Monday, January 31, 2011

Yoga Playlist

Thanks Cory, for requesting the playlist from last week. I love the Fernando O song, too. 

In gratitude,


Song Title, Artist, Album (my comments)
Catfish Muse, R. Carlos Nakai Inner Voices World (love his southwestern flute sound, beautiful)
A Thousand Paper Cranes , MONO (no vocals- their vocal songs are great, too)
Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair (Jaffa Remix), Nina Simone & Jaffa Verve Remixed 2 Electronic (Nina Simone, not much else need be said. Everyone should have at least one of her songs. Feelin Good is my favorite of hers)
Past In Present, Feist, The Reminder (love love this group)
Brighter Than Sunshine, Aqualung A Lot Like Love (what is better than sunshine than singing about sunshine?)
Lay 'Em Down, Needtobreathe, The Outsiders (very uplifting - all of their stuff)
Running to Stand Still, Elbow, War Child - Heroes, Vol. 1 (very cool- sounds a bit like Dave Matthews)
Details In the Fabric (feat. James Morrison), Jason Mraz,  We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things 
Skin Thin, Ben Harper and Relentless7, White Lies for Dark Times (one of his best songs)
Answer (Talvin Singh Remix), Sarah McLachlan Bloom (Remix Album) (lovely, very yogic feel)
Retrograde, Leo Kottke One Guitar, No Vocals 
Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Fernando Ortega, The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns and Sacred Song (got a lot of comments on this song from students today- wanting to know who sang this version. It's just lovely.)
11th Commandment,Ben Harper & The Blind Boys Of Alabama, There Will Be a Light
Encore, Soulfood, Mystic Canyons (this is the best song for savasana, half way through, the sound of the ocean waves)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yoga, the science of the soul

There are 3 kinds of people:

Those who talk

Those who listen

Those that don't speak but hear with their heart, where no words are needed.

Which one am I today? And everyday? This is living yoga. 

"Yoga is the science of the soul"-- Surinder Singh

Ramoma's Garden Children's Home
Rishikesh, India
making me a clay heart
to take with me

Monday, January 24, 2011

India: Kamal

In just my 3rd class with Kamal, my Ashtanga teacher from Myasore, India, he asked if he could "climb up" in Urdhva Dhanurasana. Ah, no. I watched instead, as he tested a student's strength, putting his hands on the rim of their ASIS (pelvis) and pushing straight down, asked them to press up! Press up!  Then, he climbed up as nimble as a monkey, stood and did Myurasana (peacock) and jumped off. Amazed, I tried to take a photo (no surprise here) and he barked, "no photo!" The following day he asked me, "I climb up?" I found myself saying yes. The weight of his light yet medium build frame pressing down on me and having the resistance required to push into the floor to hold him up was incredible. He stood straight up, his feet standing on my pelvis. I couldn't help but wonder if anyone had ever collapsed under him? After that, every class, he tested my strength and then stood, did Bhkasana and jumped off. 

Megan & me in Kamal's class
My wheels have never been stronger.  While I won't be doing this in my classes (students, breathe a sigh of relief), I think there is something to be said about his precise technique and the trust required between student and teacher. In my experience deep in the south (US), often teachers are either too fearful of hurting someone and don't offer an adjustment or when they do it's not confident and lacks value. Or you find a teacher with not enough training who is overly confident in adjusting without regard to the individual's unique body type or injuries. I am so grateful for the teachers who seek to fine tune the gift of adjusting from teacher to student. Adjustments, which require me to listen and be humble, refine me mentally and physically. Without  knowing what I could improve upon, my body adapts (samskara) to my repetitive movements whether aligned or mis-aligned. I would much prefer to know safely how and where I can outwardly change so that I might be able to inwardly shine all the more.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pursuit of Happiness: wine, chocolate and yoga

Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence changed the words from

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property


Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.


I'm doing a group mentorship with David Romanelli, the Livin' in the Moment: wine, yoga and chocolate guy. It's very innovative concept in the yoga world, group yoga mentoring at home, at my convenience. He's challenging us to find a Delicious, Funny or Beautiful moment on a daily basis and to post it on his own networked site he created, Oasis. I'm trying not to take more than a few minutes a day to do this... hum... Here's the thing: when I do something, I'm all in. ALL in. My best. And, I wear my heart of my sleeve. So how can I not put more than a few minutes into this or anything else I do? Seriously? 

Maybe I need a dose of humble pie (can I have that in chocolate, dave?), but I hope I currently soak in the amazing and not so amazing moments of life. (Weeks in India without kids, yoga trainings, picnics with Drew, impromptu dancin in the house with the boys, coffee with friends, stop to write a card to a friend...) I think I live in the moment most of the time. Most of the time. When I'm not in a rush or late for carpool... why am I always late for carpool? (note to self: need to leave 10 minutes earlier. setting watch 10 minutes early did not help.) I could do more smelling the roses and stopping to listen, really listen to my kiddos or watch the ducks cross the road... more enjoying the moment. Perhaps I could. 

When I think of mentorship, I think about accountability, encouragement, intellectual and spiritual growth, guidance to go further than I thought I could because someone else thought I could.  

And Svadhyaya: study. I will be forever a student. A challenged, often remedial one at that! But always a student. I have so much to learn. From the wine-chocolate-yoga guy to my selfless restorative yoga mentor, Leeann Carey to Ajit's beautiful mother I met in Delhi who does yoga and pranayama 5 days a week and appears to have more lung capacity than and  limberness than those half her age. I have so much to learn, and I'm eager. Hungry even for what I don't yet know. It's opportunities like these, learning from those who go before me, that I make me happy.

Thank God, Jefferson had the sense to change the Declaration from property to happiness. Can you imagine a nation founded on the pursuit of property? It might feel like we are like that at times but the essence of our legacy and the freedoms (spiritual, mental, and otherwise) intended is key to the foundation of our lives today. 

Happiness for me is the pursuit of knowledge and the ability to pass it on in a way that is received in love. 

What's your Delicious, Funny or Beautiful moment this week?

in pursuit of happiness

* Book: "And the Pursuit of Happiness" by Maria Kalman, makes me smile- flows from random thought to thought and illustrations are enviable. Actually, I prefer her first book, The Principals of Uncertainty

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Guru Mantra

Indu, one of my beautiful teachers, taught: "A guru puts a seed or prana inside you. When you nurture it regularly, it will grow." Indu has such a sense of wonder about her. A strong belief in the power of the Ganga (believing it healed her eyes when surgeries failed) and an inner light that seemed to shine when she spoke of her devotion to the practice of yoga and about her teacher and guru, Mataji who became like a mother to her when she entered the ashram as a young girl. 

Indu shared with us the sacred power that a guru mantra holds. The mantra is a Vedic chant that invokes transformation and is a garland of protection around your life. It awakens the power of a deity (your own expression of the Divine) in your life. 

Mataji at Ganga Arti
As Mataji quietly slipped out of our morning class, I followed quickly after her and asked if she would give me a guru mantra. Date set: 5am on Wednesday, 2 days prior to my departure. When I arrived that morning, she called to me to come in to a smaller back room where there was an elaborate alter with Ganesha and 2 other deities on either side set on a raised platform in the corner of the room. The shining gold statues were dressed in miniature brightly colored silk clothing and jewels. Asking me to sit next to her on one of the 2 small orange cushions that lay on the floor, she was quiet for a time. Then she gave me a red bindi in the place of my third eye. "What Deity did I relate to most? Ganesha", I said without any hesitation. (The remover of obstacles. I felt God was constantly opening doors and making obstacles disappear almost as much as I felt him put them in my path as a way of polishing my rough edges. I was quite familiar with this constant refinement and yet knew intimately of His sense of protection.) 

She asked to hold my right hand between her palms. The energy and heat from her hands strong, she then said my mantra is: Om Gan Gunapapaye Namah. As she chanted it, I remember thinking, thank god it's not too long. Perhaps she knew my western tongue was having trouble with Sanskrit. She chanted the mantra, I repeated it several times, then together we chanted. Once she felt satisfied with my chanting, she asked me to sit in her place in front of the alter and chant it 108 times using rough rudrucksha mala beads she gave me. When I repeat the mantra, I am to picture Ganesha, my third eye center, then picture Ganesha in my heart. As I chanted, I was only vaguely aware that she paced back and forth behind me. Once I completed the 108th, she placed her right hand on the top of my head, sat beside me, and chanted quickly a series of sanskrit I had heard her say before but was unsure what it meant. Then, she sat in silence for about what felt like 10 minutes or so. When we opened our eyes, she asked me to place a coin in front of her. I was not aware at the time that I was supposed to bring an offering, or dakshina, a gift of a coin or money which would allow for the fulfillment of the mantra. (You are to "give whatever the heart says you can offer".)  Penniless, she pointed to one on her alter to lay it at her feet. Next, I placed a bindi on her forehead. 
 She told me I was to chant my mantra at least one round of 108 times before sun arrives and after a morning bath. I should also recite my mantra at least 3 times before I do anything or eat anything. It will "protect me and is powerful". I don't know that there is any power in these actual words. I do believe, however, there is potency in faith. I seldom lack in it but often swell in self doubt. Like prayer, repeating an intention or mantra helps me simplify and re-examine my focus. It diminishes that fear and self-doubt and allows me view the world and my own little piece of it with more clarity.

Mataji closed her eyes again, and after a period of minutes, said that my new Indian name is Prachi, which means the "glory of the Eastern Rising Sun". She must have known I would cry because on cue, she hands me a tissue. When I asked her how she knew to name me that, she just shrugged and smiled. She just knew.

"Your heart will recognize the guru your eyes cannot see." --Indu

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Seattle: Acro Yoga Immersion

Day 4, acro yoga training: Abundance. By far my most challenging and yet best day of the 5 days in the immersion for me. The high note was celebrating Nicola's birthday. In our circle of sharing (no, we didn't hold hands and sing Kumbaya, however, it was definitely a touchy-feel-y, warm your heart and hug-y kind-a week), we offered what we would contribute to Nicola's birthday party if we had infinite resources. Imaginations running wild: everything from fluorescent body paint to a cake you could swim in to the original cast of Cats to joy. A lovley birthday.

In route to experience abundance, I accidentally detoured to through excessive mommy guilt. Feeling I should be home and yet knowing I can trust that all is well at home. The push and pull of needing to be fully present in the training and wanting to be available to my normal responsibilities was a battle. I'm grateful for the emotional day and the refining that physical distance from loved ones and the process of learning new movements in my body brings.

Talk about refinement. Acro yoga training is about having a child-like playfulness while at the same time following a progression of steps to ensure safety and support for yourself and your partners. Birthday fun aside, we balanced the day with acro asana sequences, drills, flying (or basing in my case), therapeutic asana sequences, thai massage, and therapeutic flying.

Lakshmi usually portrayed as the goddess of wealth and prosperity. A deeper look reveals the plentifulness of the good things in life are within... friendship, joy and trust...the fullness of community.

In gratitude for ABUNDANCE and to my teachers.


Monday, January 10, 2011

देवालय Sunrise, Himalayas

Beginning at 4am, a short motorcycle ride followed by an hour long taxi to the Kunjapuri Temple (देवालय) on a hilltop overlooking the India/China boarder of the Himalayan mountains. The temple itself was not pretty but had a typical construction-in-progress- this is India- feel to it: a deity whom the stone temple was dedicated enclosed in a cage near the entrance, an emmence tree with red string and garlands tied (symbolic of a prayer of protection), and huge piles of rubble to navigate to find the best view of the wide purple, blue and finally orange skyline. As we waited for the sun to rise, we paid respects to the monk there and with a small offering, he allowed us to go into an inner sanctum where we knelt and received a blessing, a red bindi (paste mixed with rice positioned on the "ajna", the place of concealed wisdom, between the eyes). 

Feeling the presence of God, I watched the sun peek over the eastern horizon and burn the haze that once clouded the view. Stunning. 

"...God reveals Himself daily to every human being, but we shut our ears to the still small voice.Gandhi

Over the next 3 hours, my companions, John, Peter, the guide and I trekked and talked, making our way down hill. Chai with local farmer's family home, a rest beneath a cool waterfall, and lunch at a lovely children's home, Ramana's Garden in Lakshman Jhula. A enchanting day. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

India: Kriya Yoga

Immersing in the Kriya course was a challenging endeavor for me. I often teach Kriyas in class as a moving meditation or physical exercise repeated over and over so that it becomes something you must persevere, creating tapas (heat) for purification. While that's not far off from what was taught in Indu's afternoon classes. Her repetitive asanas tended to be simple with no anatomy or alignment emphasis. Mataji's Kriya class instead focused on the 20 main Kriya yoga practices for pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana (control of the senses, concentration and meditation). We essentially went through a series of pranayama (kapalbhati and bhastrika), some walking mediation, and Kriyas that all focused on the chakras (the 7 energy centers of the body). The course description on the website said the student must be able to "sit for 2 hours meditation and have a desire to live a yogic lifestyle". I suppose that weeds out the folks who are adverse to sitting still and meditating. Not having a consistent meditation practice, it certainly made me pause. 

Mala Beads
Chakras in this manner were all new for me. I felt my brain mixing them up, confusing the order or accidentally repeating the wrong chakra. Feeling ten paces behind everyone else, we used our mala beads to count the repetitions of breath with the chakras. By the third day, there was less explanation and the pace was so quick, I dissolved to tears. The fourth day she asked me to stop taking notes, saying with time and practice, it would come. Frustrated and angry with myself for feeling like note taking was the only way I could learn, I tried hard to focus on her instruction but always seemed to forget an essential ingredient like a mudra or where to focus my gaze. She did warn us that there would be a purification of sorts by the 3rd or 4th day. One afternoon after a particularly frustrating morning of learning one Kriya that was supposed to bring about "bliss", I went to her room to ask her some questions and ended up in tears yet again (I could blame this on hormones or being in a foreign country or any number of things but really, I think it was just me, expecting myself to be immediately perfect in something I've never done. My dominant pitta nature pouring out.) She turned to her computer (even Sadhvis, renunciates, have some worldly influence after all) and printed out the instructions up to the day of what we had completed thus far. Relieved, things seemed to improve significantly after that. I had something to re-read and often asked Indu follow up clarifications.

I began to look forward to our 6am class with a sense of quiet anticipation, eager to learn the next Kriya, just when the course came to a close. Opening myself up to new ways of learning, the fire that pranayama brought and the process of intense concentration allowed me to drop everything else and be entirely available to experience something new. Purification indeed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

India: Daily Practice

Day 1: 
3am wake up, severe jet lag. attempt to go back to sleep. 
4am automated bells begin by (an evil) machine heard miles around
4.30am give up sleep, get up
5am morning mediation, chanting (last 40 minutes after legs go numb from lack of practice, does not feel meditative)
6am-8.30am yoga asana class with 101 year old yogi (similar to yoga calastinics), he's as limber & humorous as a young man half his age, an entourage of young (boys) demonstrate the poses (helpful with his strong Indian accent)
9am breakfast (curried yellow rice with yellow vegtables and chai)
11am-12.30pm chanting with the Kryia Yoga Course class with Indu (she sings like angel, I sing like frog)
12.30am cleaning of the room & heart
1pm lunch (yellow dahl, yellow cabbage curry, chapattis, and yellow rice and sadly, no chai! this is very upsetting)
3.30-5pm yoga class with Indu, more yoga calestinics
5.30-7pm Ganga Aarti (fire ceremony on the Ganga River) & Satsong with Swamiji
7pm- dinner (more yellow curry)
8.30- crash

Day 2-14: 
3am wake with jet lag again and again, stay up
4am evil bells and chanting (by day 3, enjoyed the sound of the bells...enjoyed most sounds from India, mood as light as a feather)
5am hand wash clothes in leaky sink and hang to dry outside room daily
6-8am Kriya Course class with Mataji
skip breakfast (it's all yellow but miss my only chance for 
Kamal's Class with Meg
delicious chai)
8.30-10.30am Ashtanga class with Kamal the Ashtanga "Wonder" (we had another name for him... let's just say he was strong, almost forceful with the adjustments)
10.45am take away chai from "the office" cafe (with promise to return their metal cup since no one in India does take away)
11am-12.30pm Chanting Class (45 minutes into class, mouth feels like cotton and tongue not working. Sanskrit is hard. Wished I had learned a second language as a child, would it be easier then?)
12.30pm Seva: cleaning of the floors & heart (my heart is in need of major overhaul)
1pm lunch (yellow yellow yellow yet yummy) Wishing for chai. Must devise plan to feed new chai addiction in the afternoons
1.30-3.30pm various afternoon adventures.... the beach, tea, shopping, an orphanage, playing a board game, ludo, at "the office", a massage.... 
3.30-5pm yoga (which I only made about half the tme after the the first day)
5-7pm- yoga class with Surinder at the Raj Hotel (my preference) or Ganga Aarti (fire ceremony at the river)
Surinder's Class
7pm dinner (yellow curry at the ashram unless I was awake enough to go out to eat)
8.30-9pm crash

Amazingly, I've never had more energy. I had time to focus and really listen to my body instead of mindlessly eating or chasing after everything that appears to be urgent (teaching, class prep, calls, texts, emails, errands, carpooling.... life). 

At home, Houston: Daily Practice

4am or whenever I can fit it in with my son's schedules... I'm still on India time. My mantra for the new year: "Yoga is not an exercise done on a sticky mat. Yoga lives inside you."

Monday, January 3, 2011

India, Parmarth Niketan Ashram

Everyone warns of the possible trials in India: personal safety, scams, Delhi belly, traffic, and of course daily frustrations that come with foreign cultural differences. My India challenges started before I even left. I had hoped that all my "lessons" were learned before I boarded the plane. Getting any personal purification out of the way before departure seemed like a good compromise for all the drama I faced in planning my journey. 

I knew I wanted to stay in an Ashram, a place where devotees go to learn from a guru or teacher, but i didn't know anything about Parmarth prior to going other than what I read on line. And, even that I didn't read very carefully, or I would have thought to bring the white tunics and pants that they required students enrolled in courses to wear. I ended up there by recommendation from an Indian friend, raised in the US who doesn't even like ashrams. Even after recommending it, she cautioned without explanation, that she heard there was "trouble" there. My other option was in Haridare (an organic farm/ashram isolated in the country side with no set class instruction). My third option, an Ashram in Rishikesh, who never responded to an email but did answer when I called them from the US. The gentleman took about 10 minutes to gather my full name and specific dates of arrival & departure. Then without answering my questions, abruptly ended our conversation with "OK, Mona Lisa, we see you November." Hum. Crossed that one off the list. Feeling options were limited, I went boldly with my intuition to the one where there was possible "trouble" of some kind. Ignorance is bliss, right? Destination set. Then, a few days prior to departure, I was confirming my ride/driver from the airport to the Rishikesh that Parmarth had recommended and found out my driver had "met an untimely death in an auto accident". Plan B: I went armed with simple instructions on how to ride the train instead (see my first India post on how that panned out!).
Denise & Mel @ Parmarth
Safely arriving by train to Parmarth with my new friend and soon to be roommate, Denise, we were both awed by the beauty of it. The ashram opened up to a view of an enormous statue of Lord Shiva in the Ganga River to one side, and the other held a view of the mountainous foothills. Lush with flowers and statues of deities, it seemed more like a large spread out college campus than it did a humble holy place. The rooms were pretty bare yet functional with a thin mattress pad, leaky faucet and cold showers in the same stall as the toilet (although we were told it was intended to be hot). We had to take care to remove the toilet paper before showering. Showers aside, we stayed.

Our Kryia classes were held in the far back lot beyond the back alley of the Ashram. The yoga room was incredibly spacious and oddly enough the space seemed to generate more dirt than we thought possible to bring in on a daily basis. Most afternoons after our chanting class, our younger teacher, Indu asked us to do Seva, or service by sweeping and mopping the floors. The first day took us almost 45 minutes just to sweep. We had to learn to use the brooms which were basically twigs bundled together. In the 3 plus years I lived in Kuala Lumpur, I never understood how to properly use it, thinking it was a ridiculous endeavor. The trick is to squat down duck-like and waddle along and sweeping sideways. A little wiser and faster each day, we used our twig brooms and squeegee mops (literally like the things you use to clean your car windshield) to move the dirt around. Indu said to us the first day, "When you clean the floors, you are actually cleaning your heart." It certainly made the task more cheerful. And, since we got to splash the water about, it was even mildly fun. Well, as much fun as mopping can be while cleaning our hearts. The real purification began. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year

Rolling the window down
I begin to breath again

Driving away 
looking ahead
at the veil of clouds
knowing there are stars beyond them

The world outside 
flies, fades, goes

Here is the new year
clear direction
guiding within

Fulfilling one 
just one
only one

Grace given & received

Where did the moon go?
Here is the sun
the glory of the eastern rising sun
I am almost home
-- Melissa Smith January 2011
Temple view, Himalayas, India