Why Is The Breath Disappearing

As I settled in to outline class sequences and themes this weekend, I am brought back to a question one of my little yogis asked recently that broke my heart. Before class started she voiced one of today's biggest problems in the yoga room with out even realizing it. She asked: "Why don't all teachers pay attention to the breath? Is it because there is debate about how important the breath is in the practice or how to perform it?” I can still feel my stomach lurch and my heart drop when I think back to this inquiry because the truth is, in a culture that places so much emphasis on the physical and even the immaterially irrelevant ‘value’ of insta-fame or yoga-fame (insert gagging noise here) we have indeed, forgotten the very foundations of our practice and it is heart-breaking, confusing, misleading and ultimately dangerous.

But what is even more chilling and disturbing to me is the fact that my student was right; not all teachers remind their students of the importance of or the proper application of different breathing techniques with in the yoga room. In fact, some teachers are baffled as to why anyone would not exhale through the lips through out class, some are appalled that anyone would sound so obnoxiously loud during a class and some are oblivious as to why certain pranayamas are utilized at certain times of day or for certain therapeutic reasons. Heck, some ‘teachers’ don’t even know the meaning of the word pranayama and this is a HUGE problem; and it needs to be addressed.

There is a problem here; we have become obsessed with pumping out massive amounts of ‘yoga teachers’ out before they are anywhere near ready to undergo training, we have created online courses that you can get through with in only a few days and call yourself a certified yoga instructor, we have created trainings that focus solely on the most popular asanas to teach and we leave behind all the elements of substance that help to sustain our practice and our teachings. We have in essence created chaos with in the realm of the yoga teacher and we have fallen into the false idea that ultimately, a good yoga teacher is that person who will be able to perform the most advanced poses and get the greater amount of likes and followers on social media all the while not paying attention to the fact that our students are getting injured, becoming confused and ultimately not reaping the full spectrum of the benefits of the yoga practice because they are not even being taught the most crucial and basic of things; the breath.

When I started teaching a few years back, this phenomenon hadn’t quite taken over just yet but I saw little glimpses of it here and there (mostly in gymnasiums) but as the years have worn on, I am shocked to now walk into studio after studio where students look at me annoyed and perplexed at the fact that I am asking them to inhale and exhale through their nose, use their diaphragm and let the Ujjayi breath guide their practice rather than the other way around; thus creating a meditation in movement. Even greater is their shock when I demonstrate the resonance found with in the slight constriction of the glottis that comes with Ujjayi breathing and the truth is that this simply should not be; particularly in a vinyasa class (lets acknowledge here again that part of the problem is teachers are not being taught that there are actually different breaths with in each branch of practice and that some techniques will change depending on the type of practice, time of day, Ayurvedic recommendations, etc.).

In fact, if we go back to the teachings of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Ujjayi breath is so incredibly powerful that we are encouraged to take this breath into all aspects of our daily live, even while we walk, sit, etc. But this takes us back to one of the main problems we are faced with today; most people teaching yoga these days probably have no idea what the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is or have been exposed to any profound teachings pertaining to the many effects of pranayama on the body. In fact, just recently I was having a conversation with a ‘teacher’ who had never even heard of or knew the meaning of pranayama, prana, nauli, nadis or Ujjayi breathing.

My jaw dropped when I found this out. Because how is it possible that a person who is teaching yoga (and I am going beyond the asana aspect of the practice because yoga as a whole is not just asana and we need to start remembering this) has no clue as to what any of this means? And to not even recognize the names or meanings!? This is a dangerous situation we are putting ourselves and many others into. We are creating more problems and disease with in people’s bodies rather than helping them to truly heal. We are creating stress and disconnect with in the body and we are ultimately doing a huge disservice to the people who are in earnest looking to yoga as a healing tool, a tool for grounding or, heck, even a tool to strengthen the body.

Pranayama in and of itself is not to be learned or practiced with out the tutelage and supervision of a teacher but if out so called teachers are not keen to the subtleties, the practices or even the every existence of these techniques then what chance do our students have to come anywhere near a proper breathing technique?

And lets face it; the way most classes are taught now a days (namely incredibly fast-paced and intense classes that hold little regard for the individual needs and composition of each person or the anatomical and bio-mechanical movements of the body) we are in even more desperate need of proper breathing control. We can not simply move through a whole hour of dangerously fast-paced flows and simply dismiss the breath; this will only further dissension in the mind/body connection and put the student at risk of injury or even over-stimuli of the nervous and cardiovascular systems; which is entirely not the point of the practice to begin with.

The great Krishnamacharya himself emphasized breathing practices as the basis of all movement and taught students to move once the breath itself had begun (the starting point was the breath, the movement simply followed right after). One of his many quotes states the importance of breath and presence of mind by stating: “Where is the delusion when truth is known? Where is the disease when the mind is clear? Where is death when the Breath is controlled? Therefore surrender to Yoga.”  - Even some of the more contemporary teachers who were taught he wholeness of the practice as a whole (versus just the asana and the ‘business of yoga’) teach and have always taught the importance of the breath.

Yet at a time when we can pump out more ‘teachers’ than is even imaginable; the proper teachings are being diluted and we are losing the importance and power of the breath. We need to get back to the basics, we need to make sure the people who are ‘teaching’ yoga are indeed teaching the practice as a whole and we need to remember the paramount importance of the breath. There is no life with out breath and there is no true asana practice with out it either; it simply becomes smoke and mirrors and it leads us further from healing than ever before.

Lets never forget the whole tree of yoga and lets remind ourselves and our students of the power of proper breathing techniques with in the yoga room and mat. It is time to get back to the basics and let go of all the extra stuff that has for so long taken over our practice. It is time to let the breath wash over us all and help bring us back to center.

Awareness in Judgment

For the last few weeks I have been weighed down by how negatively our judgments can impact our lives and the lives of those around us. And as someone who for many years saw the whole world through very judgmental eyes, I can attest to the fact that judging someone, or even a situation too harshly can only cause pain, anger and a pretty obvious lack of contentment.

It is important here, to mark the difference between judgment, which is meant to cut someone or something down and the ability to discern. For some reason, these two can often be confused or mixed up and this confusion is cause for much turmoil or “excusable” judgment.

The way I see it, judgment is a negative label that we forcibly attach to someone or something in order to justify our anger, resentment or fear towards said person or experience. Discernment on the other hand, is the ability to distinguish and become clear as to which outcome will be more conducive to our development or which relationship or people will be more likely to help us grow and which people or relationships are more likely to lead us further away from the light and positive energy meant to help us heal and grow.

This important distinction has allowed me to practice less judgment and to slowly increase my intuitive powers of discernment so that I may continue to grow, develop and love more fully. I have been able to let go of immediate negative assessments of people and situations and have been slowly becoming more aware, present, loving, patient and kind towards life, those around me and my self.

That being said, I am still human and can often fall back into judgment. This is why it is important to practice awareness, groundedness, compassion and love every moment of every day. It would be so much easier for me to simply move through life judging people and situations as good, bad, ugly and everything in between. In fact, the ease with which one can negatively, forcibly and powerfully assign a judgment onto some one or something is scary. This is, as a matter of fact, exactly the same kind of “ease” that led me to constantly tear people apart (mentally or verbally) simply because I felt that I was either inadequate and less than or above and more than x,y or z.

 This easy judgment is what led me to constant comparison and harsh criticism that hurt me more than I may have realized at the time. So, sure, judging is very easy, but easy, does not mean better and it is certainly not more conducive to a healthy life.

One thing I have come to realize about judgment is that more often than not, what we judge most harshly in other people are things that we are struggling with within our selves. We are able to unconsciously identify a part of our own darkness that for some reason we have not made peace with or grown from in other people. And the lack of growth or the very rejection of this aspect of our beings can lead us to lash out at this inner darkness and force a harsh judgment onto others.

But this is not an easy thing to spot or even accept. So making it a point to practice self-awareness daily can make us suddenly present (aware) of what it is that we are truly fighting when we are judging those around us.

Am I really judging the manner in which that person acted? Or am I judging the reality that a part of me would have done the exact same thing? Am I truly offended that this person is wearing, acting, speaking, being this way? Or am I simply coming face to face with parts of myself that I keep hidden, tucked away and feel shamed by?

The truth is, that more often than not, a part of me that does not like how I have acted, thought or inhabited a point in time in my life will lash out against you when you do, say, act or “be” that very same thing and that is where the aggressive designation of attributes, thoughts, paradigms, etc. will happen. This is where judgment becomes corrosive and where it thrives most powerfully.

Becoming aware of this and making it a point to constantly practice self-awareness can heal and help us stop negative judgment in its tracks. It can also simply make us aware of the fact that we are being judgmental and that we will eventually have to deal with the inner work that accompanies this judgment. But even this miniscule awareness, that ability to observe, “I am being very judgmental about this moment or person right now” can be incredibly powerful and healing in of itself.

If I am able to realize that I am creating and assigning a negatively forceful designation onto someone or something (in other words, being judgmental) is just the first step to healing, releasing or simply nudging whatever little darkness has been keeping me stuck or preventing my growth for so long.

I do want to note that another reason we make such harsh judgments of the people and the world around us is that we each have a very particular way of perceiving life itself. And it is through this perception (a perception that is entirely unique and personal to each of us) that we measure, weigh and judge the world around us.

A person who has had tremendously negative or even dangerous and abusive encounters with people who drink, or who are drunks, for example, may in turn repel all situations or people that would resemble that hurtful, negative and subconsciously informative (it is informing the person that alcohol and drunks are and/or act a certain manner) scenario. {*please note this is an example and I am not making any generalizations, as again, we all experience the world in a different manner and have different way in which to cope, heal, live or move on from x,y or z}

So in these particular cases, judgment will mesh a bit with discernment and our very particular viewpoint and inform our paradigm and ideas of what a situation or person are like. – For example, as a kid growing up in Mexico City, I was always taught to be hyperaware of my surroundings and that people do not always have good intentions. I also learned at a very young age not to draw attention to myself so as to not get kidnapped, cat-called, harassed, attacked or robbed (again, this is my personal experience. Sapha learned this; it does not mean all my friends saw the world in the same manner or that all people from Mexico think this way or lived these things) I, therefore, have learned to remain aware, invisible and resentful of any and all attention. So, when I get cat-called (a topic which makes my blood boil and that I will not cover here today) I will immediately become hyperaware of the level of threat that surrounds me and the hatred that has been harbored for many years in response to this act of aggression. I will then judge the situation and person as negative, degrading, dangerous and deplorable. This judgment has been informed by my experiences and perception of life and awareness of it will not change it so much as just remind me where it comes form.

So here we have a few ways in which we make judgments of others and of situations in our lives. The thing about judgment is that it can be harmful and it can stop the growth and healing processes if we are not continuously practicing awareness.

And if we are truthful, judgment is not only easy, but also sweet and rewarding. Because, if I judge someone to be x,y or z, what I am really doing is pretending that I am so much more than them and I am uniquely perfect in ways in which they are not while in reality, everything I have just pointed a finger at in them has been in truth, a billion fingers I have been pointing directly at my own true self.

So take a few moments next time you find yourself making an aggressively forceful label of something or someone in your life to analyze what is truly happening inside your heart, body and soul.

Are you running away from a truth with in? Are you fooling yourself into thinking you are somehow superior or inferior? Are you letting your perspective shape your ideas about the moment and the people around you? Are you letting yourself heal and renew? Or are you pretending you have no clue what darkness you are pointing your many fingers at?

Take a moment, breathe, be open, vulnerable and honest and drop the harmful judgment so that you can heal yourself and share your light more purely with the world and the people around you every day. And remember; be gentle and patient with yourself. You may fall back into judgment sooner than you’d like, but as long as you are fully present and aware, the healing process will follow. It isn’t a perfect art you can master in a second, it is all a practice. “Practice and all is coming.”

Conscious Transitions

Whether we are moving from chaturaga to up dog or simply stepping to the front of our mats, we, as a whole seem to have forgotten how crucial the act of transitioning truly is with in our practice and even off our mats.

In a day and age when faster, harder and more intense seems to be the priority in most standard yoga classes, the artful process of transitions has slowly but surely gotten lost in the mists of disconnect; and this loss is a true shame. Because transitions are the very joints of our practice, they are what marries movement into a number of asanas with out breaking the fluid nature of breath that is supposed to carry us as we consciously move through our mats in an effort to be present, to heal, to shift our perspective and ultimately to change our reality form the inside out.

So why have we forgotten the power behind these moments? Why have we ignored or obliterated the transitions in our practice? From personal observations and experiences even with in my own practice I can speak to the fact that often times, bypassing a transition is simply a means to increase our speed - after all, one can’t truly be expected to pull a full count of breath between down-dog and vira-I right? I mean, then the person next to us may rise sooner than us and we can’t have that. Can we? – At other times it is a simple lack of awareness or it could also be a subconscious indicator that we fear change with in our daily lives, or even simpler still, we may never have been taught how important a transition truly is with in our yoga practice.

I know I never paid transitions any mind until I broke my toe about four years ago. Like so many of us, I was obsessed with moving faster, harder and more intensely through my practice because in some ways, it meant I was good enough (a story that I have been healing over the past ten-plus years and that can sometimes still take over if I am in complete disconnect) and that terrified me to my very core.

Well, the universe was plotting to teach me a lesson on transitions and it managed to break my toe as a means to that very end. Now, at this point you may be thinking that I moved from one pose into the next, bashed my toe up good and broke my toe. Well, if this is your guess, you are absolutely wrong. Nope, the universe was not going to make it easy for me to figure out where my lack of awareness resided. Instead, it was going to give me a very subtle hint in the middle of the night as I made my way back to bed with my puppy in my arms.

On this night, I was in a stormy mood and I decided my little pup was taking too long to get to the bedroom, so, I turned off all the lights (yeah, because moving around in utter darkness was a great idea haha) picked my lovely puppy up in my arms, turned around, took three steps and slammed my toe into the metal leg of my recliner. Yep, ouch. I can tell you it was a miracle I didn’t drop my pup but instead I held her tighter and hobbled with her still in my arms over the bed where I promptly collapsed and proceeded to freak out as I realized my third toe was pointing in the wrong direction.

Well, no worries, I will not bore you with details of doctors and crutches, I will simply cut to the chase and say that in that moment I had no idea what particular lesson was being thrust upon me in such a crushing manner, but I knew that at the very least, I needed to learn to slow down and even take some time off.

So, I reluctantly took like two days off and then proceeded to get right back on my mat (some lessons are harder to learn than others). However, since I couldn’t well use my toes as support for almost any pose, I had to find little ways to accommodate my injury while still moving through my practice at an agreeable tempo (in other words, I was trying hard not to have to bring out my bolster for a restorative class). And little by little I realized that the more I slowed down and paid close attention to every part of my body as I moved from one pose to the next, the stronger I was becoming and the more steady my breath and mind became.

Up until this point in my practice, I had never truly understood the power behind a slow, deliberate and aware movement. Sure, I could take my time in moving from pose to pose but was I really paying attention to each muscle, tendon and bone being used to do something as seemingly simple as stepping my foot back to come into a lunge? Not really, in fact, not at all. I had simply been taking steps, moving arms, dipping, swooping and moving through my mat in a completely ungrounded manner.

I had been reaching and lengthening and following cues to hop to or from this or that place or pose with out the slightest awareness of what my body was doing. I was, in essence, not practicing consciously and therefore, I was not learning to be in the present moment but to live in a state of anticipation and strain.

With my mind constantly on the next move, I was ignoring the true power of each transitional space and the pose directly behind it and I was simply figuring out how to get to the next pose and this was damaging my body and depleting my practice. Now, could I have gone on practicing in this manner with out causing any tangible harm to myself? Sure, I did it for years and many of us have been doing it and will continue doing it with out even realizing it. But the truth of the matter is that the mere act of slowly becoming present to each movement, each point in time and even each part of the body as it moved fluidly from one point in space to the next took me even further out of ego (which is always humbling) and deeper into my truest self.

Off our mats, we see this lack of awareness through a transitional space reflected by those moments when we slam our elbows, knees, hips or heads into things because we were not paying attention as we moved hither and thither. We can also see this lack of awareness show up when we have forced ourselves out of an emotion simply because we do not want to feel or deal with whatever issue is at hand at any given moment in time.

These painful, difficult, uncomfortable moments are not there to torture us but rather to teach us how to grow into our own power and further develop a sense of self. But many of us refuse to plunge into the discomfort of transition and we wind up bypassing these spaces altogether by anticipating, judging or simply disengaging. – Take for example the death of a loved one, which is clearly a heart-breaking transitional stage, and which we can chose to simply disengage from, become stuck with or plunge deep with in. We can chose to move with an open heart and an active willingness to surrender into the vulnerability of these transitional spaces, or we can chose to bypass them or even become enslaved by them. Either way, that transition is real and it is not disappearing simply because we have not learned how to use the transition as an empowering or healing tool. -

On our mats, when we notice every detail, the whole practice becomes a fiery array of energetic and vibrational fluidity that has the potential to shift our perspectives forever. The simple act of noticing what goes into actually stepping my foot to the top of the mat takes considerable effort – so no, being in a state of transitional awareness is not easy, but rather necessary – but it is so rewarding when we finally land and then begin setting up the foundation of our pose in order to better serve our bodies and minds, that we are then able to fully harness the healing power with in our practice.

Each moment is an invaluable gem and each transition, whether it is lifting our arms up to the skies or rolling forward into a plank pose or even learning how to deal with our emotions on and off the mat is an opportunity to go deeper; to re-learn our bodies, to truly build an anatomically safe pose and to slow our minds down so that we may truly enter that state of meditative awareness for which we have set up a practice such as this one to begin with.

So take a moment in your practice to truly appreciate the transitional spaces in between each pose. Perhaps slow your practice down ten-fold so that you can notice how the body needs to move in order to unwind into child’s pose, and then linger in your chaturanga for more than one clipped breath so that you may remember what this pose feels like. Take your time to lift up, move through or place anything at any given time with in your practice and notice how much stronger your inner awareness will become.

I can promise you this, if you learn to savor each transitional moment on your mat, the moments of change with in our daily lives will no longer be something horrid we want to run away from or wallow with in, but rather key points in time through which we can further heal, develop and ultimately grow. For it is in these moments that true presence exists and with in this presence, a grounded healer will blossom like the lotus flower moves through the murk.

Moon Light

Every full moon brings with it a new blessing. A chance to start a-new and an amazing amount of light, love, healing and energy. This concept seemed foreign to me only a few years back and speaking of "strange" things that happened when the moon was full was simply a way to have fun and blame a bad day on something that has been blamed for bad days for what seems like ions. But how can we possibly ignore the beautiful energy that surrounds us on nights (and days) when the moon is at its brightest and/or at its dimmest? How can we turn a blind eye to such a beautiful symphony of light, vibration and energy?

I think it is impossible. We can not simply pretend that when the moon is full we do not feel extra exhilarated and filled with a new sense of radiant energy. We can not ignore the fact that when the moon is full we tend to act a little bit differently and that, yes, at times things can even get a little bit insane. But these are all powerful signals and blessings from the moon that so sweetly shines its glorious light upon us day in and day out.

When I was little, I used to love going up to the rooftop of my house and watch the moon on nights like tonight. I used to relish the light, the warmth and the eerie glow that seemed to speak to me of fairy tales untold and wondrous adventures that needed to be explored to the fullest. The moon and the fog were my portals to a whole new realm of possibilities and life. They transported me, each in their own unique way, to distant lands and incredible tales that were meant for me alone. And I, to this day, still relish those nights where the moon shines bright and every fiber in my being is buzzing with light, love, vibration and energy.

There are a plethora of powerful effects the moon leaves behind as its gravitational pull beckons us earthlings to reach out and connect to all that makes this fantastic body pulsate with life in outer space. And we need to take some time to honor this connection and allow it to fill us with new life.

We need to make time to harness all the love, light, vibration and energy that the moon has to offer us so that we may create and change and heal in new ways every day. We need to get outside and bask in the glorious light of the moon and savor every moment of this magical connection. We are radiant beings who resonate and respond to all manner of energy, light and vibration and when we can connect deeply with such a pure source of these elements, we have the potential to change everything.

Because, how could a radiantly living thing not exert some measure ofinfluence on us when we ourselves are made up of light, vibration and energy, just as she (the moon) is herself? - Impossible. It would be silly and naive to assume that the moon has absolutely no effect upon us.

So take some time on this full moon to enjoy every single moment and every single ray of light, flux of vibration and release of energy that the moon is gifting you with. These are precious little gifts that have the potential to take you on a magical journey the likes of which you have never imagined and it will be so decadent, so incredibly transformational that words will fail you, as they have failed me in describing the potent effects of this miracle.  Remember, the moon is as much a part of you as you are a part of it and you are pure light with out beginning or end.

Enjoy the moon little yogis ;)

"When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator." Mahatma Gandhi

"There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls." George Carlin

Why I am a "Love Your Body Warrior"

For decades, people across the world have spent their days fretting over how they look. Many hours have been wasted in front of the mirror while we pinch, pull, twist and mentally chide ourselves for not looking a certain way. This way of thinking is a disease and it has taken over the world.

How many hours a day do we spend thinking about what we would change in our appearance? How much of it do we share with others? How often do we hear ourselves or others say that we would trade bodies or body parts with this person or that? How often do we say these things in front of our kids with out even thinking about the effect our words and actions are having on them? How often do we hate that which in truth is magnificent and perfect just the way it is?

I would love to say that what prompted me to share my experience of healing through yoga came from my personal journey (which I will share a small piece of shortly) and although this is a tremendous influence in the way I approach my practice and the relationship to the self, what actually made me want to create a space for men and women to talk about and begin the healing process, were the powerful words that came out of my 6 year old niece’s mouth one sunny afternoon. “I need to go on a diet. I’m too fat”

Those words were a slap in the face for me. My blood turned to ice and I can still feel the tingling sensation crawling up my spine, as though a monster had crept up behind me and was getting ready to eat me alive.

How did this happen? Where did she even hear these words? How did she come to feel this way at such a young age? Was it me? Was it all the years I spent fighting my own demons? Was it the way I counted calories or deemed food evil or semi-acceptable or even the way I argued I wasn’t hungry and needed to be left alone? But no, that was before her time, wasn’t it? Did I accidentally create a karmic deluge of insecurities that somehow landed on her little soul?

It broke me in half. The idea that after so many years of battling an eating disorder, I would have to somehow help my little niece fight the same battle at an even younger age. And what was worse was the realization that so many people felt this way.

I could see it while shopping at the mall or even waiting in line at the grocery store. I could hear it while watching ridiculous “fashion” TV shows and “reality” TV. I could read about it on magazines and online articles and be inundated with these demons at they gym where I used to teach, where every calorie counts and every second not spent in a perpetual fight with the scale is a moment lost or hated.

The illness had polluted the minds and souls of so many and yet, this sickness was being accepted, ignored, minimized, praised and sometimes worshiped by so many people! How did we get here? How did we allow our shame and fear to destroy all that is important in life? How did we give this demon wings instead of chopping its head off and feeding it to the eternal fires of a cleansed soul?

Many blame the media, some blame men (but there are many demons men have to fight as well, so it would be incorrect to say that this is a female sickness alone) some people chuck it up to pure insecurity and lack of self-love or respect. But I believe it is not as simple as all that. I believe the shame we have built into our insecurities has more to do with a lack of self-awareness and presence of mind than anything else.

Because, how could I possibly hate anything about myself if I know that everything about me is a miracle? How can I hate this body part or that when I know that each cell in my body is meant for greatness? How can I hate what I am present with moment to moment? It is impossible. One cannot hate the space one inhabits unless one’s perspective is askew or distorted by a fake reality.

This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons yoga can be such a tremendous tool in healing our hearts, minds and souls. Yoga demands that we remain vulnerable and open to every moment, whether it is intense, painful and challenging or sweet, tender and comfortable.

Yoga asks that we be truthful in every moment and that we take a good look at what life is really like. Yoga is our portal through the looking glass and yoga is the door to our very essence; the way through which we can finally see things as they are and not be pulled in a false direction by an untruthful interpretation of life itself. This is why the yoga sutras state: yogaś-citta-vrtti-nirodhaḥ ||2|| - "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind."

The practice of yoga demands that we be grounded and present moment to moment. This awareness and presence of mind helps us to dissipate or remove the veil that obscures and distorts our perception and it is in this freedom that we posses the ability to shift our perspectives and heal all that needs to be infused with new life.

This may sound foreign to you but I can tell you that as someone who spent years feeling unworthy and less than, this shift in perspective has changed my life in a drastic manner. For years, my internal struggle with weight stemmed from the “story” (the veil) that I was only worth loving if I was thin.

This horrid lie (because it was a lie no matter how much I tried to convince myself that it was a fact of life) stemmed from a desire to be accepted and loved. Which is ridiculous because my entire family loved me and showed me that love every single day. I was just focusing on the wrong things.

I was putting all my attention in the way people treated kids who were thinner than me (thinner kids, in my eyes, were always treated with more respect than I). I was mulling over the words of people who had told me I needed to stop eating this or that because I really needed to start losing weight or the taunts of people who said I was chunky or had big cheeks or a big belly. I was looking at the world around me through the veil of persecution and rejection and I wanted no more of it.

And yet, in spite of the pain and the realization that I was the only chubby kid in ballet or gymnastics (both activities which I quit in part because I felt inadequately over weight and also because I just hated being dainty and delicate in ballet and hated being yelled at in gymnastics) I knew that I was a loving kid who loved to act, sing, read, write, watch old Hollywood movies and to play pretend. I was the kind of kid who loved everyone around me unconditionally and who was also afraid of everything; especially bugs or roller-coaters.

So, I knew who I was and I even loved myself in a way that only a kid can truly love him or her self, but I was still very keenly submerged in the story that fat girls are not truly deserving of love and even though I didn’t know this; this story was corroding my soul.

As the years wore on, I continued to unconsciously build the case around the fat little girl being rejected, bullied and unloved but I didn’t truly understand the “importance” of being thin until one fateful year, when all the family had gathered for Christmas and I fell ill.

This year, I fell pray to 2 different types of salmonella. I remember getting ill and being rushed to the nearest E.R. I was feverish, dehydrated and in a critical state, according to the doctors. I was immediately hospitalized and for a little while kept falling in and out of consciousness.

That whole time is a bit of a blur. I recall the nurse who took care of me being really sweet and patient. I remember the whole family assembled in the room, looking over me and looking concerned. I remember the cold liquid they were pumping into my veins and the fear to sleep because I thought the needles in my arms would come our or cause major damage to my veins and arms.

I remember darkness and cold and also love. Love emanating from my family and their words; words I could not fully comprehend in my stupor. I remember feeling weak and helpless and scared and I remember being told I was going to go home. That was the best Christmas present I had received. I was so excited to be able to go home and see the snow and be with my family that I wanted to bound off the uncomfortable hospital bed and run until my lungs burned but I was too weak and I was no longer that fat little girl.

The shock was almost palpable. My family’s face when I stood up and the way that I felt in my own body – a foreign body – was truly intense and it is something I will never forget. I had been so ill that all my weight had virtually vanished in a matter of hours and days. I was skin and bones and I loved it.

I realize how strange that may sound but I was so thrilled to finally be rid of the “fat girl suit” that I was truly joyful to finally be worthy of love and attention and respect. I was thin! I was thin and I was never going back because this thinness that I was experiencing was too sweet, too intoxicating. We spent the rest of the holidays playing in the snow and enjoying our family time and it is still one of the best memories I have of Christmas.

When the holidays ended and life went back to normal I was both thrilled and a little scared to go back to school. On one hand, I still felt and thought like that little fat girl used to; after all, I was still me. But on the other hand, I wanted to see how people would react to my new skin and the reactions I received left a deep impression in my mind for a very long time.

As soon as I set foot in the school, everyone started to treat me differently. The people who had bullied me were now talking to me and trying to be friendly, the “cool girls” were including me and bringing me into their words a little more and a few of the boys asked me to go steady. My whole world had changed, and in my mind; through my “vrittis” one “fact” became crystal clear; being thin was the most important thing in the world and I must do everything in my power to remain thin forever.

This was my story for years and through this veil of lies, I created a world of strain, self-hatred, vanity, ego and fear for myself. I had become detached from the awareness of who I truly was and I had permitted my stories to run amok and keep me as a slave for many, many years.

Adding to this distorted way of seeing things, I had been told that to model or act I needed to look a certain way and I spent much of my time looking at magazines, TV shows, online articles and a myriad of stimuli constantly bombarding me with the need to look thin and be perfect. I think this is an experience we can all relate to and I believe it is corrosive and dangerous to all of us.

It wasn’t until I began my practice and had a trusted friend literally grab me and hold me in front of a mirror for what seemed like hours, until I could see how beautiful I truly was that I was able to let go and begin my journey to healing and self-love.

I learned that I was precious and worthy of love. I learned that my entire being is a radiant light, worthy of love, kindness, awareness and renewal. I learned that I am perfectly imperfect and that this is exactly the way I need to be. I was able to remove the veil and shift my perspective in order to finally be free from the oppression of that old story I had created.

So what would happen if we were all able to take the “veil” of societal (and self inflicted) expectations regarding appearances off and found a way to see the world as it truly is? What would change? How would we speak to others and to ourselves? What would a conversation sound like between friends, family members and even strangers regarding true beauty?

I firmly believe we can all find our way back home, into our trues selves and we can all heal little by little. But we need to find the courage to be present, open to grace and ready to dramatically shift our perspectives in order for this to happen and I believe yoga is a powerful tool in this search for healing and renewal.

Yoga is the practice of self-seeking. It is a practice that allows each of us to come face to face with who we truly are and it helps us to accept, love and cultivate all of who we are. It takes our apparent “imperfections” and “darkness” and brings them to the forefront so that we may see how lovely, powerful and unique they are. It allows us to be exactly as we are in every moment with out needing to change a single thing about our selves.

Yes, we live in a culture that demands perfection and yes, we have been lied to and oppressed and discriminated against but we are so much more than we realize. We are beings of light and energy filled by the same vibration that generated the universe. We are all the same vibration, the same matter, the same light, the same energy and even the same DNA and we are all perfectly imperfect.

Rejection of the self leads to rejection of life and this can only bring further turmoil and pain into the universe. We need to gently dissipate the veil of judgmental perception that has been affecting our relationship with our selves and the universe in order to see things clearly and yoga helps us to do just that.

So next time you are on your mat, take some time to meditate and be brutally honest with yourself. Be honest about what makes you feel alive and what makes you feel trapped or constricted. Think about the words you use on a daily basis to refer to yourself, your body and your life. Are these words positive, powerful and radiant words? Or are they heavy, negative and murderous words?

Can you take a good look at yourself and either write down or name (speak) every single thing that you love about yourself? Can you keep adding to the list until you realize that every single thing about you is amazing? Can you let go of judgment and surrender to love? Can you shift your perspective and create a new life for yourself? A life where you can see, feel and embody your radiance and vibrational power.

A life where those who surround you can feel free to love and be loved by you, just as you are able to love and be loved. A life where there are no judgments, resentments or shame. A life where you are truly aware, present and open to grace. This is the life we are meant for; this is the life we can embody if we are willing to shed our veil and become grounded and open. This is what yoga helps us achieve.

“Be easy, take your time. You are coming home to yourself.”

“There is nothing more beautiful than a warrior woman standing in her power, courage, and confidence. From this place of strength, she is capable of loving the world in a way that transforms pain into promise…and hell into heaven.”~ Debbie Ford

“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I'm not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” ― C. JoyBell C.

“You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don't know it, all of that doesn't even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It's not like you have forever, so don't waste any of your seconds, don't throw even one of your moments away.” ― C. JoyBell C.

King Arthur, A True Yogi Like You and Me

 

“Experience life in all possible ways --
good-bad, bitter-sweet, dark-light,
summer-winter. Experience all the dualities.
Don't be afraid of experience, because
the more experience you have, the more
mature you become.” ― Osho

 

We all know the story; a young boy in Britain is destined to rule a peaceful and prosperous kingdom named “Camelot”. The story has captured the hearts and imaginations of many over the eras and I can say, my heart, soul and mind fell pray to the story many years ago.

I love the mythology of King Arthur. I truly do. I feel like I have read almost every book, every version and even watched every rendition (through movies and even through television) and yet, it is only now, through my yoga practice and my awareness of love and life that I have finally been able to make the first momentous chapters of King Arthur’s life a crucial part of my own life.

Lets take a look at the “sword in the stone” for a moment. Some stories say that Merlin himself placed the miraculous sword, Excalibur, inside a rock in order to test all who believed they had a right to the throne and, being a gifted magician, it was Merlin who foresaw our hero, King Arthur, pulling said sword from the stone and ruling a land so prosperous and fair that we all still yearn for the equality of the round table and the nobility of the knights that made up its council.

Merlin had been watching over Arthur from the moment he was conceived… and, in fact, in some stories, it was actually Merlin who helped Arthur’s father, king Uther steal in the night and fool Arthur’s mom into sleeping with him while her husband was murdered on the battlefield… yes, it is crazy and tragic and sneaky but I digress.

So, Merlin had known before Arthur was even conceived that he was destined for greatness and so he decided to take him on as his apprentice. Now, Merlin, much like Yoda, liked to travel deep into the mountains (or forest) to spend time practicing his art and meditating in order to more aptly know his true self and thereby, more accurately give advise and bring healing to those in need. (Note: some sorties differ in this regard but for this little blog’s purposes, lets stay with this story thread) And Merlin decides that he will teach Arthur all he can about life, love, fairness, light, dark, etc. Anything there was to be learned in order to become a fair leader, Merlin presented to Arthur. Any tools that Merlin could give to Arthur in order to help him be present and loving; he would provide. I find it funny because in many ways, I think Merlin was teaching Arthur yoga ;) Much like Yoda trained Luke to become a yogi. (Yes, I am dorky and I love it haha)

So, time passes and Arthur is being shaped into a great king when all of a sudden, king Uther dies and the kingdom is in an uproar because Merlin has decided that whosoever can pull a silly looking sword from a ridiculous stone should get to rule in his stead. What is interesting about this is that hundreds of burly, brutal and undoubtedly aggressive men began to pour forth from every corner of the kingdom to try and pull the sword out of the stone.

For many days and many nights men took turns at yanking, pulling huffing, puffing and grunting to try to get the sword out. And the most wondrous thing was that not a single one of them was able to so much as move the stone an inch from where it stood.

Now, Arthur has been watching this for days and I can picture him growing more and more nervous and concerned to see all these men (who, by all rights should have been more than able to get the sword out) be defeated.

And finally, one momentous day Merlin approaches his devoted apprentice and tells him that it is his destiny to pull that sword out of the stone and that he has to do it that very day, at that very moment.

When I think about this, I can almost hear Arthur’s heartbeat, feel his palms sweating and sense the tingling of adrenaline poring over his body knowing that Merlin is dead serious and fully expects him to basically perform a miracle.

I can hear the internal negative chatter flooding Arthur’s mind (things like, “who do you think you are” “you are nobody” “you do not deserve this” “you are not ready” “you are nothing but a young, inexperienced little bastard”) I can feel his stomach lurching and his breath catching with the news he has been slammed with.

I can feel the gentle push Merlin gives him, filled with love and reassurance and yet doing absolutely nothing to quench Arthur’s fears and anxiety. I can feel the earth beneath Arthur’s feet as he takes one step at a time towards that intimidating spot, right in the middle of the forest; in the middle of a multitude of warriors who are all angry, frustrated, greedy, intimidating bullies.

I can sense the trepidation and the sense of surrealism falling over him as he advances and I can feel him having an out of body experience about the whole thing. I can also feel the heaviness of all the judgment and hatred emanating form the men around the sword as they see Arthur making his way through their ranks.

Then the jeers begin and I can hear all the hurtful, mean-spirited things that the men are screaming at Arthur (my guess is, however that these are all things they are screaming to and about themselves more than about Arthur himself; but they don’t know that, heck Arthur doesn’t know that and if he does, he has way too many other things to worry about right at that moment to be bothered by the truth behind their words). There is, I sense, a small quiver to his hands and a sensation of gentle resentment towards Merlin for making him do this.

I can almost see the glint of the sword and sense the threat it presents for Arthur; not because it is a dangerous weapon to him but because it represents his destiny, it represents his dharma and it represents all that he is so scared to admit about himself.

One step, then another, and finally, he has made it to the stone and somehow –though not through any conscious effort of his own- his hands are gripping the sword.

A silence falls through the crowd and all Arthur can feel is the cold steel of the sword’s hilt pressing against his skin. Memories of his life flood his brain and old wounds open up, leaving him raw and completely vulnerable. His breath slows down and suddenly everything seems to stop or slow down so much that time has no meaning to him.

His first instinct is to yank the sword, to put all his force and even all his anger and pain into pulling the sword out but the second he tries to pull the sword in this manner, he feels it catching against the stone and he immediately knows this will not work.

So he breathes, he closes his eyes and connects to his very core. He accesses his true self, not the self that others can see, not his body or his name or title o even the role that he plays in this life but his true essence; the core that makes up his entire being and he realizes he is infinite. There is no beginning and no ending to him; there is no separation between him and all that exists in the entire universe, not even from the men around him. He is all and they are all him as well, all connected all eternal, all harmoniously intertwined and filled with love, light, vibration and awareness.

From this center, he is able to heal old wounds and love his enemies. He is able to gently push through his fear and know that he has a dharma to care for and protect his people, protect all those who are in fact, one with him at their very cores. He then realizes that aggression, force and struggle will not do, so he humbles himself and decides to very softly allow the sword to come out. At that moment, the sword begins to slide gently out of the stone as if the stone itself were non-existent or at the very least made of something much softer, like say perhaps, butter or air. Suddenly, from the bottom of his being, a love so pure that it is palpable all around him surrounds the whole world and his love, his light and his courage shine through in a magnificent manner as the sword finally comes out completely.

The people around him are stunned and I can see Merlin smiling out of the corner of his mouth, a satisfied master who couldn’t possibly be more proud or more joyful. I can see the men around him bow down and take a knee in absolute surrender and humility and I can see Arthur slowly coming back into his body, becoming aware of the present moment and savoring all that has transpired; forever changed, forever devoted to fulfilling his dharma, his destiny.

Here is where I will stop our story for the time being, and here is where I would like to delve into the lessons I have been able to pull from this wonderful tale.

1-    Learning to find the balance, surrender and gentility in our practice and in our daily lives - For the longest time, I used to approach my practice with aggression and a drive to succeed and even compete with those around me. This approach soon lead to an injured knee and a bruised ego and I began to realize that forcing something to happen, both on and off my mat was causing me more grief and pain than was necessary. I was, in essence, acting like all the egocentric warriors who had lined up for days in the forest and tried –by force- to pull the sword out of the stone. And I, like them, was only looking a fool and accomplishing absolutely nothing. And I think that in today’s society, this is very easy to do. We are constantly being told to “shoulder on” or “push through” or “toughen up” but we are never reminded or told that it is ok to take our time, to be vulnerable, present and available to change and challenges surrounding us. So we make everything a competition and we think that the only way to “overcome” a difficult, painful or even annoying situation is to push through it, suck it up and force our way out when in reality, what we need to do is soften and release. We need to find a way to connect to our very souls, we need to stay grounded and available so that we can gently move through the storm and come out transformed. Yes, life hurts, and times can be challenging, tough, painful, annoying, etc. But, forcing something to happen (for example, forcing ourselves into lotus posture or forcing ourselves to stop the grieving process when someone has died so that we can keep working or doing stuff) is only going to hurt our bodies and souls. Being forceful and aggressive will mean placing pain, anger, resentment, grief and heart-ache in our hips or shoulders; it will mean disconnecting or disengaging from the moment and living in denial and it will mean keeping a wound open longer that it was meant to, because the more we force or push or resist; the deeper the wound becomes; and the less aware we become. So, we need to take some time, both on and off our mats to truly listen to our bodies, listen to our cores (our souls) and allow presence of mind and tenderness of spirit to soften our hearts to the point where we, like Arthur, can take a deep breath and simply let the sword come out on its own time, at its own pace.

2-    We are all a little scared of our own greatness. – When I first made the decision to become a yoga teacher I found myself torn by my emotions and thoughts. On one hand, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant for this; knew that this was my dharma and felt passionate, excited and so incredibly honored to have found this path. But on the other hand, I kept doubting myself. Ikept thinking that it was arrogant of me to think I could teach yoga when I hadn’t, in fact, spent 300 years up on a mountain top practicing and levitating while deep in meditation. I felt as if all my students would be able to tell that I was not as strong or as adept at standing on my head hands as so many other amazing yoga instructors around me. I would wake up in a panic, worried that I would forget how to speak or accidentally put together a bad sequence of poses or injure someone by adjusting them. I asked as many people as I could if THEY believed this was the right path for ME (funny how we always think other people have a better awareness of what we can or can not do or who we are rather than trusting ourselves). I was shocked and also joyful when my teacher offered me a time to teach at her studio and I could feel a myriad of emotions fighting for my attention. From excitement to trepidation to just about anything you can imagine. I was walking down my own path, staring at my very own sword in the stone and I, like Arthur, was not entirely sure I could do this or even deserved to do this. It took a while for me to finally let go of my insecurities and admit to myself that I am a loving, incredibly talented yoga teacher (mind you, as soon as I typed those words, my heart did a leap and my cheeks reddened because I would never want to sound conceited… but hey, it is coming for a place of self love and acceptance, not a place of ego or delusions of grandeur; it is all pure love) and I was open to loving myself and those around me. I recognized the challenges, the intimidating moments and the complexities of my path –in fact, I have to face these daily- and I decide to take a leap of faith; knowing who I am and knowing that my path as a healer is deeply entwined with this part of my life and I have to tell you, I could not be happier. The moments I spend sharing energy, love, healing and breath with my students are some of the happiest moments of my day and life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the entire world. So, don’t be afraid of chasing your dreams and following your destiny. If you are able to become truly honest and present as to who you are at your very core, your path will always be clear to you. And all the scary, intimidating things that come along with being courageously open to grace as you follow this path, this dharma of yours; will be your teachers and your most valuable assets if you allow yourself to remain present, aware and rooted.

3-    Rigidity leads to stagnation and stagnation prevents renewal – If we wre to remain as stiff and rigid as those soldiers on the woods, we would never be able to create new possibilities for our selves. We would diminish our light and prevent our souls from growing and renewing as often as possible. So, it is therefore incredibly crucial to always remain fluid, open and vibrant. Never remain stagnant or rigid; these two things can lead to judgment and prevent your own growth. So remain soft, attentive and fluid; always.

4-    Root down, in order to open up – I have used this phrase before and it has become an integral part of my life, my teachings and my writings –which explains why it has been reappeared through out this blog time and time again- This particular concept, that of rooting down in order to open up is incredible powerful to me because I truly believe that the deeper we can connect to our true selves, the deeper our love, awareness and life will become. The more you can remain rooted, the more beautiful your light will be. Think about it in this manner: A tree whose roots aren't firmly planted will topple over when the storms come. But a tree whose roots are deeply and firmly planted onto he earth is a tree that can withstand any storm with strength and love. Take time to develop a strong connection to your true self. Root down so deeply that your light and your being can shine through and withstand any storm that may assail you. So, rooting down becomes crucial not only so that we can find our paths in life but so that we can weather the storms that are bound to provide us with a chance to change, grow and evolve. The things that are most valuable are the things we have learned from, even when they are the ones that took the longest or hurt the most. So, always remember to root down and remain completely open to grace.

I like to share little stories like these with my students and the people around me because I find that often times, myths, parables and stories have a very healing quality. I firmly believe that creativity can transform, renew and change our perspectives, our hearts and our souls.

So, I hope that you are able to see a little bit of you in these words, and I hope that you are able to find your internal courage and your gentility in order to root down into who you are and become as bright and as powerful as you were destined to be. Remember, in the midst of it all, your soul and your being are always vibrating, always in motion and always ready to be renewed.

I am rooted, but I flow.” ― Virginia Woolf.

 

Lessons from the Seder

Another year, another lovely Passover with the family has come and gone. Yet some of the lessons from the seder remained in my soul and demanded further inspection upon unrolling my mat each morning for the past couple of days.
Having always been a big fan of this holiday, I considered myself not an expert, but at the very least a very good student of the story of freedom narrated through out the night. I thought I understood why we tell the story of Moses, who aided by God, was able to free the people of Israel from slavery, I thought I had a full grasp on why we talk about the plagues, hide the afikomen, drink several cups of wine, eat the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs, and wait for Elijah to come by as a messenger of things to come.
However, what I had not considered was the fact that I had no earthly clues as to why we continuously asked the youngest person in the room to ask “the 4 questions”, which are as follows:
1) On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread; why on this night only unleavened bread?
2) On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; why on this night only bitter herbs?
3) On all other nights we need not dip our herbs even once; why on this night must we dip them twice?
4) On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?
The questions had always seemed dreary and useless to me, as I, and anyone who has ever attended a Passover seder for more than 16 year in a row, would know the answers by heart at this point and therefore would feel, as I did, that the redundant nature of the questions every year was a bit over the top.
These questions are answered by the man (or woman) leading the seder in a peculiar manner. Rather than addressing the questions head on, a story about 4 children is told. “One wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question”
None of this had ever made sense to me or really mattered much to me since, in my estimation, I knew all there was to know about the story and felt bored to hear these questions over and over, year after year.
However, this year, something interesting happened. The morning after the Passover feast, I unrolled my mat, and as soon as I sat down to breathe, before I even moved an inch, it hit me. I was the four children.
The 4 questions had served as a way for me to come to the realization that in my life, I have acted as each one of these children.
The wicked child asks, what does this drudgery mean to you. This, is a clear statement that what those around him are doing is not his concern, and that he is in some way above, beyond or simply separate from those around him. And like the wicked child, I have been wicked in thinking (at different stages in my life) that what is important to others should not be my concern, or in thinking that I am in any way better than or simply separate from others around me, when in reality, we are all at our very core one and the same.
Over the last years of my life, through the practice of yoga, I have been able to learn that the illusion of separateness is just that, an illusion, and it can be dispelled when we are willing to realize how we are all in essence one and the same, how loving one another, hurting when the other one hurts, and always wanting to keep ahimsa can change the way we relate to ourselves and others on a day to day basis.
It has always been painful to me to hear people state that those who are homeless “choose to be this way because they are too lazy to work and earn a living” or to hear people say that “what happens in other countries is not our business and we should not get involved” or that “giving money to a charity is nothing but a scam waiting to happen” and now that I realize that one person’s pain and suffering affects the whole of humanity, I understand why. Unfortunately, I do find that in many ways, the wicked child in me utilizes new ways to judge and create a barge between other beings and myself, so if I can stop asking, “what does this drudgery mean to you?” I can open myself to more compassion. I can open up to grace and feel allow myself to become connected to all creatures as opposed to feeling separate from them.
The simple son asks, “What’s this?” with no understanding of what is going on around him. In many ways, I feel I am this child more than any of the others, as I often find myself caught up in my life so deeply, that there can be a lack of awareness and knowledge of what goes on around me and in other people’s lives. But what if I made an effort to stay connected, to stay grounded, to listen, to learn and to be willing to always keep a beginners mind? I think that adding a sense of curiosity, in my case, the same sense of curiosity that I am filled with when learning about my practice, can help me see the world with a never ending willingness to learn and share with others around me.
The child who does not know how to ask, is simply given an answer and I think we can all admit to lacking the words, or the willingness to try to learn how to relate to others. In a world that can make us slightly apathetic, we can become complacent and lose our ability to learn or lose our want for knowledge. Something, that I think a beginners mind can also help with. However, the true dispelling of ignorance is knowledge, in this case (at least in my understanding) knowledge of the self will lead to wisdom and maturity, which is why the practice is so incredible. When we step on our mats, we embark on an internal journey, we allow our breaths to carry us into a state of meditative flow and we allow ourselves to go deep inside our bodies, minds and spirits, allowing us to come face to face with who we are at our very core. The more we practice, the more we are able to connect with ourselves, and those around us, and the more we connect, the more we learn, the more we grow and the more we can dispel the cobwebs of wickedness, simple-mindedness, and ignorance from our lives.
Which leads me to the wise child, the child I hope I can become through my practice. This child is understanding and empathetic, he has reached (in yogic terms) samadihi he has been able to allow the roots of the yoga tree to create fruit and through that, he has been able to find his Union with the Divine, which is ultimately, what our goal as yogis is, both on and off the mat.
So, as I allow my practice to grow, I will allow all 4 children with in to learn and evolve and open to grace so that when the time comes, they may all have evolved into one loving, wise child.

"Who is wise? He who learns from every person (Pirkei Avos 4:1)." Indeed, the classical title for a Torah scholar is 'Talmid Chacham' - a wise student.

Trying to Connect


This morning, as I sent a "have not tty in 4ever" text to one of my closest friends; who also happens to live but an hour or so away form me, a sad thought crossed my mind. “I have forgotten how to harvest, care for and grow successful human relationships!”
What's more, looking at the text messages that were sent to me by this same friend, I realized that we (as in humans as a whole) have all forgotten how to do this. How to maintain, care for and grow a truly meaningful relationship with those closest to us, and those who have the potential of becoming closer still.
How did we get like this? When did we replace meaningful conversation with emoticons and word abbreviations? Was it because of Facebook? Were we doomed with the advent of text messaging?
Why have we allowed our world to revolve around machines, rather than people? And why did it suddenly become more meaningful to “check-in” or “like” something rather than just experiencing things together, in the moment?
Why is it suddenly more crucial for us to have a billion friends whom we never talk to, don’t know anything substantial about, or even care for rather than having one or two really close, I know all about you and you know me better than I know myself people in our lives?
As a yogi I have learned that every time I step on my mat, I get a new chance to cultivate my practice. I get the opportunity to refine my breath, refocus on the ever-elusive bandhas, and really connect to every single muscle, tendon and ligament in my body at a deeper level.
I have slowly been learning that the practice is a living, breathing thing, and that from time to time, I will feel stiff, muddled, confused, angry, and emotional; while other times, I will feel as light as a feather, stronger and more stable than a mountain, and swear I had an out of body experience whilst in sirsasana.
I have realized that there is no true “advanced” or “super master” yogi, because we all spend day in and day out harnessing our practice, making it come to life, finding refuge and repose in the stillness and the quieting of the mind.
We all injure ourselves from time to time and find we must refine, nay, start our practice from scratch. We all learn something new every second of every day; both on and off the mat.
We learn from our selves, those around us, the sages before us and the challenges and blessing that surround us on a moment to moment basis.
In short, we have all embarked on a never ending journey. A blessing that we see as practice precisely because we are never done learning from it, harnessing it, or watching it grow with in and around us.
So, how is it, that we can put all this love, focus and effort into our journeys, but lack the awareness, the commitment, and the love to grow our relationships?
Have we become so self-centered, that, even when we realize our practice makes us better communicators (e.g: allowing our inversions to teach us that we have a chance to see things as they truly are, instead of how we perceive them to be) we chose not to have meaningful relationships, but rather short exchanges of meaningless information with those whom we claim to love so dearly?
Are we really wasting all our openness to grace on texting?
Did we really spend all that time on our mats, back-bending, grounding down, realigning and cleansing our bodies, minds and spirits, getting our hearts to open, so that we could forgive, and love more readily just to throw all our effort away in a one sentence conversation that may or may not take place once, maybe twice per week or month?!
This can not be!
How many hours have we spent breathing, and letting go of our egos on the mat? And what for? So that we do not get green with envy when another yogi is able to go deeper, for longer or just in a fancier manner than we can? So that we may remain injury free? So that there is nothing but the practice and the breath left, so we are able to live every moment as it is? Sure! But what about allowing that ego’s death to serve another purpose?
What if we took all that we learn on our mats, the killing of the ego, the opening to grace, the inversion of our points of views, the prana, the healing, the cleansing, and the ability to let go of attachments off the mat?
What if we remembered that all human relationships are also a practice?
What if we took a moment to see, and acknowledge the fact that, just as our pinchamayurasana will not magically appear, but needs to be harnessed daily, over a long period of time; so too, our human relationships need to be cared for, and harnessed on a daily basis in order for them to grow, and bloom as they are meant to.
What if we saw, and acknowledged that a simple “how ru?” text once every few days is not a real connection?! 
What if we put ourselves upside down for a while and considered that human relationships were once stronger, and more beautiful because we spent time on them! We nourished and cared for them, and we took the time to put some real effort into making them work.
Just as hard as you work to get those pesky badhas to respond when you are trying to jump through, so should you put some effort into making a real connection with those around you.
If we saw that all our friendships are part of our “practice”, would we devote more time and work into them?
Would we be able to pick up the phone and -dare I say something crazy- TALK!?! (Yes people, those lips and that tongue of yours are meant for more than little snide comments directed at your TV sets when Honey Boo-Boo’s “show” comes on. They are also meant for more than a smirk when you type “lol” on your keyboard or smart phone)
What if we all took time to actually leave our houses, go for a picnic and talk to our friends and family about life, about things that have nothing to do with television shows, or the latest FaceBook updates, or who we are following on Twiter or Tumblr, etc?
I can tell you from personal experience that, the times I have taken all my work off the mat into my marriage, or my family relationships, I have been in awe at how incredibly connected, loved, and complete I have felt.
I am able to catch myself falling into old habits and resentments (no, I am not perfect, and yes sometimes I do succumb to these habits) and see things clearly. I am able to disconnect from everything else and devote my attention, love and effort to the task at hand at that moment (talking to, listening to, spending time with whomever is with me at that very moment) and it has made a world of difference in my marriage and my relationship with my family.
So why stop there?
Why have I not put some of this work into my friendships as well?
Have I felt texting and “liking” and “sharing” have been cyber-connection enough? Not really.
But I have been prideful. I have resented the seldom texts, and the lack of meaningful conversations and as a childish response; I have decided to reciprocate in the same manner in which I have been “wronged”; which has now created a vicious circle that only I can break.
So from now on, whether it is reciprocated or not, my “texts” will be seldom, or at least carry some actual meaning, and my phone will be calling yours (you know, that thing you use to browse the web, update FaceBook, take pictures and video, etc. Yup, that magic box can be used to talk to an actual human being! Who knew… ahem…) and I will be asking when we can meet to actually interact face to face.
Radical, I know, but you know something, I think it is worth it. I think my practice needs to seep even deeper into my life, and so I will put more effort into my relationships, until a time comes, when we can all connect in a meaningful manner once again.

NAMASTE

Wake Up Call

I find it sad to realize how little people care anymore. When did the "its not our problem" mentality take over? 
 I remember how shocked/confused/grateful I was when we first made the move from Mexico to Miami and I realized; there were no kids or grown-ups in tattered clothes begging for money at every stop sign. No poor soul tossing dirty water on the windshield of our car in the hopes of earning a few pesos or cents. There were kids playing outdoors with out supervision; just being kids, ridding their bikes or skateboards or whatever, with out being afraid to get kidnapped. There were people acknowledging one another and neighbors bringing welcome baskets. In short, I though I was in paradise. 
But the problem with the paradise mentality (I have come to realize over the last few years) is that the people in paradise have a harder time seeing, acknowledging, or caring about all the suffering that still exists. 

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I don’t mean that all people in America are selfish, or uncaring. All I’m saying is we have been in a way sheltered from all that plagues many countries with less good fortune than ours. And since, we don’t have much of this pain staring us right in the face on a daily basis, it is easy to forget.
Easy to say that homeless people are homeless because they are lazy (an argument I detest but hear from people constantly) It is easy for people to say what goes on in other countries, with people who are miles away, is "not our problem" or "not for us to fix".
Easy to begin to believe the lie that we can not get involved in other people’s pain because we have nothing to do with them and we should not stick our noses where they don’t belong.

It is easy to slander those trying to help because they must have a secret agenda (and unfortunately, some do because they don’t care for the right reasons or they have been approaching things from the wrong angle) or saying that they are only trying to "cure" or get rid of some "guilt" and that’s the only reason they want to help and therefore they are wrong. 

I mean; when did we forget to go beyond our white picket fences? When did we decide we are better than everyone else? When did we stop caring? When did we decide to turn a blind eye? And why? Why did we stop? Did we forget we are all, each and every one of us, important? Do we not see we are all alive? Why is it wrong to want to help? Why is it wrong to want to make a difference, to help others all over the world heal so they can live life in happiness?

Why is it more important for us to know very single detail (true and made up) about celebrities, but not about what goes on around the world? 
Why do we think it is ok to "pretend" to care and donate a few dollars here and there to some charity or another and not know or care what happens to our money or what they do with it? Why is it ok for people to throw lavish parties in “honor” of this or that when all the millions or thousands they spent on decorations, music and orderves can be put to much better use somewhere else? 

Since when is it more important to "have it all" and spend all our money on lavish, expensive ridiculousness (like private jet planes or million dollar purses) instead of helping to make a difference for someone, somewhere? (could even be someone in this country, town, city, neighborhood or community)

HELLO!!! WAKE UP!!! WE ARE ALL ONE!!!
We are all living, feeling creatures (and this extends to animals too by the way because torturing an innocent being for the sake of lipstick or so called necessary food is repulsive. just f.y.i.).
We all breathe the same air, share the same molecular space and inhabit the same freaking planet. 
 So no, you and I as individuals are not the only ones that matter. We... WE ALL MATTER! 
I think its time we all cared. Time we all stopped waging stupid wars and killing unnecessarily. Time we came together as one and helped one another. Why is this so hard? Why is it (apparently) too much to ask for? 
 Well, I know one thing, I may not be able to change the whole world, but I am able to change me.
So I care, I know we all matter. I can make a difference and I am aware and willing to help everyone, even in the smallest of ways. Because change starts from with in. Change starts with me.
Just some food for thought. ... This is what apparently happens when Glory wakes up crying at 5am and her pain cuts me so deeply, I suddenly become aware she may not be the only one crying right now. And the whole thing brings a chill and an acute awareness and sadness this morning.
Loka Samasta Sukino Bhavabtu.OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Tales of Light and Dark

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Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I have a huge fascination with anything fairytale related. What can I say, they pull me in, and never let me go, these marvelous stories. But the truth is, as much as I love the Disney rendition of these tales, and I do love me some Disney, I am more of a purist at heart.
I would much rather know that the little mermaid dies, broken, and unloved, than believe that somehow, she manages to get the prince and live happily ever after.
I prefer the full Snow White story, where the step mom tries to strangle and poison the foolish girl who keeps falling for the same old trick.
I simply love the story of The Six Swans, where, upon discovering that her evil stepmother has enchanted her brothers; the heroine/princess has to make great sacrifices (not speaking, or laughing for years until she is done weaving six sweaters made out of starwort) in order to save her six brothers. [For those who don’t know the story, it is worth looking up because it is so very lovely and tragic all at once]
In short, I love the fairytales the way they were meant to be told. Filled with darkness, hardship, heartbreak and loss. Call me crazy, but this darkness is my favorite part of all the original fairytales out there.
So what is it exactly that makes me like this seemingly creepy aspect of the fairytales?
Life. And, in more recent years, my yoga practice.
Seriously, if there is one thing my practice has taught me, is that life is filled with ups, downs, twists and turns, light and dark. And one can not exist with out the other.
 If I were to simply step on my mat and suddenly gain all the strength, calm, balance, breath control and focus that I needed to yoga; there would be no point on me even trying. But the fact that inside of me is the potential for an infinite amount of possibilities that can only be reached through hard work, dedication, awareness, and an unwavering faith that all is exactly as it should be moment to moment; that simple reality makes every second on my mat magical and so very worth it.
Even if those seconds burn like hell, or make me cry, or make me see things differently.
And that is what I like about the practice. That those moments when I want to quit, when I am losing faith and want to give up; those are the moments that make my practice shine, the moments that take my soul, body and mind to a whole new level.
And those are the moments in fairytales and in life that really change it all.
If all our life was smooth sailing, I bet we would be bored to death, and we would never get a chance to grow, a chance to change and improve and become amazing. We would simply be stuck forever.
But the fact that the darkness comes and puts us through the ringer, only allows our light to shine brighter when we give ourselves the opportunity to move through the muck, to be aware and not to cave in and despair.
So the next time you hear a true fairy tale being told, and you find yourself cringing in disgust or horror; or the next time you want to say, this is too dark, I’d rather stick to the sunny part of it all; stop and see the true value of the darkness in the tale.
Because it isn’t there to terrify you or your kids, it is not there to traumatize and scar you for life; it is there to help you grow and make you braver, gentler, more aware and more loving. It is there to create an infinite realm of light and beauty around you. So sit back, and listen to the tale the way it was meant to be told, and I promise, you will never see things the same way again.


“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
― Winston S. Churchill

The Green Monster


Ah, jealousy, how you butt your ugly green nose where it does not belong.
I admit it; I have been wearing green tinted spectacles for a few years now. Every now and then, they come off, but when they are on, boy, oh, boy do they take over my entire view of the world; and I am on a mission to obliterate these green mind-benders.
It all started while observing a talented yogi (who happened to be next to me in class, lucky me) move with ease into tripod headstand, and handstand, and a billion other awe inspiring yoga poses that seem to be on a perpetual quest to stay far, far away from me.
I moved next to her in class thinking, “Oh, aren’t we hot stuff.” (While internally rolling my eyes and possibly, making caricaturish gaging noises that are quite unladylike.) A huge part of me kept asking me to stop the comparison, to pay attention to my breath and stay with in the four freaking corners of my own mat, not the other person’s. 
I mean, I know this, heck, I thought I had mastered this over the years, I have even taught this almost every class in a sincere effort to remind everyone how amazing they are and how they can practice in a beautifully meditative and safe manner; and yet, on this particular day, when my limbs turned to lead, and my neighbor yogi became a talented angel, flaunting her super-human bandha control in my face, I lost the battle to that ugly green monster called jealousy.
Yup, I had accessed that highly insecure and needy part of my ego and let it take over. I allowed my practice to become a comparison, and a competition. I kept yearning to do just one asana she could not, just one graceful, incredible move she would be stumped by. And then it happened. I fell flat on my face, turned to see what she was doing and felt an immediate surge of love and kinship for this incredible human being.
I sat up for a bit ad just watched in awe. She was so focused, so immersed in her practice she radiated prana and beauty. A warm sensation filled me and washed away the green color that had so permeated every part of my being. The anger was gone, the self-pity had dissolved, the insecure little girl that likes to whine and feel sorry for herself had disappeared and all that was left in that room, sitting on top of my mat, was me.
Imperfect, flawed, and amazingly incredible, me!
I had to laugh at myself a little. I hadn’t just experienced asana jealousy, I had come face to face with my very own “boogey man” and her name was Sapha, the jealous one.
All the years of yearning to have this or that person’s legs, arms, butt, belly, hair, career, etc. had finally caught up with me on the mat.
That pang of pain that washed over me when I saw someone whom I had unfairly judged unworthy to play x,y or z character on TV, film or stage. That annoying “Black Swan” feeling that screams, “It should be me! Not her, me! I am the fairest of them all!” had taken over, and I was staring right into its greedy, judgy, hateful green eyes.
“All this time,” I thought, “all these years wasting my emotions, time, thoughts and breath on this ridiculous notion that I am not as good as someone else, that I should be where that person was, that I was more deserving than whomever; all of it has been a lie.”
Funny, I really thought all my problems stemmed from the low self-esteem that had taken root in me through my eating disorder. And yet, I hadn’t realized these issued ran much deeper. Out of a sense of rejection for myself, and the person I thought I was; the person I thought I had to be.
The jealous outbursts that made me cry when I saw someone succeed where I had failed were nothing but a symptom, and I was ready for the cure. Correction, I am ready for the cure.
I took some time to meditate after class was done, and imagined myself standing in front of a mirror, and gazing into my soul. I saw all the good, the bad, and the in between. I saw the green, red, blue, pink and white colors that make up who I am (sorry if that was a bit too poetic for you, it is the best way I can explain this today it seems). I saw a strong, valiant young woman who had grown so much over the last few years that she nearly glowed with joy and life. I saw a broken little girl, yearning for love and attention. I saw an adventure-seeking warrior who would stop at nothing to overcome her fears and plunge into the unknown in an effort to change her world. I saw a yogi, a wife, a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a role-model, a student, an artist, a leader, a scared, yet courageous being who was glowing with love, life, and all the essence of the universe. I SAW ME. And I LOVED ME. I loved me and I forgave me, and I smiled at my reflection and I knew, whenever the green skinned Sapha came around, I could show her this incredible creature, and it would make her go back to whatever ego-filled cave she came from.
It shall be a perpetual battle between the two, but my money is not on the monster, it is on me. It is on my imperfections and my flaws and all that makes me who I am. Regardless of how many years it may take me to “get” an asana or a part. I am more than enough at all times. I am incredible just as imperfect and flawed as I am right at this very moment, and that is simply lovely.

NAMASTE


“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I'm not going to let myself pull me down anymore.”
C. JoyBell C.

Yoga is a Living, Breathing Practice


There are days when I think I have my yoga practice all figured out. Days when I feel like I know all about the Gita, the Sutras, the mantras, the variations, and the limbs of the tree. These are the days my yoga practice teaches me a lesson that reminds me I am still clueless.
Take last week, for example. I unrolled my mat, decided to move into deeper exploration of the intermediate ashtanga sequence, and discovered that my body was “having issues” in places it should not have been (wrists issues, knee issues, sciatic nerve pinching kind of issues, you get the idea). I felt heavy and stagnant. I actually felt as if I was moving through mud just to get from one pose to the next, and the mere effort of keeping my breath, bandhas and drishti under control seemed an incredibly impossible task.
I was devastated. Well, my ego was devastated for a few minutes when I finally made it to savasana. I though, “How is this possible?” I couldn’t understand what had changed from one day to the next. The day before, I had moved through primary so smoothly and with such strength that I was sure the next day’s practice would be, if not the same (because I do realize each day is a new, different kind of practice) certainly not as different as it ended up being.
I was ready to beat my-self up about it when I suddenly realized something about the yoga practice I cannot believe I had not understood before. The practice had just challenged me. My yoga practice had apparently decided to make it worth my while to push my body through the “energetic mud”, and offered me a challenge to work through. My practice had really put me to the test that morning, and I have to say, it was well worth it. It was worth the pain because I was able to become present enough to know when to push and when not to and when and how to adjust whatever was not working for me that morning. It was worth it because I used more energy, breath, and focus, and received more energy in return. And finally, it was worth it because I now realize the yoga practice is a living, breathing thing.
The very moment you unroll your yoga mat for the very first time, is the very moment you have just given birth (or life) to your practice. From that moment on, the practice grows, just as you grow.
It becomes stronger, more open, and more intuitive. It hungers for more; it yearns to rest and also to be challenged. It releases emotions and allows creativity to flourish. It gets inspired and depleted. It yearns to be free from time to time but it demands commitment, devotion and discipline. It joins in as you laugh and cry or get angry. It reminds you not to give up, but to ground down instead. It shows you a way to connect with yourself and others more effectively. It allows you to see the world through the eyes of compassion and love that you have tried to keep closed for so many years.
It brings you face to face with your fears, your longing, your anger, your joy, your pain, your heart-ache, your pride, your compassion, your hatred, your forgiveness, your courage, your beliefs, your ideas, your lies, your truths; simply put, the practice bring you face to face with every single part of your self, no holds bar.
The practice challenges you when you are resistant to allow things to evolve in your life, or when you are resisting change or simply when there is more room for growth with in. Maybe it suddenly takes your ability to do sirsasana away for a few months so you can re-learn it from the very beginning again. Maybe it decides it is time to find out just how committed you are by making it really heavy and hard to move through so much as a restorative class.
Whatever you are most in need of, the practice will provide. It will shine a light through the shadows and will watch and be proud of every step you take. It will grow as you grow, and it will expect a level of devotion, commitment and continuity at all times.
So even on the days when you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and there is no possible way you can do yoga, know that the practice awaits you patiently, and if you give it a chance, even for 5 minutes, it will welcome you, heal you, guide you and change you.
Karen Horney once said, “Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.” And since yoga is a full representation of lie, I say, yoga is a very effective therapist.
So don’t ever give up on your practice, because it will never give up on you.

Debunking Six Popular Yoga Rumors


When I first discovered yoga in the 1990’s, I was ecstatic. I could feel a gravitational pull emanating from every part of my being to this wonderful practice, and I truly began to fall head over heals for it.
The trouble was, we had very little information about the practice and I was told that what I was doing by practicing yoga was unpleasant to God. That it was a religious practice I needed to stay away from and that I should go back to reading the Bible instead of trying to meditate, which would inevitably lead to my becoming possessed by a demon.
Yeah, that was pretty much my first encounter with the “rumors” about yoga. I was sad, but I was also respectful of my elders, and so I listened and left the practice behind until a few years, back, when I was able to make an informed and open-minded choice about the practice. And boy, am I ever glad I rekindled my passion for this yoga of mine.
Unfortunately, much rumor and speculation still remains regarding the practice and, although I understand both sides of the spectrum, it does sadden me that people have gotten the wrong information about something as pure and as amazing as yoga.
So in an effort to dispel some of these rumors; here are six things that yoga is not:

1.- Yoga is not a religion. – I heard a teacher say this once, and it stuck with me: “Religion is not contained within yoga” See, the word yoga means to “yoke”, to unify, and to bring together. Therefore, yoga is a union of body, mind and spirit. This does not mean, however that you are going to a yoga shala or class to bow down to x,y or z deity. You do not do yoga as a part of a service or ritual. Yoga does not have a formal creed or religious statement for you to follow. Yoga accepts all people, regardless of religious beliefs, sex, body constitution, culture, ethnicity, economic standing, etc. So; no, yoga is not a religion. Can there be religion in yoga? Yes, if you bring it in with you, but that does not mean that religion is an inherent part of yoga.

2.- Chanting “OM” will not send you to hell lead to possession. – Contrary to popular misconceptions, chanting the sound “OM” is not a sin. I like to explain it to my students in this manner. We can stretch, move and strengthen the body through a myriad of physical activities. We can strengthen the mind as well, through mathematics, reading, puzzles, etc. So, how then, do you exercise, and stretch your very cells? How do you reach deep with in and touch every tiny little cell that makes you who you are and give them all a little individual massage? You make them resonate. You allow a sound or sounds to shake them up and help them release tension, expand, move and become alive. So when we chant OM (which incidentally is not the name of some creepy deity or demon, but rather, a complete, universal sound) we are getting a cellular massage. We are allowing every part of ourselves to become engaged, to resonate and to be filled with life.

3.- Meditation is not a demonic revolving door. – Ok, there is a huge movement against all things “meditation” and so books have been written and people have been told that meditation leads to either demonic possession (as it apparently opens the doors of your brain to demons while you are “relinquishing control”) or spiritual alienation from God. Well, sorry, but I disagree fully. We meditate to calm the mind, not to “relinquish control” of the mind. In fact, there is plenty of “control of the mind” during meditation; the only change is a quieting of the mind, not a “relinquishing of control”. We also meditate in order to allow ourselves to be truly present, which means we are fully aware of what is going on moment-to-moment, not totally oblivious and open to possession. In fact, many religions believe in meditation as a way to be present enough to listen to and feel God’s presence. Some will pick a verse from a Holy Book and meditate upon it. It is even said, “meditate on the word of The Lord day and night.” Joshua 1:8 even states, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” So, as with all things in life, meditation is what you make of it. If you chose to allow your meditation time to bring you closer to God, then this is the outcome you will create with your intention.

4. – Doing yoga does not guarantee a perfect body. – In recent years, this has become one of the most popular rumors out there. Lets address it little by little. Firstly, yoga is not solely a physical activity, and therefore, the goal of the practice is not and should not be to get skinny, hot, toned, or fit. Yoga is, as stated above, a complete union of body, mind and spirit. Therefore, it is a practice that should be approached with devotion, self-awareness and commitment. It is a practice intended to help you go deep with in so that you may grow, and so that you may quiet the mind in order to see the world and see yourself as you truly are, not as you think you are. (Yoga Sutras 101 baby) Secondly, going into a yoga class expecting to burn a bazillion calories simply because Gwyneth Paltrow does yoga and looks amazing, will only lead to disappointment. Once more, this practice isn’t purely physical, so, even though the body is being challenged, and you are indeed burning calories, you are not in an aerobics class darling. On average, you can burn anywhere from 100 to 300 calories per class. Yup, not as many as you though huh? And the beauty of it is, it is not a bad thing. You are going so much deeper than all that. When you allow the practice to really seep into every part of who you are, you are becoming aware of just how amazing you truly are, how beautiful being in the moment can be, how incredible all the people in this planet are and just how peaceful it can get when you quiet the mind in order to see things as they really are. So stop fretting over how toned, sexy or thin you will get by practicing this yoga or that, and instead, focus on the work you are putting in to better your body, mind and spirit.

5.- Breathing is crucial to your practice. – I see this all the time, and admittedly, when I first began my practice, I was quite the perpetrator of this, but BREATHING is absolutely crucial to your practice. Meaning, you can not move through a Vinyasa class in true meditative motion if you are hyperventilating, or if you are breathing so gently, so softly that not even a mouse could hear you. Yup peeps, “ujjayi” (the kind of breath we use while practicing) means victorious! Not meekly breath, but victorious breath! J I love that! So, let me break it down. You can not do ujjayi breath properly if you are shying away from letting others hear you breath, you can not practice properly if you are running out of air mid vinyasa, and you can not fully practice yoga if you are allowing the movement to dictate the breath, not the breath to guide you through the movement. So, next time you are in a flow class and the teacher has repeated the phrase, “don’t forget to breathe” for the umpteenth time, take a moment and consider the possibility that you may indeed not be breathing fully, and then, change this breath. It seems silly but I can not tell you what a difference proper ujjayi breath makes in a practice; especially a flow based practice. Remember, yoga is a meditation in movement, it is not a race to see who can get to the top of the mat first or who can be the fanciest jumping through. So, take your time to really allow the breath to be the thing that moves you through your practice and watch how much more energy and life you can generate this way (as opposed to breathing like a weight lifting champ) and also, observe how much more focused, and quiet your mind becomes. It is truly lovely.

6.- Yoga will not wreck your body if you practice properly. – This is crucial, take it form someone who has been injured before. The way to get injured really badly and really quickly in yoga is losing control of the breath, and allowing your ego to take over control. When you are in a class, and you decide you will push and push and push your body past the place where it actually needs to go, you are going to get hurt. So, if you want to show off and force yourself to come onto lotus when your hips aren’t open, your knees are gonna get the brunt of it, and oops, there went your meniscus. (Yeah, not fun. Again, take it from me.) So always be present, stay with in the four corners of your mat and stop trying to compete, show off and/or do something that is not right for your body. Every body is different, and every body’s body is different every day. So the next time you get on your mat, please become present, aware and loving. Love your self and the body you have in exactly the place it happens to be at this very moment. You may never be able to put both legs behind your head, but if you are able to let your attachment to that pose go, and really enjoy the breath and the intention of your practice, then you will benefit from your practice a million times more than if you spent 5 hours panting and moaning and damming it all to hell and forcing both legs to do what they cannot or will not at that particular time.

Ok, hope this helped shine a light where once the darkness of rumor resided.

Namaste

The "Approval" Complex Paradox


A random thought distracted me during my practice this morning. I was trying to bring my hands to touch in supta kurmasana, when I thought, “man, I can’t wait to get this pose right and post it on Facebook” ugh, yuck!, my breath caught and I almost got stuck as a “kurma” for life. So I took a deep inhale, let that particular attachment go and moved through what remained of my practice, but I felt I had come to a pretty awesome self-realization, and I needed to write it down. So here we go:
Ok, I admit it; I like logging onto Facebook and discovering how many people "like" my posts and pictures. Yes I am fully embarrassed by this but lets face it, we are all in the same boat. Unless you don't use Facebook, in which case, kudos to you, although; chances are you are still seeking approval from others elsewhere in life, and that is perfectly normal.
See, as humans we have this “approval complex" thing going. (no, not a medical term as far as I know; just for the record) From a very young age, we seek our parent’s approval, our sibling’s approval, our friend’s approval, and even the approval of strangers.
And I am not saying this is wrong and that we all need to stop caring what other people think about us completely, because, lets face it, that is not very realistic. [Even those who say they are doing x, y or z precisely because they don’t care what people think; are doing x, y or z to prove to someone that the “don’t care”]
After all, that’s why we dress nicely, and wear makeup or get our hair done. And yes, this is also a big reason why we log on to Facebook to begin with; is it not? So we can share who we are with others and get some form of approval from them as to who we are; as if their approval was the one and only thing able to fully determine our worth, and that’s where the true problem lies.
If we allow ourselves to go through life putting more stock into what people’s opinions are about who we are, than into what we believe or know about ourselves and our true worth; then we get caught up in a dangerous lie that can only lead to heartbreak, disappointment and, yes, you guessed it, attachment.
I see this more clearly today because it dawned on me how much our need for approval has seeped into every part of our lives, from the way we express ourselves to the way we look and even; dare I say this? Our yoga practice!
Looking back it actually is very interesting how all of a sudden, a person’s ability to execute a beautiful asana properly in the middle of Times Square has become more of a sign of admiration and respect than the actual knowledge, devotion, dedication and commitment the person has to the YOGA, not just the asana.
Now, am I saying that every person who posts pictures of an awesome pose anywhere on earth (yours truly included here by the way because I do this all the time) is a bad person? No! Heck no! Matter of fact, I love seeing these pictures; they inspire me and make me smile, so by all means keep them coming. The real problem is the fact that some people are using these images as a way to prove to the world that they are good enough, worthy enough, and in some extreme cases, better than.
And it is an “attachment” deriving from our need for approval, and in some cases (like me, for instance) it can be a crutch to help boost a person’s self esteem from time to time.
And, yes, I know, some of you are saying, sure, but Facebook is really just a great promotional tool that also helps to connect you with people across the globe, and I am only sharing my love for the practice and the asana with the world; but be honest, how happy are you when all of a sudden a thought you posted or a picture you uploaded has a billion likes and just as many comments telling you how awesome you are. Or, how often do you find yourself judging other’s comments, actions, or pictures.
Yeah, admit it, we are all a little vain, a little egocentric, a little insecure and yes a little too focused on gaining people’s approval.
And as stated before; this is ok, its part of who we are, part of our human nature, and I am at the top of the list here, by the way.
Being the lovely brat that I am, of course I seek approval and praise constantly, after all, this is “Sapha land” and the “Sapha show” should play and be loved by all 24/7 right?
WRONG!
Ok inner brat, time to have a little chat.

Time to look in the mirror one more time and realize you are enough.
Your own love and approval and "like" are plenty, in fact, they are all you need. So stop putting your ego first, and instead, treat yourself with all the love, respect and admiration you have searched for from others for so many years. 

Yes, it is super nice to know those around us like, love and yes even approve of who we are; but it is even nicer when all this love comes from with in. See, the moment you start approving of who you are, that is the moment when no matter what someone says or does to try to put you down, it no loner holds any power over you. 

Now how amazing is that?
Can you simply be in the moment with out seeking approval? And can you love the part of yourself that still needs some attention while at the same time allowing all love, attention and approval to come from with in as well as from others?

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” –Mark Twain

“You can search the entire universe and not find a single being more worthy of love than you.” – Buddha

“With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world.” - Dalai Lama

Ground Down, Open Up and Listen


I think it is safe to say all men on earth and all women too, actually, have experienced one or more variations of the scenario bellow:

Man: Were you wearing those jeans yesterday?
Woman: Are you calling me dirty?!
Man: What? No, I…
Woman: Oh, so you’re saying I’m fat…
Man: … what the…
Woman:. …you’re calling me fat because you know these are my “fat” jeans and I have been wearing them a lot lately….
Mam: … actually….
Woman: …. well if I have gained weight it is your fault!
Man: huh?
Woman: You are always taking me out to these restaurants and making me eat like a pig, so it is your fault I put on weight! And for the record, I know how fat I am ok, so you don’t need to bring it up!
Man: (inner dialogue) wtf! I actually like those jeans on her…. Crazy!

Admit it, we have all, at one point or another jumped to conclusions.
We have basically “heard” what the other person said from an ungrounded, closed off point of view.
We have allowed our selves to believe the lie that everyone is out to get us, regardless of who they may be, so when we are having a conversation that is not “safe” (like not talking about the tv shows we watch or how Brad and Angie are so cute together) we automatically enter the conversation prepared to attack should the need arise.
We have believed for so long that everything is about us and that people are always out to get us, criticize us, and undermine us, that we have started to believe this lie and have taken the unconscious decision to enter honest conversations ready for combat when in reality, there is no war to be waged, only listening to be done.
I am the very best at this. I am the top fighter and the top assumer out there. Sure, a lot of it stems from my ego, as it constantly tells me the world revolves around me and all comments, thoughts, conversations or actions are about me, and therefore, when someone cuts me off while driving, it isn’t that they are not paying attention or are in a rush to get wherever, it is a personal attack on me, and so, my mind goes, “that *^%##, he/she totally cut me off on purpose!” or if I go to dinner and someone glances in my direction more than once, I think, “Do I look ugly? Why are they staring at me? They are totally criticizing me” while all the while, people are allowed to look wherever they want, including the television set behind my head, and yeah, even my lovely self, and think or say whatever they want. Of course, as stated in a previous blog, if I feel judged, it is because I am judging others myself, but I digress.
The other part to this situation, is that, because we have so many thoughts, assumptions, anticipations and pre-conceived notions about life running though our heads on a daily basis, we tend to allow ourselves to become scattered, and ungrounded. We forget to take a moment to breath and really ground down, and instead, we allow a parade of thoughts to prance through our brains at any given time, in absolute chaos.
So it is no wonder when someone asks about the weather, we jump down their throats. We have allowed ourselves to get caught in the stream of ideas and in doing so, we have cut off our ability to listen and understand what the other person (who also has their ungrounded self to deal with mind you) is truly trying to say to us.
We have also become completely closed off. Try to become aware of your physical self the next time you are in a heated conversation. What I have noticed is, my body will tense up, my shoulders will rise to meet my ears, my arms will cross and my fists will contract, as if ready to punch someone. These are all physical manifestations of an internal state. When you have allowed yourself to become so completely closed off to any kind of input from other people in fear that you are being attacked, you allow yourself to go a step further, and close off outwardly as well, and this reaction, triggers the same kind of closed off, aggressive reaction in others, because now they feel threatened; and so the cycle continues.
So what we need to work on, and I am at the top of the list here, is grounding down, opening up, and listening. Truly listening, not assuming we know what is being said, because nine times out of then, we do not.
I find that my body, mind and spirit learn lessons together, and so, what I have been doing to better comprehend this little tid-bit has been spending lots of time working on opposing forces on the mat. I have been working on rooting down while at the same time opening up, which feels like two opposing actions, but when combined, can bring forth an incredible array of freedom and opportunity.
At the same time, it is important to be able to take these lessons off the mat, so I am trying to find a way to ground down when I am feeling adrift in a sea of assumption, anticipation, judgment, and disconnect.
It isn’t easy, and it can sometimes feel a little strange and off-putting (like grounding down through the legs as you stand at the top of your mat and at the same time goal post your arms to find a deep, grounded back-bend) but it is necessary because conversations are critical to our interactions with others. And if we don’t find some time to ground down, and release our “stories” about what is being said, while at the same time opening up to the possibility that no one is out to get us and that what is being said is not meant as an attack; we will never be able to listen properly, and we will be adrift, closed off and in constant strife with those around us.
What if, the next time you were having a conversation that was being taken over by your stories, you took a second to take a breath, ground down (a.k.a let go of what you think is being said and instead pay attention to what is being said with out assigning meaning to it) and open up (meaning, allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough in a conversation that your immediate reaction is not to attack or defend your self but to pay attention and receive the true intention of what the other person is saying to you) and finally listen to what is being said.
How much nicer would your conversation be? How many arguments, or fights would you prevent? How much happier would you and everyone around you be?
Will it be easy, heck no! the best things in life never are. Will you forget? Sure! You are human and you can not help but become ungrounded every now and then, but, if you can begin to at least become aware of the fact that you are ungrounding, closing off and not listening, then you would have at least taken a step in the right direction. And the more you practice, the better you will become at it, and the more you will be able to listen. And who knows, maybe there will come a day where you will no longer go to your story mode, maybe there will come a day when you automatically ground, and open and listen.
Until then, practice, practice, practice.

Namaste

When it Rains, Open


I have discovered something interesting about my practice, well, ok, I should say, I have discovered yet another interesting aspect to my practice, because lets face it, there are too many lessons to be learned on the mat, and each one is a powerful gift. This new little gem I have uncovered is the ability to open up when the storm is at it’s worst.
You see, I have noticed a pattern in my teaching; whenever the weather is gloomy, rainy, and even torrential, most people, my self-included will desperately want to curl up under the covers and disappear for a while. And it is a natural response, but the funny thing is that every single time the weather has been “unpleasant” while I have had the honor of teaching somewhere, I have refused to teach comforting, safe, or sheltered poses (a.k.a no child’s pose, no kurmasana, no happy baby, you get the idea)
It is not that I don’t like these poses, because quite frankly, I think I could live in most of them forever, especially in kurmasana, and be perfectly content. I don’t actually know if I can’t explain where the feeling came from, but from the very first time I was blessed to teach during a rainy day, I knew what my students really needed was the opposite from what they wanted. So, I have gotten into the habit of teaching loads of heart openers, hip openers, shoulder openers and core related poses to my students on these days.
The initial response from most students is that of resistance. They all tense up when they hear the words hips, shoulders and heart because at that moment all they really want to do is be safe, and comfortable. The last thing they are looking for is a confrontation with the “self” (which is very common in these poses, especially all the hip openers) nor are they seeking release. No, all they want is a nice hot cup of hot cocoa and a movie to watch as they curl up under their beds and wait for the “storm” to pass.
But no such luck in my class little yogis, all I have done during these days is bring you up close and personal to all those little things you need to let go of in order to grow and bloom like the lovely little lotus flowers that you are.
You may think this is rather cruel of me, and considering my previous statement (where I confess I have no clue where this impulse comes from) you may also think I am a tad delusional and probably need to spend less time meditating and more time grounding down to earth and reality. However, you would be wrong.
I am not torturing my students, nor am I seeking to get them to (please excuse this horrid choice of words, as I know they are revolting) “get their work out in” (ew, I absolutely hate saying those words when it comes to yoga… eek… but, back to the topic at hand). I am, in fact, doing quite the opposite.
I am seeking ways to allow my students to really make a body/mind/spirit connection. And as a result, I am trying to break them out of their comfort zone and allow them to view the world from a different angle, because, lets face it, the world never looks quite as resplendent or awesome as it does when you have seen it though fresh eyes. And the thing about being able to see the world through fresh eyes is that you are unable to do so when you have been staring at the same thing, from the same spot, for years, and years.
That is where the gloom comes in, because the truth is, if all our life was filled with sunshine and rainbows, we would never in a million years be able to see anything differently. We would never be able to grow or learn, we would take things for granted and imagine that our perspective was all that existed and mattered in this world. If all we had in our lives was sunshine, lollipops and unicorns, then we would be stuck in lame, closed off and safe limbo for life. We would have no reason to do hip, heart, or shoulder releasing asanas, all we would do all day would be comfort and ground and rest. What kind of boring, stuck on first gear life would that be?
I know, I know, it seems like I am over exaggerating but think about how amazing your trials and tribulations are. Think about how horrible the earth would be with no rain, with no thunder, no chaos, no chance for regeneration and rebirth and order and creation.
How horrible would it be for you to never learn a lesson, to never be able to say, I have discovered something new about myself and my world because of my trials and tribulations, and have become a better being for it.
If we were closed off to our trials and tribulations, if all we did was run away from them and hide and seek shelter when the going got tough, instead of riding out the storm and learning to grow from all that seems to be so horrible in our lives, where would we be? Who would we be?
We have to find that balance in our lives, we have to be able to say, this hurts, this is terrifying, this makes me want to cry and scream and run for the hills, but I will be open to the fact that it is necessary and it is changing me for the better.
We cannot get stuck in the mud when things are unpleasant. We cannot become a lovely lotus flower if all we do is dig deeper into the mud. We cannot get stuck and trapped and we cannot give up just because it is too painful to keep going, or because the storm is so daunting we think we will never survive it.
What if every person who ever had his or her heart broken remained stuck in that pain forever? What if all they did day after day, year after year was mull over the pain, and cower at the thought of it becoming worse or replicating? What if no one ever realized that enduring tragedy was an opportunity for greatness, or that remaining open to all that surrounds us, scares us, and sometimes even hurts us was a beautiful gem in disguise.
If we stay closed off to all that life brings us, be it good, seemingly bad, joyful, painful, exhilarating or terrifying, we would never in a million years be able to say that we are alive. Because life is not all pink, life is all shades of light and dark, and everything in between. With out bitterness, all the sweetness in the world would be meaningless, with out rain no amount of sunshine would ever be worth taking in. And with out strife, and pain, and fear, life would have absolutely no joy, no courage, no passion, no inspiration, no love, it would be devoid of it all, and it would not be life, it would be nothing.
So, why do I take my students on a journey of opening when it is raining and all they want to do is seek comfort? Because comfort does not engender growth. Comfort, leaves no room for faith, or courage, or playfulness. Comfort only leads back to where it started, it does not move, it does not breathe life into you, it just makes you feel relatively safe right where you were when you started your journey.
And the loveliest part about these classes is that at the end of their journey, the students are able to leave the studio lighter, more radian and more alive than when they came in. They become able to look the storm in the eye, open up to whatever it may bring (with out letting the storm push them down) and blossom just a little bit more.
So now the question becomes, can you take that off the mat? Can you remember to open up when things are gloomy? Can you allow your self to bloom?
It won’t be an easy process, I can promise you it will be tough, and there will be times when opening up may be so tough, you may not manage it, but if you can remember to try to open up, even the littlest bit, you will have already made a huge change, and you will be just a tad more alive and a tad more free than you would have been, had you remained in your comfort zone.

 NAMASTE



Invert Your Fears


As a child, I was the typical kid who lived life in a constant state of terror. You know the kind of kid I’m talking about, that little kid who always refuses to try new things, climb trees, do cart-wheels, stand on their head, ride roller-coasters, play sports, etc. The kind of kid who spends most of his or her time reading a book or, gulp, watching television. (Yes, I know, I know, I spent most of my childhood watching movies and television shows, but hey, I was terrified of the world, cut me some slack…. And lets be completely honest here, I am very into stories so don’t expect me to put those books or movies down anytime soon…ahem, I digress…)
Yup, that little wimp was me. In fact, that little wimp is still me in so very many ways.
Not that I don’t enjoy a good roller-coaster now-a-days or that I can’t fathom the idea of trying something new; but, in falling in love with my yoga practice I have discovered a plethora of things that I am still terrified of.
And since the list is too long for one blog, lets begin by focusing on one big, huge terrifying element in my life.
INVERSIONS.
Yup, those wonderful inversions that so many relish, adore and master in a matter of what may seem like mere seconds, make my heart race, my breath shorten, my stomach tighten, and my palms sweat quite a bit.
As a matter of fact, putting myself upside down on and off the mat has been quite the challenge for me. But I think I am beginning to see the value of it little by little.
For starters, putting yourself upside down every now and then can do miracles for your body. There have been plenty of studies and articles detailing the many wonderful things that can come from simply allowing yourself to be upside down for a while.
In the practice of yoga, we notice that, when done properly, and with awareness, people who practice inversions experience a number of benefits. People who normally can’t to relax find a great release when placing themselves upside down, some people experience relief in their backs, some others feel energized, and some others feel an increase in clarity (due to the increased blood flow to some essential glands and cells in the brain).
Inversions are believed to increase the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and lymphatic systems, and they are also attributed with keeping people looking young in some cases.
Either way you look at it, inversions can do wonders for your body. But what is truly astounding to me is the way inversions can help change you from the inside.
As I stated earlier, putting yourself upside down every now and then can do miracles for your body, but (as I have experienced in my own practice) they can also do miracles on a psychological, and even an emotional level.
It is said that one who can learn to master sirsasana (headstand) can learn to conquer his or her fears. The first time I read this, I immediately ran to my mat and attempted the king of all poses. Sure, I ended up slamming down onto the floor, but I felt so joyous at the fact that I had attempted such a feat, me the fearful child, that it didn’t matter to me.
The second my feet were above my head (before I slammed into the ground, of course) I knew that I was ready for a change. I knew, somehow, that I was going to look fear in the eye, and gently push right past it.
And so, heart pudding, breath catching, palms sweating, and stomach knotting up, I tried once more. And I continued to try day after day, month after month, year after year, until one day, up I went, and up I stayed. I was so excited, I ran to get my camera (I had to document the triumphant moment in case the little yogic fairies decided to come in the middle of the night and take my new super power away form me) set the automatic timer, and assumed sirsasana pose until my heart was content.
Ever since then, I have noticed just how big of a mental and emotional achievement this was for me. Sure, I needed to work on arm and core strength, along with some breath control and leg control, but for me, the real challenge was to actually allow myself to look past the fear (fear of injury, fear of pain, fear of inadequacy, fear of humiliation, fear of abandonment, etc) and simply trust that I would survive it all.
And the bigger challenge was to allow that lesson to transfer off my mat and into my daily life. It was a learning game. A game where every time my feet were up in the air, where they are “not meant” to be, I could take some time to think of how differently my world would look like if I stopped putting it in a box. If I stopped judging and making assumptions and anticipating.
Every inversion brought about a new opportunity to see myself under a different light, a chance to change my perspective of my entire universe, and so, I fell in love with inversions. Until I met Adho Mukha Vrksasana (headstand) and this inversion had a whole new set of fears attached to it. Fear of falling, fear of breaking my nose, fear of not being good enough, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of self-sacrifice, and on and on. And every time I practice Adho Mukha Vrksasana, though not yet mastered, I am receiving a gift; a chance to begin to heal and change all kinds of fears with in me. Fears I am aware of, and fears still unknown. But I am able to approach them all gently, and move right past them, one at a time. And it is all because I was willing to look at my universe in an unconventional way.
Are you willing to change your perspective?
  
“Maybe the only thing each of us can see is our own shadow…” “… Not the exact image, but everything reversed or upside down.”
Chuck Palahniuk

“The world is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up. "
  Billy Sunday

Choose to Transform Into a State of Gratitude



Having spent the last week and a half dealing with knee issues and back issues, I have come to the not so subtle realization of the following truths about myself:

1.     I am a master complainer. Honestly, you name the topic, I am complaining about it.
2.     I really need to learn how to become less attached

Lets address the second point first.
Working on letting go of attachments is a difficult topic, and a challenge for all humans. However, it is also incredibly necessary in order to be completely happy. The more you “attach” to things, the more miserable you become (i.e. the more I attached to the asana practice, the more frustrated and miserable I became when faced with the fact that for a while, asana would have to be minimal to non-existing until I was done healing properly)
And the reason for my attachment to my asana practice, comes from the attachment to the joyous feeling I get when I realized that I (the girl who never really did anything physical for fear of ridicule, or pain) have finally been able to, over the past few years, become active, and dare I say it? Athletic…. Yikes! Even writing it down gives me a little bit of a thrill.
So, since I have become attached to this notion, and feeling, the cessation of asana made me miserable for the first few days. 
Thankfully, my lovely teacher reminded me that “being sad about not being able to practice asana is an attachment that only causes suffering”. So, I took a deep breath, let go of all my attachments regarding my asana practice, and was finally able to rest. And I confess it made a huge difference in how I felt. 
I was no longer sulky and miserable, but peaceful and receptive.
I was able to look at the situation differently and enjoy the fact that for a few days, I got a chance to meditate and work on my pranayama more than I normally do.
I was free to sleep in a bit longer, and use props to restore when I finally began to move again.
In other words, the choice I had made to release my attachment had made me free. 
Am I saying that I will never ever become attached to anything or anyone ever again? Nope, I am not perfect, I know I will continue to attach, but I also know I have the choice to let go and grow from that attachment.

As for the first point, the one about me being a huge complainer, well, that was a lovely discovery as well. And it all began a seemingly annoying morning; when, having noticed some improvement on my knees and back, I decided to hit the mat, (gently, of course).
Now, I have known for years that restorative classes are not my faves, but also, that they are very necessary, so I have been making a conscious effort to incorporate them into my practice at least once or twice a month, however, it is a struggle for me. 
Most of the time I am fighting back at every turn, and yup, you guessed it, I am internally complaining about stuff the whole time. 
That was actually what caught my attention this week.
I had spent about 8 minutes of a 10 minute supine, supported asana hold internally complaining about my legs, and how broken I felt. I went through a mental list of things that were wrong with me and then proceeded to list out things I hated about all different aspect of my life. It was around minute 8 (I could tell because my little timer had dinged for the eight time) that I started to internally complain about how unlucky I was for having knee trouble and suddenly realized what I was doing.
My breath got caught up, literally, and I realized I had wasted half my practice doing this very thing. I had been putting myself into poses for over half an hour by this point, and all I had managed to do was complain about things and get more and more frustrated because of it. So I made a conscious decision to stop the negative chatter, and turned it around. 
I thought about all the things I had been complaining about, and began to thank them and send gratitude toward them for being exactly as they should.
I moved through out the rest of the practice breaking little parts of my body down, and thanking them for being as amazing as they are. I thanked my legs, feet, arms, lungs, kidneys, eyes, ears, stomach, butt, heels, nose, mouth, shoulders, etc. Every new pose bought with it a new opportunity to be grateful to my body. And every second brought with it an opportunity to heal all the damage I had done to my very spirit for being such a negative complainer.
Class wrapped up, and the feeling of freedom, and joy that came over me during savasana was incredible. In fact, I can’t really even put it into words, all I can say is I felt like a new person, and I loved it.
So, I have been practicing off the mat to bring this same intention of gratitude out whenever I can hear or feel the negative complaint being born in me again. 
It has been a challenge, and just as with the attachment, I know that I will complain about something sometime because, yes, I am human, and yes, I can sometimes forget and get carried away. But just as before, I know that I have a choice. I can choose to complain about x,y or z, or I can choose to be grateful for those things in my life. 
Because if I am grateful for it all. The good, the seemingly bad, and the in-between, then I am truly experiencing life to the fullest.

“Choose to transform your complaint into a state of gratitude, then step back and watch how it changes your life.”

NAMASTE

Share in the Dance Little Gopies

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About a year ago, I heard one of my favorite yoga teachers narrate a beautiful love story before class; and the story has been in my mind and soul ever since.
The story talks about Krishna and Rama, as they dance through the forest and it embodies all their love and devotion for one another. The story also speaks about the dance that Krishna and Rama shared with the gopies (also known as cow headers) of the little town near by, and how completely wrapped in bliss they all were until the little gopies started to notice that they were all sharing in this joy, and got jealous; wanting to dance with Krishna all by them selves, no sharing allowed. The story then proceeds to describe how Krishna takes Rama with him and together, they live in bliss while the gopies are forced to go back home and recognize the fact that they all need to share in the dance always, and not be selfish, and the fact that if they are open to grace and love, and stay present moment to moment, their shared and personal dance with Krishna need never disappear.
And that was just it, the aspect of the story that really made me think, and that stuck with me for months and months. See I was struck by the love story, but it was the fact that at a very human level, we all tend to be little jealous gopies that really struck me.
And this fact, though very, very human, is also kind of ridiculous. See, on some level, when we are happy, we can sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, resent those who are also sharing in this dance of happiness with us. 
This is a very odd and disconcerting aspect of human beings, but never the less, I find it to be true. Just this morning, in fact I was listening to a radio host go on and on about how the fact that her best fiend was getting engaged as she was finishing her wedding preparations robbed her of complete joy. She felt offended that her friend's fiancé hadn't had the "presence of mind" (interesting use of words by the way) to wait until her wedding was over to propose to her friend! I mean she was livid! Her thunder had apparently been stolen, and she felt as though she had gone from being the belle of the ball, all eyes on her, to "oh, yeah, and she is getting married too"
I mean, I am sorry but I couldn't stop myself from laughing. Not because I thought the DJ was such a loser, but because I could relate to what she was saying. Oh admit it, we can all relate. I mean, how many times have you hear a story like this? Or how many times have you, your self felt this way? I know I have been here before, and yes, I am a little embarrassed by it, but I also realize it was a very human reaction, and I can learn to see it as a part of me. No, people, do not freak out, I am not saying it is ok or that it should become a constant thing, all I am saying is that I see it, and I can now start to work on it. You know, learning to be present with your self, good, bad, ugly and in between so you can grow and shine more and more every day, yeah, that’s the kind of acceptance I found through this story about my gopie self. 
It's such a weird reaction to me, but this kind of thing happens all the time, and it only causes more and more pain, frustration, heartache, and dissatisfaction. Think about it. When was the last time that glaring at your "model" girlfriend for being so darn beautiful helped you feel better? Or the last time that wishing to be the only center of attention truly fulfilled you?
Are we so self-absorbed that all we can think about is being the one and only happy human being on earth? Have we become so ridiculously competitive that we think it is ok for our children to compete in "beauty pageants" at age 3 and then be crushed when they don't win the "grand" prize, when they could be a billion times happier playing together? When did it become the norm to begrudge someone for getting x,y or z at the same time, before or after us? Why can't we just be happy for everyone else as well as for our selves?
Imagine how amazing it would be to just embrace the fact that we are all living life the very best we know how to, and that we can all, in the midst of all the craziness that comes with living, can be happy at the exact same time! I mean, c’mon! How incredibly awesome is it to realize that right at this moment, a billion other people are laughing, rejoicing, and loving just as deeply, and purely as you are. Doesn’t that give you goose bumps? Doesn’t it make you feel excited to know that we, who are in fact all one, are all capable of joy, and contentment, and love, and so much more, all at the very same time. And that the world as you know it will not implode just because you aren’t the sole person on earth to be happy?!
Well, heck, this makes me super happy, and I hope we can one day all share in this dance as one, with out begrudging the fact that we are all in it together.

OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI OM

Do Not Anticipate


By now, I think you have all heard me say time and time again, how much yoga has changed my life and how grateful I am for all that I have learned, and yet, the really beautiful thing about life and about yoga, is that we never stop learning, we never stop growing and we are never ever above change.
The last few weeks, I have been learning something new in my yoga practice and in my life in general. It began one morning as I moved through the primary series. This series and I have had a love hate relationship in the past, but today, I am head over heels, madly in love with my ashtanga practice, and I thank God every day for it.
But this particular morning, as I moved from pose to pose, I began to notice something. I wasn’t counting fully to five and then moving to the next pose, I was breathing and counting to 4, and when I knew that 5 was coming, I began to transition to the next asana. I tried to remedy it and continue, and just as I had made it to the floor for dandasana, I realized, I was thinking way ahead. I was in dandasana, my bandhas were engaged, and the breath and gaze were steady, but my mind was skipping ahead to the next couple of poses. I inhaled and lifted my chin up, and took a second before moving into the first forward fold and decided to change something. I was going to change my anxiety of the poses to come into presence of mind. The problem was, it was easier said than done.
When my practice ended, and I went on with the rest of my day, I decided to try to stay present and stop anticipating. So, the day started out great, and before you know it, a sharp pain on my toe indicated that I would be in need to go to the foot doctor; and all my intention of non-anticipation, went out the window.
Exactly a year ago, I had been forced to pay a visit to the foot doctor due to a hugely embarrassing, can’t believe it happened to me, ingrown toe-nail. (yes, you can go right ahead and think it, YUCK! And for those of you who have been, ahem, blessed enough to experience this your selves, yes, OUCH!)
So, subconsciously, I began to do exactly what I have been training my poor body to do in these circumstances, I panicked with the full on fear of anticipation.
My palms got sweaty, I entered a stage of denial and I ignored the poor toe for a few more days, sustaining, though knowing better, that this was only a mild infection, and it would heal if I kept soaking it and cleaning it every day. However, by the 4th day, the true concern and reality of it all set in. I asked my dear mother and sister in-law about it, and they both said it might be time, then I asked one of my dearest yoga teachers, and she said much the same, so; I resigned my self to the fact that this was happening. No more hiding the truth little me, it was time to make a call.
And so I did. I called the doctor, and made an appointment, and began to panic internally because I knew what was going to happen, and I knew how much it was going to hurt, I was in full anticipation mode, and full story mode (you know, that place where you tell your self something is so just because you have perceived it to be so in the past; like thinking that just because you stubbed your toe on your mom’s end table once, it will keep happening if you so much as look at the darn thing; that story mode)
So, the day went by and I kept trying to breathe, and meditate and focus on my practice, but the second I stopped meditating, or ended my practice, the reality set in again, and I began to panic all over again.
The morning of the consult, I did some restorative to calm my nerves and headed over to the doctor’s office with my mom (I told you I knew what was coming, and heck, I wanted backup). As soon as the nurse took a look at my toe she had a look in her eye that said, “oh, you poor girl, here you go again” and my heart sank to the floor. Then the doctor came in, and with out even inspecting the toe in a detailed manner, announced, the nail is in-grown, it must come out. So, she sits down, and before she even touches my foot, I begin to get light headed. My body was frozen, my mind, and soul, trapped by a memory of the same doctor performing the same surgery on the same toe a freaking year ago! In my mind, the pain was already there, and so, when she finally began, all the memories of the pain, plus the actual pain of what was happening and what had happened seemed to meld together in a perfect symphony of real and fabricated pain that culminated with my embarrassing near fainting.
My mom was worried, the doctor had to help me lie down, the nurse gave me some water and put some cold compresses on my neck and forehead while studiously pointing out how pale I was, and then, it hit me. I had sabotaged myself in this moment, much the same way I had been sabotaging myself while practicing a few mornings back.
Except, instead of anticipating breaths and asanas, I was anticipating pain; so when what was happening in the moment happened, I had dragged a pre-conceived notion of what it was going to be like with me and made things a hundred times worse than they needed to be.
As the doctor sat there telling me I should never even think about having children because I probably will never be able to handle the pain (hey! Don’t anticipate on my behalf lady haha) I began to ponder (funny how after I started doing yoga these little cathartic moments and lessons are just so clear to me form time to time) and look back on certain things in my life, and I began to realize how adept I had become in the art of anticipation.
As a child, if I ever took a tumble, I would anticipate a repeat, and would therefore, be extra cautious, and, honestly a scardy cat about it, and most likely avoid that thing again (which is why it took me so long to learn how to ride a bike, and why I have not been rollerblading in years)
Then, I started to create stories in my head, and think them to be facts about life, so, some kids in school shunned me for being fat; but the second I drastically lose weight due to a triple case of salmonella (yup, not fun to come close to death either) I am queen of the school? So in my mind, I made up this story that therefore, being fat was evil, and I needed to find a way to remain thin forever; no matter the cost, lest I be shunned again. Also, due to the salmonella, I became quite scared of stomach related issues. I was in such a state of anticipation about the whole thing repeating again, that I thought a small case of whatever meant death; and so I was super terrified to ever get any kind of stomach problem. (I am over that now, but you get the idea)
A tragedy happened, and I would tell myself (subconsciously) to anticipate the same outcome every time should something similar even hint at happening again.
My heart was broken, and I decided all relationships would end badly; but was proven wrong thanks to the amazing love my husband has provided. Seriously, I anticipated things to be so terribly wrong in the end, that he had to fight for me for years before I became present to the fact that our love was solid and we were going to be ok.
[Think; can you see this happening in your life? Have you been through something and then kept anticipating the same exact result in an entirely different moment and/or time?]
So, the doctor finished and I went home feeling silly and decided to make it an even bigger point to become present and stop anticipating, both in life and in my practice.
So, the very next day, when I unrolled my mat and began my practice, I became aware of the anticipation, kindly patted it in the head, and pushed it aside, and remained present. I started with the little things, like fear that the toe would hurt if I did x, y or z; instead of fearing and anticipating this, I gently moved through the practice, and through each breath and pose moment to moment, if something hurt, I would adjust in that moment, not before. I would not think 3 or 4 poses ahead, but instead, took to holding certain poses longer than usual (like warrior 2 for about a minute and so on) and to not anticipating the exit of the pose but experience all the sensations that the pose brought forth, all of them, happy and comfy as well as intense and shaky.
And honestly, this little practice of cutting anticipation off before it becomes a full on panic attack, and the presence of mind that come with practicing and trying to live this way as much as possible have made a huge difference in my life.
It is always said to live moment to moment, and you can say this all day long, but until you can find a way to gently stop anticipating; the presence of the moment will elude you. You have to be able to let go of the past and future influences and open up one hundred percent to the present moment in order to love, live, and exist fully.

"You got to let go of the stuff from past - because it just doesn't matter! The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now." PO Kungfu panda 2