Its been a year with many blessings as well as challenges, and I am sure I am not the only one who feels that way. The blessings I count this year are:
- Continued good health
- the love and support of an extended family near and far away
- living in the tropics where everyday I am immersed in amazing nature and fresh air,
- easy access to delicious, nutritious food
- technology to be able to stay in touch with loved ones, and work with those around the world
- amazing teachers/spiritual guides
- a daily spiritual practice
- all the dogs and cats that teach me through unconditional love
The challenges do not outweigh the blessings by any means, and none of them have been insurmountable. I feel as though they are the same types of stress most people are experiencing these days. There are those who have passed away that I miss, loved ones facing health problems, the continued stress of a pandemic, world issues that I care deeply about, all the divisiveness in the world, as well as the many hats I wear to spread the benefits of yoga.
I am continually working on how to travel my path in balance — so that I am present for what is, and not too attached to how I wish for things to be, nor grieving what has past. Some days my balance is better than others, and that is truly the joy of living in this world, that I get to be human!
While I am not one for only setting things I want to do with my life once a year (its really almost a weekly, if not daily thing to check if I am on or veering off my path), I have been finding that I have less numerous things I wish to accomplish, and they all keep coming down to one main thing. All that I am here to learn and be has to do with love.
The majority of my life has to do with figuring out how I can exist in the state of love while also living in this world. Spoiler alert: I am not very successful at this yet. From the extensive time I have spent both in studying and practicing yoga, I know that in essence, yoga is love. Following practices outlined in the hatha and tantra yoga traditions, lead me to a state in which an overwhelming radiance overtakes all else, and the only possible word that comes close to describing this state is love. I’ve only had glimpses of this state, yet enough that it has verified things I’ve always felt about life, but wasn’t sure were true.
These glimpses make me wish for more, though I don’t know whether that’s really necessary or just desire talking. What these glimpses really do is make me wish everyone could have this experience. Because I am definitely changed as a result. I come back feeling a deep sense of unity, or oneness. I have much less judgement of good or bad. I can see moment to moment the beauty in all things, whether I am watching a hummingbird or stepping in a pile of dog poop.
Like I said, I don’t exist in this state all the time. It does fade, and I go back to going on rants, being critical, seeing “others” as wrong and me right, etc. I forget that I am Love. I lose touch with my True Self. So while I am certainly not the person who can tell you how to keep yourself in this state, I do want to tell you what I have found does and does not help me regain this place of peace. Lets start with what takes me away from it.
- Spending time on social media
- Spending time watching or reading news
- Watching reality shows
- Eating junk food
- Drinking alcohol
- Recreational drugs
All of these things can simply make me feel like crap, whether the feeling is on the physical body level or on the energetic level. Please know that I am no saint, and I am not saying that I don’t love doing some of this stuff at times. Yet I also know the real consequences of my choices to do so. When I am not doing these things, I can feel a different level of energy within me that supports a reconnection to my Essence, Love. I have less desire to talk about other people negatively, less need to make others less than me to feel good. I can feel the inner talk arising if I allow myself to start scrolling through my social media feeds, judging what others are posting and judging myself in comparison to others. I can sometimes catch myself and realize how scrolling is robbing my energy that I know has better uses. Yet, like the addict that I am, I sometimes can’t put it down.
In terms of the food, drink, and drugs, no surprises here. What I put into my body always has a discernable affect on me. Remember the old IBM saying: Garbage In, Garbage Out. I do have a silly fondness for Twizzlers and Flaming Hot Cheetos, that I indulge when I visit the US. It is fun and satisfying to eat them, but I know they are not good for me. I can give you examples of the few types of alcohol or recreational drugs that I still enjoy at times, but you get the point. When I am working with being clear and strong in my energy, I simply do not do any of this.
Ok, now you know my kryptonite!
Here are the things that help me find that state of Love:
- Doing my yoga practices (asana, pranayama, meditation)
- Eating healthy, regular meals
- Being an active member within my community
- Connection with spiritual companions
- Study of wisdom texts with qualified teachers
- Continued growth as a human (working with my shadow side, svadhyaya [self-study], seeking clarity on my “blind spots” as a teacher/student
- Continued work on my teaching skills and knowledge
- Being in nature
- Time with friends and family
- Journaling or writing
- Great music
All of these things uplift me, and I am so blessed to be able to live with so much of this naturally in my day to day life. I know how to get back to love easily. I can find rapture in seeing the growth of an orchid blossom each day. I can find love in scooping up the plentiful dog poop around here (with six dogs and four cats, its inevitable). I can delight in moving my body, breathing fresh air, then savoring the sweet stillness of Savasana. I fall into the spaciousness and release of my pranayama and meditation. My senses are in ecstasy with each meal, each sunrise and sunset. And when I stay away from my first list, the sense of love fills me, and I feel the light.
Next month, I’ll tell you about my biggest challenge, even when I’m keeping my energy up, and not indulging in my kryptonite ways. I’d love to hear from you about how you maintain your energy – what’s your kryptonite and what’s your power boosters? What do you think about the idea that Yoga is Love?
Wishing you a joyful end of 2021, and a new year filled with love and compassion.
The Value of Yoga Teachers
I have had the chance this past year to spend some more time studying with a variety of teachers. I have been delving a bit deeper into biomechanics and anatomy to support my understanding of how to work with different bodies in my own teaching. I have gotten to take some classes with some really great yoga scholars on what is emerging in new information on yoga history and philosophy. I have delved more into the Bhagavad Gita to see why this can be such a guiding light for so many. And I have continued my personal practice and study with a dedicated cohort of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, about a thousand years old, along with continuing my study of the path of Classical Tantra (not the new age, its only about sex stuff).
I am after all an eternal student, and always looking to see how I can improve my teaching. All of this has led me to a much greater appreciation of teachers. While everything in the past year has been happening over Zoom, I am still so impressed with the teachers I choose to remain with, and their dedication to passing along their knowledge. I am so honored to be a part of the tradition of passing wisdom from teacher to student, and take my role in this very seriously.
I know there are so many who abuse this position in various ways – taking advantage of their students sexually, physically, financially, and certainly emotionally. In witnessing how many in the yoga and wellness community use their platforms to promote division and fear is disheartening, yet also gives me motivation. It motivates me to keep looking at what I am doing, what I am selling (lets be honest, I need to earn a living to keep food on my table), and my level of transparency, honesty, and integrity in doing so. I’ve wrestled a lot with whether I appropriate Indian culture, and have made some changes to be a better teacher of where yoga’s roots lie. I have looked at how I can better serve the people in my adopted country, who often don’t have access to yoga. With five paying students in my teacher training, I offer a scholarship to a Costa Rican who is eager to bring the gifts of yoga back to their community.
What I have come to value most in my teachers are the following qualities that they have so well modelled for me, and that I work hard to pass along in my teaching.
From my first teacher, Terri McBride: a genuine caring for each individual student and how she could best serve them. Clarity and honesty about who she was in that moment, and a lot of humor and grace. Terri lit the flame of a deep and life lasting love of yoga within me and I deeply bow to her daily.
From my second teacher, Lillah Schwartz: an amazing ability to see what each individual student needed and a masterful teaching to that. Exacting in her teacher training, she scared the crap out of me, yet this is what motivated me to work hard to meet her high standards of what it takes to be a good yoga teacher. Her comment to me when I went back to study with her after being here in Costa Rica for some years: “Mary, you can’t just go and live on a mountain and expect to keep up with what is the current and best information.” So right, and a true master teacher.
From my third teacher, Everett Newell: Fed my craving for a better foundation of yoga philosophy, and further techniques of Hatha Yoga. I learned more about the popular vinyasa form of yoga, and how it can be a tool for working up a good sweat and how to design a well-rounded class. I also learned the valuable lesson of what happens when your actions don’t match your words, and that a teacher always has blind spots.
From my fourth teacher, Joe Barnett: I was thrilled to get to study with Joe as his main teacher, Paul Grilley is the expert on functional anatomy applied to yoga. Joe was an amazing and clear conduit of all things related to how each body is unique along with an expert in yin yoga. Joe taught me that its ok to acknowledge what you don’t know and to be passionate about what you do know.
From my fifth teacher, Christopher Wallis: Although he says to not call him my teacher until I study with him in person, that hasn’t yet been accessible to me, and I’ve spent hours learning from him. His integrity, depth of knowledge, and honing in on his teaching is a great light to me. I found Tantra through Christopher and knew that this was the philosophy that most spoke to my heart. He is the only teacher (besides me) that has said that it all really comes down to love, and he teaches from that place.
These are those who have taught me the most on the path of yoga. Every time I teach, I honor those on this list as I sit at the beginning, and then I bow to all those who teach me as they come to me as a student. I had asked for a number of years for my teacher to appear. Then one day, in deep meditation, my prayer was answered when I was told to open my eyes and see who was right before me. So a deep bow of gratitude to you, my teacher. I see you, I hear you, and I value all your lessons.
Till we meet again – so much love,
Stop the Hate and Step Up to the Plate
Note: For those of you who don’t have the attention span to read this whole blog, you really need to start meditating. If you need help for this condition (sense of not enough time), please reach out to me. In the meantime, you will find a three point summary at the end.
Good Job, US Government! (Well at least one side of it)
The American Rescue Plan, aka the Covid-19 Relief Bill passed. I am thrilled that this was able to get through the obstruction on one side of the aisle in our house and senate. I celebrate that it is bringing cash to people, and I especially celebrate what it is doing to up the tax relief for parents of children this year.
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health on the effects of poverty on children states:
“We find overwhelming evidence from this literature that, on average, a child growing up in a family whose income is below the poverty line experiences worse outcomes than a child from a wealthier family in virtually every dimension, from physical and mental health, to educational attainment and labor market success, to risky behaviors and delinquency.”*
One of their major conclusions is that when a family has the money to buy food and clothing, and even other supports they may need (like child care when both parents are working), it helps both obviously in that child having the material things and food they need to grow, but also because it may help alleviate the stress in the home that comes from not being able to provide the basics. This is huge, and I have seen first hand the difference this can make for a family.
So yay for the US for finally seeing the importance of helping out. There was a lot more of good help in that bill, and the majority of it was aimed at those with the least who need the help the most. Yet it wasn’t unanimously voted for. For a bill that had something like 75% popularity of the citizens of the US, it was voted on in party lines in the congress and senate. Did Republicans just simply not want to give any money to US citizens and families in poverty?
The reason no republican voted for this helpful bill is to cause obstruction in the working of the government because there has been a change of who is in power. Its kind of like politics as done by five year olds If its all about party politics, then we as the people who are supposed to be represented by this government need to stand up and say ‘ENOUGH”. I want to have elected representatives who are looking for the best solutions for all people, not just their voters, nor their preferred news channel. And I expect them to be responsible adults, get beyond just being obstructionists and deal with the very real issues in the US and the world.
Not the least of which is racism. From the stark difference in which the rioters and looters of the Capitol were treated versus those involved in the numerous Black Lives Matter protests, to the young white man who last week killed eight people, (targeting Asian-owned businesses), who was just “having a bad day”, we’ve got big problems with racism. As John Oliver puts it so well:
“A white man driving across two counties going to three Asian-owned businesses shooting and killing six Asian women in a city that’s only about 4 percent Asian sure as shit seems more like a hate crime to me than a ‘bad fucking day.'”
The number of attacks against AAPI people reported in this past year has risen 150%, and the number of unreported has got to be vast. Why? Because of the way in which the pandemic has been blamed on the Chinese, and promoted as the “China Flu” or the “Kung Flu” by some racists with big microphones. It’s a mindset that in essence believes its fine to make someone who is not like you the blame of things. Scapegoating at best, hate at its worst. When that gets repeated enough, some folks will believe it. How do we see racism taught? It is repeated by parents and picked up on by kids. It gets repeated through news channels and social media, and picked up on by those who want the ease of seeing things in black and white, without doing the hard work of living a life of understanding nuance and big picture. Its much easier to say “china flu” than to report the whole story of the disease beginning in one part of the world and spreading. It doesn’t sell as much or capture as many views when the message is more nuanced and truthful. Research has clearly shown that negative language grabs more attention in written news sources and gets more likes on social media. Easy for racism to spread by blaming a certain group of people for something (think of the term “welfare moms” for an older example). Unfortunately, we are only starting to see how deep racism is in the US. Its up to those of us who have white privilege to step up to the plate and take some action. Within our families and within our communities.
We don’t yet know the motivation of the shooter of 10 in a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado the other day. Yet, another white, 21 year old male. And, get this. It was just 10 days before the shooting that it was once again legal to buy assault weapons in Colorado, because the NRA sued Boulder about the ban on selling them that was enacted in 2018. Four days later, this man went and bought the weapon he would use to kill innocent people. Had the NRA not intervened, would those people still be alive? We don’t know the answer to that question, yet I hope it is in the hearts of our legislators as they once again pretend to actually consider gun reform. Our forefathers did not have assault weapons in mind when they wrote the 2nd amendment. I don’t think the late 1700’s had as much misinformation and mental health issues that seem to be prodding young men into becoming mass murderers these days. None of these multiple victim killings is about the shooter defending themselves. What we need are better access to mental health services for all, and less access to weapons of war. The shooter in Atlanta bought his gun the day he killed 8 people. The shooter in Colorado bought his gun 6 days before he killed 10 people.
Racism is also being seen in the 250 proposed bills to prohibit people from voting. Why are Republicans so invested in making it HARDER for citizens to vote? Why, for example, in Georgia is it that you can buy a gun and use it that same day, but they are trying to make it illegal to register to vote and then vote on that same day? Which one sounds more dangerous to you? To the Republican party, getting to vote so close to registering is more dangerous. Same reason they are hoping to be able to redraw district lines to make it so that congress will become much more republican. They would rather win power through manipulation than actually forming a platform that would benefit their constituents. Not only racism (most of the bills would target people of color and lower economic status), but again, partisanship.
Its not an easy road to fix any of this, yet I am looking to see who is willing to roll up their sleeves and dig in. I beleive its going to be up to all of us to start voting out those rich, white, men who only want to point fingers at the other side and stand in the way of real progress, and vote in more diverse, smart, young people who arent’ afraid of the hard work. Who aren’t entrenched in racism and misogyny. Who are ready to admit they may make mistakes, not be perfect, yet will not go out of their way to keep you from voting and having your say. Its time and there is much real work to do.
Here’s a new mantra for us all:
Stop the hate. Step up to the Plate.
Here’s the Main points:
- The US senate and congress is a partisan shit show.
- Misogyny, Racism, and the NRA are still winning.
- What can we do? Act Locally.
Figure out what is most important to you in these issues, and take action locally. If nothing else, start to follow people on social media from a variety of backgrounds and races. Promote those who are working with the issue you strongly believe in and perhaps contribute to them if you can. I also highly recommend getting involved in your local government – it is there that you can probably make the most difference. I also highly suggest supporting and following your local news people. They are the ones who will have the best information on how things are related to your issues in your area. If you have privilege, find a marginalized group in your area you have an affinity for, and figure out how to help. If you live in a state that is trying to pass bills to restrict voting rights, start to get informed and speak up. In many places, these bills are not being given much press, yet can have devastating consequences. It is time we honor the rights of all citizens to vote.
What am I doing?
I have diversified what I am reading and following, and I repost and promote brilliant, young, diverse thinkers and artists on my social media feeds.
I am working with young yoga teachers who are of the social justice mindset to mentor and support them in becoming the new voice of yoga.
I am including a lot more in my teacher trainings on social justice itself and why this is an important part of yoga. Motivated a lot by how many in the yoga and wellness industry fell into the Qanon rabbit hole – that’s a whole other story if you haven’t been following. Teaching teachers to be discerning and anti-racist is more important than ever to me.
Working locally to offer what I have to those who need. While I am still a citizen of the US and involved in what is going on there, I help to feed locals, give free yoga to locals and donation-based classes to make accessible for all, provide scholarships to Costa Rican natives in my workshops and YTTs, and donate as much as I can to an excellent local organization for the seniors in our area.
And rant in my blogs.
May we grow in love and service,
*Le Menestrel S, Duncan G, editors. A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2019 Feb 28. 3, Consequences of Child Poverty. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547371/
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.
Celebrate Good Times, Come On!
So it is just a few days until we go into 2020, the third decade of this 21st Century. Happy Holidays and Happy end of 2019! Whether you’re celebrating that you have made it through another year, or happy that your days are getting longer, the end of the year always seems to bring about a time of reflection. So here goes my:
Top 10 Things About 2019
We sold the lower property! Subscribe to my newsletter to keep up to date on how our plans for the top part of the mountain evolve — #getoffthegrid!
Our Panacea on the Road to Peru retreat was a hit. The synergy of the group, the wonderful guides, the magic of the land all brought it together in a packed and wonderful week. Now we are talking Tuscany for 2021!
Yoga Growth – I added another yoga teacher training to my schedule, which brought the opportunity for folks to come at different times of year, and plan to offer my first advanced, 300 hour teacher training in November, 2020. I have continued to study with meditation teachers, yoga philosophy teachers, and am taking courses on more bio-mechanics and yoga nidra. My evolution is weekly reflected in my teaching here at Panacea!
Animals – While we were incredibly sad to lose Jack so young, we were doubly blessed to welcome two more rescues, Ralph and Micah, to our home.
Environmental Health – We continue to be better stewards of this mountain, with better water management and lessening our carbon footprint. We work on planning our drives each week so that we do more things in less trips. I was pretty close to my goal of a plastic-free October, and will reduce my purchase of any plastic stuff in 2020.
Doing My Work – I dug into some of the darker corners of myself this past year… excavating things that no longer fit who I am. Am I done yet? Hell, no. I wrote in my journal this morning: “I have to do my work.” Living my yoga is more meaningful than ever.
Building Community — Witnessing how divided the world is becoming, I look to stay centered and contribute to change locally. Instead of spending my time bickering about what I can’t change, I am using my energy to make a difference close to home.
Less Diversion — I have watched less television, movies, Youtube, etc. in this past 6 months, and it feels great! I use the internet for work, but when it is time to relax, time with friends or in nature is recharging me in healthy ways.
Presence – This year I connected with a group weekly via zoom to practice meditation techniques. While I have had a meditation practice for years, going into new territory and having the support of a group has been amazing. I have felt a shift inside of me. It feels as though 2019 was constantly pushing me to expand in so many ways beyond what was comfortable and familiar, and I am excited to stay present for what 2020 will hold.
Reaching Out — I had the gift this year of someone who has taught me so much about reaching out into the world. Her name is Auri, and I know that you will someday all know her, as she is a bright star. She came through my ytt in exchange for helping me to up my marketing game. I have always known that I am here to teach, and that what I have to share is of value. Auri helped me understand that reaching out is an important part of my work, so that those who are ready can find me. You actually receiving this newsletter fairly regularly is part of that!
Thank you for your continued support of me, and for doing your work. If you are looking for some inspiration heading into 2020, write out your own top 10 list. It will help you see what you did best this year and give you the energy to bring the best of you into 2020! Together, we can create positive change in our world.
With Love and sparkly holiday light,
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US or elsewhere that is celebrating this week (and a belated one to my Canadian friends). Do you take time to give thanks on a regular basis? If you don’t already have a regular practice of gratitude, or giving thanks, this is a great time of year to start.
There is a lot of research that has been done in the past 10 years on gratitude. Findings show significant health gains (lowers stress, improves immune system function, improves blood pressure and heart function, and overall health improves) as well as improvement in a person’s resilience — recovering faster from both injury and trauma. Anecdotally, I know of a number of people, myself included, who find that a daily practice of noting things we are grateful for (whether journaling or just thinking about these things at a committed time) brings a sense of being able to stay present for more of our day, and a greater feeling of appreciation for what we have. Any of the above something you want in your life?
Another advantage to a gratitude practice is that anyone can do it. I have done this with little kids as well as people near the end of their life. I find that writing down at least three things I am grateful for daily seems to make me feel the benefit of presence and joy more so than just thinking about them. However, there are times when I just think of what I am grateful for at night before I go to sleep, and it is sweet as well.
I first began to practice this after my nearest sibling had died from injuries due to a car accident. It helped me to see that even though there were days I was consumed by grief, there were also gifts to be appreciated, like the 30 minute commute I had that allowed me the time to weep every day without worrying about who was around. As much as I missed her, I was grateful for having had such an amazing sister. I also realized one of the gifts of her death was that it brought my other sister and I much closer. I was grateful for the gifts within the tragedy.
I am not telling you that everything in life is rosy, and that we should be happy for everything. Yes, there is crap in my life, and I don’t want to cover it up or avoid the tough stuff. I just am grateful for what gets me through that tough stuff, even if it is simply feeling the sun on my face, or cuddling with my dog. Its not about spiritual bypassing, because you are not using this in place of handling life. It is breathing into and recognizing the grace of the moment, which can help me find the strength to handle what needs to be done.
If you are gathering with others to celebrate Thanksgiving or any of the holidays in the near future, try going around the dinner table and asking everyone to give at least one thing they are grateful for before you dig in. If you don’t have the chance to do it with others, do this for yourself, whether in your journal or saying it out loud. Try this everyday from now through the end of the year, see what this brings, and let me know how it goes. May it be of benefit for you and all others. I am grateful for all you are doing to live your best life, and for the ways in which you are spreading your light in the world.
“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.
In one of my earlier articles, I wrote about the Yamas and Niyamas, yoga philosophy’s moral underpinings from the Sutra of Patanjali. This article will focus on one of the Niyamas (personal observences), Saucha, sometimes translated as purification or cleanliness.
Donna Farhi writes in Yoga Mind, Body, & Spirit:
“Practicing saucha, meaning “that and nothing else,” involves making choices about what you want and don’t want in your life. Far from self-deprivation or dry piety, the practice of saucha allows you to experience life more vividly. A clean plate enjoys the sweetness of an apple and the taste of pure water; a clear mind can appreciate the beauty of poetry and the wisdom imparted in a story; a polished table reveals the deep grain of the wood. This practice both generates beauty and allows us to appreciate it in all its many forms.”
Many people think of purification as having to be, well, pure. This may be one of your aims in life. Clean eating, or only eating organic and local food is a great way to bring in the essence of purity or saucha into your body. Considering the kinds of people you surround yourself with, the types of entertainment you watch, hear, and participate in is another way to bring in the quality of Saucha. Yet, if you are reading this and thinking that you aren’t cut out for going all the way to the monastery yet with this Niyama, consider perhaps the baby steps that may be doable for you.
In yoga studios, there are often guidelines which embody this Niyama, asking students to come to class clean, without any strong odors, even from perfumes, colognes, or lotions. This beginning step towards Saucha ensures that everyone can enjoy the class environment (especially the deep breathing). This is done for common courtesy, yet can also be one way to understand the intent of Saucha and to remember this as you shower or get prepared for your practice. You may also consider for yourself how you can take the spirit of Saucha in your mind as you step onto your mat, allowing yourself to try to stay absorbed in the intent of your practice, rather than thinking of the list of things you want to do after your practice.
As a teacher, I also look at the how the physical environment of the room itself can help set up an atmosphere of orderliness and clean energy flow. If mats are set up facing different ways, not in either lines or a circle, I have observed students being more distracted, and often less able to keep their energy and focus within what we as a group are doing. I typically will ask students to set up their mats in an organized circle. This allows for the energy of the room to flow evenly around all of us, and also seems to contribute to a feeling of everyone working in harmony during the class.
In your home practice, look at how you can arrange your mat in a place that is clean and orderly, and in harmony with your surroundings. It is also good to keep your mat itself clean. See how you may feel differently in your home practice if you first take a couple minutes to assure that your space is tidied up. This actually is as much a ritual for me at the beginning of my practice as setting out my mat! I find myself much “clearer” in my mind when I am not looking at my dog’s hair on the floor.
I also teach beginning students to be mindful as they walk to the closet for props or go to the wall. They learn to walk around others mats, thus keeping their feet off of another’s mat, as well as respecting the energetic “space” of another student. I do even try to encourage students to put away their props and mats at the end of the class neatly. I suggest that you also do this in your home when you practice there. Perhaps respecting your practice equipment and environment will transfer to awareness and respect of your surroundings in the rest of your day.
As we do in class, you can also separate your yoga practice from the rest of your day, thus keeping your practice “clean”. We do this through chanting the sacred word “Om” to begin and saying “Namaste” at the end. Finding your opening and closing rituals for your home practice can have the same impact, whether it be through lighting incense, candles, or even reading an inspirational passage before you begin. You can also find meaningful ways that work for you to close your practice, whether it be through bowing in gratitude to your inner teacher or in simply sitting in silence for a moment to allow yourself to transition off of your mat.
I have found that through the years my working consistently with these simple approaches has helped me to clean up a lot more things in my life. I now recognize when my shelves of clothes are getting disordered and love how it feels when I go through them, donate what I don’t use, and make them neat once more. I recognize when I am holding onto so many objects that it is tough to keep my home area clean. It has gradually transformed the way I eat much of the time, though I do still enjoy things like pizza and French fries every once in a while! I embody Saucha in the ways that feel right for me, without feeling that I am denying myself things that I love and enjoy. I hope that you can find your path to this as well.