Hello dear ones,
How are you? Its been a looong time since I have written a blog, and the world has changed greatly. First and foremost, I hope that this finds you and yours healthy and sane wherever you are! Covid-19 has brought us a shut down of the borders here in CR since mid-March. There have been a lot of restrictions here, and in our area of Guanacaste, relatively few cases, gracias a Dios.
Yet it changed everyone’s life. I can’t tell you that I found any magic ways to make it an easy thing to handle. I do believe, though, that having a regular practice of yoga (all of yoga, which includes the postures, the breathwork, and meditation) made a HUGE difference (I’ve had a few times in the past almost 6 months where I felt either depressed or crazed, and one big what-should-I-do-with-my-life moment). And having a beautiful mountain retreat to be sheltering in place on with a couple good friends was also a very big advantage. Here is what I did to stay sane the last six months:
- Have a regular schedule of sleep, meals, and productive time and stick to it
- Keep a journal and write a bit every morning about how I’m feeling
- Stay connected with my loved ones through video chats
- Do something to go deep everyday – whether it be through something like meditation, reading poetry, great art, etc.
- Work with something I had put aside for lack of time (like playing ukulele!)
- Crank up some good music and dance like no one’s watching at least once a week
- Get on my mat 5-6 days a week
- Have a buddy system of someone I can talk to when things get rough
- Be grateful for what this big slow down has brought me, naming them daily
- Chocolate and red wine in moderation
- Be ok with saying, “I need a day off for me”
Years ago, I worked in places with people whose immune systems were compromised, and I had more than one class on how to wash my hands well. In all my years in and out of those places, I think good hand washing for at least 20 seconds kept me from many colds and flus, as well as spreading contagious diseases to anyone else. I learned that the amount of 20 seconds is important, and we were taught the routine of singing “Happy Birthday” for two verses, which is about 20 seconds. So I keep washing my hands, though I have expanded my repertoire – cause there is so much more music that is fun to sing! If you want to know some of my favorites, I’ve listed them at the end of this, and you can find all of these on the “My Favs” playlist on my YouTube channel. Please let me know if you have some good ones, too.
Acting Locally: In the meantime, our area of CR is hurting from a lack of tourism. Tourism provides a lot of jobs for the people of Guanacaste, and since mid-March there has been none. Facing this, all the big hotels in our area are closed, and for a while, all the restaurants were closed as well. For a long time the government kept all the beaches closed mainly to encourage people to stay home. Slowly, things are opening, though many of the big hotels won’t reopen until probably November. We have continued to support our staff member, making sure that her family has food and electricity, as well as contributing to feeding others in our area, especially our friends from the Ecodesi Senior Center. I do appreciate the number of people in our area who are pitching in as well. When Covid-19 first closed our borders, there was one main food bank in our area, and now there are two big ones, with smaller ones in the villages. I am daily reminded of the importance of community. This kind of coming together is what counts.
In response to the initial restrictions that mandated no in-person gatherings, I reluctantly began to teach yoga through Zoom. Reluctantly because I love being in the same space with a class, and the chance to have more ability to see and respond to each student. Now, five months later, I am so glad that I did. To accommodate for how many people’s income changed, I began classes on a donation basis, pay only what you can, if you can, everyone welcome. And I am still operating in that mode, Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30-10am CR time. Because yoga is what is getting me through this, and I want to be accessible for everybody and every body. Please pass this along to anyone you know who maybe can’t afford classes, or has never wanted to try because they didn’t want to enter a studio with others.
I have recordings of classes on my YouTube channel, and anyone can practice with me when its convenient. I am also beginning to record some short videos that will help prepare someone who has never done yoga before. These will be sort of a “how to get comfortable before you walk into a class” kind of thing. I have a playlist on my site now for Starting Yoga, and will be adding to this as time goes on. If you have any things you wish someone had prepared you for before you began yoga classes, please let me know. I have my list of ideas, but would love to hear yours!
Here is the link for the first Starting Yoga video on prepping hands and wrists:
Even as I write this, another unarmed black man has been shot by police in front of his family. I know that this is a time that is ripe for change. I am sure many of you are having the same types of conversations that we are having here and with our families. The issue of racism affects us all, and I have been reading, listening, learning, and adding my voice to calls for justice. It is time to honestly look at why we “other” people who are in some way different from us, and pull up the roots of our own biases and racism. Yoga is about unity, and I am doing my work to move towards that. Thanks to all of you who are doing your work.
by David Whyte
if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
Til next time, may your questions lead to the most interesting places, and may you be well.
I would like to tell you the story of a man named Ian Manuel. I “met” Ian through Seane Corn. And before any of you think that I truly know either one of them, I do not. I only know of Seane Corn through one of her family friends, and because of how strongly this woman loved Seane, I started following her as she rose to yoga superstar status. Now if you know anything about Seane Corn, you know that she does not just use her platform to promote herself. She has been involved for years in social justice, founding (with Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling) the Off the Mat and Into the World organization. So I saw a picture of Seane with Ian Manuel on her IG feed. Because they were in Montgomery, AL, working together on a training, I got curious about who Ian was, and what was his story. It is one that I feel connected to, not because it mirrors my life at all, but because to me it shows the philosophy of yoga in action. It is a story of the circumstances of our lives leading us one way, and the ways in which our world views get shaped by what we know, who we are surrounded with. It is also the story of finding our way beyond those conditioned layers to who we are at center. It is about recognizing our commonality. It is about finding the work that is ours to do and doing it because we know it is what we are here to do. And it is about being who we are and doing what we need to do without worry about what anyone else will think or what will happen as a result. In yoga philosophy, this is Tapas, Svadhyaya, Isvara-pranidhana.
There are a number of places where you can read about Ian, so I will only give you a short recap here.
At age 13, Ian was imprisoned and put into solitary confinement for 18 years for a crime he committed. Imagine being in a small, concrete box for 18 years, from the time you were a young teen. What would you do? Ian did at times cut himself, tried to commit suicide more than once. He also wrote to and eventually called the woman who he had shot, and apologized. They began to correspond, and this woman over time forgave Ian. She actually advocated for his sentence to be lessened, and helped Bryan Stevenson and the folks at the Equal Justice Initiative to gain his release, although this took a long time.
Ian wrote many poems, a way of bringing out all that was inside of him, things he had no one to tell in that prison. When I contacted Ian to see if he was okay with me writing about him, I asked if I could share some of his poetry. He graciously sent me this poem that he wrote while he was in solitary confinement:
Genie in a bottle
By Ian Manuel
I’m the Genie in a bottle
the world has forgot
They put me in this abyss
And, closed up the top.
I was a little boy
when they did what they did,
But time continued to tick,
And, I’m no longer a kid
My mother is dead,
So is my father
I’ve been abandoned by family
while trapped in this bottle.
But I hold on to hope
That someone will open the top
Answer my prayers, and help me out.
Sometimes people pick- up the bottle
put their eye to the hole.
But instead of compassion,
act indifferent and cold
I suffer sensory deprivation,
a loss sense of direction.
There’s no mirror in this bottle
For me to see my reflection.
They say being lonely and alone
Are two different definitions,
But it’s only me
in this bottle,
so I fit both descriptions.
What I need is a friend.
Someone to extend a hand.
it can be as simple
as picking up a pen
Someone who cares.
Accepts me for who I am.
My magnetic personality
And my baggage from the past.
Someone who helps heal the sorrow.
Will work on building our tomorrow.
Someone who refuses to leave me to die in this bottle!
Ian, without support, found himself, in that center place where our mind and heart meet. Even through the time of life when we are all lost and confused in some way, he found this voice through his poetry. I am in pain. I am suffering. And he reached out. And his victim went beyond being a victim and saw the soul. That there was way more to Ian than the bad circumstances that led him to shoot her in the jaw that night. And Bryan Stevenson saw that Ian, and other young children like him had been given punishment that was way beyond what should happen to a child. He saw the soul. Ian did the work to get to know himself beyond the stereotypes of a young black man, this woman and the folks at EJI did the work to change the system and get him released from his prison. Tapas, Svadhyaya, Isvara-pranidhana.
What I most appreciate about what Ian, Bryan Stevenson, and others who are activists for social justice are doing, is that they are identifying ways in which our broken justice systems need to be fixed, but they are also looking to bring us all into the healing that needs to occur as part of that. Healing is what is needed now more than ever. At this time, it feels as though across the world we are becoming more and more divided rather than united. I see and hear way too much “us versus them” type of language. When people in powerful positions use their platform to spread more hate and fear, “othering” anyone, whether it be immigrants, women, LBGTQ folks, environmentalists, people with different colored skin, whoever “they” are, there is an uprise of violence, hate, separation. We all end up in the prison of our bias’ and beliefs. I think its high time to be part of turning our world back towards seeing the human in us all, and showing up for each other. Lets work to bring an equal chance at justice, voice, opportunity, and connection for everybody. This is how we live our yoga.
Ian now works with Seane Corn and others to promote activism for social justice. To help us all learn about the prisons we are in, the boxes in which we lock ourselves when we can only see the world in terms of right and wrong. So on this Martin Luther King day, instead of taking the day off, perhaps we can find a way in which we can make a connection with someone, help heal some sorrow, work on building our tomorrow, as Ian said.
Join me, won’t you, in bringing your practice to life? Martin Luther King Jr. Told us about his dream back in 1963. Let’s see if we can actually make it more reality in 2020.
You can follow Ian Manuel on IG at: the_diamond_in_the_dirt
Here is a great video that recaps Ian’s story.
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s book has been made into an amazing movie. Please go see it, or read the book. Ian’s story is told in the book.
This is the Ted Talk Bryan Stevenson did some years ago, and he was given one of the longest standing ovations of any Ted Talk. If you hadn’t heard about Bryan Stevenson before reading this, please watch this. It will help you understand a lot more about why racism still persists to the extent that it does in the United States.
“What an incredible experience!” This was the phrase spoken by all 15 people at the end of each day of our Peru retreat. It was a magical mystery tour and many of the mysteries were uncovered thanks to our amazing guides, pampa mesayoq (shaman), and healers. From the opening circle and sound healing to the final OM at the retreat center, from the Sacred Valley to the majestic Machu Picchu, we all felt empowered, blessed, and enlightened by the ancient civilizations and the mark they left on the world.
Days began with my yoga class tailored to the physical and spiritual path we were to embark on. A yummy farm to table breakfast was prepared for us with love by Francesca. We then took off to explore archaeological ruins, learn about Andean cosmology, and the Incan traditions.
During the week, we visited a total of seven different archaeological sites of Incan times, including a picture perfect visit to Machu Picchu. Of the three times I have been there, this, by far, was the best for viewing and capturing our visit there in photos. We were gifted with the sight of a condor circling Huayna Picchu — which only added to our guide’s explanation of the significance of the condor to the Andean people. Our guides: Jesus, Rauol, and Carmen were excellent — bringing their knowledge forth and answering the numerous questions we had. We also had the chance to visit the Paru Paru community who live up above the Sacred Valley. They welcomed us with open arms, showing us their simple yet beautiful lifestyle. We were humbled by their customs and genuine caring, and the sense of community they shared. After demonstrating the process of shearing, washing, spinning, dying, and ultimately weaving the wool into gorgeous and colorful works of art, we appreciated even more how the skills that have been passed on from parents to children for so many generations continued to bring them a life that was truly in harmony rather than destroying the nature around them.
At the end of the week, we all had time for spa treatments, and healing sessions with a Pampa Mesayoq, Don Isidro. Our last day, he led us in a ceremony to help bless the land and mountain spirits in return for all the blessings we had received during our week. This powerful ceremony still lives in my heart and has brought some insightful dreams in the nights since.
Going through significant changes in elevation, temperature, and weather, everyone found their personal journey, gracefully negotiating all challenges, and supporting each other along the way.
We quickly went from new acquaintances to caring friends. Jesus, our main guide, told us the first afternoon that the Andean philosophy was all about the heart. We embraced and acted on that from day one and are already talking about coming together again for a Tuscany Retreat in 2021!
I’m planning a workshop so I can reconnect with many of these folk and others next spring in NYC. There are so many of us seeking to share informative and healing experiences these days, and I hope to create a gathering in the city that will be just as powerful as the ones in Peru. If you weren’t able to be there on this retreat, I do hope that you can join me there.
Subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t yet to find out where and when the next event will be. The calendar over the next year is filling with lots of good stuff–I hope to see you soon to experience the joy of community, the respect for mother earth, and a remembrance of how to live from the heart.
Love and light,
In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, there are eight limbs of yoga described. Three of the last four are Pratyahara (withdrawing of the senses), Dharana (concentration), and Dhyana (meditation). In my early days of practicing yoga, I got the part about withdrawing the senses pretty well. It started to happen when I would do my sitting meditation, as well as occasionally when I was practicing the physical postures. Yet the difference between concentration and meditation eluded me for quite a while. I used to use my breath, a visual point of focus, a thought, or mantra to place my attention and then I called this meditation. However, what I was practicing was concentration. It was and is a worthwhile practice. Yet I then began to discover that what is meditation is actually beyond this one-pointed focus. I had read about it; knew this intellectually, yet it took a long time for me to distinguish the difference to being in a state of concentrating on just one thing rather than a meditative state. A meditative state, by contrast, is being able to have full awareness of everything, really being fully present for reality.
For all the years in which I was basically practicing concentration, the practice felt as though I was condensing myself, through my awareness to try to maintain my focus on that one thing. Whether it was staring at a candle flame, chanting mantras, or visualizing an object, it was the continual noticing that awareness had crept away from the one thing, and bringing it back over and over. It did help me to be able to focus for longer periods on things like writing blog posts! 🙂
I began to actually understood how meditation can be different. While they both look the same from the outside (me, sitting with my spine straight, eyes closed, stillness), the experience on the inside is way different. Meditation is expansion. As though this much-more-intense focus extends to every cell of my physical body, my mind, my heart, my energy, and all that is around me, and sometimes even stuff that is not around me, including other people, nature, sights, sounds, energy. It is a still, calm, awareness that is expansive, enveloping, embracing,…words just don’t do this justice. It is, in fact, when I have felt the absolute most alive I have ever felt. Aware AF, if it were to be condensed to a meme. It does not mean being ignorant of what has passed or what is to come. It is an embracing of all, without getting lost in any one part of it. While it has come about during my meditation practice, it has also happened to me when I have been deeply immersed in playing music, creating art, or absorbed in nature.
So while practice and meditative techniques are one way to get there, our life itself can be our practice. My underlying philosophy on my spiritual path is that life is to be lived, that we are here to enjoy, be present for the divine play of our lives. So the more time I can be in that state of presence, the more I truly enjoy it all, even the downs within the ups and downs. If there is sadness, what does it feel like to experience that in my body, my breath, my mind? How does it change the way I see and interact with the world around me? If there is joy, let me be present and explore in the same ways. If this sounds good to you, I suggest you find all the ways in which you can be here now. If you find that tough to do, reach out. I have some good ideas of how to begin to live your yoga.