The air we breathe

Nora in a pink wig


On Saturday morning, I was sitting for my morning practice. Nora was up early and she came over to me wearing a bright pink wig and a belted tunic to announce that she was going outside. She walked to the door and as soon as she opened it, this damp, warm, earthy air pushed its way into the room and enveloped me. With my eyes closed, I could almost see this blanket of air moving in. This outside air was such a contrast to the cool, dry, climate controlled stuff I had been in. It brought with it all the wonderful smells that come after a rain and with the morning. I widened my nostrils to breathe it in and softened to better feel it on my skin. I was sad that it only lasted a few breaths. But I reflected on what was really gone — the delicious smells and the feeling of the moisture and the tangibility of the air. But, of course, the actual life-sustaining part still surrounded me and was in me. The air wasn’t gone, but my appreciation and awareness of it had changed.

Continue reading

RAGA: The Kleśa that has us going back for more

I'm now enjoying chai in the mornings...

I’m now enjoying chai in the mornings…

Coffee is one of my favorite things but when I drink it, over time it starts to have this cumulative effect of gradually increasing my anxiety. I’ve tried to will this side-effect away, to ignore it, or to pretend that it isn’t all that bad, but after a few months steady coffee intake, the anxiety reaches a point where I can no longer deny the problems it causes me and I resolve to quit. Again.

The kleśas are five ‘afflictions’ or ways that our perception can cause us problems. In a nutshell? We suffer because we don’t see things as they are but instead, misperceive. This isn’t ignorance. If I’m unsure what time the appointment is, then I’ll open up the calendar and see that it is scheduled for 10:00am. But if I know that the appointment is at 1:00, then I leave the house at 12:15 and drive to the office. I miss the appointment because of my avidyā, misperception. We knew incorrectly. Because we believe that the way we see it is the right way, we take action based on that misperception. This causes us all sorts of problems.

Patañjali describes particular ways in which we misperceive.

  • We misidentify, confusing what is happening in the mind.  We say, “I am angry.”  “I am sad” etc.  We think we are these emotions and if we act from this place, this is Asmitā.  It would be better expressed if we said, I feel angry or I feel sad, giving space to observe the experience rather than identify with it. (*Edited 8/28/16 see below)
  • We have a positive or pleasant experience and want to repeat that experience of pleasure so we go after it even if it may no longer be appropriate or helpful. I think of this as also misidentifying what it is that will be truly satisfying. Raga!!!!
  • We have an unpleasant or negative experience so we avoid the thing that we associate with the problem. Dveṣa
  • Fear makes us see things in ways that may not be accurate or correct. We all know that when we are afraid, many things can seem threatening or dangerous even when they may not be. Abhiniveśā.

Why do I struggle with coffee, so? .

Patañjali nails it with raga. When I’m out of balance, underslept, or over-committed, then the attraction to the morning bev can overwhelm the more practical voice in my head. “I waaaaant it” is the beginning of the story I start to tell myself. “I like it. I like the routine. I like the little jolt and I want to repeat it every morning of every day. Why not? My parents drink coffee. My husband drinks coffee. It’s for sale everywhere.“

This is how I’ve known it to start. It seems good at first, but inevitably, unpleasant effects show themselves. If we see a kleśa at the foundation of any action, Patañjali advises that we take action early when they are small. If we don’t, the suffering may eventually be great enough, and provides motivation to change.

 

** read more about the Kleśas in the second chapter of the yoga Sutras or join us NEXT WEEK in Ojai, CA for our women’s retreat and get in on some great discussions on how this applies to daily living. http://handson-retreats.com!

Edit 8/28/16: When I originally published this post, I confused asmita and moha YS.II.32 “We think we are “wife” or “mother” or “yoga teacher” but then something changes and that role is no more or needs to adapt in some way and this can be very painful.” This is moha.  Asmita is something that happens with how we are thinking… confusion in the mind with how we are perceiving. (see above)

I’ve got that burnin’ fire in me

torch flame

When we have a lot of drive, that’s often described as ‘fire’. I know the feeling. There are times when I’ll have a really strong desire to get something done or to find out more or to talk to a particular friend. It’s a burning desire or a consuming thought. The fire metaphors are a-plenty.

This summer in Austin has been oppressively hot. Going outside after 10am is unpleasant, and by 1 in the afternoon, torture. My system might have spontaneously combusted if I generated any more heat so instead my internal fire just gave up. In the face of the summer heat I’ve been lethargic and unmotivated. It’s difficult to call my friends back or accomplish extra tasks. It’s not my favorite way to be, but the funny thing about this state is how the unpleasant thing is also the thing that makes it difficult to change. Without drive, energy, or motivation it’s hard to change the fact that you don’t have drive, energy or motivation.

Wildfires are consuming parts of California. When it’s really windy, that wind moves and fuels the fire, making it hard to contain. This relationship between air and fire also happens in my internal system. I can feel that my lack of focus and the tendency for my attention to jump from one thing to another is fueling this heat in my system.

You’ve probably heard about the terrible flooding in Louisiana.  Austin is on the edge of that storm and we’ve gotten a lot of rain here over the last week. It has cooled us off and brought some much needed water to our environment, though I think about the people who were flooded out of their homes at the same time that I am grateful for the water here.

With the change in weather, I’m starting to feel like my old self. Not totally, but enough that I can commit to a few steps to manage the heat in my system so that element, along with the others, are more in balance. I like to remind myself that little manageable steps lead to big change over time.

 

One simple thing to help manage fire:

Pitta balancing TEA

¼ tsp Cumin seeds

¼ tsp Coriander seeds

¼ tsp Fennel Seeds

place seeds at bottom of cup or in a tea ball

  • pour boiling water over seeds
  • let steep
  • remove seeds and let tea cool
  • enjoy.

 

Sending love and support to those in CA and LA.  xo

 

Thank you, Mr. TKV Desikachar

tkv-desikachar-1938-2016-500x333

Some of the things that have the most fascination for me are things that can not possibly be grasped in one lifetime. I feel that way about ceramics. During my undergrad I had a teacher, Professor Veerkamp, who was not only a great teacher, but totally engaged with clay and the creative process. With thanks to him, I went on to spend 10 years as a ceramic artist and teacher. In that time, I became aware of the multitude of elements when working with clay. I knew early on that I’d never exhaust the creative possibilities or test all the variables. I could make the same form 100 times and it wouldn’t be the same because I’d change along the way.

I feel this way about yoga. I started coming for the physical practice, but as that started to work on me I opened to learning more. I read lots of books and went to lots of classes, but it wasn’t until I met my teacher, Chase Bossart, and through him came to know the work of his teacher Mr. TKV Desikachar, that this learning started to work on me and my relationships. I can see that the well from which these teachings come and the possibilities of personal transformation are profound that I’m not even close to exhausting the possibilities of all there is to learn. The things I learned years ago keep coming back around in more meaningful ways. I’m so grateful to the long tradition of practitioners and teachers who help to make this so meaningful to me.

Five essential elements needed to make something wonderful manifest in your life

IMG_8632

There’s a creation story  that comes from the Samkhya philosophy – one that describes how the material elements came to be. This story informs both Yoga and Āyurveda. The simple version goes something like this:

First there was unified consciousness, puruṣa.

From the cosmic vibration oṁ came ETHER or SPACE, the background or void in which other things could exist.

The ether began to move and there was AIR.

As the air moved and created friction, there was light and FIRE.

Fire transformed and liquefied what was there and then there was WATER.

Particles of water became solid. That was EARTH.

The story is Āyurveda’s foundation for many of its ideas about how we are in the world. It is from this story that we can begin to understand the doṣas (vāta, pitta, kapha) and why something we eat or the season of the year has an effect on how we feel and what kinds of problems or emotions come to the forefront of our experience. But the thing that strikes me today is the possibility that this is not only a story of the material and manifest world at the beginning of time, or even how the world around us can affect us. This is a story that describes how each of us can create and make something manifest in our lives now.

So here it is…

Five essential elements needed to make something wonderful manifest in your life:

  1. We need space. If our days, minds, or hearts are completely full, there won’t be the necessary space to start something new. If I am convinced that my partner is totally wrong, and there’s no space in my heart and mind to hold the possibility that he could be right in some way, then it’s not going to be productive. If I want to begin a daily yoga practice, but my schedule is packed, then it’s not going to happen. So first, we need space.
  1. Once we have the space, we take action. The way in which we feel the air or notice it’s presence in the world is when it moves and we feel it across our skin or we see it blow the leaves in the tree. Movement in some direction is required in order to get to the next step. Even if the first attempts aren’t in the perfect direction, you’ll find it out by trying and sticking with it.
  1. From movement comes fire: light of knowing and the process of transformation. Fire is represented in our world with the sun, which gives us light and makes it possible to see.  We can also think of the campfire, which transforms the logs into fuel and leaves them different then they were before. Transformation is possible because of the element of fire.
  1. From this transformation comes a flow. Water carries something from one place to another. Think of the fluids circulating in the body or the movement of the waves in the ocean. Think of the minerals that build up around the kitchen faucet and become hard and solid. The solid stuff is carried in the water.
  1. When something is in us, and the thing we desire is part of us and of our lives, then this is earth. It’s solid. It has some weight. It’s the minerals depositing themselves inside of us becoming our new habit, our new way of talking to our partner, our better way of caring for ourselves.

Part of the richness of this creation story is the map it lays out for bringing something wonderful into our lives. Even though this is presented as a list of one through five, what we really should have is 1a. 1b. 1c. etc, because all the elements, all the things we need in order for something to come to be in our lives, comes from space/ether. Space moves and there’s air. Air, which is made up of ether, is the fire. The fire becomes the water. The water becomes the earth, but it is all made up of the #1 essential element: space!  Space is where it all begins.

 

 

It’s not too late to join us for the Ojai Women’s Retreat. http://handson-retreats.com

If you’ve been considering it, now’s the time! Give yourself the time and the space to create something new in your life.

Conversion

Willie

On Sunday mornings, our local radio show has a great gospel music hour. The host plays an hour of really moving hymns, Willie or Dolly singing spirituals or some old recordings on a scratchy record player. I’m always happy when I’m in the car at the right time to catch a few songs.

This Sunday, I heard the song, “I saw the light” and it made me think about conversion and about the moment when something is clear – something seems possible that didn’t before or something changes and you can’t (or really don’t want to) go back from this light-filled peace and knowing. You want to eat well, you want to change the way you relate to your partner, you want peace all the time. You want the perks of conversion.

I saw the light, I saw the light

No more darkness, no more night

Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight

Praise the Lord I saw the light

This song might give the impression that once converted, once you see the light, then that’s it. The event is done and then there’s no more darkness, no sorrow in sight and perhaps at some level this is true. Maybe, with a spiritual conversion, you can feel held by a higher power in a way you didn’t before and that brings great comfort and does, indeed, relieve some existential darkness. But that’s not really all that’s required.

If your conversion is of the ‘healthy eating’ variety, then true conversion, real life change, would come from the day to day eating choices that you make. You might see that eating cheetos and icecream in front of the tv every night is having a negative impact on your life. You might see the light, but if you don’t implement the change, then there will still be sorrow and darkness in the form of declining mental and physical health.

If I realize that the relationship I’m in isn’t good for me and have this light of knowing but I don’t take steps to change the problematic stuff in the relationship, then the knowing doesn’t lead to the end of that particular source of sorrow either.

I fully believe that we can lessen our suffering and that of others. It can be born of our own choices and actions and it can come through grace. I’ve seen it happen in my life. But this idea that we can have an experience, even one that truly changes how we behave and how we see, and then there’s no more night ever, is misleading.

At the end of the day, there’s still night. We need it. We need the time to rest and digest and to experience the other stuff that happens in those dark quiet hours. Bats, opossums and many other phylum of creatures do their best work at night. If we try to convince ourselves that it no longer exists, there will be some serious cognitive dissonance.

Maybe seeing the light means that we see more clearly how things are. We see that darkness comes at the end of the day, and we accept it for what it is. We know that some suffering is a part of human experience and rather than pretending it should no longer exist, we approach it with deference. We are kind to ourselves when we feel sorrow and support others when they are going through dark days. Instead of continuing to exist in this dual-idea of light or dark, we can relate to the darkness and through this, we really do see the light.

Svadhyaya: studying one’s own tradition

Richard Rohr

A surprising thing has happened in my life as a result of practicing yoga and learning about the philosophy. I have a renewed interest in Christianity. Patañjali wouldn’t be all that surprised, I bet. Yoga Sūtra talks about svādhyāya, studying one’s own tradition, as an important part of the practice of yoga. Though there were many years that I wouldn’t have claimed it as my own, Christianity was a big part of my early life and influenced my way of thinking and many of my experiences. There’s no doubt it is a part of our cultural and political fabric. In my personal life, its significance is underscored by the fact that I actively turned away from it for several years. But now, I’m turning toward and because I have such a meaningful spiritual practice through yoga, I can see with fresh eyes how so many of the things that come out of the Christian tradition have the potential to foster deep connection with our self and the Divine. Which leads me to this book…

I’m reading a book by Richard Rohr called, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.* Rohr is a Franciscan friar, and his book describes a spiritual path from a Christian perspective that looks a lot like what I’m experiencing as I continue to practice and study yoga.

Just listen to this:

On Gradual Conversion:  True and full conversion (head, heart, gut) does not really happen until the new program is in the hard-wiring and becomes a permanent and ‘natural’ trait rather than a one-time emotion. This process takes most of one’s life, and is actually the vey task of life and of contemplation.

A good way to gradually and fully convert—to change the way that we perceive, feel, and our connection to our deep knowing or intuition? Yoga practice.

On willfulness and willingness: All great spirituality is somehow about letting go. Trust me on this crucial point. […]IThere are two paths that break down our dualistic thinking and our inability to let go: the path of great love and the path of great suffering. Neither of them can be willed, truly understood, or programmed by any method whatsoever. There is no precise technique or foolproof formula for love or suffering. They are their own teachers.

I’m sure there is a connection here to yoga’s teachings, but mostly I’m including this because I feel this so acutely these days. It’s strange. As much as I appreciate the technique, practice and even form of yoga practice, there’s this other thing happening in my life that is coming from these other teachers: love and suffering. I guess that’s the point of yoga—not that we can do yoga really well, but that yoga helps us to be able to live our lives with presence and attention so we can learn, do, and experience what we are here to do.

If you’d like to hear more from Richard Rohr and enjoy listening to a good podcast, this one with comedian, Pete Holmes, is great. Find it here   http://youmadeitweird.libsyn.com/richard-rohr  OR http://nerdist.com/you-made-it-weird-253-richard-rohr/

*Thank you Marilyn, for the recommendation so long ago!

*** Tomorrow, 7.22.16,  is the last day for the Early Bird discount on the Ojai Women’s Retreat Intensive.  JOIN US! I’d love to see you there. www.handson_retreats.com

Sometimes I resist what’s good for me…

sisters

My girls left town this week for Grandma camp. I knew I’d miss them, but I was really looking forward to all the free time and the flexibility I’d have in my schedule. You know– a week off from mom stuff.

The first thing I stopped doing was cooking legit meals for myself. I ate food I could prepare with minimal dish use and the shortest prep time, which meant that it wasn’t particularly delicious. Because the things I’ve been eating aren’t so delicious, and probably because I wanted a break from the normal family schedule, I slipped into no-schedule eating where lunch happens at 3pm or breakfast gets pushed back to 11am or I just eat a quarter of the leftover spaghetti squash because that’s a total of one dish and one fork- – fridge to microwave to dishwasher.

Similar mayhem happened with my sleeping routine.

The first few days, this was kind of fun, but as it continued, I could feel myself getting more tired, distractible, agitated, and even a little sad. Yesterday, I knew I was in trouble because I started unloading the dishwasher and then when I went to put a mug in the cabinet I saw a pile of papers. I forgot about dishes and instead, dug through the pile uncovering an old bank statement that had to be filed in the box in my closet. When I got there, my shoes were terribly disorganized and needed immediate attention. Not only was my attention all over the place, but I could feel myself worrying about this old family gripe and if I passed my phone or computer, facebook called to me loudly… check me. Check ME. CHECK ME!!!

If you are a student of Āyurveda, you might recognize the above tendencies as qualities associated with vāta doṣa. Vāta is known to be dry, light, cool rough, subtle and mobile. These qualities increase and have the potential to go out of balance when we experience them in excess through our food, lifestyle or environment. This principle is known as Like increases Like. For me, all these things I mentioned: anxiety, distractibility and spacey-ness, less-structure, are all symptoms of how I know I’m out of balance in the direction of vāta.

What helps bring vāta back into balance? Cultivate the opposite qualities

Here is a list of the opposites:

Dry – oily

Light – heavy

Cool – warm

Rough – smooth

Subtle – gross

Mobile – stable

Practically speaking, this means I do better when I have more structure around meal and sleep times (stable (I totally know this. Why don’t I do it all the time?)), I oil with warm sesame oil before I bathe (oily and warm), I eat fresh foods (you don’t have to practice Āyurveda to get this one), and I take a break from facebook or other internet time-sucks (computers are light and mobile… not being on the computer so much is not).

And you know what else is good for me? Doing all the mom stuff that I thought I wanted a big break from doing. Snuggling with my girls before they go to bed at night. Doing laundry and sweeping the floors. Preparing meals or enjoying Dave’s yummy cooking. Seeing the trails of stuff the girls leave behind and taking that as evidence that they continue to be curious, creative and messy kids, and then helping them to remember that they need to clean up and take responsibility for their stuff and the space around them. Having my girls around is a really good reminder that I’m happiest when I’m taking good care of myself. That stuff is good for me, too.

******

Would you like to learn more about Ayurveda?

well, I have some great news

The Ojai Women’s Retreat early bird rate is extended through July 22.

Sign up, for an intensive 5-day retreat to learn how to apply practical, transformational tools from Ayurveda, Yoga and the Alexander technique to improve your quality of life.  It’s only $500 to reserve your space.

Contact me for more information or visit the website:  www. handson_retreats.com

 

Graceful parenting

 

dave nora

Yesterday, I was in the car with Dave and the girls, nervously giggling as I remembered an awkward and funny moment that went down last year. We had a friend over for dinner during Black history month (she happens to be black) and Nora was learning about black history in her first grade classroom. As soon as we sat down at the table Nora turned to our guest and with sincerity and interest said, “Did you know that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves?” Our guest responded graciously while Dave and I simultaneously froze in our seats, turned red, and cringed. Only later were able to let out some of our uncomfortable, nervous laughter, talk to our kids about what went down, and explore some of our own feelings of shame and unease around the situation.

But in the car yesterday, something else happened. Conversation reminded me of this moment and I started laughing and quietly recounting the story to Dave. The girls were in the back seat staring out the window, but as soon as we started talking about this they knew it was something juicy—something that was emotionally charged. Kids have amazing radar. They asked what we were talking about.

As soon as they asked, I realized that I was being insensitive. That Nora might feel embarrassed about having said something to our friend that could have made her uncomfortable (it was probably my own discomfort that I was feeling) and that in my laughing with her dad, there was a hint of making fun at her expense. I felt ashamed which meant I would avoid talking about any of it with the girls and push it all aside, but Dave stepped up.

He took time to recount the situation – describing the event at the dinner table without much emotion. Nora didn’t remember any of it and Hazel didn’t either, but I could tell that they were nervous and afraid of being called out for doing something that caused such a reaction in us. But Dave was so respectful and considerate, the way he addressed all of this. With his careful words, he spoke in a way that made it okay for the girls’ to have these feelings, to be curious, and in having the conversation, he acknowledged that he can see their desire to be sensitive and kind to others. He put us all at ease.

He went on to talk about why Nora’s comment was uncomfortable for us. Nora asked if it was funny. Dave said that it was sort of funny, but only because she was little and sincere and didn’t know better, but not funny like a joke that you’d repeat again. He saw the question behind Nora’s inquiry and was so clear in his reply. She took it in. He said something simple about talking about race with someone. The girls listened. It went on like this—parenting win after parenting win. He addressed so many of the important aspects of the situation with clarity, respect, and sensitivity. The girls listened carefully and so did I. I was honored to bear witness to such thoughtfulness. I was grateful to see that parenting with true grace is possible. It was special and reminded me of one of the beauties of relationship…

Sometimes, we get to witness our partner truly shine.

 

*******

Practical Transformation: Healing Your Life From the Inside ~ Out

If you’ve been thinking about joining me for this wonderful women’s retreat, Sieze the day!!! Sign up this week to reserve your spot at early bird pricing. (Discount expires on July 11th )

Ojai, CA
Aug 30- Sept 5th
Yoga — Ayurveda — Alexander Technique

Transformation occurs when we peel away the heaviness we have accumulated in our life and allow for our True Nature to shine through. It is always there waiting, we just have to let go of the unnecessary. These three disciplines provide the structure and process for transformation and healing to occur throughout our whole system.

www.handson-retreats.com

 

The sweetness (and discomfort) of being open

IMG_1101 IMG_8247 IMG_8265

IMG_8282There are all of these tender things happening in my life.

  • My girls are home for the Summer and with a slower and more relaxed pace, they get time to enjoying each other. And Dave and I are enjoying them.
  • The yoga therapy clients I see are sincerely doing their work. I can see that though it is sometimes very hard, they practice and are willing to stay with it. This is inspiring.
  • Honey, my grandpa, moved from independent living to an apartment where he can have more care. There’s so much I could say about this, but mostly, today, I’m touched by the way that Honey and my parents love, respect, and care for each other. It’s so special to witness.
  • The move has unearthed treasures from Honey’s life—photos of my dad and uncles when they were boys, special things that belonged to my great-great grandparents, pictures of my grandmother’s high school friends held in an envelope with a one-cent stamp and addressed with only my grandmother’s maiden name and the town where she lived at the time.   Touching things that were special to my relatives gets me every time.
  • I turned 40 this week.
  • My yoga practice these days is hard and that always leaves me tender and a little uncomfortable.
  • I just back from Nashville where I had the next part of my training, and now there’s a lot to digest.

I’m taking notice of how these experiences leave me feeling open and tender and vulnerable. It’s really good and really uncomfortable.  I have a tendency to not want to feel this way. My most practiced tactic is to stay busy and distracted until the stuff passes. But this time, instead of pushing through or forcing myself to keep going or work harder, I’m trying to slow down. I’m sleeping a little more. I’m saying, ‘no thank you’ to the many enticing things that I could do with my days. I guess I don’t want to miss any of this good stuff that’s happening.  I’m getting used to what 40 feels like and considering what it means to have these pangs of nostalgia or to be overcome by the profound mystery of aging. I’m enjoying the sweet ache of parenting my two young girls who will only be 8 and 12 for a little while and I’m grateful for the practice of yoga that makes so much of this possible.  What if it all leads to grace?