Words, Walking and Making Art

One of the best things about my Spiritual Perspectives class are the projects we’re asked to complete. For example, on Tuesday I enjoyedAsh of a Lost Heart a three-hour walk as a meditation on the idea of ‘journey’. Today I began work on my spiritual autobiography. This project can take any form: song, essay, collage. We were asked simply to be authentic and inspired. I’m using the idea of reliquaries. I’m selecting one or two events from each decade of my life and creating an assemblage from found materials, text and photographs. The project is immensely challenging but creatively refreshing. Thinking in terms of symbols and images instead of words is a tonic for my brain.

It’s easy to look back on life and list by rote, “This happened and then that happened.” The challenge is to look back on life, remember the difficult moments and remember the astounding moments, too. And then contemplate how those moments transformed the spirit. Contemplate how those moments made you a better person. I’ve had so many stops and starts on the path – from a “Jesus-freak” in the 1970’s to a wannabe-atheist in the 1990’s. But in the past few years I’ve learned the lesson that so many of us have: that religion and spirituality are two very different things. I’ve learned that our journeys are intensely personal. I’ve learned that there is no one true path and that it’s all right to wander off the trail a bit from time to time.

I thought I’d share a bit of my essay about the walk I took on Tuesday.

Take ShelterThe wonderful thing about walking is that the rhythm of the foot falls become like a meditation. The chatter in the mind stops and the head suddenly has room to consider new ways of seeing. That happened to me around the two-hour mark. I remembered that, unlike all my other walks, this walk was different. This walk was not about non-stop movement. It was about a journey. A journey’s pace ebbs and flows, just like the tide. It slows down and it speeds up. Sometimes it even stops. And that’s what I did.

I stopped. Pedometer be damned I stopped right where I was. I looked across the water. I examined the banked earth for signs of burrowing owls. My eyes followed the small hawk who took off from the grass in front of me clutching her rodent lunch. And I took photographs of the bloated grey clouds blustering over the East Bay hills.

And nothing bad happened.

On our journey it’s fine to stop from time to time. To take it in. To witness from a fresh perspective. Today I was a witness.

 


My Aura Embraces Your Aura

Head wrap and ear plugs at the ready!

Head wrap and ear plugs at the ready!

I’m anxious. Fidgety, clutched and giggly. In a tizzy.

This is not the state-of-mind one would associate with a yoga teacher. Yet it happens.

Anxiety happens. Because anything could happen. And isn’t it the fear and anticipation of the unknown that trips us up? Starts the spiral and spins the story? But the unknown is just that – unknown. So what’s the problem? It’s all good. As my grandmother may have joked, “Isch ga bibble!”

Yet if I had fingernails, they’d be chewed to the quick. Because my life is going to change this year.

That’s the one thing we can count on. Change. Change is constant. Each moment is new. Some moments of change, however, are more profound than others. And the anxiety and anticipation I’m experiencing is a mix of fear, joy and impending adventure.

It’s as if I’m an audience of one, waiting for the curtain to be drawn back (and hoping that I overcome my aversion to hugs and sharing circles).

On Tuesday I begin two years of study at Sofia University. In March I begin teaching at Samyama Yoga Center. Yes, I’ve mentioned my admission to Sofia and the building of Samyama in previous posts. They are small things in the course of human events. Very big things in the course of this small life.

So how am I handling the anxiety? How do you think?

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. Breathing. Yoga. Meditating. Yoga. With a few sandbags and head wraps thrown in for good measure.

More specifically:

  • A strong Yang practice featuring plenty of Flying Dragons to burn off the fidgets.
  • A soft Yin practice to open and release.
  • Restorative work featuring the placement of a sandbag on my forehead (yes, seriously).
  • Meditation featuring head wraps and earplugs (yes, seriously).

And finally, embracing this time of deep change and new beginnings with a living, ‘off-the-mat, into-the-world’ daily practice – a practice that will melt rigid trepidation.  A practice that will encourage blissful surrender to the unfamiliar journey I’m beginning.

As for my aversion to hugs and sharing circles? Well, that’s something for me to work on. In the meantime, Samyama’s owner John Berg offered this advice at our last staff meeting, “If someone goes in for the hug, just tell them ‘my aura is embracing your aura’. Works every time.”

And it does.

 


We Have a Date! Samyama will Open its Doors in March

IMG_1656

Samyama Yoga Center, the new studio in Midtown, Palo Alto that I’ve been harping about for the past six months has Grand Opening Date officially set in stone. Following a celebratory Grand Opening Party on Saturday the 9th and an Open House on Sunday the 10th, classes will begin on (drum roll, please):

Monday the 11th of March

(Update…Our opening date has had to be pushed back a few weeks.  No, we won’t be opening on March 11th but when we DO open, and it won’t be long after our original date, Midtown will light up with Yoga Joy!  We’ll keep you posted…)

I’ll still be teaching:

Gentle Morning Flow:  Tuesday and Thursday from 7-8:30 AM

Yin Flow:  Fridays from 1:30-2:45 PM

   Hatha:  Saturdays from 4:00 to 5:30

    If you haven’t checked out the Samyama Facebook page yet, click here.

      Give us a look and then give us a ‘like’.


How the Faux-Grinch Made Christmas All Her Own

yogaI’m not really a Grinch. I’m just one of those folks who love winter not for the shiny tinsel but because their’s nothing quite as cozy as a cold winter day burrowed under the blankets with a few good books and a hot toddy.

Too much burrowing, however, does not a festive yogi make.

This year I’ve decided to celebrate the season doing what I love. Yoga.

And I hope you’ll join me. Over the holidays I’ll be teaching these four classes at the California Yoga Center:

Monday 24 December – Christmas Eve

7:00 – 8:30’ish PM (please note earlier start time)

Yin Yoga

Donation Based

Tuesday 25 December – Christmas Day

9:00 – 10:30 AM (please note extra half hour)

Hatha Flow

$18 drop-in

Monday 31 December – New Year’s Eve

7:00 – 8:30’ish PM (please note earlier start time)

Yin Yoga

Donation Based

Tuesday 1 January – New Year’s Day

9:00 – 10:30 AM (please note extra half hour)

Hatha Flow

$18 drop-in

CYC Students – Please note the time change on the Yin Yoga class.  We’ll be starting at 7:00 and NOT 7:30.  Also note the extra half hour added to the morning classes.  

I think we deserve a longer savasana on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Don’t you?


The Pen Collector

Just a few of my several dozen pens.

Just a few of my several dozen pens.

The thing about tolerating a cold is that in between blowing the nose and hacking up phlegm balls, you have quite a bit of time for thinking.

On November 19th a cold took hold at 38,000 feet over the Pacific when a stranger a few rows behind let loose with a wet and righteous sneeze. At the time I remember calmly telling myself, “I’m going to get that.” Repeated slaps to the forehead while silently screaming “NO NO NO NO you idiot WHAT were you thinking?!?!” were not enough to talk my immune system down from the inevitable and, sure enough, on the evening of Tuesday the 20th while watching a DVD with my friend, I began to cough.

By the following morning I had a full-blown excuse for staying in bed with the duvet tucked tight for the next seven days.

But, like I said, it gave me time to think. Perhaps it was feverish delirium, but the one thing I thought most about were the two flowerpots full of pens I keep on the right hand corner of my desk next to the twelve spiral notebooks I keep stacked at attention in the event I should have just one brilliant thought worth noting (there at least a dozen more notebooks awaiting active duty in a dresser drawer). “Why on earth,” I muttered, “do I have so many pens and notebooks?”

I’m a pen snob. I prefer an ultra fine Pilot G2 gel point in black. They have good glide.

I’m not as picky about my spiral notebooks, although I prefer the 9 ½ by 7 inch Callbers. Yes, I have a couple of those fancy black notebooks – the one Hemingway preferred – but I’m afraid of them. They’re a bit too pretty. I wouldn’t dare deface them with my chicken scratch – even with a black inked ultra fine Pilot G2 gel point.

Yes, I recognize my obsession with notebooks and pens is a symptom of something more troubling.

When I recovered from my cold I took a good look around me. In my medicine cabinet were six different brands of hair ointment all promising to do the same thing for my curls. In my closet? Sixteen pairs of shoes. There are three more pairs in a basket by my front door. Four tubes of toothpaste. Five brands of antiperspirants. An assortment of travel sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer.

You see where I’m going with this. I feel a little New Year’s challenge coming on.

I’m going to try to survive 2013 without making any new purchases.

Before you think I’ve gone around the twist, here are the guidelines:

Obviously I will need to pay rent, purchase food, gas for my car, electricity. I will also be spending money on books and tuition this year as well as airfare for a trip back East.

What I won’t allow myself to buy is any item bought to replace an item that I already have and that is still in good working order. I can only replace personal care items like soap, shampoo, deodorant and moisturizer when what I have is within a use or two of running out.

No new pens or notebooks.

No new clothes or shoes – I have more than I need.

But what about entertainment? Meals out? The occasional over-priced coffee?

I’m not trying to live the life of an ascetic. I still want to live well and enjoy life fully. I will set a budget over the next few days to accommodate life’s little frills.

This is a simple exercise in mindfulness. Ours is a greedy and wasteful society. I want to pay better attention to how much I waste and what I truly need.

Anyone care to join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Samyama

 

The term samyama refers to the combined practice of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (union). It is a technique we can utilize to cultivate deeper understanding of the qualities of an object or a person or a concept. It’s said that the yogi who successfully practices samyama will experience the lightness of being freed from the mental constructs – the kleshas – that bind us to the ‘real world’. In other words, samyama liberates us from obstacles, hindrances, troubles and suffering.

Samyama is also the name of the new yoga studio opening in Midtown, Palo Alto in October (just in time for Diwali).

Samyama isn’t your ordinary yoga studio. It’s one man’s vision manifested. To read the history of how Samyama began, click here.

Two months ago John Berg and I met for coffee at Philz – John’s office until the new one is built. The following week he invited me to teach at Samyama. I’ll be joining local yoga master Anirudh Shastri plus Louis Jackson, Annika Williams, Hillary Easom and Bethany Sala. One or two others have yet to be confirmed but the truth is John is keeping the teaching staff small for a reason – he’s not creating a yoga mini-mart with 48 available flavors . He’s creating a yoga home.

And I can’t wait to move in.

 


Give a Little

“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”

Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 3, Text 13

 

 

 

How Do We Live Our Yoga?

In the beginning, most of us are one quick namaste’ from the daily grind.  When class ends we roll up our mat, stack the studio bolsters and on our way out the door hope the parking meter has enough time remaining for a quick run to Starbucks before we head back to work.  There’s no time to embrace the yoga that is more than skin deep.  Forget the philosophy – we’re in it for the workout.  We want a toned body. Yoga Class is Tuesday from nine to ten in the morning. Everything else is life.

With dedicated practice, however, a subtle shift occurs. The edge between our yoga practice and “real” life blurs.  Yoga begins to follow us home.  We move deeper into our practice and yoga becomes a part of who we are.  When we embrace the notion that yoga has not only strengthened our bodies but has also strengthened our spirit then it’s time to ask again:

How do we live our yoga?

Step Off the Mat

In 2007 Seane Corne decided to move her yoga beyond the mat and confines of the studio walls when, along with Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling, she founded Off the Mat and Into the World. This inspiring organization embraces the philosophy of seva.  Selfless service.

According to their website Off the Mat’s mission is “to use the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change.” Today, Off the Mat and Into the World has international scope.  It supports humanitarian efforts in Haiti with the Global Seva Challenge.  Off the Mat’s Empowered Youth Initiative believes a commitment to the next generation has a profound impact on social justice and environmental issues.  This year the initiative has programs focused on assisting urban youth in Los Angeles.  They also support community initiatives working for disadvantaged populations.

Think Creatively

One such community initiative is The Art of Yoga Project, located an hour south of San Francisco in leafy Palo Alto, California. Art of Yoga’s mission is “to lead teen girls in the California juvenile justice system toward accountability to self, others and community by providing practical tools to affect behavioral change.”

The Art of Yoga Project improves the lives of disadvantaged and incarcerated young women by nurturing their creativity while encouraging a daily yoga and mindfulness practice.

Transform Your Practice

The practice of yoga is a transformative experience.  But how many of us allow that transformation to move beyond our inner spirit?  What happens when we stop clinging to the yoga experience we love and allow it to touch the lives of those around us?  Supporting others’ lives through yoga will transform your own.  Mary Lynn Fitton, founder of The Art of Yoga Project, knows first hand the profound effect of selfless service. “Since starting The Art of Yoga Project my personal practice has deepened considerably,” she said. “Teaching the principles of yoga to incarcerated teen girls, who have had very difficult life experiences, has called all of us at the project to a higher standard. For example, since we are teaching the girls about satya, we are looking closer at how we’re living in our own truths, watching our speech, avoiding gossip.  Teaching the girls yoga principles keeps them alive and fresh in my mind so I have daily reminders of how I want to be in this world. I am thankful to the girls for that. They are such heroes to me as they shine through their tragic pasts. They inspire me to be ever grateful of my circumstances and to do as much as I can to relieve suffering. 

The Small Gestures Count

Founded in 1978 by Dr. Larry Brilliant in Berkeley, California, The Seva Foundation has restored eyesight to millions of people in Tibet, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Africa.  In the process they have reduced the cost of cataract surgery to just $50.00.  As individuals, our small gestures may never match the scope of Off the Mat Into the World or The Art of Yoga Project, but we can still hold in our hearts this simple idea from the Seva FoundationTo become fully human we must translate our compassion and concern into useful service.

What is useful service?  For most it does not entail forming a non-profit.  Most of us will not have the opportunity to restore sight to the blind or teach yoga to groups of incarcerated young women.  But in our daily lives we can still bear witness to the power of selfless contribution.  Mary Lynn Fitton says,

“I am blessed by this work. I wish everyone could experience the joy, connection and fulfillment that comes to you through being a part of positive social change. And you don’t need to start a non-profit to make a difference; but do take the time to discover what really matters to you and carve out space in your life to contribute to that somehow. Start with having conversations that matter. Then set your intention to serve. The rest will come.

So how do I want to live my yoga?  In service.  One breath at a time.

This article originally appeared in Yoga Living Magazine.


Heart, Soul and Purple Doc Marten Boots

I prefer to not surround myself with too much stuff.  I hesitate to put down roots and hold the belief that I can pack up and take off at a moment’s notice.  A friend tells me I’m looking for something that I haven’t found.  I’m more inclined to think I suffer from chronic commitment issues and spiritual claustrophobia.

And so I clear my closet of clothes not worn for years.  I purge the shelves of books rarely opened and cull the desk of knick-knacks whose sole purpose for existing is to catch dust.

With the space around me cleared, so somehow is my heart.  Yet what I’ve done is create a fleeting illusion of space that requires tender care.  Only mindful vigilance will prevent a new collection of bits and bobs from building a jumbled barrier that distracts and blocks my path.

It has been one hundred and eighty days since my last hefty donation to Goodwill. Pride in accomplishment allowed my guard to drop.    The space around me has filled. As a consequence, so has my spirit.  It’s time.   Time to plunge into the mess.  Time to choose.  Time to let go.  Again.

The questions I’m asking are simple.  What do I need for my life to have heart and meaning?  How many layers do I have to strip away before I find Truth?

I am beginning to realize that my constant craving to pare back the physical layers is not enough.  Taking away the stuff around me – breaking down the barriers – isn’t enough.  Maybe my friend is right.  Maybe I am looking for something.  But I won’t find it in the space where my purple Doc Marten boots used to be.


Fessin’ Up and Clearing the Decks

My…ahem…tens of readers will know that over the past few months I’ve attempted to take a proactive approach to self-improvement.  Improving one’s ‘Self’ is unique to each individual.  Some folks want to abandon bad habits; others look to be more social.  If you read THIS post or THIS one, you’ll remember that I wanted to let go of my addiction to Hulu.  Having already given my television to Goodwill I had slipped into the bad habit of watching Hulu from bed with the laptop perched on my belly. I hoped the hours formerly spent glued to the boob tube would now be spent reading.  I went so far as to challenge myself to read one book per week.

I also wanted to create a meditation practice.

Now that winter has turned to spring, how am I doing?  Just fine.  Thanks for asking.

It took a bit of negotiation with my psyche and more than a little self-compassion, but I’m doing just fine.

My 21-hours per week television/Hulu addiction is down to about two or three hours per week (unless I’m house sitting – who can ignore a flat screen TV the size of a wall and surround sound???)

Did I read all the books I wanted to read?  No.  But I’m reading.  All the time.  But a little necessity called work prevented me from maintaining the breakneck pace I set for myself.

The meditation practice is blossoming.  Establishing a good habit is a process of repetition.  For several weeks I struggled to remember to practice.  But then the corner was turned and now I miss it when my practice slips.  And it does slip.

Last week was one of those weeks when I fell off the wagon.  Nothing prevented me from enjoying my regular daily mediation except the story I was spinning in my head about being overwhelmed and overworked.  A few days into my lapsed practice a friend turned to me and said, “You haven’t been meditating.”

How could he have noticed?  How could he not have noticed?

I slipped back into regular practice the next day.

We make choices about how we want to live our lives.  We set goals, we plot a course.  We hope.

And then life happens.  Extraordinary, brilliant, tragic, wonderful life.

Sometimes we fall.  Sometimes we need to change course.  But always we pick ourselves back up and head into the wind.  And then we soar.

And that’s how I’m doing.

ps…in my quest to crush my writer’s block I’ve given an old blog a new name:  Your Daily Prompt.  If you’re a writer – even if you’re not – take a look.


The Baffling Case of the Rigid Mimm Day

I had the day marked on my calendar.  Sunday the 4th of March.  Mimm Day.  My first day of freedom.  No teacher training.  No dog sitting.  No private clients.  I was commitment free for the first time in months.  Come hell or high water I was going to celebrate and it was going to be perfect.

The day I planned included an early morning drive to Santa Cruz with a friend.

After a few hours of Dance Church at the 418 Project we take a leisurely stroll downtown until we find the perfect café where we enjoy a quiet brunch.  A table is waiting for us under the shade of a tree with the sunlight filtered to shield our eyes but not so much that it can’t keep us warm.  My friend reaches down and pulls a book from his grey backpack and with our second cup of tea we take turns reading to one another.  We’re generous with our tip – a compensation for keeping the café table too long. We continue our stroll and find an old record shop around the corner or maybe a shop full of bric-a-brac to bury ourselves in for a bit before making our way to a pristine beach that, miraculously, is empty except for an older couple and their two Golden Retrievers. The sound of the gulls, the crashing waves and the solar warmth of the sand lulls us to sleep just long enough to refresh but not so long as to make us cranky when we wake.

Another bite to eat and then a drive home along Highway 1 with a few stops to enjoy the view of a setting sun as the credits roll…

Mimm Day.  My perfect day.

But on designated Mimm Day I opened my eyes and discovered the alarm clock had never been set and we were already two hours too late to attend Dance Church. I cried like a ten-year-old who had slept through Christmas.  It was only 9:30 but the day, as far as I was concerned, was ruined.  And if I was wrong – if the day wasn’t really ruined – I was still going to nurture my disappointment and bad temper.  I didn’t get what I wanted and I was too swept up into the movie I had written in my head about what Mimm Day was supposed to be that I couldn’t see that the day was still perfect.  It was sunny and warm, it was a gorgeous morning – there was plenty of day left.  And I was still free to do whatever I wanted.

But I couldn’t see it.   I was blind to what I had right in front of me: my best friend, a blue sky and eight more hours of sunlight.

How many times are we guilty of placing emotional importance on an unpredictable future?  How often do we trip over ourselves reaching for paper tigers and ghosts that we can never hold and that never live up to the movies we make in our mind?

I’ve been reading to my students from Sharon Salzberg’s book Lovingkindness:  The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.  She writes:

When we become lost in desire, we are put firmly into the framework of linear time.  We become focused on getting what we do not yet have or on keeping what we do have.  We become oriented toward the future.  To be caught in this concept of linear time brings us to what in Buddhist teachings is called bhava, or becoming, always falling into the next moment.  It is as if before each breath ends, we are leaning forward to grasp at the next breath.

On March 4th I leaned so far forward I fell flat on my face.

Thinking about the future is not a bad thing.  But clinging to an ideal of what I believe the future should be does not allow room for change or perspective.  It leaves no room for living.

And isn’t it time to live a little?