Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Yoga: I Love Light

November 21, 2016

Whether he is in Japan or back at home, every morning Don wakes up at 4am and does his yoga practice.  At the end of his yoga practice and meditation, he recites the following mantra:

I am a child of light

I love light.

I serve light.

Light is in me

protecting,

illuminating,

supporting,

sustaining.

I am light.

Don was recently on the Japan tour.  One morning I asked him to share the above mantra with us as we did yoga.  Of the 13 full days touring Japan, we, as a group, had 10 sessions of yoga.  As usual, I am unable to take photos when I am teaching.  But luckily,  Jeff (and Karin) got a few good shots!  I only took some of these photos.

The first set of photos were taken on our cycling trip in Kyoto.  That day we had standing yoga in Kameyama Park.  Since we had been cycling all morning, I told everyone not to worry about bringing their yoga mats along.  And since the ground was a fine white pea gravel, we also wore our shoes.  We called the class Standing Yoga.  It felt so good to take in the clean fresh air of Kyoto!

Debby and Marc forming a bridge of friendship.

Debby and Marc forming a Bridge of Friendship.

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France that means Fly With the Wind)

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France which means “Fly With the Wind”)

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody (pant legs tucked in from the bike ride).

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Last shot for the Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we look we belong to a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

Last shot for  Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we belong in a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

See what I mean?

See what I’m saying??

Then we have lots of yoga photos from the first Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn with Hot Springs/Onsen) we stayed at on the island of Shikoku.  The room we had was unbelievable!  It was like a ballroom/atrium combo with glass windows overlooking the city of Takamatsu.  We did yoga in the evening, just before dinner and the city lights made for a dramatic and lovely backdrop to our yoga class.  One more thing: I had access to chairs so we did yoga using chairs.  Amazing what you can do using chairs for yoga!

Camel Pose

Camel Pose (Kim in the foreground)

Forward bends using the chair

Forward bends using the chair

Revolved Triangles!

Revolved Triangles! (Bill in the foreground)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting crocodile

Resting crocodile

Deeply Relaxed!

Deeply Relaxed! (Jeff!)

And photos were also taken at the Buddhist monastery at Mt. Koya.  I think that may have been the best room ever.  The floors were made  of tatami mats. There is a nice sweet grass-like smell that comes with tatami mats, which are made of rush grass.  They are gentle but firm.  The room we practiced in was cavernous.  There were several heaters which kept us warm.  This is a good thing because it was pretty cold on the mountain at night. The monastery had a great feel to it. In the morning we watched the monks chant, pray, and do their fire ceremony.  It was very peaceful and meditative. I think their good energy permeated the yoga space.  And it was quiet. A very quiet room with great acoustics so my voice carried over strongly.

Side stretching

Side stretching

Windmill

Windmill

Trees at the Monastery

Trees at the Monastery

Flip Your Dog!

Flip Your Dog!

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

Boosting the Immune System with Yoga and Wholesome Food

October 19, 2016

I am writing from Japan.  Japan posts soon to start coming (so exciting to be here!), but first a follow up on two fabulous in-city one-day retreats that I just offered with MJ Conboy of MJ’s Plant Smart Kitchen this past weekend.  The retreat’s focus was on building and boosting a strong immune system via yoga asanas and learning a few new recipes espousing a plant-based diet.

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Read on below.  I hope you are able to glean some ideas from this blog post, be inspired by the photos, try the yoga sequence, peruse the cook book titles below, and be inspired by the various readings shared in our retreat.

Plant Based Cook Books:

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Books with recipes based on a plant-based diet:

The Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage

Salad Samurai, 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-To-Make Salads by Terry Hope Romero

Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Coleen Patrick Goudreau

The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

A Grateful Heart, Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles , edited by M. J. Ryan

Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, 150 Pizzas, Pastas, Pestos, Risottos, and Lots of Cremay Italian Classics by Chloe Coscarelli

The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health by Michio Kushi and Alex Jack

the milf diet, Let The Power of Whole Foods Transform Your Body, Mind, and Spirit…deliciously by Jessica Porter

Macrobiotics for All Seasons by Marlene Watson-Tara

Mayumi’s Kitchen, Macrobiotic Cooking for Body and Soul by Mayumi Nishimura

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A yoga sequence for Immune System Boosting:

  • Seated Forward Bend (relaxes the nervous system)
  • Half Spinal Twist (Seated, twists help to cleanse, stimulate and strengthen the internal organs)
  • Dolphin (like downward facing dog, but on your elbows) to an inverted pose balanced on your elbows (can be done at the wall or with your legs walking up the wall) inversions are excellent for bathing and enhancing function of the endocrine system.
  • Uddyana Bandha (standing breathing exercises sometimes called the Abdominal Lift) breathe in through nose and exhale through the mouth while pulling belly in.
  • Sun Salutations
  • Standing Forward Bends (feet together and feet apart)..when in a wide angle forward bend, you can add twists
  • Arches: lying over a block, camel, bow, cobra, upward facing dog, full backbend (some of these were done in pairs with a helper)
  • Seated side bend
  • Shoulder stand—plough—fish pose
  • Block under your upper back (another way to do fish)
  • Legs up the wall (great for movement of the lymphatic fluids, enhances the lymphatic system)

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Yoga helps boost the immune system by reducing stress and strengthening the lungs (with the breathing).  We all know that psychological stress doubles the chance of a person getting a cold!  Yoga practice lowers stress hormones and calms the nervous system.  The fight or flight response is eclipsed by the relax and renew response.  It also helps by optimizing the functions of the following systems:

  • circulatory system
  • lymphatic system
  • respiratory system (the yoga postures help improve mechanical efficiency of our lungs by conditioning them.  With yoga, we increase the elasticity of the lungs and strengthen them)
  • nervous system
  • immune system

Twists specifically increase oxygen to organs for optimal function.  They also cleanse, rid the organs of toxins, and supply the organs and glands with fresh blood supply.  Twists massage the body and internal organs and help us to relax.

Restorative postures, such as lying over a block or bolster, putting legs up the wall, or lying in shavasana, are soothing.  They help us to relax and they also help build vigor!

In addition to the featured poses and breathing pranayama exercise to help boost the immune system, don’t forget to inject these other essential elements into your daily life:

  • LAUGHTER
  • OPTIMISM
  • ENOUGH SLEEP
  • ANY ACTIVITY THAT HELPS YOU RELIEVE STRESS (can be walking, dancing, listening to music, vigorous aerobic exercise, reading, spending time with people you love)
  • EAT WELL (and eat as much of a plant-based diet and non-processed food diet as is possible_

We also shared several readings (below are a few):

“The food movement is about quality of life. What we eat affects how we feel physically and emotionally. How food is grown and processed has an impact on the health of those who eat it. How our food is produced affects the environment, the existence of wildlife, and the size and characteristics of our country’s farms. It also impacts the local and global economies. How we eat affects our ability to interact with others and provide for ourselves, and it influences relationships with friend and families. Eating and preparing food with those we care about provides a much different experience than driving through a fast-food restaurant or eating in one’s car. How we spend our food dollars determines the kind of food system we create, and the health of our farms, families, and communities. As Wendell Berry said, ‘Eating is an agricultural act.’ With the present focus on local food systems, now is the time to vote with our forks, as well as our ballots, and make positive changes in the food system.”

Marion Kalb, Co-founder, National Farm to School Network

OK, the food we made and ate did not have cheese or meat, but I couldn’t help but read this fun poem by Shel Silverstein.  I read it with gusto…You really have to wet your tongue with a bit of olive oil and recite this aloud.  It’s a mouthful:

Italian Food
Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops–I think I split my jeani.

Very exciting was learning how to perfect making Nori Rolls!!

Roll your own! Nori Rolls

Roll your own! Nori Rolls

Got the hang of it. Perfect food to take with you on flights, for travel, or for lunch

Got the hang of it. Perfect food to take with you on flights, for travel, or for lunch

Read to cut

Read to cut

A sharp knife should do the trick of cutting the rolls easily!

A sharp knife should do the trick of cutting the rolls easily!

Macrobiotic Chef MJ Conboy

Macrobiotic Chef MJ Conboy  (So much fun working with her! She brings much nutritional knowledge to the table.)

Wholesome ingredients for making chocolate truffles!

Wholesome ingredients for making chocolate truffles!

Truffles..we also rolled them in cinnamon. Some rolled in cacao powder

Truffles..we also rolled them in cinnamon. Some rolled in cacao powder

Windblown on the rooftop (Saturday's group)!

Windblown on the rooftop (Saturday’s group)!

After the storm (though it was not as much of a storm as was predicted)

After the storm (though-thank goodness- it was not as much of a storm as was predicted)

Sucker Holes and Pure Outdoor Freshness

June 17, 2016

My annual Yoga in the Park classes continue this summer.  Not sure how many years I have been running the classes in the park.  Seventeen years is what comes to mind!  We meet on Tuesdays from 6-7pm during the months of June, July, and August in Meridian Park, Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.

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The first Tuesday of June was the most lovely of evenings, not too hot, not too cool, around 77 degrees.  We were graced with magical breezes and then bursts of calm, yoga under a big blue sky.  People showed up in large numbers and the session felt dreamy.  That was the first Tuesday this summer.

The second Tuesday, however, was different.  The weather called for thunder storms and showers.  And it was rather cool out.  All day, I fretted over the dark clouds, not knowing if I should cancel or hold class.  I’d look up at the brooding sky and sometimes I’d detect a promising patch of blue.  I kept thinking about my father-in-law and how he calls those “promising” patches of blue “sucker holes”!  “They get you every time!  Don’t plan anything anything grand.”  Only a “sucker”, one easily duped by a false promise, would trust those patches of blue!  This is Seattle after all. I know it rained that day in some areas like on Mercer Island, but it did not rain downtown or in Wallingford.

Warriors We Are

Warriors We Are

Well, since I didn’t cancel class, I went to the park in the hopes that at least a few hearty souls would show up.  And, much to my surprise and delight, three people showed up for yoga!  Tina Koyama, sketcher extraordinaire (Tina’s BLOG), also showed up to sketch the class.  Not sure how she managed to sketch us.  It was so cold out that I just kept everyone moving.  No long holds, just keep moving.  And Tina had to capture our moves.  Her hands were cold and, somehow, she had to keep sketching to keep her fingers from stiffening up!  It was 48 degrees out.  By moving, we yogis managed to stay warm-ish!  Like the Tibetan yogis, we used breath to generate heat and prana.  We practiced the yogi’s adage: “The true yogi feels the cold but does not feel cold.”  Yes, this is why we have come up with the month of June-uary here in Seattle!

Reach for the Sky!

Reach for the Sky!

Below are Tina’s lovely sketches and a wonderful poem Larry Iwafuchi wrote.

Local readers, please note that there is NO CLASS on Tuesday, June 21st, but YES, there WILL BE class on June 28th and forward until and including the last Tuesday of August (last class followed by a potluck!)

Double Trees Sprouting from the Earth

Double Trees Sprouting from the Earth

Bridge of Friendship

Bridge of Friendship

It happened!
Yoga In The Park on Tuesday,
despite the threat of storms.
Kept checking for a cancelling e-mail,
hoping there wouldn’t be one.
There wasn’t.
So there we were.
Just four of us, a small but mighty group.
Big groups have power and spirit.
Small groups have intimacy and connection.
Dark clouds surrounding us,
a ‘sucker hole’ of blue sky above.
Feeling the outside cold
offset by the warmth within.
Sitting back to back,
close yet apart,
reaching upward.
Looking up
and seeing the sky,
my hand,
leaves and branches
bent by the wind.
Out of the corner of my eye,
seeing my partner’s hand,
reaching upward alongside mine,
We are apart in our individual efforts,
and yet
we are connected.

Back to Back Meditation (instead of Shavasana) kept our backs warm!

Back to Back Meditation (instead of Shavasana) kept our backs warm!

The Pulse of the Matter

May 5, 2016

I came across this inspirational quote:

“At the heart of each of us, whatever our imperfections, there exists a silent pulse of perfect rhythm, which is absolutely individual and unique, and yet which connects us to everything else.” —George Leonard

Not sure if Mr. Leonard was intentionally describing yoga when he wrote the above quote, but his words are yoga teachings.  One of the most incredible benefits of the yoga practice is just how connected we become to ourselves, to others, to nature, and to life!

After a yoga session, I feel my feet are more deeply a part of the earth.  And it’s not just me.  Many people leave their yoga sessions feeling more deeply connected to life. During shavasana, we come to stillness and in that stillness, we rediscover the flow of breath, the inhalations and exhalations.  We unearth clarity, we reestablish balance  and embrace wholeness.  Later, we leave our yoga sessions fully connected to a particular season, the earth, trees, grass, all creatures domestic and wild.  The yoga practice reminds us that we are connected to humanity, to possibilities, to wind and breezes, sky and rain and sunshine.

Yoga is a meditative practice, essential to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Yoga helps us unearth the “silent pulse of perfect rhythm” so we can feel more fully connected to life.

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Enjoy the photos below taken last weekend at a privately booked retreat at Little Renaissance.  The retreat participants, a very enlightened and joyful group who enjoy yoga, the beach, good food, and lively conversations, are co-workers from Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation committed to working with child welfare (keeping children safe and loved) and strengthening the resilience of families.  For more information, read about Casey Family Programs.

Dreamy beach days

Dreamy beach days, Rick photographing shorebirds.

Boot found this way, makes for interesting art. Is someone still looking for a boot?

Boot found this way… makes for interesting art. Is someone missing a boot?

Yoga Group on Log ("How many group photos have you taken on this log?")

Yoga Group on Log (“How many group photos have you taken on this log?”)

Shelter from the wind found!

Found: Shelter from the wind!

Pink!

Pink!

The Six Essential Poses and Other Sequences

January 25, 2016

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Sequence One, The Essential Six:

During the yoga conference last week, I was sitting in a two-hour lecture when the instructor suddenly said, “OK, let’s do the Essential Six.”  It was early morning and my legs felt stiff from sitting in a cross-legged position for so long.  I was happy for the suggestion to do yoga, but had no idea what the Essential Six poses were.  In fairly quick succession, we did the following:

Downward Facing Dog

Forward Bend

Squat

Seated Twist

Half Spinal Twist

Table Top

I was surprised at how good I felt with having done just these six poses!  In just 8 minutes, I felt alive, awakened, alert!  As the lecture started up again, the wheels in my mind started spinning.

Wait!  Was that sequence complete?  What made each posture “essential”?  How can I flesh out this sequence and render it into a full class, adding to it for intensity and modifying it for the gentle classes?

To the sequence above, I added Side Bending Poses and Triangles and Extended Triangles, Tree and Half Moon, and the Shoulder-Stand Cycle, which includes plow, tranquility pose, and fish pose.  For my more advanced classes, I added back-bends and head- or hand-stands. At the very end, I added Shavasana for the sweetest of sweet endings.   I practiced and taught variations on the above sequence all week and at a two-day workshop I taught this weekend  and got wonderful feedback!  I hope you will try the Essential Six and add my suggested variations listed above.

Another exquisite winter scene from my weekend at Tumble Creek, Washington

Tumble Creek, Washington

Sequence Two, The Daily Dozen:

Recently, the New York Times published an article on Yoga for Stronger Bones (see  LINK)

Once again, I was surprised by the relative simplicity of the poses selected for a Bone Strengthening yoga practice.  If the following list is unclear to you, you can refer to the link above for details on the yoga postures for this practice:

  • Tree
  • Triangle
  • Warrior II
  • Side Angle Pose
  • Revolved Triangle
  • Locust
  • Bridge
  • Supine Hand to Foot Pose I
  • Supine Hand to Foot Pose II
  • Straight legged twist
  • Bent knee twist
  • Shavasana
Tumble Creek, Washington

Tumble Creek, Washington

Sequence Three, Strong Abdominal Muscles:

I came up with the following sequence for overall strength and special focus on the abdominal muscles.  The sequence can be modified or intensified according to your yoga practice.  When I teach the following poses, I suggest several variations on each pose and I like to see what different individuals choose to do.  Mostly I enjoy watching everyone grow strong.  At the end of this practice, you can try your most challenging balance pose, an arm balance, or an inverted pose such as headstand and hand-stand and see how you excel!

  1. Tiger
  2. Plank on hands
  3. Side Plank (can be done on the elbow for more challenge)
  4. Plank on elbows
  5. Chair Pose with a twist
  6. Warrior I
  7. Half Moon (with hands at heart center and not touching the mat)
  8. Triangle (with hands extended over head and not touching the mat)
  9. Boat —Canoe
  10. Plank with feet raised on a block, then lift one foot at a time. This can also be done with a partner.  Your yoga partner will lift your legs while you are in plank.  He/She will lift you so that your body is parallel to the floor.  (I call this “Elevator Plank”.)

A note on “Elevator Plank”:  I made up this name for an adorable young boy named Angus!  When his mom came home from her yoga session, he asked her if she had learned something new!  She told him about and showed him plank with the legs up in the air, as done with a partner.  She told me later that, as she described it for him, she was not quite sure what to call it.  Since it is not quite a “wheelbarrow”, I came up with the name “Elevator Plank”.  Angus liked that!

Lastly I leave you with a poem by Leza Lowitz from the book titled Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By:

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Mind, mind

how much you want to say

am I doing it right?

can I stay here long enough

or even a second longer

can I eat an ice cream sandwich

after class,

oh, but will class ever end?

Mind, will you ever shut up?

will my legs stop shaking?

will my head reach lower?

Will I

can I

should I

could I

let go of my mind

listen to my breath

listen through my breath

let it move through this body

reach out to this moment,

this world,

this life,

& let it go?

On “Being the Change”

January 18, 2016

I am currently at the San Francisco Yoga Conference.  I have entered a world of inspiration.  My experience here is also about being overwhelmed.  I have wholeheartedly tread the path of yoga for nearly 25 years now, but my annual yoga conference experience reminds me of how much more I have to learn.

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I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with friends in New York City about the potential each individual has to make great changes in the world.  Yoga teaches us that in order to manifest an external change, we must master the desired exterior change within ourselves first. For example, mastering interior peace comes before I can do small or large actions towards living in a more peaceful world.  In order to spread love and happiness, I have to embrace kindness and wholeness within myself.

In New York City I was reminded that an organic farmer-yogini-nurturing mother can change the world by planting and growing an organic farm, by planting one seed at a time into pure living earth.  The organic farming techniques nurture the earth, which in turn yields healthy food, which nourishes the bodies (and spirits) of several families, who in turn live their lives with clarity and peace.  It’s a magical loop!  It sound like an  outlandishly impossible scenario!  However, great effort, intention, and awareness are involved in the process of making positive changes.  This can be done by an individual.

From the same discussion in New York City, I was reminded that, as a simple individual, I can plant seeds of compassion and peace through my teaching and my writing.  As individuals, my friend -the organic farmer-yogini-nurturing mother- and I -the yoga instructor, can take actions that have loud repercussions in the world.  The beauty of this is that we all have the capacity to inspire and make positive changes.

The yoga conference here in San Francisco reiterates the ideas above.  I observe my instructors pouring their hearts out to inspire and teach us how to be the best we can be.  Following are quotes I love and inspirational quotes I saw as sidewalk art in New York City.

Be the Change you wish to see in the world.

-Gandhi

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

As we become purer channels for God’s light, we develop an appetite for the sweetness that is possible in this world.  A miracle worker is not geared toward fighting the world that is, but toward creating a world that could be.

-Marianne Williamson

And a humble/powerful approach from a humble wiry nun who worked with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, someone I deeply respect:

Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.

-Mother Teresa

I saw this tattered, torn, and taped together poster of John Lennon in NYC and got a shot of it.

I saw this tattered, torn, and taped-together poster of John Lennon in NYC and got a shot of it.

“You’re all beautiful and you’re all geniuses.”

“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.
You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard
or just think it’s going to get on by itself.
You’ve got to keep watering it.
You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”

“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do , Something you are, And something you give away”

“When you do something noble and beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun every morning is a beautiful spectacle and yet most of the audience still sleeps.”

-John Lennon

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Why I Love Iceland

October 8, 2015

I love Iceland for its people who are sincere, open-minded,  free-spirits, honest, laid-back, creative, kind, funny, and gentle.  I love Iceland for its diverse geography.  We saw everything from blue glacial waterfalls, colorful lichen, black lava rock beaches, wide continental rifts, precariously balanced boulders, a crater lake, soothing hot springs, smoking volcanoes, steaming geysers, bubbling fumaroles, fast flowing rivers, green fields, treeless mountains, and massive glaciers to wild cliffs and moss growing on lava rocks!  How is that for a long descriptive sentence?

Sweet Icelandic horses and woolly sheep adorn the country side.  Within one day, we could experience sunshine, dramatic clouds, hail, rain, dew, gusts of wind, and rainbows.  And the Northern Lights!  Yes, for the first time in my life, I saw the deep-night light-show up in the sky looking like a fantastic laser show.  Wow!

And where else do you have Little People and Hidden People living happily among the mossy rocks and hills and villages?

Add to this magic, two groups of yogis with whom I would gladly travel the world!  Each individual did their part to make this trip truly unforgettable!

I believe the slideshow will continue to vouch for Iceland’s intense beauty.  The photos are mostly mine, though some were taken by fellow yoga retreat participants.  The photos combine Week I and II retreats.

View on full screen if possible.

Turn up the volume to hear some music from the Icelandic group, Sigur Ros.  The music is very evocative of Iceland’s spirit.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Adventurous Living

March 9, 2015

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We hosted a yoga retreat this past weekend at the coast.  It was a great experience. This was one of the warmest weekends in March I have ever experienced since living in the Pacific Northwest.  The walks on the beach felt dreamy.  My toes sank into the warm sand and I felt relaxed. We ate lunch in the garden (it was warm enough!).  Earlier this morning, we took a break from our morning yoga session in order to watch a small herd of deer grazing  just outside our window.

One of the retreat participants read the following quote about adventurous living for her shared reading.

Remember the high board at the swimming pool? After days of looking up at it you finally climbed the wet steps to the platform. From there, it was higher than ever. There were only two ways down: the steps to defeat, or the dive to victory. You stood on the edge, shivering in the hot sun, deathly afraid. At last you leaned too far forward, it was too late for retreat, and you dived. The high board was conquered, and you spent the rest of the day diving. Climbing a thousand high boards, we demolish fear, and turn into human beings.
Richard BachA Gift of Wings

The quote spoke directly to so many of us who hesitate to do that which frightens us the most!  For some, it spoke specifically to our work with headstands this past weekend.  I have a headstand bench.  So many people hesitate to use it at first, but once they do, they want to go out and purchase one because going upside down has so many benefits and inversions, when you can do them, create an incredible sense of euphoria!

I don’t have photos from the work with the headstand bench, but I have a few photos from our glorious walks on the beach.  Enjoy! With love from Fran

March 7th, Ocean Shores, Washington...I swear we have the most beautiful beaches here in Washington!

March 7th, Ocean Shores, Washington…we have the most beautiful beaches here in Washington! (photo taken by Tricia)

Perfect fishing day to catch sea perch

Perfect fishing day to catch sea perch

Group shot (photo taken by Rick)

Group shot (photo taken by Rick)

formation on beach (photo taken by Tricia)

beach walk

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Yoga in India (Part II)

February 27, 2015

L1290456There is something special about taking part in a 5000 year-old way of practicing well-being.  And it is a powerful experience to do yoga in India.  Often, as we did yoga in India, people would gather to watch us.  People would happily join in without hesitation when invited.  If they didn’t have a mat, they’d grab a towel.  It didn’t matter what they were wearing. Whatever they wore would make do.  The yoga practice is a huge unifying factor.  Yoga is a way of life in India.  Yoga is about connecting to universal consciousness and to the peaceful being residing within each of us.  In other words, yoga connects each of us to our truest nature.

We spent two nights in Ranthambore in hopes of seeing a tiger.  Two people in our group saw a tiger (they were in another vehicle), but the majority of us did not.  It was hard to return from the tiger reserve grounds without having seen a tiger, only to be met with the most exuberant German man, who had just seen a mother tiger and her three cubs!  With alacrity, he showed us photo after photo of the cubs playing and wrestling one another.  Truth be told, I felt so envious that my stomach hurt. However, I did not want to appear jealous, so I stood there looking at his photos with feigned excitement.  Soon after, my group and I did a long yoga session and we all immediately felt better.  Somehow, the practice soothed our hearts and minds and we were able to put the situation into perspective.  After all, had we not just seen owlets, spotted deer, blue bull antelopes, sambar ( of the deer family), monkeys, gazelles, wild boars, crocodiles, spectacularly colored kingfishers, herons, the endangered painted storks, egrets, and a crested  serpent eagle?  The tiger reserve in itself is gorgeous, with or without the tigers (I am still trying to convince myself fully of this last sentence!).

Tiger Den Resort in Ranthambore

Tiger Den Resort in Ranthambore

Tiger Pose...didn't see one, but we did the pose and it soothed our disappointed hearts.

Tiger Pose…didn’t see one, but we did the pose and it soothed our disappointed hearts.

Trees in Tiger Country

Trees in Tiger Country

The next day, we went out on our third tiger safari outing.  We came back to the tiger den without a story to dazzle our friends back home.  We met for yoga at the poolside this time, where we had an audience of women from Mumbai.  They sat in their poolside chairs smiling and watching us with great interest! At one point, the class and I did Camel Pose (Ustrasana).  Just as we got into the pose, there was a loud animal braying sound beyond the hotel wall!  The ladies from Mumbai started howling with laughter and so did we!  I said, “What on earth was that?”  and the Mumbai ladies said loudly, “IT IS CAMEL!”  I had never heard a camel bray before and it was ever so funny that the camel brayed just as we went into the pose.  I don’t think I will ever get into Camel Pose again without thinking of India and that camel sound!

I invited the Mumbai ladies to join us. And they did!  They simply grabbed some pool towels and joined us. Lynn led us in a dreamy, deeply relaxing Yoga Nidra meditation.  Afterwards, the women, one of whom was a yoga instructor in Mumbai, wanted to play some games with us.  We had so much fun playing with them.  After the games, the instructor’s husband, who joined in the fun later,  kept asking me in a child-like manner, “Can you do Halasana (Plough)?  Can you touch your toes?  Can you do Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)?  Can you stand on your head?”  Each time he asked a question, he’d pop into the suggested pose to show off.  It was adorable.  His wife said proudly, “He is my BEST student!”

Jeanne in a side bend (the ladies are still sitting watching at this point)

Jeanne in a side bend (the Mumbai ladies are still sitting watching at this point)

Let's play some games!  The ladies from Mumbai, all relaxed from the yoga session.

Let’s play some games! The ladies from Mumbai, all relaxed from the yoga session.

Yoga in Varanasi, India:  Varanasi is the spiritual heart of India. Every time I go there, my heart cracks open.  Varanasi is an energetic vortex, vicariously held aloft by Shiva’s trident staff.  While there,  I always manage to get entangled by Varanasi’s spinning wheel of life.  I love Varanasi and I dislike it, my two opposing reactions to the city all bundled into one big messy package.  One second we yogis are smelling heavenly jasmine and seeing the most beautiful child with light in her eyes coddled in the loving arms of her daddy.  The next second  we yogis see a dog with protruding ribs next to a man, a fellow human-being,  crawling on his belly, using his frog-like hands to propel himself forward along the disgustingly filthy ground.  Horns honk until our ears go deaf and we realize there are tears in our eyes and, yet, we break into a smile because the child with the most beautiful eyes we have ever seen is smiling at us and waving.

Yes, side bend.  The boys' instructor stood up on the steps and guided them using a loud speaker.  The Brahmin boys practiced with their whole heart.  Some did not have good form and I wanted to adjust them.  The man up on the steps, who barked out commands, did not adjust or correct.  Cindy jumped in and started doing yoga with them.

Yes, side bending in the fog before sunrise on the Ganges in Varanasi: The boys’ instructor stood up on the steps and guided them using a loud speaker. The Brahmin boys practiced with their whole heart. Some did not have good form and I wanted to adjust them. The man up on the steps, who barked out commands, did not adjust or correct. Cindy jumped in and started doing yoga with them.

Of course, yoga is intense in India!  The practice feels great and seemingly makes your heart ache, all at the same time.  As an instructor, I sometimes want to not come out of my room in the morning and, at the exact same moment,  I have a strong desire to lead a 5-hour class.  How crazy is this?  India is the place where opposites merge.  This is yoga in India.

Morning yoga on the Ganges before sunrise, in a deep fog.

Morning yoga on the Ganges ghat before sunrise, in a deep fog.

And the truest yoga for me was at the evening Aarti along the Ganges, a ceremony where we honor Mother Ganga (the Ganges River is the “Mother” of all life ). Mother Ganges is honored nightly in an elaborate ancient ceremony.  During the ceremony, I carried the memory of my friend, Elizabeth Lawrence, into the river. Her  life was cut short that very day when she lost her battle with cancer.  She had dreamed of coming to India, but never made it due to health issues.  I floated a candle for her. I felt the river embrace and accept her spirit.  She was finally free!  And I, too,  suddenly felt free.

I had been carrying some anger in my heart that evening that had nothing to do with Elizabeth’s death.  I felt myself let go of this anger as I watched her candle float down the river.  I became one with the river, with the Aarti ceremony, with the bells, and the chanting.  I merged with 100,000 people gathered at the ceremony.  I  was fully a part of the Aarti, this 5000 year old ritual honoring Mother Ganga, the river of life.

The Aarti ceremony

The Aarti ceremony

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“What better place to experience yoga than in India’s most spiritual city?”

Shavasana at the end of class, our last session, our last day in India together. Namaste

Shavasana at the end of class, at our last yoga session on our last day in India together. Namaste

 

 

Yoga in India (Part I)

February 27, 2015

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Namaste

Namaste

You cannot imagine how tough it is to ensure there is enough time to do yoga while on a tour in India.  Plenty of potential obstacles line the road to practicing yoga.  Will you feel well in the morning?  Will you be too tired or jet lagged to do your yoga practice?  Will you have to put off the morning session because your flight to Jodhpur is early in the morning? And when you postpone the morning session for an afternoon session, will traffic or flight or train delays allow for enough time for the promised much-needed afternoon yoga session?  Miraculously, while in India, only two yoga sessions were cancelled in our busy touring schedule.

Rajasthan

Rajasthan

You cannot imagine how essential the yoga practice is while on tour in India.  The yoga practice helps us be present to witness the chaos and sweet beauty that is India. The yoga practice helps us to open our hearts so that we can reach out to everyone we meet.  The yoga practice allows us to encounter everyone at a very satisfying place of the shared human experience. The yoga practice helps us to be physically fit and flexible so that we can withstand the rigors of travel (think of the three-hour safari all-terrain-vehicle ride on bumpy dirt roads in Ranthambore, three of these rides within two days).  The yoga practice helps us to be flexible of mind so that we can truly understand there is more than one way to practice spirituality, and more than one way to live life, find love, fulfillment and contentment.

Sunrise Rooftop Yoga

Sunrise Rooftop Yoga

You cannot imagine how being in India and practicing yoga daily for 20 days (minus two) can transform your life!  It is, as the quote above says, like seeing the moon shine on the other side of the world, and you are forever changed into a new person who will never see the world the same way again.

L1280699Yoga in India brings to mind our camel rides into the desert…little kids lead the camels and sometimes the kids, being kids, let go of the camels’ tethers and go play amongst themselves, leaving us riders without a pilot!  We hold on to the camel saddle and hope the camel we are riding does not start mounting the camel ahead of us or take off running!!  We try in vain not to notice the garbage everywhere in the desert. No.  We yogis just look straight head to the orange sunset casting a glorious glow.  The sunset creates picturesque silhouettes of other camels and riders.  Once in the desert, we see musicians, Rajasthani desert nomads dancing!  We get off the camels -oh, this is so tricky and scary- and once on solid sand, I do camel pose next to the camels.  I am surprised to see that one camel turns to stare at me.  Did you know Ustrasana, Camel Pose, is very easy to do in the desert, especially after riding a camel?  Not sure why.  After Camel Pose, I easily morph into a dancer, Natarajasana, Lord Shiva’s Pose.  Like Lord Shiva, I shall dance my way into creation.

Camel Love

Camel Love

Natarajasana: The Cosmic Dance of Shiva

Natarajasana: The Cosmic Dance of Shiva

Certain times stand out when I think about Yoga in India.  Doing yoga on the sacred grounds of Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism, was one of the most powerful yoga experiences of my life!  In Sarnath, we practiced on the sparse grassy grounds with ruins thousands of years old as our backdrop.  We attracted an audience of Buddhist monks from Myanmar.  They were filming us with their iPads! That cracked me up!  A Tibetan woman stood nearby and watched.  I asked her if she’d like to join us in our yoga practice and she jumped in to our yoga circle.  It was as if she had always belonged to our circle.  After the yoga session, I invited a tiny Buddhist monk from Myanmar to chant OM with us.  Afterwards,  he taught us a Buddhist chant (first we said it in Pali, then in English):

May all beings everywhere be happy, peaceful, and free.
– The Buddha

Buddhist Monk from Myanmar.

Buddhist Monk from Myanmar.

Yoga on the sacred grounds of Sarnath

Yoga on the sacred grounds of Sarnath

Sacred ancient grounds of Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon.

Sacred ancient grounds of Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon in the 6th Century BC.

Yoga at Sarnath

Yoga at Sarnath

When I think of Yoga in India, I think about rooftop yoga facing the sunrise.  The mornings were chilly before sunrise.  I had to be creative in order to warm everyone up properly in the chill of the desert morning.  I have my yoga enthusiasts do lunges across the rooftop terrace again and again, adding triangles, horse pose, and tree.  I tell the group to only take their shoes off once their feet have warmed up.  Yoga practice is in full force when we hear the Muslim call to prayer and the city waking up.  We do our Sun Salutations as the traffic noises start on a nearby street.  We do twists and side angle bends as parrots chirp and chortle in a nearby tree.  My feet are clean and I hesitate to walk off my mat to give adjustments because surely my feet will get dusty from the rooftop terrace floor, but I walk off my mat knowing my feet can be scrubbed later.  I do adjustments on my students as a smoky acrid smell reaches my nostrils, cow dung patties being lit up to boil water for tea for the many families waking up to a new day in India.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

Rooftop sunrise yoga

Rooftop sunrise yoga

While doing Yoga in India, I am inclusive and open the yoga session to anyone who seems interested in joining us.  On the first day in Jodhpur, I invited some young women we  met at our hotel. To my surprise, early the next morning, they showed up for class. The more, the merrier is how I think of it. Turns out Sarah, pictured below with me in Tree pose, is a fellow Hoosier and a soul-mate of mine. We were delighted to find out how much we have in common!  The world is such a small place, really!  Here’s to my little sister, Sarah.

Fellow Hoosier Soul Mate Sarah

Fellow Hoosier Soul Mate Sarah

Yoga in India:  Through our practice, we discover how much we share on this life’s journey.  We live, we laugh, we are moved to tears, we delight, we wonder, we judge and then admonish ourselves for judging and we make promises to be kinder, more compassionate, more patient.  We go deeply into our Inner Journey to discover and rediscover a river of serenity within.  At the same time we connect to our Sangha, our spiritual community of like-minded human beings who are all on the same path to becoming our better selves.  We feel our essential link to the web of life.  We connect to humanity and we fall in love with India, this place humming with color, ritual, history, culture, life, love, dreams, spirit, death, rebirth, kindness.

Aligned...

Aligned

Poolside Yoga at our heritage hotel, a former maharaja palace.

Connecting: Poolside Yoga at our heritage hotel, a former Maharaja palace.

Poolside Yoga...at one such place, we had a monkey audience!  The whole monkey family watched us for a good half hour.  Gradually, the youngsters came closer and closer to watch us do yoga in Khajuraho.

Poolside Yoga…at one such place, we had a monkey audience! The whole monkey family watched us for a good half hour. Gradually, the youngster monkeys came closer and closer to watch us do yoga in Khajuraho.

Yoga In India Part II coming your way soon!


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