Passing Fancies & Becoming a Super Yogi

Unknown-2My life is filled with passing fancies.

When I wrote about my client Margaret and her experiences piloting military aircraft in World War II, I immersed myself so deeply in the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots that I took my acrophobic self on a twenty minute flight in an open cockpit Stearman biplane. I remember waking up pre-dawn to write a fictional account of her story. I did that until I reached 180,000 words (give or take a few) and then moved on. Her story remains in a box under my bookshelf.

When I wanted to know everything I could know about anatomy for the yogi I took the journey all the way to Gil Hedley’s cadaver lab. I was cocky enough to consider myself more informed than the average yoga teacher on all things regarding attachments, insertions and bony prominences. I was wrong.

I’m telling you this because then I met Louis Jackson. Louis is a senior teacher at Samyama Yoga Center. He also is an integral part of our Dharma Path Teacher Training and co-teaches with John Berg our landmark course in beginning yoga, Building the Temple. When Louis found yoga, it wasn’t a passing fancy. That’s true for most teachers, of course, but Louis’s yogic path has risen so high and so far that he has become one of a handful of gifted and genuine master teachers I’ve met in thirty years of practice. I feel sometimes that while I skim the surface, Louis dives deep.

He would disagree, of course, but in my mind humility is the touchstone that keeps us learning and growing. Louis is a powerful and humble teacher.

This video is proof. Shot by the gifted Devin Begley, Louis takes two minutes to describe the beauty of the breath and gorgeousness of that marvelous dome of muscle we call the diaphragm.

Want to learn something new today?


Building a Better Me

rsTUx8ifQBWRDyXc9SJ1zwWhen The Counter restaurant chain first began to remodel the building on California Avenue, they had a banner to announce their arrival which read, Build a Better Burger.

Unlike the dozens of restaurants on the long thoroughfare outside my window that have opened, closed and morphed into new and doomed eateries, The Counter is still thriving. Most in my neighborhood will remember the gourmet hotdog restaurant that opened and closed faster than you can say ‘kielbasa’. They offered choices, too, but the options were off-putting and the posh wieners were priced higher than what most sane individuals would pay for a quick bite. Ten years on, however, The Counter remains packed with people for loud weekday lunches, after work suppers and jammed with hungry families every weekend. It turns out that, given a multitude of reasonably priced choices, any combination of patty, bun and condiment actually CAN be a better burger.

The choices we’re offered and the price we have to pay are the keys, right? In food and in life. When we remind ourselves that no matter where we are in life we have spiritually affordable options, living transforms from a dull, soggy bun to something scrumptious.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with ‘two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickle-onion on a sesame seed bun’ – but it’s easy to fall into a rut. What if I want to try a veggie burger, hold the onion or special sauce, on a toasted ciabatta?

I’m pretty sure my life is wonderful. But I can’t be absolutely certain because most of it moves by me without my being aware. I’ve fallen into the mucky rut of too much screen time. Not screen time like this, when I’m engaged in something that offers my life meaning. I’m thinking of screen time that includes my news addiction, my mindless scrolling through Facebook posts and the countless games of solitaire I play on the iPad before bed (which, I might add, really screws with the quality of my sleep).

It’s time to try something different. It’s time to build a better me.

We’re force-fed an onslaught of images – especially on social media – that make us feel ‘less-than’. I want to be clear: my plan to Build a Better Mimm has nothing to do with the notion that I’m not good enough. If anything, it’s the opposite. I am good enough. Good enough to have a life that feeds my soul. So are you. We are all good enough. But sometimes our gorgeous heart-light is dulled by less-than satisfying habits that don’t support the values we want to honor. Our habits divert us away from the choices our heart wants to make. The choices that keep us true to who we are. Our ‘heart-choices’ aren’t always the comfortable ones, but they undoubtedly keep us on the path that gives life meaning.

These ideas rose up for me because of the connection I feel and the inspiration I receive from the individuals I work with both through the Dharma Path Teacher Training program at Samyama Yoga Center and the clients who have become friends through the Artfully Twisted program I share with pain clinics in the Bay Area.

In both these groups we’ve worked to discover our values – those things that give our lives meaning. There is a critical connection between what we value and how we care for ourselves. Over the last fourteen months my preoccupation with the news and the escape I found through mesmerizing social media scrolls and smothering gaming habits created a disconnect. I lost touch with my values and was left feeling numb. Incomplete. A little like a bun-less burger left alone on a plate and under the heat lamp just a minute too long.

I bet I’m not alone.

Do you remember what you value? What has heart and meaning? The things you lost over the past year but know, if you find them, you’ll feel whole again?


We All Have Something to Say

IMG_1815Last month I walked past the sandwich board outside of University Avenue’s Lululemon emporium twice every Tuesday and Thursday for two weeks and each time I wanted to kick it. In my wildest moments I envisioned myself carrying a can of spray paint so no one else would walk past, read its message, and have that little moment of feeling less than. What words did I find so offensive?

My mascara runs faster than you do.

I’m guessing the marketing genius who came up with that tag line believed she was being light-hearted, and that it was meant to inspire those women for whom running is a passion. But for the rest of us – the walkers and Sunday bikers, or the woman balancing work, kids and all of life’s unexpected surprises – it was offensive.

Am I over-reacting? Maybe.

Except that it happens all the time. Social media is crowded with words that, on the surface, appear to inspire. But pick at the corner and peel back the shiny veneer and underneath you’ll find a subtext – intended or not – that is mean spirited and ugly.

If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough.

What?

I have dreams that are small enough to hold in my hand. I have bigger dreams, too, and I have dreams that are the size of all the beating hearts in the world and are unlikely to ever come true – but they still make me smile. Dreams that scare? Those are called nightmares.

We need to consider the words we choose, the words we share.

We’re all writers now and it’s a dangerous thing because it’s so easy to stick to the slick surface of a pretty sentence. But words and sentences and the messages we’re trying to send have layered context and connotations.

There’s an essay making the rounds on social media from a young yoga teacher. You can read that essay here. She screams her way through five hundred or so words, lambasting the yoga industrial complex and layering her argument with more than a few expletives. She ends her rant with this:

…It is ALL f***ing yoga! There is no concrete, set in stone, no if ands or buts way to teach or practice yoga…

As I watched the likes and hearts, the shares and affirmative comments pile up I had to wonder what I was missing.

Because I believe she’s wrong.

And she’s wrong in the same way that Lululemon’s sandwich board sign was wrong and that passive aggressive adages reminding me that my dreams should be scary disguised as deep and meaningful philosophy are wrong.

The nuances of teaching are, of course, up to the individual teacher’s personality and whims but the core of yoga and the asana we practice is part of a system that has evolved over thousands of years. If we play music at savasana does it interfere with our practice of concentration and truthfulness? Yes, it does. It transforms savasana – the most difficult of poses – into sleepy relaxation. What is our intention as teachers? As yogis? If our practice has evolved to a state where anything goes – as this yoga teacher’s essay implies – then I want out.

Yoga, at its core, is about self-regulation. It’s about observing, understanding, reacting – all with clarity and honesty. It’s about being aligned with the Yamas and Niyamas.

I know that a dear friend of mine would suggest I’m taking myself too seriously. Taking yoga too seriously. Of course I am.

Yoga is not a witty aphorism. It’s my life.


Samyama’s Mini-sabbatical

The Patanjali mural at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto

The Patanjali mural at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto

Life is filled with small blessings. When word arrived that we were going to take a ten-day ‘mini-sabbatical’ at Samyama Yoga Center I accepted the news but couldn’t help but ask “Why?” It’s unsettling when the schedules we’ve created for ourselves shift. It feels like a violation of our trust. It feels as if everything is out of our control. But it serves as a reminder that all we have is change. The good news about this particular change is that it will be brief and very soon order will be restored. We should remember, however, that sometimes the change we push against turns out to be exactly what we need.

In Yin I talk about creating space. Our little Samyama Sabbatical is doing exactly that. It’s creating space. It’s offering a few days of self-reflection and a shift in perspective. We can take time to consider our personal yoga practice and how we bring it into the world. We can take time to consider what it means to practice yoga. Is yoga only about showing up at the studio for asana class? What would happen if we used the time Samyama’s sabbatical is giving us to volunteer? To offer something of service to our community?

My regularly scheduled classes at Samyama are cancelled from Friday the 13th of February through Sunday the 22nd.

They will resume on Monday the 23rd of February.

I will, however, be teaching my partnered Yin workshop “Giving and Receiving” on

Saturday the 14th of February from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. There are still a few spaces left.


Shakti What?

IMG_3249I’ve been leading early morning practices at Samyama Yoga Center since the studio opened in April of 2013. And I’ll admit that until this moment I had no idea why our wonderful and fearless leader John Berg chose the name Shakti Reset to describe my one-hour classes. I would have gone with something boring like Slow Flow or Beginning Hatha.

Today my inquisitiveness finally inspired me to find out what all this Shakti business was about. I found this:

Shakti energy restores balance and re-establishes order.

It is energy without beginning or end. Energy that alternates between motion and rest.

It turns out John wasn’t simply being clever. He gave my morning classes the perfect name. Labeling a class Slow Flow or Beginning Hatha is adequate but subjective. How slow is slow? And what part of the pantheon of hatha choices are you beginning with?

Shakti Reset is less a name and more a description. In my morning classes we alternate between the flowing motion of an alignment-focused standing sequence and the stillness of soft restorative shapes. We begin the hour with the clarity of collective silence and end with the unifying intention to carry our practice into the world and to keep our thoughts clear, our words kind and our hearts filled with compassion.

I am so pleased that beginning Friday the 16th of January I’ll be able to offer Shakti Reset three times per week. You can now join me on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:15 to 9:15 AM. The first class at Samyama is always free.

 

 

 


The Dharma Path

IMG_2063Tonight I’m taking a break from my social media fast to share with you a program that will be starting at Samyama Yoga Center in Midtown, Palo Alto on Tuesday 7 October.

If you feel the calling to become a yoga teacher or if you want to immerse yourself in pure and true yoga study then you’ll want to join us for The Dharma Path. The Dharma Path is an 8-week, 200-hour Yoga Alliance sanctioned course. With the core curriculum being written and taught by John Berg with support from Natalie D’Onofrio, Hillary Easom, Lindsey Armien, Devin Begley, Louis Jackson, Anirudh Shastri, this comprehensive and intensive course will strengthen the relationship you have with your practice whether yours is a teaching path or not. I’ll be there, too, humbled and honored to be assisting John with asana and methodology.

Honestly? The Dharma Path is not for the faint hearted. John has created a teacher-training program filled with compassion, light and humor but one, too, that will challenge and call us to make a clear commitment to ourselves and to our practice.

I’m ready to make that commitment. Are you?

You can find out more by clicking here or by emailing our Program Director at natalie.d@samyamayogacenter.com.

 


Time Out!

IMG_3243Time Out!

Remember when we were too loud in class and our teachers’ made us put our heads down on our desks?

I’m putting my head down on my desk and taking a time out until the New Year. At least that’s my intention. Shutting down Facebook, not thinking about Practically Twisted – the blog I sporadically post on – or the blogs I have in my head with the catchy titles I won’t reveal.

It doesn’t feel as though that long ago when I announced I was headed to graduate school for my master’s in transpersonal psychology. And yet, here I am, looking at the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The school I attend – Palo Alto’s Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) – is a good school with a self-inflicted tarnished reputation that it is in the process of restoring. Despite the trauma Sofia experienced last year I trust the education I am receiving because so much of it depends on what I choose to put into it. And in this last term before graduation I intend to give it my all.

Meanwhile, my studies with Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program in Oakland continue.

And, of course, I continue to teach my classes at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto: a Viniyoga inspired slow flow on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:15 to 9:15 and my Pure Yin classes on Tuesday evening from 7 to 8:15 and Friday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:45.

There are a few class schedule changes, however. For the following two Saturdays I’ll be teaching a hatha flow from 4-5:30 in the afternoon but because I am away at Niroga for one weekend each month I’ve decided that it’s unfair to the students who want consistency in their practice and so I’ll be handing that class over to a new teacher beginning September 6th.

The Tuesday evening Pure Yin class will go on hiatus in October for eight weeks for an exceptionally cool reason. Samyama will begin the Dharma Path, its own Yoga Alliance approved 200-hour teacher training program. I am honored to be teaching Asana and Methodology with the visionary John Berg. This is going to push and pull me in wonderful ways and I am very excited! If you’re interested in a teacher-training program or would like to deepen your practice I encourage you to contact Samyama for more details. If you’ve been to our two Pathways programs then you have some idea the high expectations we set for ourselves at Samyama. We want to take you on a journey unlike any other.

Finally, I’ll be doing some traveling between now and the end of the year. I’m so looking forward to these adventures – my studies, my training, my teaching and my travel. I want to embrace them all with my whole heart.

I hope to see you in person at one of my Samyama classes and, if not, I’ll see you here in a few months.

 


Embrace Change

I arrived in the Bay Area a few days after Mount St. Helens erupted, in May of 1980. That first summer was a rough one and there were times I thought about returning to Nebraska, where I’d just graduated from Doane College with a degree in art and education. I thought about running back home to Pennsylvania, too, even though I knew there was nothing there for me.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I worked my way from a hostess at The Good Earth in Santa Clara to a teacher’s assistant at Lakewood Elementary School in Sunnyvale. For a time I directed an after-school extended day care program but I left that job when I began work as an artists’ model. That odd job – sitting still while a room full of painters or drawers or sculptors fashioned my likeness with paint or charcoal or clay – introduced me to a new way of being in the world. Until then I’d felt a bit lost and unsure of who I was and who I was meant to be. But my new friends, most of whom were fellow artists and models, had a way of shaking off any expectations the world held. They walked less certain paths in life. Paths littered with stumbling uncertainty and bold adventure.

One new friend, a fellow model, invited me to join her for a Friday morning yoga class at the only yoga studio in town, a little Iyengar studio on Cowper Avenue. That was sometime around 1985. I didn’t know it then but two decades later I would be the one teaching that very same Friday morning class.

But on Friday, June 27th I will teach my last Friday class at California Yoga Center. My class ends at 10:00 AM.

IMG_3300At 10:01 California Yoga Center, after forty incredible years, will close its Palo Alto studio. A team of volunteers will come in to take away the bolsters and the blankets, the blocks and the belts.

When the news first broke four months ago I held my own grief as well as the grief of my students. Change is difficult. Order in a chaotic life – knowing that at Friday’s from 9 to 10 AM I was teaching at CYC – was easy. But now what were we going to do?

I have three more classes to teach at CYC – this next week, a final Yin class on Monday evening at 7:30 and then my last two hatha classes on Tuesday and Friday at 9:00 in the morning. I will miss the studio very much. It is where I began my practice and where I began to consider teaching.

But change is inevitable and the truth is that we will move on.   Some students will find new teachers and new studios. Others will find my new classes.

Beginning the week of June 30th I’ll be teaching all of my community classes at Samyama Yoga Center at 2995 Middlefield Road (next to the Winter Palace) in Midtown, Palo Alto. Here’s my new schedule:

 

Monday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio

Tuesday 7:00-8:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio

Wednesday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio

Friday 1:30-3:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio

Saturday 4:00-5:30 PM – Slow Flow in the main studio

 

One of my yin students left a note for me in my sign in notebook. He wrote,

Embrace change.

 


Pathway to Stillness

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The Opening Circle for the Pathway to Stillness Immersion will take place this Sunday the 27th of April at Samyama Yoga Center from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.

I am extremely honored that I was asked to join in this beautiful program. For four weeks participants will dive into an experience that will burnish the hard edges and soften the soul. We’ll be introduced to new ideas about meditation and how we can live our meditation moment to moment. We’ll enjoy sound and energetic healing. We’ll deepen our practice through pure yin and yin flow. Breath work, yoga nidra and journaling exercises will open our hearts and minds.

But I’m just a very small part of Pathway to Stillness. Leading our journey is John Berg, founder and director of Samyama Yoga Center. Also guiding us are teachers Natalie Donofrio and Lindsay Amrein, sound healer Devin Begley and vibrational healer Joanne Brohmer.

It’s not too late to enroll. If you would like to know more visit the Samyama website or stop by the studio at 2995 Middlefield Road.

Samyama Open House

To celebrate the beginning of our second Pathway immersion Samyama is hosting a Therapeutic Open House. Massage practitioner Paul Crowl, Sound Healer Devin Begley, Cranio-Sacral and Reiki specialist Joanne Brohmer and little ol’ me, the house reflexologist, are providing free (yes, FREE) sample treatments from 10:30 to 3:30 on Saturday 26th April and from 10:30 to 12:30 on Sunday 27th April.

Spaces are limited and appointments are filling up fast. Visit the website or stop by Samyama to book your time. Each treatment is twenty minutes long.


Yes, Virginia, There IS Yoga Through the Holidays!

Photo 61Over the next two weeks, when I’m not teaching, I’ll be retreating to my Mimm Cave. I’ll be doing all those things I didn’t have time to do during the previous fifty weeks: reading for leisure, playing my guitar, waking up my creative side. I love the Mimm Cave.

But I love to teach, too! Here’s my schedule for the rest of the year:

Saturday 21 & 28 December

4:00 – 5:30 PM Samyama Yoga Center

Monday 23 & 30 December

7:30 – 9:00 PM California Yoga Center, Yin (donation based)

Tuesday 24 & 31 December

9:00 – 10:00 AM California Yoga Center

(Samyama Yoga Studio closed both days)

Thursday 26 December & 2 January

7:00 – 8:15 AM Samyama Yoga Center

9:30 – 11:00 AM Samyama Yoga Center (subbing for Hillary Easom on January 2nd only)

Friday 27 December & 3 January

9:00 – 10:00 AM California Yoga Center

1:30- 2:45 PM Samyama Yoga Center, Yin