Archive for the ‘yoga philospohy’ Category

Gathering Circle

June 18, 2017

Quarterly, I offer a free yoga class at the Chief Seattle Club.  The Chief Seattle Club is in Pioneer Square, Seattle, and is a safe and sacred place where urban native peoples can rest, be nurtured, and receive services to help ease their lives.  Many of the members of Chief Seattle Club are homeless.  The club is open seven days a week from 7am-2pm.  It is a place where members can have a hot shower, get a warm hearty breakfast, receive medical support, housing assistance, computer training, legal assistance, mental health care, and chemical dependency treatment.  It also offers traditional healing practices as a primary method of healing.  There is also a Native Art Program and Gallery and there are regular outings to visit tribes and participate in pow wows.


There is so much to say about this center!  Mainly, I believe it is a place where urban native peoples can be supported and find acceptance.

Many years ago, the building was a hotel.  The space today has been completely renovated and is environmentally friendly.  It has solar panels that heat all the water in the building and some of the construction material was salvaged from the old hotel.

My favorite part is the circular space with high ceilings and wood carvings located in the center of the Chief Seattle Club.  It serves as the Gathering Circle.  This is the spiritual center of the building. It was designed by Native American architect, John Paul Jones.  Weekly mass is offered in the Gathering Circle.  It is a gorgeous space and I feel honored to offer yoga sessions four times a year in the Gathering Circle.


There are two ways to describe my teaching yoga experience at the Chief Seattle Club.  One is through this poem, written by Coast Salish Chief Dan George (Tel-Lal-Wah).  I believe this poem captures the spirit of the native people I work with, who are deeply connected to earth, land, and their ancestors.

My Heart Soars

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars

IMG_0051 (1)

Teaching yoga at the Chief Seattle Club profoundly moves me.  I always leave feeling they gave me more than I was able to give them! Another way to capture and describe my experience there is to capture fragments of dialogues from discussions before and after the yoga session:

Me: Before we begin, let’s do a check in. Yoga is wholeness, truth, peace, connection….connecting to self, to community, to ancestors, to breath, to universal consciousness, to nature. This is your sacred time to share anything you feel will help you to connect with your yoga today.

I am not lost. I am strong, firmly rooted.  I come from a line of ancestors who live through me.  My work is to help people see that things are not as they appear. The world is an illusion. Things are not what they seem. I want people to see me as an artist, as a visionary.

I love yoga, but I feel unsettled so I can’t get to doing yoga as often as I’d like. I’m so happy to be here.

I’d like to stand and speak to you in my tribal language and then I’ll translate for you…

During the yoga session, they grow wings and become eagles, they grow stronger and become warriors, they grow roots and become trees.  I am humbled by this group.  As we do yoga, I understand they are true yogis, already connected and re-embracing wholeness.  I observe how they relax deeply in shavasana.

Me: How are you feeling?

I am the rock that rises to the top of the mountain as the earth’s plates push me upwards.  Eventually that rock rolls down to the deepest part of the ocean and eventually dissolves into sand.  That’s me.  That’s how I feel…right now.

Once in a dream, I watched a big sheet of glass shatter to the ground..big shards on the ground.  Sometimes I feel that’s me.  Today I was able to fit the pieces together again.  Every piece is needed to make this picture perfect. The ugly parts, the perfect parts, they all came together to make me whole again. 

I feel relaxed.  I almost fell asleep….I think I did.

She puts her jacket on, then takes it off, then puts it on again and off again.  I need to go, but I want to stay!  I feel so peaceful.

I cried.  The pain inside is gone.

I feel alive. 

I feel like all this energy is flowing inside me.  I love this feeling!

I am enough.

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A Simple Mantra

May 24, 2017

So Hum

We breathe in.  We breathe out.

We inhale and silently and hear SO.

We exhale and silently and hear HUM.

Two words create internal sounds that bring us to reflections of beauty.


So Hum (also spelled Soham). This Sanskrit mantra is made of two simple words which bring us to truth.  I AM THAT.  THAT I AM.  I am the beauty I see around me.  I am a reflection of the trees, the pond, the sky, the trail, the yogis bursting with life, and the exquisite property so tenderly loved.  I identify myself with the universe.

So Hum. The images tumble forth.  The yogis in the group become poets before my very eyes:

Iridescent blue of the damselfly on the pond, SO HUM

 (photo by Rick)

(photo by Rick)

Dark water, red leaves, blue dragonfly SO HUM

The barred owl casing the robin’s nest, SO HUM

(Rick's photo)

(Rick’s photo)

Eye of the owl  SO HUM

Purple blossoms falling on the grass SO HUM

Creek crashing through the sea SO HUM

Moss on the temple  SO HUM


The color Chinese red on the house door  SO HUM

Path leading to the house where we do our yoga

The skittering wind  SO HUM

Beauty and artistry of the carved wood  SO HUM

(photo by Rick)

(photo by Rick)

Hummingbird by my red bandana  SO HUM

Kathy (wearing her red bandanna) and Dayna

Kathy (wearing her red bandana) and Dayna

So we took a day to experience the glorious nature of Vashon Island and revel in our unique surroundings.  We enjoyed a morning session of Hatha Yoga, followed by an organic lunch made with love from Karen Biondo, farmer of La Biondo Farm & Kitchen on Vashon Island. The weather was fine enough for us to eat at a long table outside, the inviting forest formed a backdrop to our meal.  After lunch, some of us went on an hour hike to Fern Cover and others took naps, walked solo around the property, rested, read, socialized, took time to stop and be.  Some forged new friendships.  After lunch, we met at the temple and meditated.  We also did some standing yoga on the temple grounds. Then we brought our  yoga session indoors again and finished up our yin session with a long shavasana.  A perfect day in so many ways.

One of the entrances to the Chinese Tea Merchant's House, where most of our yoga took place. Gigantic doors open up to the landscaped garden and forest beyond.

One of the entrances to the Chinese Tea Merchant’s House, where most of our yoga took place. Large doors open up to the landscaped garden and forest beyond. (Photo by Milo)

Rhododendron (photo by Rick)

Rhododendron (photo by Rick)

Leaves and Light (photo by Milo)

Leaves and Light (photo by Milo)

Lunchtime! (photo by Fran)

Lunchtime! (photo by Fran)

An exceptionally fine May day! We ate our Salad Nicoise at the outside table. (photo by Fran)

An exceptionally fine May day! We ate our Salad Nicoise at the outside table. (photo by Fran)

A hike to Fern Cove (photo by Fran)

A hike to Fern Cove (photo by Fran)

Rick reads poems at Fern Cove, at the end of Mill Creek Trail (photo by Fran)

Rick reads poems at Fern Cove, at the end of Mill Creek Trail (photo by Fran)

My playful friends!! (photo by Leslie S)

My playful friends!! (photo by Leslie S)

Yes, our chef gone upside down in headstand! (photo by Leslie S)

Yes, our chef Karen turning the world  upside down in headstand! (photo by Leslie S)

Rick's photo of us doing yoga outside of the temple!

Rick’s photo of us doing yoga outside of the temple!

End of the day...shavasana (nice enough to have doors open to the land and forest of Vashon Island.)

End of the day…shavasana (nice enough to have doors open to the land, fresh air, and forest of Vashon Island )

NEXT VASHON DAY RETREAT WILL BE HELD MAY 20, 2018.  NEVER TOO EARLY TO SIGN UP!  (just let me know in your comments below if you’d like to reserve your space and I will be in touch with you!)

And I leave you with a poem I read to the group on Sunday:

Prayer for the Great Family (after a Mohawk Prayer) Gary Snyder

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day–
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
 and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind 
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
 Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
 clear spirit breeze

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
 freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
 self-complete, brave, and aware

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
 holding or releasing; streaming through all
 our bodies salty seas

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through 
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
 bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
 who holds billions of stars–and goes yet beyond that–
beyond all powers, and thoughts 
and yet is within us–
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife

so be it.


A very special place, indeed!

Jumpin’ Above Hoops

September 25, 2016

He goes by the nickname Dream Caster and I am lucky enough to be graced by his towering and gentle presence three times a week, when he comes to my yoga classes at Seattle Athletic Club.  He always arrives early, rolls out his impressive “runway” mat, which is long enough to accommodate his 6’7″ height.  Once his mat is rolled out, he proceeds to set up his yoga oasis with two bolsters, two Gripitz (props used to protect wrists when doing yoga), four blocks, two straps, an eye pillow filled with beads, and a few blankets.  Intrigued by and respectful of this giant of a gentleman, I asked if I could interview him and write about him in my blog. He happily agreed.

His name is Vester Marshall.

Vester lives his spirituality.

“I’ve been a student all my life. School, education, and society try to put you into a box.  Life is much greater than what we learn in school.  You’ve got to go out on your own and explore! Surround yourself with mentors, people who offer opinions you can respect!  Be a seeker! Be a seeker and have enough trust to go to a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for help when you need it.  Being a seeker has taken me out of the box.  It’s what takes you outside of being black or white.”

Vester Marshal was a former Seattle Sonics player during the 1973-74 season. He told me once that as a forward he was known for his ability to jump high and now, in his late 60s, his knees are fairly worn out.  That doesn’t stop him from walking.  In fact, he hasn’t owned a car in over 25 years.  He lives in the heart of Belltown in downtown Seattle and walks everywhere.  He has been sober and clean for well over 25 years.  He is the kind of guy you can’t categorize in any way.  He is a father, a street minister, an herbalist, a certified yoga instructor, a visual artist, a fisherman.  As a teen, he was a political activist and marched in support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. He was active in registering blacks to vote in the 60s. Later he was a grunge band manager in Seattle! He has been active in the anti-nuclear movement. He worked at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Diversity is the name of Vester’s game!

He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  He went to the University of Oklahoma on a scholarship and played basketball for the university. “Basketball was a path which allowed me to follow the path to greater knowledge and wisdom.”  Playing for the Sonics led him to great connections, such as meeting governors, senators, and legislators.  He used to go to Olympia to take state politicians fishing!

Dream Caster with his salmon

Dream Caster with his salmon

Vester is a visual artist.  “I’m capable of doing what I want to do.  When we do art, we create. We produce.  We work our way through different problems and become connected.”

What are his words of wisdom?

“You have to know yourself.  You have to be real!”

Warrior I

Warrior I

How do you make a difference in this world?

“By just being me, by making good choices, by being responsible for myself.  Be an example.  You see what I’m saying? You’ve got to be an example for the world to witness.”



How has yoga changed you, Vester?

“I’d be dead now if I hadn’t taken an inventory of my lifestyle. Drugs and other hippy addictions were killing me. I looked around.  My friends were dying all around me.  All the people in the rock ‘n roll scene around me in Seattle were dying.  I felt like there was a strong invitation for me to get clean. I made a decision to clean my life.  I went through a detox program with medical help. Shortly after that, I found yoga.  Yoga taught me how to be mindful, how to be kind.  Yoga IS all about kindness and friendship. Yoga is unconditional love.  Yoga has taught me to be a part of a community where everyone is working on becoming their better selves.”

Warrior II, Spiritual Warrior

Warrior II

What are your keys for good living?

“I always have enough.  I live within God’s means.  Because of this, I’m in a beautiful place and I live a beautiful lifestyle.  I walk a path where life becomes divine.  I never worry.  Yeah, I’ve got issues with my knees, but I seek advice from the right people, the right doctors.  I take action and I never worry.”

Vester Marshall has class!

Vester Marshall

twenty-four hours

September 18, 2016

Amazing how upside down life becomes without a computer. For a few weeks, I have suffered computer issues and spent last week without access to my MacBook Pro.  Now, knock on wood, all seems to be functioning.  I’ve had a full weekend of catching up on correspondences and tending to fine-tuning details for the trip to Japan I’ve been organizing with Yukiko Sakamoto of IACE Travel.  I leave for that fabulous trip on October 17!


Amid the frustration of computer problems, I came across a lovely passage written by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam Nam. His words are so beautiful, so calming, so positive. This passage makes me smile, makes me want to print it and place it beside my bed so I can read it every morning upon waking. It suggests a new world order.  His simple words and thoughts contain an ethical code people of all faiths and non-faiths can subscribe to:

Waking up this morning,

I smile.


brand new hours are

before me.  I vow to live

fully in each moment and

to look at all beings with

eyes of compassion.

Thank you, Thich Nhat Hanh, for your precious teachings.


The sun is shining and it is a beautiful September day. I sit waiting by my phone for news of a precious little girl, my great-niece, to be born, any hour now, into this great big world.  One day I will read her this poem! She decided to arrive one week early, possibly on her Great-Aunt Toni’s birthday, which is today.  She probably already senses that she will instantly be held and adored by the loving hands of her exhausted and ecstatic parents.



Thoughts on Yoga in India

March 23, 2016

As Arvind said, “Your time here in India is not a vacation.”  And how right he is!  Time spent in India is a journey of the spirit, a journey into the vast heart of India.  We see, experience, and learn things here that stir us deeply and, slowly, we are transformed into a better version of ourselves.

You cannot come to India and return home the same person you once were.

To deepen the transforming experience, we start each day with yoga.  We practice yoga outside in the early morning. The days here have been hot, but the early mornings are pleasant.  Here in Aurangabad, we do our yoga in a big grassy area near the pool. The yoga practice is grounding and peaceful. This morning was our third class together as a group.  Diverse as our group is, we all have the common thread of loving the yoga practice and seeing yoga as a vehicle to deepen our awareness of breath, of each and every moment, of the preciousness of life.  We all experience Yoga as Union.

Together we discover how yoga helps support us through the rigors of travel and helps keep us grounded and more alert throughout our travels in South India.  As usual, I have not taken many photos of our yoga sessions because I am too busy leading the classes.  Others, however, have taken photos and later I hope I can pull together a few yoga photos for the blog.  For now, I’d like to share with you the two readings I have read to the group and some photos I took of children today.

The first reading below is from today and makes me emotional. Sometimes I am impossibly hard on myself!  And I am not alone.  I am 100% certain of this. The reading below is a reminder to embrace ourselves.  It is a reminder to wake up to what is really important in life!

Walk Slowly by Danna Faulds

It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection.  The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race; that waking up to life is what we were born for.  As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, to be, and to walk slowly into the mystery.

And the second reading is a reminder to be content, to feel and express gratitude, and embrace simplicity:

Excerpt from Meditations on Intention and Being, by Rolf Gates

I have a prayer that I use to access santosha (the art of being content).  It is the simple statement, “Thank you for bringing me here.”  I began using it each time I took my seat at a 12-step meeting.  The prayer felt like sanity.  Then it started showing up everywhere. I would say it stopping on a hike through a forest. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

I would say it at the beginning of a yoga class.

I say it now at bedtime lying quietly next to my children, being the calm presence that helps them go to sleep.

These days I am saying it everywhere I go and it is more than enough.  There is nothing to be added or subtracted; I am content to say thank you.  Thank you for bringing me here.

The group photo in this blog is our lovely lively yoga and travel group at the Ellora Monolithic Caves today.


And the children below are pure Jyoti (light) and Love.  Here is to bringing more light, love, and simplicity into your life:





Yoga and The Hero’s Journey

January 9, 2016

And so the New Year begins.  How many of us make resolutions and various promises towards an improved way of being?   The beginning of the year is a time when many of us take actions to be healthier, fitter, leaner, or more disciplined. It seems to be a time when we want to become a better version of who we already are.


A Sagittarius and goal-driven by nature, I used to always set myself up with nearly impossible resolutions for the New Year and I’d hit burn out by mid-February.  I am not sure when I quit setting myself up with the impossible.  Gradually, over time, I have adopted a way of being in which I aim to do my best everyday.  Doing my best involves aiming to integrate myself and the natural world around me,  being present and being my best self as often as I can, and feeling connected to my family, community of friends and students, and giving the guidance and gift of yoga to as many people as possible.  I aim to tread this path all year round. If I stray from the path, I gently and patiently retrace my steps.   Sometimes I find myself starting all over again.  My aim, a lifetime of work, is to live the spiritual practice of yoga.

Snow covered bench

Snow covered bench

As part of living and sharing the spiritual practice of yoga,  I have begun to share inspirational readings, poems, and quotes with my classes.  I suppose this goal falls into the category of  New Year’s Resolutions.  From time to time you will see the passages I share with my classes posted on my blog.  I started last week with the following reading from “Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga” by Rolf Gates & Katrina Kenison:

A spiritual practice is one that brings us full circle—not to a new self but, rather, back to the essence of our true selves. Yoga is the practice of celebrating what is. At the end of the hero’s journey, he finds that he did not need to go anywhere, that all he sought was inside him all along…. It is the aim of all spiritual seeking to bring us home, home to the understanding that we already have everything we need.

…yoga reminds us that we are already there, that we need simply awaken from our dream of separation, our dream of imperfection.

I feel the yoga practice brings us to the wisdom that we are never alone, but rather always connected.  Many times after a yoga practice, I am renewed and I see everything around me with new eyes.  I feel a deep re-connection to nature and find myself marveling at the beauty of trees or the richness in various shades of green.  I walk, deeply rooted to a life source found inside of me,  around me in every person I encounter, and in the various gifts from the natural world of earth, water, sun, wind, and sky.


Washington Rain Forest

Spiritual Warriors

October 25, 2015

Among the most powerful of asanas are the Warrior Poses:  Virabhadrasana I, Virabhadrasana II, and Virabhadrasana III.  When we practice the Warrior Sequence, we contemplate the question, “What does it mean to be a Spiritual Warrior?”

Machu Picchu Warriors

Machu Picchu Warriors, Peru March 2012

I asked a few retreat participants from the Iceland Yoga Retreat how they would define what it is to be a Spiritual Warrior.  “To be a Spiritual Warrior,” one person said, “is to have the fortitude to overcome any challenge with inner peace, grace, and physical calmness.  Sometimes certain situations incite us to be strong and forceful, but the Spiritual Warrior possesses an inner sense of calm and peace that exudes and touches everyone around them.  The greatest challenge is to maintain this inner calm.  As Spiritual Warriors, this is what we do.”

Langjokull Glacier, Iceland 2015

Langjokull Glacier, Iceland 2015

Another Iceland Retreat participant said, “Warriors take on many forms.  I am a pacifist.  I believe we can solve problems with compromise and consensus.  Inner peace is a requirement to achieve these problem-solving strategies.  I am not religious, but I believe in the Golden Rule, which is to coexist.  Living peacefully with your neighbors is critical.   As a scientist, I am always looking for explanations.  For me, spirituality is attained and understanding achieved by going into the mountains where I can open myself up to a space that allows for contemplation.”

Bruarfoss, Iceland (with Betsy Ribera)

Bruarfoss, Iceland (with Betsy Ribera)

A third retreat participant I spoke to said, “Being a Spiritual Warrior is about being happy instead of having to be right and realizing that not everything is worth arguing over.  Endurance and strength become interrelated, and these qualities win over fighting.  Being a Spiritual Warrior is about connecting to breath.  I work in an aggressive environment, so giving a problem more time and curbing reactions come from connecting to breath.  Focusing on breath and breathing allows time to react in a different way.  As a Spiritual Warrior, I find myself becoming observant by simply looking out the window and connecting to breathing and the present moment.”

Fran, Continental Place, Seattle

Fran, Continental Place, Seattle (my photographer Rick is also in this photo!)

Another person said that being a Spiritual Warrior means “being an advocate and standing your ground and applying higher moral principles to the material world and to one’s internal world.  Which path am I trying to find?  Certainly not a ferocious or warlike one. As a Spiritual Warrior, one must be strong and courageous.  The real work is in returning back to oneself to re-ground in a new way.”

The last person I spoke to on the subject of being a Spiritual Warrior said, “My preferential option is to help those in need, the poor of our society.  A Spiritual Warrior manifests light and good will and creates peace and joy in the world.  The work of a Spiritual Warrior is to look out for our family, friends, and associates, not only in times of need, but at all times.  We must look at the bigger picture and care for the greater good throughout the universe.”

Warriors in Pantelleria, Sicily, September 2010

Warriors in Pantelleria, Sicily, September 2010

Two images come to mind when I think of a “warrior.”  One image is that of a person engaged in warfare.  The other image is that of a person who is powerful from the inside.  A Spiritual Warrior refers to one with self-confidence and a strong sense of accomplishment.  A Spiritual Warrior has integrity and lives by a code of honor.  A Spiritual Warrior is a protector and a defender of ideas that help further the good of humanity.

To be a Spiritual Warrior is to embrace noble pursuits, to overcome weakness of character, and to overcome moral conflicts.  A Spiritual Warrior embraces a journey of self-discovery, in which one begins to understand his or her principles and lives a life in which those principles are not compromised.

A Spiritual Warrior cultivates strength of character, embraces courage, and is compassionate.  He or she strives to become an enlightened human being.  A Spiritual Warrior practices internal and external discipline, which comes from mental focus.  In yoga, we speak of avidya, self-ignorance, as something we must endeavor to overcome, for example, racism.

Living a life of contemplation and reflection is the greatest path to emancipating ourselves from espousing weak ways of being.  The yoga practice encourages us to look within, to study ourselves and our environment, our actions, and the way we interact with ourselves, with the external world, and with the divine, whether it be a powerful benevolent spirit or vast and mysterious Mother Nature.

Viking Sculpture in Reykjavik

Sun Voyager Sculpture,  by Jon Gunnar, in Reykjavik (Solfar) -photo by Bill Milsom

Mother-Daughter Warriors at Ocean Shores, WA

Mother-Daughter Warriors at Ocean Shores, WA

Warriors in the Tetons (with MaryAnn Kuchera)

Warriors in the Tetons (with MaryAnn Kuchera)

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