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,
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.