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.