Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yoga to the People

I am the decisive element

"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming." --Goethe

I first heard this quote by Goethe in a yoga class taught by a teacher at Jennyoga who used to teach at Yoga to the People in New York. The line that impacted me most was treat people as they ought to be, so that we help them become what they are capable of. When you have 2 boys that fight constantly, like boys do, this is one to remember on a daily basis. : ) I hope to take a class at Yoga to the People in NYC weekend.
On their website is the statement below-- now that is Yoga.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Yoga Sutra 1.7

Preparations for going out of town are always fun for me. I love planning, organizing, and of course, the thrill of going and exploring something new. I'm headed to NYC- my first trip in about 18 years? I can't remember... I went during college for a summer internship (ad agency) interview. I recall really wanting that job- but decided to take one in Texas in order to stay closer to my husband (fiance at the time). It's one of those forks in the road of life where you wonder what if and yet I'm grateful I took the one I did.

Pratyaksanumanagamah Pramanani
Yoga Sutra 1.7

Right knowledge and deep wisdom awareness is based on experience and meditation. Wrong knowledge is the idea based on intellect only, not on experience or meditation. When you can understand something by seeing or experiencing it for yourself, you have a direct perception of it. If you don't, you only have a knowledge of it based on someone else's experience or their understanding of it. -- Anand

I have a lot to learn- and the older I get, the easier it is for me to take advise from those that I respect and admire, who have gone or traveled a road I'm headed toward. (My dad might disagree here... but I'm working on at least listening well!) When I was younger, I was not as open to it. I find, however, that when I sit still and talk to God about it, the Truth will surface. It soon becomes clear when my values are unchanging, decisions are simpler. My choice to stay in Texas all those years ago was the right one at the time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Life is

Maybe I'm a little slow at this figuring out life-thing. Am I the only one who's just realizing that there's nothing new to be discovered about spirituality? What's new is old, and what's old is new again. Green is the new black, just like beige was the new black last season. Just like fashion, things just keep reinventing or renaming itself - just under a different name. I was reading Living Your Yoga, and there was a quote from the first line of Dr. Scott Peck's book the Road less Traveled, "Life is difficult". And, then, another book I picked up a few weeks ago, same quote. And, an article I read... more about suffering. (Gee, I'm reading some heavy stuff...) Ok, but really, what's the big deal here? So, I got the book. And, turns out, it was published in 78 (I was 7, most likely wearing bell bottoms with butterfly embroidery roller skating my way through my mom's smallish (but big as far as 70's middle class goes) house on Fairmeadow Drive in Texas on our newly tiled hallways, while my Mary Kay Director-single mom sent my older brother away to an all boys camp year-round where he was learning how to carve his name into cedar blocks, living in the woods, and singing "I'd like to buy the world a coke and peace and harmony"... so that my mom could find her peace and harmony. At least, that's how I remember it.)
Anyway, the book was on the NYTimes best seller list for over a decade and evidently had a profound impact on that generation. His idea of course, was not new. It came from the first of Buddha's "Four Noble Truths".
There's another "new" book out, the "Four Agreements", and even another follow up to his almost decade best seller, the "Fifth Agreement" which also talks about how we create needless suffering for ourselves.
Even in Christianity, the belief is that we are all sinners- that we must bear the cross and be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. We're taught that if we just acknowledge that Christ is Lord of our life, that when we come to Him, He will forgive our sins, and we can live eternally with Him.
Sin and suffering, I feel are very different. However, both - and all views attempt to show us that it's possible to transcend the suffering. That joy, inner peace, freedom, is all possible, if we can just acknowledge and somehow accept that suffering... or as Peck simply put it to accept that "Life is difficult."
I'm not one for debating things, and do NOT want to go into a theological debate here. (Let me repeat, I hate debating theology, politics or anything sports-related. I have nothing to prove and feel no need to defend my beliefs.) I'm just on my own journey and the older and less wise that I get, (the more I know, the less I realize that I know-- is absolutely true in my case) the more I seem to be craving that relationship with God. And, the more I realize that He's in everyone- I simply have to look beyond everyone's personal history, their suffering, and realize they are just like me... only they might be a little ahead of me on the path or just behind. What's old is new again to those who've not heard or seen it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meditation


“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”
― Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Dedicating time to practice and study on a daily basis comes fairly easy for me. When you do what you love, you make time. Lately I've been reading on meditation- reading, but not really practicing. Mindful meditation does not come easily - at least not in big chunks. But, what I'm finding is that I've have the misperception that something must take a lot of your time to be worthwhile... quantity over quality... when in fact- I can just start small- 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there... and progress (or choose not to!) over time (weeks or months or never!). Who says it's not meditation if it only lasts a few minutes? To have a beginners mind-- wide open to new concepts and ways of doing things over an experts mind-- wise, but also with the predetermined mind-set of how things should or could be done. I'm working on the former. And, when I miss a day or a week or more, the very next moment is the right moment to begin anew.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Discipline

I just completed my blog post, hit publish and poof, it was gone.

I have to smile because it's these little challenges that show me how attached I am to things. Of course I'm disappointed that my lengthy, thought out post about discipline has disappeared but more importantly, I have to let it go...

Devote yourself to do what you can do and do it wholly, with all your heart.-- Discipline

On with the great day ahead!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Half the Sky

"We can’t feel pity. We must see the heart, the soul. Not to get caught up in the story. To just be and have compassion and be willing to love under any circumstance." -- Seane Corn

In reading the moving, shocking book, Half the Sky, I am overcome with sorrow for women of third world countries that do not have the same rights, protection and freedoms that we have in the United States.

What is most compelling about the book, is NOT the horrid statistics presented. (Women aged 15-45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined. A major study by the World Health Org (WHO) found that in most countries, between 30-60% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend. (But, then it's probably larger, because those types of abuses, including rape, are not reported because it is so stigmatizing.) )

What IS most compelling are the individual stories woven throughout the book, that the authors have witnessed and reported first hand. Not just in Africa or India, but Asia and throughout the world. The women's stories depict triumph over the evils they've endured, and their brave actions show how it does make a difference to help just one person, even when their story does not have a happy ending. The book's hope is to bring light on the need to educate women and not so much on changing legislation but in going into the small villages or areas where culture breeds continuous abuse.

Here's one woman's story:

"Srey Rath was a 15-year-old self-confident Cambodian girl when she was trafficked to a brothel, drugged and beaten, and forced to work 7 days a week, 15 hours a day sleeping with male customers. Condoms were banned, she was never paid, and she was fed just barely enough food to keep her alive. Sex trafficking is frequently forced prostitution, often of teenage girls like Srey Rath. But local organizations, with the help of foreigners, have figured out ways to intervene. Srey Rath embarked on a remarkably dramatic journey in the hopes of getting to freedom and foreign assistance..."

When I lived in Southeast Asia, I remained in areas that were safe and certainly did not venture to the red light districts to witness the sex slave trafficking. The most remote area I visited was the Kampong in the jungles of Malaysia. There just the elderly and women who were illiterate stayed in the huts on stilts that was their homes to raise babies, everyone else left the villages during the week to work or go to school. Malaysia, a Muslim country, has their share of issues with the rights of women -- some of which I became aware of and most of which I was comfortably sheltered from.

I am inspired to see how ordinary people are doing simple, yet extraordinary things. (There are so many detailed in the book -- a 23 year old woman from Minnesota who started a school in the Congo--students from Seattle raise money to build schools and fight slavery in Cambodia-- on and on.

There are things you can do now:

-www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org that link you directly to a person in need overseas.
-Sponsor a woman or girl through World Vision or Women for Women International.
-Help students at U of Penn pay for a primary school, www.givology.com
-www.can.care.org to write letters to policy makers

You can make a difference right where you are- no matter where you are because goodness knows there are problems to be faced right in our own backyards, however, it's good to see what the needs of the big, wide world are. The more we're exposed to them, the smaller our world is. That's what I hope to teach my kids: the impact of just one person does make a difference-- right here in Katy, Texas, over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or anywhere.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Heart Alignment

I was looking forward to the beginner's workshop tonight. I suppose now that I'm fully prepared, there will be an opportunity to share and teach it at some point again in the near future. I'm excited about the direction that yoga is going at Lifetime. There's a growing community of students that seem to be grasping the joy of yoga.

"Practice- asana, mantra, meditation, diet, etc. is really all about love. Discipline does not have to be some set of self-imposed restrictions that we do to be "good yogi's" but instead could simply be a way that we align ourselves with our heart and so whatever gestures we make are really self-affirming, self-loving acts."- Christina Sells, Anusara Yoga

This morning -- running through my to do list in my mind before I got out of bed... time with God & study, must meditate, no chocolate today! (Easter chocolate has been irresistible lately), take Drew to doctor & try to get him to eat!, straighten house, organize for workshop (that will most likely cancel due to low registration), order cake for baby shower, wrap gifts for upcoming birthdays, plan for NY trip, get in 108 sun salute weekly practice, meetings to re-arrange.... on and on.

I've always considered myself very disciplined, however, I'm also quite adapt at procrastination. It's that Vata (flighty)-Pitta (fiery) in me that I struggle to balance. Sometimes I wish I had more nurturing Kapha traits. Wishing isn't really what I need. Cultivating a more loving respect for myself (and those closest to me) and allowing for room to grow and change, rather than striving with so much effort to always do good or better. (And, then feeling the guilt when I miss the mark.) With loving respect, I would probably make fewer poor choices and make room for more beauty in my life.




Sunday, March 14, 2010

Down Dog debate



Ah, the great debate going on over down ward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). I understand the importance of getting it right anatomically.... but when I look at the hours I've spent reviewing and reviewing my notes from Judith Lasater's Anantomy workshop and other resources... agh. I need to take myself (not yoga) a little less seriously.

I had a great conversation with another yoga teacher at that conference. She asked me who I've studied with. Sadly, I suppose we're all looking to see if each other measures up in some way (what certifications/ training/ a who's who of yoga)... she commented that she finally had to just pick ONE style because teaching and learning so many different versions of the same posture was beginning to feel schizophrenic. (Iyengar, Power, Anusara, Yoga Trance Dance, Bikram,...I could name a zillion. Just google it and see how confusing it can be.)

While I can relate to what she's saying, I also feel that by opening myself up to new and different options gives me the power to choose. I hope to teach in a way I feel best suits my students and allows them to practice safely with awareness.

So the debate continues over down dog (shoulder alignment, in particular) and over whether we have to pick and stick with a style or dabble and play with it all... what do you think?

Enjoying Life,

Mel

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Culture Shock


Culture shock. It's something you think about when you visit a foreign country or become an expat (a foreigner living in another country for work or school, usually). But, very, very little is talked about when you reinter your own country after living abroad.

I thought, in no way would I experience this. After all, when we lived in Asia, we came home once or twice a year and stayed an extended period. But, when we moved back to Texas (almost 2 years ago now) after living in Kuala Lumpur for 3 plus years, I felt it, and it's definitely real.

The familiarity of home... all that is wonderful about it: easy access to whatever you want and as much of it as you'd like was a little overwhelming and seemed so over the top compared to Asia. My favorite comfort foods, clothing (that fits a tall Texan), friends and family that are dear to me, are now near again. (Although, most have moved or found friend replacements or are simply in a different part of the city- so far (15 minutes!) that your paths just do not cross anymore). Then, there's the ultimate shock of re-inventing yourself... yet again. I think it was simple for my spouse. He has the things he enjoys and certain freedoms again (a car to drive on his own (we shared a car and driver in KL), a great new job, his family close by).

For me, thankfully I've always had teaching (a constant form of identity). My yoga practice has grown, after spending most of these past 4 years in trainings (as my sweet yoginis from the hood will agree!) and figuring out not only my life but what my ultimate purpose is. When you move every 2-3 years, over-seas or just across the country, there is this strange sense of re-inventing yourself. Who will I be, what will I do, will I have friends, will my kids acclimate well to school, is this all there is to life? Have I done all that God has for me? Am I living my dharma (life's purpose)?

I'm old enough to know that I haven't even scratched the surface and young enough to be grateful of that. Yoga has been a constant thread in my life and so in gratitude, I always close my classes with "it's been an honor and a privilege to serve and teach you today." I feel that grace- deep within me - that keeps me moving day to day, class to class, knowing that eventually my dharma will be revealed in just the right time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spiritual Journey

"Open up to the possibility that your ordinary life is an extraordinary adventure, and that your joys and sorrows have meaning. Spiritual practice becomes your rudder, offering direction and insight and discretion as you venture into the unknown." --E Lesser

We're all on a spiritual journey, I think. Whether or not we even admit or realize it.

I told a friend that this blog is not about me, it's about yoga. However, after reflecting on my defensive response, that's not true. It's about both. My journey. My spiritual journey. I've been actively seeking God for most of my life, (a Christian since age 9), and I am just now more fully realizing that the Divine and ordinary in life is complexly intertwined, and life is far richer if I can let go of trying to orchestrate everything to perfection. (What took me so long?!)

Learning when to go with the river of life and when to stand up and walk back upstream a bit. Or simply stand still and listen to the quiet of my heart. These shifts in the current have tested my ability to accept circumstances I've been given (and chosen) as a chance to be more genuine in love and life.

My friend, whom I admire and respect dearly, suggested that I "quit quoting every yogi that ever lived and just seek God". (I'm not here to defend my journey. I'm writing about it because it helps me process it and in my own way, has opened my path wider to God.) I think there's a longing (for peace, God, spirituality or to find your True self) in all of us that yearns to be fulfilled.

We all fill it with something: food, shopping, yoga/exercise, friends/family, drugs or alcohol, email, TV, or internet, even service or philanthrophy... whatever we do to avoid the silent pull of our longings. I think if we truly listened carefully, we would sense something far greater, something more awesome than we ever imagined. It's when I ignore that small still voice, put on my mask (of trying to hide my weaknesses that are probably clear to everyone anyway), and crowd my life with stuff and things to do that I miss out on a possible journey that God is clearly a part of.

My friend, I hear you, and I'm hearing God, too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Yoga Etiquette

Gearing up to teach a beginner/intro to yoga workshop next week. One aspect that we take for granted in practicing yoga is the unspoken "rules" or etiquette that yoga has. When I lived in Asia, we removed our shoes before entering some one's home, as a sign of respect for that space and the other person. We also observed silence in the yoga room before and following class, as many students would remain and meditate. Asanas (poses) were created for meditation, allowing the body sit more easily and the mind to quiet.

*Here are some ways to be more mindful when attending a yoga class.

1. Remove your shoes before entering the yoga studio and place them in the space provided outside the yoga room, leaving all your concerns outside the door with your shoes and other belongings.
2. Practice noble silence. Once inside, consider silence or conversation centered on yoga and related topics. All other talking should be quiet and limited to the waiting area outside the room, respecting those that are meditating, practicing or relaxing before or after class.
3. Turn off all wireless devices and do not bring your phone to your mat.
4. Allow extra time to be on time or early. If you arrive late and the class is already meditating or practicing pranayama (breathing techniques), wait outside until you begin to see movement. When you enter, enter quietly and do not unroll your mat until there is movement. (You'd be surprised how loud a mat sounds unrolling when the entire room is silent.)
5. Avoid strong scented lotions or perfume.
6. Honor your body with appropriate rest and consider refraining from practice when you are ill. And, honor your body during class by practicing ahimsa (non-harming) in all poses.
7. Practice with an empty stomach by snacking one hour prior and having heavier meals at least 2 hours prior. Drink plenty of water before and after practice. Water is welcome during heated classes.
8. Honor your space and other's as sacred by walking around the mats rather than on them and placing your belongings outside the room.
9. Stay until the end. The final pose is one of the most beneficial for your nervous system and overall relaxation. If you need to leave the room, please wait until there is movement. Try to practice near the door if you know you must leave before savasana (final relaxation). Please do not leave once relaxation has begun.
10. Clean your mat with cleaner provided after class, stack and return all equipment neatly. If you come regularly, consider purchasing your own mat.

*This was taken from various sources- thanks to Rachel and Stacha for compiling and letting me edit.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

John Mayer


An amazing concert Sunday night with Michael Franti and John Mayer! Incredible... Agh! I cannot stay up late... what happened to me??-- after only 30 minutes of John on stage (by 10pm), I was wiped! Even tire, we had a fantastic time.

I wanted to take a sabbatical Sunday rather than teach a long training. And, I love teaching! As always, when I'm there, I'm fully there and thrive in teaching... and it was actually wonderful. Just a handful of talented teachers with their heart fully in it, and we enjoyed a challenging and yet relaxing practice together.

Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other and not talking yourself out of what you know you would benefit from that requires some effort... is worth it.

Off to yoga & pilates with a great mix of music... and staying in positive because life is way too short to dwell in the I'd rather be doing this or that mind-set!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Update from Martha


I really want to take a break from all things technology- I think I can manage it- but I really have to figure out how it's possible? Why do I need the computer (email) or phone (texts)?

Game updates and schedule changes for my son's soccer happen last minute, always. Carpooling arrangements for practices (choir and soccer). My teaching- students email me and my employer has specified that we check our email daily for updates. I don't answer calls promptly (I keep my phone on silent 24/7 because I don't want to accidentally leave it on while I'm teaching. Done that before!)...A yogini I work with has no cell phone. Only her home phone, and get this... an answering machine! (The last one we had was at least 6 or so years ago...).

I already watch very little TV (admittedly more lately, but as little as possible) so what's realistic?... how connected should I be? Setting limits and just not allowing it to get the best of me? Certainly, I don't think that I am so important that I must be reachable at all times. Or, that I have to check my email and phone continuously. Or, that I have to blog all the time... sigh.


But, really that's not what it's about.

I got a sweet hand written note (yep, snail mail!) from Martha (see her blueberry recipe from earlier blog) who is taking a sabbatical. Letting go of TV and computer and just filling time with family (her grown children and grandchildren), friends and teaching without distraction. She said her life has been richer... walks sweeter, even writing letters are a joy, she said. Life has her full attention. She even has NO trainings scheduled for the remainder of the year and lots of opportunities to teach and be a mentor and supporter of others. Her life is filled with serenity, and she is grateful.

Now if that doesn't sound absolutely wonderful, I don't know what does?!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ahimsa


As a group (yoga teachers at City Center Lifetime), we've chosen to reinforce in our classes the yamas and niyamas which are the first 2 limbs of yoga in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. To take us through the 5 yamas and 5 niyamas, we will weave the concepts through our classes, one each month through December.

Eight limbs (Yoga Sutra 2.29):

1. yama (abstinence)
2. niyama (observance)
3. asana (posture)
4. pranayama (breath control)
5. pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
6. dharana (concentration)
7. dhyana (meditation)
8. samadhi (contemplation)

The first yama is ahimsa (see blog post: Yoga Sutra 2.35).

For me today, it speaks volumes. I tend to set limits or on the other extreme set unrealistic expectations for myself and my body (one too many hand stands last week caused some crazy SI pain). In class, I ask my students to go beyond what their body tells them (our minds tell us to quit long before our bodies do) and yet, I urge them to practice ahimsa (safe and non-toxic asana).

Destructive or unsafe practice takes me out of that state of union and awareness that I desire to cultivate in the first place. "I will step onto my mat today with the intention to love myself and my practice, and to try something difficult with courage and gusto"-- J Lasater


Wednesday, March 3, 2010


met with a few of our yoga instructors from Lifetime yesterday- only too briefly. lovely to feel a sense of unity and direction for the program. i am so blessed and humbled and to work with an amazing group of women. how beautifully unique and gifted each one of them are.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good Karma

Good karma. I think if someone could trademark that phrase, they would. I used to think of "good karma" as doing something nice for someone, and then expect "good luck" or something good to happen in return. What comes around goes around, kind of thing.

"It's a system of discipline aiming at attainment of freedom through unselfishness and good works. Every selfish action, therefore, retards our reaching it and every unselfish action takes us toward it. Let us do good because it is good to do good." (Swami Vivekananda)

That's easy when people are kind. Isn't it easier to give to someone who appreciates a gift? Easier to smile at someone who smiles at you first. So much more discipline required to give without a personal motive. But, it's the highest ideal of Karma yoga to be unattached.

I'm loving the 29 gift challenge because it's intended to be a "sacred ritual-- an opportunity to cultivate a mindful practice of stepping outside my own story for a few seconds each day by serving others." The biggest question to tackle in this 29 days, what could I never part with?

Monday, March 1, 2010

29gifts

We've (some teachers & I ) been thinking about what we could do for a Karma project (an act of service that benefits the community and gives back generously in some way.) Any suggestions?

In researching, I chose to take a challenge that I read about, 29gifts.org. An American yogini with MS who was inspired by an African woman to give gifts for 29 days straight and then wrote a book about it. (What isn't there a book about these days?!) Sort of the same concept as the Happiness Project-- A little gimmicky, but I've always loved giving gifts. I think I love giving them even more than receiving them. (Gifts are one of my "love languages", along with acts of service.) The point: we're all better off when we are in the heart and act of service to others (karma yoga). And, of course the added benefit of those feel good endorphins, ahhhh.

So here goes... day 1: giving flowers to someone in secret. (Is it really in secret, if I'm telling you!? At least the recipient won't know. : )) Who doesn't love flowers? Even if they say they don't, secretly, I believe every woman does and certainly deserves them. It's one of those things that's difficult to justify buying for yourself.

To the art of giving!!