeper appreciation for life and the gifts we do have. Tough times can be an opportunity for growth. Lessons are not always easy. This is not to say that we should not take risks, but we will have to deal with the consequences. Every day we are still alive is an opportunity to learn and grow.

How does yoga test us? Our ego can get us into trouble when we do not listen to our body. If we are injured or not ready for a difficult pose, we need to respect what our body is telling us. When we open to grace and remember the bigger picture, it is easier to let go of our ego. When we realize there are things beyond our control, we can be gentler with ourselves. Even as we open to grace, we need to remember our individuality and responsibility. Our breath can bring us into balance. It connects us the the life force that moves within us and around us.

Sometimes we may get injured when we test our edge or lose our focus. What can we learn from that? We pulse back and forth between awareness and carelessness. Life is in balance when we see its infinite possibilities and take responsibility for our actions. Letting go of the idea that we can control everything allows us to see the beauty of being alive even in the challenges that inevitably come our way.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Creating Beauty

Why do people spend so much time planting beautiful gardens, creating beautiful works of art, decorating their homes, deciding what to wear, or practicing a skill? We are drawn to beauty. It makes us feel good and is soothing to the soul.

Creating beauty is a process that takes time and love. It is a form of self-expression. When the inspiration comes from the heart, others find their own personal meaning in the creation. We can think about how to create beauty, but ultimately if we are not working from our heart, the creation will feel lifeless.

Our motivation to create beauty is not always from joy. Recently my dog Jasmine died. I buried her in a spot that was overrun with weeds but is also in a private setting. The process of turning this ugly, weed-ridden space into a beautiful sanctuary has been very healing for me. I spend time just sitting in the space and feeling where to place plants, how to arrange stones and tuning into how the space feels as I work on it. I want to honor Jasmine's beautiful spirit. This has motivated me to put in the long hours of digging up the weeds, lugging stones and searching for the right plants. I feel a sense of peace and I am drawn to this space now. The sadness of losing her is mixed with a feeling of beauty and tranquility.

When you are working on creating beauty with a heart-felt intention, time is irrelevant. You get in a zone where you are completely absorbed in the feeling of what you are creating. The mind and heart feel in balance.

In yoga tantric philosophy, chit/ananda is the view that our true nature sees the oneness of the individual self with the Divine. Chit is our self-knowledge of this connection and ananda is the creative expression to celebrate the Divine which resides in all of us. As you practice yoga turn to your breath. This is the ultimate expression of chit/ananda - the pulsation between awareness and expression. Our poses begin with the breath and we move from the core. This creates beauty, strength and freedom in our practice.

Life would not be worth living without the experience and appreciation of beauty. It is intrinsic to who we are and life around us. Sometimes we can't feel the beauty because it may be obscured by pain and suffering. That is part of the pulse of life but coming back to the recognition of beauty makes it that much sweeter.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Poetry in Motion

Poetry in motion is all around us in subtle and dramatic forms. We can see it in the dance of leaves in a soft breeze and we can feel it in the performance of top athletes. The dance of butterflies, the synchronised movements of a teeming school of fish, the acrobatic play of otters, the explosive sprint of a cheetah, the flight of the hummingbird, and the spinning of a spider web are examples of poetry in motion.

Years ago when I was sailing in the Atlantic, a handful of dolphins began to play in the bow wake of our boat. The dolphins were jumping, curving back and forth, turning on their sides and grinning from the sheer joy of movement. Their feelings were contagious. We all felt their playfulness and rapture of living in the moment. Their poetry in motion left an indelible memory in my heart.

As we transition from pose to pose in our yoga practice, keep the movement smooth and engaged. There is a tendency to end one pose and let go of the feeling, intention and form before we come into the next pose. But if we move with integrity, intention and awareness our transitions can be poetry in motion. Our whole practice becomes a poem with rhythm and meaning. It transcends just being a workout or stretching exercise. The poetry in motion comes from keeping the feeling of gracefulness active and full from the first inhalation to the last exhalation of our practice.

If we open our hearts and awareness, we can find poetry in motion in the ordinary things in life: in the wag of a dog's tail, the stretch of a cat, the crawling of a baby, and the dance of light through the trees. It is easy to become distracted with the complexities and demands of our daily lives and forget to notice this gift that is so freely given. When we connect with the divine energy that lives within each of us, we will see more of this beauty of motion around us, and it will naturally flow through us as an expression of grace and ease.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Into the Woods

When I go into the woods time seems to slow down. Stress falls away, my breathing becomes more relaxed and I feel open to the energy around me. I do not have to seek this feeling, it just happens. Time and time again I find comfort, inspiration and creativity in the woods.

When we are in the woods it is easy to feel connected to nature. One can feel her magnificence and power. We can often feel small and enormous at the same time: small in relation to the vastness of nature but enormous because we are part of this energy.

In the woods we feel enveloped in a world of green, the color signifing freshness, abundance and harmony. Green is in the middle of the color spectrum and is the most restful color to the human eye. It combines yellow which signifies the soul and blue which signifies the spirit.

There are seven major chakras or energy vortices of the human body. The heart chakra, which is the balance point for the chakra system, is represented by the color green. This is the center of universal love and compassion. It represents emotional empowerment and controls the essential life forces. The heart chakra rules the lungs, heart, blood flow, and circulation.

People often go into the woods for solace. Communing with nature brings us in touch with a deep part of ourselves that can remain ignored for long periods of time. Henry David Thoreau went into the woods of Walden Pond for two years living off the land, meditating, writing poetry and developing a philosophy of pacifism and a reverence for all living things. He said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

When practicing yoga we want to have this same sense of getting in touch with our inner being. Moving from our heart center brings our practice to life. It is what makes yoga special. It is what leads us to self-discovery. brings us calmness and relief from the stress of everyday life. When we physically integrate our shoulders onto our backs, we metaphorically open our hearts. We have greater capacity to breathe fully. We become more open to whatever life has to offer. We become more alive.

The woods remind us of our connection to nature in a deep and profound way. The mystery of nature is within us and all around us. Nature is a huge part of life that is often underappreciated and ignored. Open your heart to fully appreciate the grandeur and complexities of nature and all she has to offer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Not what, but why

Why do you do what you do? What is your cause? What is your purpose? What inspires you? What empowers you? What do you feel in your gut and your heart?

The Wright brothers loved learning new things. Although neither of them finished high school, they started their first business together by building a printing press out of broken and recycled parts. Later they became interested in bicycles and opened a bicycle sales and repair shop. In 1896, Wilbur set his sights on flying.

Around the same time Samuel Langley was being funded by the US War Department to figure out a flying machine. He had all the financial backing he needed and hired the brightest minds to help him be the first to fly.

Conversely the Wright brothers had no financial backing but had a dream of flying. They pursued the idea of flying from their hearts. It was a mystery they had a passion to solve. They could not hire people to help them, but they inspired people to help them. They were not focused on fame but rather on what it would feel like to fly.

Of course the rest is history. Everyone knows about the Wright brothers who invented the first successful plane. But few have heard of Langley who gave up after the Wright brothers made their first successful flight.

Simon Sinek was an advertising executive who lost his passion for advertising and had to struggle to rediscover his excitement about life and work. He came up with the concept he called the Golden Circle. The innermost layer of the circle is "why", the middle layer is "how" and the outer layer is "what". Everyone knows what they do. This is the clearest part. They know how they do it. But what about why they do it?

Most people work from the outside in. They think about what they do before they think about why they do it. Often they lead lives of frustration staying stuck with what they are doing. Eventually they may change what they do out of boredom or because of outside circumstances.

People who work from the inside out, knowing why they do what they do, lead inspired and fulfilling lives. The "why" is not as easily defined as the "what". They are operating from a deeper gut level. They do not do what they do just to make a living, to live up to expectations, or to find fame and fortune. If they change what they do, they change because their "why" has led them in a new direction.

The brain has three evolutionary layers. The oldest layer is the reptilian layer that controls breathing, heart rate and digestion. The next layer is the limbic system that is responsible for our emotions, human behavior, decision making and our gut feelings. It controls our "why". It does not know language. The neocortex is the newest layer and corresponds with our rational, analytical thought and language. It controls our "what" and "how".

If we have a clear idea of why we are practicing yoga, our yoga can soar. Our intention is part of our "why". We need to feel our yoga to truly experience it. When yoga is done half-heartedly or as a mechanical exercise, we will miss out on the inspirational side of yoga. We miss the inner feeling of contentment and bliss. We can still experience the physical benefits but we cheat ourselves from the full package. Yoga means union. When the mind, body and spirit are involved, we are practicing the truest form of yoga.

To feel inspired and to inspire others, we have to know our why. Our basic emotions are connected with our "whys". Our deepest desires come from our "wants" not our "shoulds". If you listen to your gut and move from your core, you will have the foundation and confidence to live life to its fullest where the sky is the limit.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Order or chaos, which do you prefer?

We adore chaos because we love to produce order.
M.C. Escher

Is there more random chance or more predictability in life? Is there security in order and danger in chaos? Or is there boredom in order and excitement in chaos?

Do people tend to prefer order over chaos? Some people like to have schedules, they like their lives to be organized and they like to have a plan. They function best this way. Other people like to live spontaneously, schedules seem restrictive and they prefer to do things on impulse. But the orderly people still seek some kind of spontaneity and the spontaneous people still seek some kind of order.

Scientists have often found systems that seemed extremely disordered but were actually following strange and intricate patterns. Water crystals forming on glass show high level of organizational structure from the random motion of water molecules.

They have also been baffled to find chaos in systems they thought they were more orderly. Ary Goldberger of Harvard Medical School found that when comparing the variations in the heartbeats of a healthy person to those of one suffering from heart disease, the healthy heartbeat was actually the more chaotic.

It is difficult to know if order precedes chaos or if chaos precedes order. But what we do know is that both are contained within the other.

Yoga has a blend of order and chaos. First we open to grace, we open to the world of endless possibilities and mystery that is bigger than all of us. Then we use a sense of order to create stability in our poses using principles of alignment. Ultimately each pose will be an expression of our own unique individuality that has an expansive unbounded quality. We continually pulse between order and the uniqueness of our own individuality. Without order we would have nothing to guide our practice and without chaos, the chance of learning something new, we would lose our incentive to come to the mat.

We all need some kind of order in our lives or we would go crazy. If we could not count on anything, life would be tragically difficult. Yet chaos is like a breath of fresh air. The unexpected is needed to keep us feeling alive, curious and to grow as an individual. Chaos and order are like two perfectly matched partners that move together in the dance of life.