Archive for the ‘Yoga Phlilosophy’ 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.

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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.

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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

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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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Industrial Yoga

November 19, 2016

A crazy idea, an industrial yoga photo-shoot. Why do it? Seems easier to ask why not? The idea came to me on a rainy day in Seattle, during the rainiest month of the year, November, my birthday month, in this rain-forested part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I wondered if this idea had ever been explored before?

Yoga and Industry?

Yoga and Gray Buildings?

Yoga in an Industrial Setting?

To find out, I went on line in search of “Industrial Yoga Photo Shoot” and nothing came up. I tried other wording and, still, nothing. What I did find were photos of yogis inside studios that looked like large lofts, lofts serving as yoga studios within former industrialized buildings, fully remodeled with a fresh post-modern look and the telltale interior brick wall to indicate the building’s humble beginnings as a warehouse or supply depot.

I dragged my friend/massage therapist/visual artist, MaryAnn Kuchera, into the rain, to the SoDo District, South of the Dome, the dome that no longer exists, the one that was blown up to bits in order to make way for a bigger-better sports arena. I dragged her to this industrial district that has become the home of Starbucks headquarters. Not sure how I convinced MaryAnn to join me in this endeavor. There wasn’t much in it for her (or me) except that we got to hang out together in the rain. She must love me because there was no glamour in this project. But I wanted no one but her engaged in on my off-the-wall creativity. I thought I’d have to do some heavy convincing, but she agreed right away to be my on-the-scene photographer.

MaryAnn has an eye for detail. She is an artist. And she’s busy. We had to work hard to find a time that fit into our busy schedules. I wanted a Northwest winter setting, read “rain”, complete with gray buildings and low clouds.

Talk about getting what you want!

The day we chose was bone chilling cold. It was pouring. We knew what to expect. After all, it was winter in Seattle. I was worried that, with the cold weather, my body wouldn’t be elastic enough for some of the asanas. MaryAnn took her place behind the camera. We did our work. I warmed up enough at times to take off my many layers. Then I’d get shivery and have to layer up again. One thing I can say, the experience felt real because it was real! It was a typical winter day in Seattle. There were many areas, like the shipyards, which were off limits to us, barred by high chain linked fences and barbwire. And I was in no mood to jump barbwire fences. As is, I climbed fire escapes and loading docks, risked standing on train tracks, and took in the hard stares from the drivers rumbling past. I did all in the name of capturing a part of Seattle that seems to be hidden from the everyday downtown worker, the backbone industrial area, an almost hidden essential artery of the city.

But why yoga in this setting? I am still trying to figure this one out. When I first saw the photos that came out of the shoot, I was not satisfied. They weren’t really what I had in mind. Or so I thought. I put the photos aside and didn’t look at them again for a while…until today. Almost one year later. Now I kind of see it.

It’s about me and all of us, adapting to our environment. It’s about yoga teaching us how to ground, how to navigate life, how to perceive with new eyes. It’s about yoga teaching us how to be playful and, at the same time, how to put your nose to the grinder. With the lines of my body, I explored and fit into the open lines of the city, the loading docks, the wires, the fences, the streets, the railroad tracks. This is something we cannot do within a studio setting.

I did yoga asanas in this setting in order to draw attention to the overlooked, to what may be viewed as the possibly polluted parts of the city, in order to promote the enhancement or rejuvenation of these areas. Starbucks headquarters has moved into the old Sears Building in the SoDo District. Others will do the same. Perhaps what we captured will soon be a ghost of the past, buildings that once existed, destroyed to make way for something bigger, better, racier.

We care about our bodies. Well, why not care about the industrial artery of the city? On a bigger scale, why not take care of mother earth the way we care about our bodies, with respect and tender care? There is definitely a relationship between yoga and the environment. Seattle’s Duwamish River is a silent witness to this photo shoot. As I did Warrior II, I was aware of the Duwamish’ rushing presence, the Duwamish showing signs of revival. Finally, she is starting to thrive through much effort to clean her up after some 70 years of chemical dumping and neglect.

At times the industrial area felt dark and somewhat frightening. Do they have a soul these vast buildings and machinery, concrete and steel, cold and hard surfaces? Perhaps this yoga shoot was about shining the light of yoga on the darker parts of the city.

Our world is changing so fast that these places might not exist for much longer. The gray building could go down overnight and be replaced by a high rise apartment complex. On a regular basis, this city takes structures, knocks them down, and within months, newer bigger buildings come into being. Maybe this photo shoot is the start of something big, something new?  A new awareness through yoga.

Yoga Inspiration

November 8, 2016

I am back home now.  I woke up in the middle of the night trying to figure out which city I was in. Was I in Kyoto, Koyasan, Osaka, or Miyajima? Or was I in Tokyo or back in Tsukiji at Kazuko’s apartment? Gradually, I figured out I was back at the condo in Green Lake, home sweet home, with the memory of Japan freshly imprinted in my mind. The Japan experience was incredible, rich, and so varied in scope.  I have a lot of processing to do!

There are a few more Japan-related blog posts to come. For now, I share this poem with you, along with photos of my fellow travelers and yogis, whom I spent the last two weeks of my life with, in the land of the Rising Sun, the Land of Kindness, Japan.

I chose the poem below before going on the trip. It embraces the philosophy of Hokusai and I feel it reflects what we experienced on our trip. Hokusai was an Edo era painter and lived from 1760-1849. He is most famous for his work of art called The Great Wave. He is the best-known and most revered Japanese artist and was extremely productive. He is perhaps the most famous non-Western artist and may very well be the equivalent of Michelangelo.

I think the poem depicts the way of the yogi. I loved the words of this poem and ideas conveyed before I left for Japan, but as I read this poem to the group on our last yoga session, I realized that the words had taken on a deeper dimension after having experienced Japan these past weeks. The poem embraces values found in Japanese culture as well as a deep running undercurrent of the Japanese approach to life.  It is a blend of the indigenous Shinto religion where stones and trees hold spirit and intelligence and of Buddhist philosophy and wisdom, where awakening oneself to the moment, living a life of mindfulness and awareness of thoughts and actions, and living a moral life lead to becoming an enlightened peaceful being.

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just become more of who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Divya

Divya

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Wendy

Wendy

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

Ginger and Woody

Ginger and Woody

Kevin and Fran

Kevin and Fran

Marc and Nellie

Marc and Nellie

Don

Don

Jeff and Karin

Jeff and Karin (Udon Cooking School)

Bill and Bridget

Bill and Bridget

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Yukiko and Chiaki

Yukiko and Chiaki

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

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.”

Triangle

Triangle

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

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!

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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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.

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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.

Forest

Washington Rain Forest

Yoga in the Dark

October 11, 2015

Yoga in the Dark.  No, it’s not a typo.  It’s  yoga done in the “dark”and not in the “park” and it’s an entirely different experience from the light-filled atmosphere of doing yoga outdoors in the summertime.  Yesterday afternoon I taught a yoga workshop in the dark.

Long before I started teaching, I took a yoga class at University Heights Community Center through the Experimental College.  Every week I showed up for a winter evening Hatha yoga class.  I’d always find the instructor sitting quietly outside the classroom.  She would greet and usher me into a dark room where  I’d put my mat down, just barely able to see.  The lights were off, but the room had huge old fashioned lead windows which let in a modicum of light from the street.  I remember feeling comfortable and anonymous in that big room.  I was aware of  others in the room, but I’d never recognize them outside of the yoga room.

I take suggestions for workshops themes and this one came up: “Let’s do yoga in the dark.”  I must admit it was a little out of my comfort zone.  I did my best to make the room as dark as possible by putting black paper over the door windows and covering the EXIT sign.  Despite my efforts, there were small hints of light, like the thin stream of light coming through the door frame that reflected off the studio mirrors.   I was prepared to perhaps have someone feel claustrophobic or uncertain in the darkness, so I had my flashlight on hand and invited workshop participants to call out my name at any time should they need me or the light nearby.  When I turned off the flashlights, I heard one gasp and much silence.

How seldom we are enveloped in complete darkness.  The darkest I have ever experienced is when the power went out in the midwest at night and storm clouds covered the sky so that not even star light was visible. My mother always had emergency candles on hand so we were never in darkness for long.  As a child, I remember feeling relieved once she lit the candles.  At my home, I have dim night lights that go on automatically when it is dark out.   I know a war veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) who cannot not fall asleep unless the lights are on.  Darkness can present a blanket of discomfort or it can bring us to a different level of awareness, one void of visual intake.

Earlier I was looking for ideas on the internet for this workshop.  Which poses would I do for such a class?  Which ideas could I espouse?   I knew it had been done before, but I saw in photos that participants wore glow in the dark t-shirts and the room was candle-lit.  I wanted to experience a practice in darkness.  I could not find any ideas.  What I did find surprised me!  When I searched “Yoga in the Dark”, The Dark Side of Yoga came up!  Another article came up called Fear of the Dark Art of Yoga.  Both sites were the work of Conservative Christians.  Wait, I found one other topic that came up with many links:  Yoga for Dark Circles Under Eyes.  My confession, I actually got side-tracked and read up on the latter.

So back to the meat of yesterday’s workshop.  Unlike a typical class, practicing in the dark makes you more cognizant of your surroundings.  Your brain relies on heightened awareness from senses other than vision to process sensory information in order to stay balanced.  This workshop experience is about what you don’t see.  It is also about what we don’t know is happening around us!

Yoga is meant to be experienced in your own body, where the only thing that exists around you is space.  In the dark, we work on poses that are grounding, yoga poses that allow us to feel the earth, the breath, the body moving.  I called out mantras that went like this:  In the dark, anything is possible.  In the dark, there is no comparison.  In the dark, there is no judgement.  In the dark, there are no limits to what is possible.

During the workshop, I had to be very clear with my voice.  My voice was the only link to teaching the class.  It was very strange not to observe in my usual way and stranger yet not to help with adjustments.  Instead, I had to stay put (how would I walk around without tripping?) and I had to listen to the class breathing.  I had to tune in to the class in a completely unusual way.  It surprised me to find I could sense if someone was uncomfortable, or if someone was elated with the experience without seeing them.  For the most part, I stayed put and simply guided the class.  The highlight for me was doing the Sun Salutations. I got up and did them along with the group.  The class was quiet as they floated from one pose to another.  I felt as if I were a light, translucent, celestial being floating through space.

I spoke of neutrinos. Just last week, new scientific discoveries were made with Neutrino Oscillations.  Two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize (see link). Neutrinos are elementary particles that hold no electrical charge.  They travel at nearly the speed of light and pass through ordinary matter with virtually no interaction.   The discovery made last week is that neutrinos have MASS.  It is fascinating to think that we have particles, carrying mass, coming through us all the time!  What does this mean in terms of Yoga in the Dark??  There is an unknowable field of reality, of mental phenomena within us, between us, around us, going on all the time!  Perhaps Yoga in the Dark brings us closer to experiencing the unknown, the unseen, the yet-to-be-experienced?

Towards the end of the workshop, as the class was in deep relaxation in the deep darkness, I heard Monica calmly say:

We are stardust.

This photo and the top photo of neutrinos found on the web)

(This photo found on the web.)

I invite anyone reading this to leave a comment below.  If you were at the workshop, I invite you to write a little about your experience to share with others, whether it was a positive experience for you or not.  With 23 people at the workshop, my guess is that there is a wide variety of experiences and impressions.

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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