Thursday, February 26, 2009

Surfing the physical plane

A big part of yoga is being present. Being present to your practice, to what comes up that needs your attention on a physical or spiritual level, to life and those that share it with you, to what is serving you and what is not. Being present, truly present, it really difficult. The mind wants to fly forward and backward - caught in memories, plans, hopes, patterns... but what about the now? What is happening in the now is very subtle - a silent complex orchestra of subtleties. It is in that present space that you can check out a blossoming lily and really see the magnificence. It is in the now that you can really listen to what someone is saying and respond from your heart. It is is the now that you can tap into all you need to know - truth and love.

Lessons from Tantric yoga texts suggest that a novice should work on being present for just a few minutes a day - and slowly you will start to see and be able to stay there longer until it is constant. It is a process but one that is so interesting to me. Why do humans have a hard time just being? Why do we make so hard for ourselves and one another? Don't get me wrong I have all sorts of plans and memories and behaviors that I get trapped in - I am just working to park them to the side more often and breathe in what is actually happening moment to moment.

When I catch myself totally disconnected, absolutely cruising through my day on auto pilot, it is at these moments that I then like to switch it up completely - undo my routine, switch directions on the sidewalk, do something to shake myself awake again. So how does one remain present in a world of jobs, mortgages, responsibilities and relationships? That is the big question right ...

For me sometimes this is as easy as breathing deep, smiling, exhaling. Some of the time it is nearly impossible and takes a little bit more effort to connect again and find my flow. Usually stepping on my yoga mat does the trick - the process of prayer in motion puts me right there. But even then there are times when frustration and life worries sneak in. I practice this little visualization trick - I imagine all my worries, jobs, things I need to do and all the thoughts that never cease, as crows. Cackling, large black crows - and then at the beginning of my practice I send them all to roost in a tree. I acknowledge them, know they are there and need to be addressed and promise that right after I am done with this I will get back to them all. And there they sit, dark waiting shadows parked on branches and I forget about them for about an hour and a half. By the end of my practice some of the little petty ones have flown away - and the bigger ones are easier to deal with.

I am aware that there are times in my life when I will not have the time to go through this whole process. While working on plans for fundraising events I find my head swimming around - jumping back and forth - and getting nothing done. On the weekend I work in a very busy, tiny bar. My co-worker and I literally run our asses off for hours straight. We usually do it with a smile and a laugh. But as anyone that works in a very busy atmosphere will attest to, there are times when your brain is swimming with far too many things that actually need to happen right then and there. This is called being in the weeds. Yikes! It is in these times that I step on the mat within my head ~ and breathe deep full breaths. Nothing productive will get done with a crazy chaotic mind - and people can read the maelstrom in your actions and energy, and they in turn respond to that energy making for a messy atmosphere. It is in these types of moments that I work the hardest to find my flow again; And when I tap into this inner yoga I find a buoyancy that helps me through situations and helps me find that place of ease. The sweet spot of balance...

Every one of us has a different way to find this flow - you can see it when people find it. You see it in their art, their actions, their passions, their work - and it is oh so beautiful...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Karma explosion

As I gather together my ideas, groups and resources and begin to plan fundraising events I keep reflecting on how important our little deeds of goodness are, and how true it is that a small group of people can bring about large global change... And how huge positive energy and action radiates out into the world - how many countless lives are touched by that. It floors me when I really start thinking about it... how big the circles within circles become. It freaks me out in a good way, and makes me smile big.

A few weeks ago I had my first fundraiser ~ it was small but nothing could have been more special. My dear friend, pictured above, is about to give birth to her first child. (please take a moment and be in awe of this woman - full wheel, 8 months pregnant - hell yeah!) I wrote before about the special class we had honoring her and the lotus of power that she is. The class was so moving on so many levels and continues to be. Beyond the gift of honoring a friend was the gift given to me, and those in need in Uganda... all the revenue generated by that special class went towards my challenge. (Thank you Shani)

Reflecting more on this I am struck by the connection between the yoga kula and the community in Uganda... so many people who will never meet were brought together by this class. And this small child, not even born, has altered the world for good already. Talk about starting off on the right foot! Women, children and future generations of children in Uganda and a little, well loved baby-to-be here in the states, are now woven together forever in this beautiful web. This gives me chills and immediately creates this visualization of golden ripples in a huge cosmic pond radiating out infinitely...

Ka-pow! Good Karma Explosion!

Photo by Rob Jones

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When a sneeze isn't just a sneeze

Early last week I was at home getting ready for an evening yoga class and I sneezed - not a particularly huge or jarring sneeze - but one that made a difference none-the-less. This little nonchalant sneeze made my lower back snap... I made it to the couch but not to yoga...

Immediately my thoughts went to how this pain in my back was going to limit me - my weekend job, a weekend visitor, all the yoga practice I have come to adore and with all of this came an awareness of a certain level of attachments... oh the lessons of the sneeze and the injured back was upon me.

Lucky for me I have two very responsive yoga teachers and they came to my aid as soon as I asked. From one I learned modifications that allowed me to gently move my body but not injure myself any further. From the other I was given the gift of healing hands as she worked on my lower back and identified the source of the injury - a very inflamed S.I. joint which I learned later is very common in the yoga practice. I was advised to take it easy and heal and to take a few days off of my yoga practice. This made me sad at first and I felt myself resistant to the advice... hmm?

Had I become attached to the outcome of my yoga practice? Had I begun to delight too much in how my practice was progressing - my standing postures becoming stronger, my forward bends getting longer and lower - and forgotten the real reason I was going to the mat every day? Had the ego come into play or had I simply forgotten to give my lower back support during all this movement? Or was my root chakra trying to tell me something - to get back to the source, to connect with what this is all about?

A few simple words of advice rang in my ears - one was that yoga was a practice you cannot master, you practice the practice. The other was said with a huge smile by my Ashtanga teacher Bobbi when she saw I was struggling with this new set of limitations... "non-attachment" (add big smile here). It was all true and I relaxed and happily practiced a very modifed yoga for many days.

That little sneeze served as a huge catalyst for lessons on many levels. That every day on and off the mat has its own set of limitations and challenges. We can chose whether to soften and learn from life or we can struggle against the flow and miss all the good stuff.

Going back to my practice the first few days after the pain stopped I found myself very cautious and had to break away from the limits I was setting for myself. I found myself not really trying and using my injury as a reason. I had to find my edge again, even though the edge has changed and will continue to day after day. I am happy to report I can forward bend again and have a new respect for up-dog. I find myself more conscious of my breath and my movement - linking them all together and creating a prayer out of this yogic dance. Finding my own flow within the larger one.

Namaste ~ b
Photo by Cali McCullough

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lotus blooming

Yesterday was a day of yoga in so many ways...

Over the weekend a dear friend I had not seen in a year had come for an overnight visit and we connected as if no time had passed. Both of our lives have experienced so many changes over the past year, we have both grown during this time and found new ways to explore life and be present for all of the changes and challenges it presents. And, it must be said, we are both ecstatic freaks for yoga or as my friend calls it "spreading the gospel"... I was so very excited to share my yoga experience with her, take her to the studios where I practice and the teachers I practice with. Our days were filled with great yoga, great food, true friendship and being present for one another. As she departed in the late afternoon on Monday I felt truly grateful to have spent some time with her again and my heart felt full and overflowing.

One of the yoga classes we attended together was a morning flow with my beloved teacher Shani. My friend had expressed that while she valued and enjoyed her regular Ashtanga practice - she is in training to be a teacher - she missed some of the poses not explored in Ashtanga. And so we woke and walked down to the studio and practiced a lovely opening flow that allows us to open to what is coming next - the unfolding of Spring and all that comes with it. I found myself very moved - tears of joy overflowed at the mention of Spring and all its potential, it is the season of water...

Later in the evening the Kula gathered for a very special Rasa Vinyasa class. One of my dearest friends is pregnant and she has been practicing Rasa every week for her entire pregnancy and it has been beautiful to witness and an honor to share the experience with her. As her due date approaches she felt it was time to rest and so last night was her last class with us for a little while. These last eight months she has modified for the rest of the Kula so she could stay with the flow - last night the Kula modified for her, we all did prenatal yoga and honored the blooming potential and life within her and within us all.

To say that I was moved during this special class would be an understatement - it was a supreme human experience and I now cannot think of approaching the birthing experience without such an event. During most of the class I was using my breath to control my tears as we sent waves of Om in the expectant mother's direction, placed our hands on her belly in prayer and blessing... my love for this friend, her partner and their child is huge and it was all just so beautiful. We gathered together to explore and honor the lotus blooming in all of us. The Spring about the be born, the potential that hides in the darkness... All the roots reaching down through the unknown and the petals unfolding towards the light. We were guided by a most inspiring woman as we danced in a circle, sang with voices lifted in blessing, spiraled inward with hearts beaming outward...

Spring is coming, the earth is stirring, we are all in darkness and in light - we are all blooming lotus flowers full of potential, mystery and beauty.

~ Om Mani Padme Hum
Photo by Cali McCullough

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One foot steps, next foot follows...

I have reached that point in the journey when the real hike is just beginning even though I have been on the trail for a little while. Looking forward, the distance I need to traverse is stretching way out before me. Time to asses the situation, get all the ducks in a row and consciously begin the next step of this journey. Time for me to start manifesting all these dreams and plans, to gather the troops and get to work. Roll up the proverbial sleeves and dive in.

I must admit there are small moments when I freak out a little - why did I take on this quest, how am I going to do this, why did I broadcast it out there and make myself so accountable - and then, just as quickly as those thoughts breeze in, they fly right back out and I smile. No bad can come from this challenge. There is no grade, no judgement - only good for everyone involved and even for those who are not. All I can do is focus on each little step and make each one count. I can think of no better time than now to engage in such action. World wide we all need inspiration, we all need help, we all need to feel like we are actually a part of this big, out-of-control, world and we all need to get out of our heads and get our hands into something. The news is constantly reminding us that the systems our current world culture "depend" upon are crumbling. It is time to get rootsy people, time to fall back on what matters - good education, good food, smiling happy children and healthy people world-wide. It would seem that happy smiling healthy people are not usually those that engage in war and violence so let's do our part to create future generations full of hope and peace. Let's help create equality by giving everyone who wants it a chance to learn and grow.

Much of the next part of this journey is on me, it is time for me to take all the plans and ideas I have and to make them happen between now and November 15th. Part of it I could use some help with. Spread the word, link my blog, join the facebook group, donate even a small amount of money, share any idea you might have with me, and get ready to come out for events ... I want to manifest a miracle! I want to raise this money in a time when everything looks bleak. I want to grow something out of poor soil and nourish a whole village from it. It is totally doable and in doing so each of our lives will be changed and a legacy will be created for generations to come - not just in Uganda but everywhere. It gives me chills to think about and it sends me leaping around with excitement.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Teachers teachers everywhere...

Everywhere you look the universe is screaming out for you to notice it - to learn something, to wake up, to get out of your own head and all the spinning thoughts. This is a lesson I hear often from a dear friend and one of my teachers. Each and every person you come across can serve as a teacher. I find lessons in the people I disagree with and those who I do not even know. My friends and family serve as teachers too. Just observing how I react to or participate in situations can shed a little light for me - even in those dusty, dark corners that I was not yet ready to illuminate.

When it comes to my yoga practice I am truly blessed to have two teachers. Two enthusiastic women grace my life every week and almost every day. Seriously - how am I this lucky?

One of my goals for this winter was to increase my yoga practice and to harness the discipline to make it a part of my daily life. There are many parts that make up yoga as a whole, the physical practice of yoga being only a fraction of it. Exploring one branch of a tree only makes the other branches easier and more enticing to reach so I explore two types of yoga - Prana Flow and Ashtanga. For me they support one another and together they grow my practice in ways I have only really touched upon.

Prana flow is the Rasa Vinyasa class I have spoken so fondly of. I have explored it for a little over a year. I hardly ever miss a class - and when I do I really miss it, I feel its void. In that class we move through creative sequences that flow and change with the season. It is very dynamic and expressive. Our teacher loves music - and it shows - her sequences are linked with lovingly created play lists that take you on a journey and free you. She challenges us to stay with the pose longer, to take it deeper, to explore it more creatively, to bust open your heart and most of all to breathe...

That is the key in all of this yoga - your breath moves you - you listen to it - you move with it and move it around your body. In both practices, the space and time between each pose is just a sacred as the pose itself. At least that is how I feel and what I work towards.

Recently I have added the practice Ashtanga to my life. I had explored Ashtanga at the very beginning of my yoga journey but had left it for many years. Ashtanga demands my discipline, my attention, dedication and openness. I honor its roots and it humbles me. I feel blessed to have found a safe and warm studio where I am able to explore this new practice and an exuberant teacher to guide me. I love going to this studio - my smile grows the closer I get to it every day and am excited to see what unfolds from here.

It took me a little while to find both of these practices and teachers. The first I found by way of a recommendation from a friend - that I just had to try this class and this teacher and I would be hooked forever (thank you Tara and Lara). The second I went to on my own - because it was time for me to find it. Both of my teachers have smiles as huge as can be and when you are on a path that is challenging it is very nice to be met with a smile...

Life is challenging, just being a human is hard enough - go meet someone on this path with a smile, and then smile at yourself for good measure. Namaste.

For more information about the Ashtanga studio where I practice please feel free to explore the webiste for BeFit Yoga . As I mentioned before Yogi with Shani will tell you more about Rasa Vinyasa and the teacher behind it. For more background and information on Prana Flow check out Shiva Rae.

Cool Kula

Spend a little time around me and most likely you have heard me gushing about my Monday night yoga class and my teacher. I am not ashamed at all by this habit of mine - the class is amazing for oh so many reasons. It is not just the yoga we do or the teacher we have that create such a transcendent experience - although the yoga and teacher are both indeed fantastic! It is the group of people who make up the class - the Kula - that take the experience way over the top, in the best possible way. Last night reminded me how wonderful these people are - how supportive they are - and how each and every one of them is holding my hand in support all the time and I theirs. Really - I feel it. There is some serious, real deal love floating around that space.

Kula means family or community in Sanskrit - it is where you place your heart. And in our yoga Kula the heart beats big and strong and radiates out to each of us and back again. We come together from all different lives, jobs, homes, ages and choices - men and women - and we gather in a circle and move and breath together in a very dynamic and fun practice. And then we take that circle and make it so much bigger - essentially joining that little yoga Kula to the world - by taking it with us wherever we go. Carrying what we cultivate during that class out into the world - to our jobs, to our families, to our loves and to our conflicts. This group of people seriously make me skip about through life - and I would do anything to lend a helping hand to any one of them.

So to my yoga Kula - thank you!!!! For your beaming smiles, for your support, for sharing tears and stories and laughter and for the time we spend together. For showing up and bringing your Self to the mat. For making my life brighter and bigger and infinite. And for opening your hearts, pouring out your love, sharing your ideas and assisting me on this journey. You are all amazing... the bees knees...Namaste!

To read a little more about our class and what they all have to say please feel free to explore Shani's website - Yoga with Shani.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fresh Ganesha...

Here is a good question... What should you do if an elephant headed Hindu deity - that you have never thought much about - appears to you again and again in many forms? The answer is, at least for me ... You should pay attention to what the Universe is telling you - or at least research the deity a little...

Lord Ganesha came to visit during the weekend workshop with Seane Corn. After our morning session, which was 3 hours of pretty intense yoga, all 102 of us were sitting in mediation. And low and behold fresh Ganesha (as I now like to call him) appeared in my mind's eye. I think I might have said something like "Whoa Ganesha, what are you doing here?" First Ganesha was in the form of his dancing self - perched with one foot raised - on the edge of a cliff, mountains behind him with one crazy sun. Next he was in the form of his infant self - fat pudgy body with a large colorful elephant head. Finally he was me - I was looking out the eyes of an elephant and I could see my trunk and the view of a valley. Pretty wild stuff!

After this series of appearances I shared the vision with my yoga teacher - who was practicing on the mat beside me during the entire weekend. She asked if I knew much about Ganesha - I did not. She suggested that I look in to what he represents and signifies... and so I did as soon as I returned home. But before I could, his significance came into play. It was that on that snowy Saturday afternoon, between sessions, that Seane spoke to us about the Seva Challenge and about her experiences taking her yoga practice "off the mat".

Ganesha is the remover of Obstacles. He is the mark of new beginnings. He is the Lord of Success. His form is significant - his head represents Atman (the "supreme reality of human existence"), his human body signifies our earthly existence, Maya. His elephant head is wisdom, his trunk is Om. He gently propels us forward on the path of right doing while he creatively removes obstacles and captures difficulties. Reminding us of sacrifice, he holds his own broken tusk; reminding us of the sweetness of the soul, he holds his favorite sweet treat; reminding us to be humble - for he is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride - he rides around the universe on a tiny little mouse. His waist is circled by a snake that is continuous energy and he holds in his hand a rosary - reminding us that the pursuit of knowledge is continuous. Ganesha is large and in charge!

I had no expectations at the beginning of that weekend. I had nothing to base expectations on. I was simply present. And when you are simply present in life - interesting stuff presents itself to you and you pay way more attention. Stuff that was already hanging around is all of a sudden brilliant and screaming for you to notice it.

This is one of those moments in life that made me go hmmmm?

Or rather ~ Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha!