Saturday, June 18, 2011

This is my note from this week's LA YOGA Newsletter...


Amanda stood at the sandwich counter with a firm look in her face, gazing at me.

“But wait,” I said. “I’ve been coming here for ten years and I always order the same thing.”

“Even more reason to choose the Cabrese today,” she continued, undeterred. “Pesto, fresh tomato. And it’s perfect with avocado.”


“You can’t always get the same thing. And if you don’t like it, go back to your usual next time.”

You may be able to guess what happened next. I liked it. Of course anything with pesto and avocado and toasted bread is hard for me not to like.

My exchange with Amanda was one of those reminders of how easy it is to slip into autopilot, to live in an endless cycle of wash, rinse, repeat, without always questioning the sequence or the outcome.

Yet life asks of us to shake it up, to order something else off the menu, or to move in and out of the poses in an unfamiliar way, as we did in class this morning when the request of one of my students was, “To do something new.”

It’s a dance we do in life, partnering the familiar with the unfamiliar, the old and the new, the comfortable and that which stretches our boundaries, remaining still and soaring through the air. And it is the breath that mediates the moves. Sometimes we need support, a cheering section, an Amanda behind the counter, our teachers and students to remind us.

Now I just have to order something other than the veggie burger with the works and kelp noodle salad at the Golden Mean.

Change happens one meal at a time, mindfully. And every day, every Friday, every breath, we have the opportunity to pause and ask ourselves, “Are we on autopilot?” and “How am I making this choice?"

Because, of course, change just for the sake of change is not the answer either.

Monday, April 04, 2011

It's been a while since I posted here. Life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately, a shamanic journey of fevers, and cleaning and moving and seismic shifts.

Here's my note from this week's LA YOGA newsletter.

As we enter April 1, I’m in the midst of moving—still, it seems. Sometimes we don’t do things until we have to—until the deadline is looming, until the pressure is on, until we must make a shift or a change. The rising temperature of the fire is sometimes necessary to burn off the old detritus from our lives and make room for the new.

I’m reminded of a quote I often hear my friend Sean Johnson say, that is attributed to Joseph Campbell, “You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” It is so true.

May we all have courage to dive into the life that is waiting for us!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Here's a recent note I wrote for the LA YOGA newsletter. Something this morning made me think about it again, so I thought I'd post it to this blog. Whether we're in class, or pouring coffee or serving tea, how are we practicing Yoga?

You don’t have to be a Yoga teacher, in a studio, with a mat, to really teach Yoga or to embody the practice. I was reminded of this recently when out to breakfast at one of my usual haunts, where I typically meet a girlfriend for spicy cinnamon tea and the early bird special. We always have the same waitress. She always remembers what we order and she’s invariably cheery. Not cheery in that dripping with saccharine sticky-sweet, you need a wet washcloth after she talks to you kind of way. But cheery in that redhead early shift here we are, we might as well have fun with it sort of morning tone. I can see her slouching with a cup of coffee, a cupcake, a tilt to her eyebrow, wisecracking.

I don’t know if she practices Yoga formally; I’ve never asked. But I notice, in every morning interaction, the practice embodied.

Christen and I inevitably smile when she comes to our table, takes our order, jokes with us, moves on and repeats. It’s a simple interaction that’s meaningful in its simplicity and sincerity. She’s present, focused, ready with a quip and a smile. And therefore, so are we.

After all, Yoga is the union, it’s the relationship. It’s the interaction that we have with our own breath, our own bodies, and by extension, with everyone in our spheres of influence and interconnection throughout the day.
We can practice Yoga throughout the day, no matter our profession. Whether we’re tending bar, writing computer code, composing music, teaching kids, pumping gas, taking breakfast orders  and so on (you get the idea). And in these interactions, in being present, in the action of practice, with or without a mat, the impact is profound.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My LA YOGA Magazine email newsletter note for the post-Thanksgiving holiday!

With all of the hustle and bustle heading up to a holiday like Thanksgiving, the day after can leave a feeling a bit like having a hangover. There may be the literal or figurative dirty dishes left over in the sink, the afterglow of company well-shared or the tension of explosive or subtle dynamics with which we’re trying to dance. But no matter the aftermath, the messes needing to be cleaned up or the residual smiles of welcome surprises, the antidote for the hangover feels to me like—more gratitude.

After all, our whole lives contain numerous fortunate events and circumstances, roads taken, instances of saying yes or no—which have brought us to this place in our lives—and to the ability to partake in the practice of Yoga. This fact, along with this day, this sunrise, this breath: these are all things for which our gratitude is meaningful.

We have so much abundance in our lives. When we open our eyes to see it, our hearts to receive it and our hands to share it, we recognize our blessings.

And in this recognition, we can look at how to share our abundance with the people in our lives, both at the center of our inner circles and with the people in our peripheral vision.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

This was my LA YOGA Editor's Note from the July/August, 2010 issue. I received a lot of great feedback and today, Arthur Klein asked me if I have this posted on the web, so I'm posting it today.

We are the yogis on the planet and now is the time that we must practice. (I’ve paraphrased an oft-quoted and sometimes varied line by Erich Schiffmann for this opening.) When I hear him say this, as I did recently, it gives me a moment to pause and think about what it really means.

Right now, there are more people practicing Yoga than there have been at any other point in history, at least that we know. This is probably the case if we also consider the percentage of the population, in addition to sheer numbers of people.

Anyone reading this magazine, or at least this editorial note, probably has some belief in the transformative, centering, healing power of the practice, or at least a curiosity. (Otherwise why would you have even picked this up?) If we believe, the next question to ask ourselves is: Are we practicing? And the next question is to ask ourselves: Are we really practicing?

It’s been a question I’ve been asking myself every day lately. Am I really practicing? Am I practicing beyond my personal time on the mat, beyond sharing space with others in class, teaching, chanting, meditating or praying? Am I really practicing? Am I taking the time to pause before I react? Am I treating others with respect? Am I choosing love over fear? Am I following through on my word? Am I paying attention to my family, friends, coworkers, students, clients, people I meet in line at the market? Am I being mindful in the kitchen, on the road? How am I participating in the world we all create?

As the oil continues to spill in the Gulf, are we all really practicing? What choices are we making as we shop, drive, consume or invest? I believe that there is some part of this tragedy that is confronting us, that dares to ask us where are we unconscious? Where are we just going along with the status quo? How are we perpetuating what came before? In what actions are we riding the momentum of something? What decisions do we make because we are worried about economic factors rather than thinking about how we can shift the very bedrock of our economic assumptions to embrace creativity, and community, to truly taking care of each other and support and value long-term solutions and sustainability rather than short-term profit, exploitation and violent gain?

When I think about our practice and the impact on ourselves, our relationships, our communities and our society, the role of education is profound. This is where introducing our children and young people to self-inquiry and self-respect along with providing tools for utilizing the resilience-increasing, stress-reducing, performance-enhancing techniques that are inherent in the Yoga tradition are all vital to transforming our lives and our culture.

These impressionable years of childhood and the time spent in school make a difference. I can still sing the lyrics of songs popular when I was in high school (popular at least among my group of friends). Years of competitive athletics combined with Yoga and meditation has set the tone for my life decades later.
Throughout the Yoga community, people are putting forth the effort, through curricula, multi-media, teacher training programs and seva to reach young people and find ways to introduce the practice. Abby Wills is one of those, and she speaks to several others in this issue. It still seems to me to be a burgeoning movement, with room for growth, the potential and the need for greater and deeper connections and more ways that we can come up with cohesive efforts to make a difference and to work together. Dare we take the challenge? Dare we practice? After all, as Patanjali says in the first of the Yoga sutras:

Atha Yoganushasanam

Now is the time for us to practice Yoga.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy (Almost Halloween)!

This morning, I taught Yoga at a YMCA where both children and adults were parading in and out in a variety of colorful costumes, cheery and exuberant.

Whether we dress up as a superhero or a villain, our greatest dream, someone’s horrifying nightmare, our alter ego or just another version of ourselves, Halloween gives us permission to look in the mirror with a slightly different view.

The practice of Yoga continually asks us to examine ourselves. Svadhyaya, self-study, is the fifth of the niyamas, the observances outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Self-study helps us to see how we are placing our feet on the Earth, how we are showing up for our day, how we pay attention, how we commit, where we flail and fail and need to pick ourselves back up again.

Whether we wearing a mask, have painted our face so it is unrecognizable or are simply meeting the world as ourselves, our self (both public and private) is composed of many layers, paradoxes, conundrums. Each day that we meditate, get on the mat, become more aware of our breath and dive into the yamas and niyamas, the restraints and observances that are part of the yogic path, we sift through the many-layered manifestation of this body, this breath, this life. And no matter what day of the year we are practicing, may we uncover our self with the joyful abandonment of a trick-or-treater inviting the neighborhood to shower them with sweets.

May we be sweet in our self-study.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We really do have the ability to create our reality: the reality that is here in front of us as well as the opportunity to imagine a new one. The caveat is that this doesn’t just happen within our meditation practice, by repeating mantra (even if it’s a good, juicy, magical, spell-casting, powerful one), through pasting images on a vision board or even by trading lists and ideas and more with an accountability buddy. It doesn’t happen by complaining, or wishing it were so.

We create our reality through our actions. We create the reality we would like to have in the future by playing around with our present.

This begs the question: what are we doing now? More than chanting, meditating or getting on the mat? It’s not that these activities aren’t important. They are, they’re more than that, they’re vital to being on the path, they rejuvenate and revitalize the body, mind and spirit. They allow those of us in the choir to keep singing. And of course, the peace that we do create within ourselves is the only peace any of us can ever really create.

But more than the ripple effect of this peace, what are we doing with it? There are forces within us and without us that are a far cry from peace. There have been shifting movements in this world that have created more pollution, more heartache, more modern-day slavery, more inequalities, more abuses of rights of all kinds. And how are we supporting or rising up against these? We have the opportunity to make a statement about the reality we want to create every time we shop, every time we spend money, every time we make a decision about what to watch and every time we decide how to vote.

We have the opportunity to transform the peace we cultivate within ourselves into positive action with inroads toward greater justice, love and well-being for all. This is our responsibility as those who have been given this gift of Yoga, of this birth, of these teachings, of the opportunities we have, of everything that was handed to us by our human family.

I was reminded of the urgency of this recently in discussions with friends and colleagues as we’re approaching election day on November 2. We have the great privilege of voting in this country, a privilege hard-won by groups of us who were not automatically given that opportunity. We can create our reality, when we participate with love in our hearts and hands.