Category Archives: Yoga

Sister Helen Prejean: A Life Guided by Faith

Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean's website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.

Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean’s website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.

I’m interested in people who live lives of faith. It might be a life of religious faith, but it’s bigger than just that. My fascination is with those who are guided by and believe in something that is bigger than themselves — people who organize their lives around a relationship to a divine presence or a cause or a calling. For years, I’ve sniffed out clues, read books, and positioned myself to catch glimpses of people who live this way. I’m a secret scientist, collecting information and making observations about what it looks like or feels like to be a person of faith.

Last night, Dave and I went to hear a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean. The movie, Dead Man Walking, is based on the book she wrote about her relationship with a man on death row. She says that it was that experience that awakened her to what she now does—she serves the poor, the families and victims of violence, and those in prison. She’s works, writes, lectures and educates others with the explicit aim of ending capitol punishment. It’s heavy stuff, and yet she goes about it with southern charm, infectious conviction, and a sense of humor.

I was there for the whole lecture, but I was really there for the chance to hear any juicy tidbits about Sister Helen’s spiritual life. I want to know how she relates to God. What kind of prayer life does she have? What is her relationship to the Church as an institution and to Catholicism? I want to know where she accesses this joy despite the very serious and difficult work. I want to see for myself what a sister, whose spiritual commitment is so public, is like to hang out with for a couple of hours. Is she nice? Relatable? Is she grounded?

Here’s what I noticed.

She is very much herself. Her personality and her human-ness came through during the lecture and I get the sense that it flows through all the work she does. She’s not lecturing from some higher plane. She’s down here with the rest of us.

She looks for balance.  She says she relaxes. She plays cards and drinks beer. She puts effort into her friendships, appreciates her sisters, and gets enough sleep. She said that when she’s on a plane, she doesn’t talk to anyone. She likes that she can be anonymous in airports.

She spoke openly and freely about her personal experience – but it wasn’t about her. She talked as though the real work was coming through her. She talked about God’s grace and Jesus and the Gospel. She talked about the victims and those suffering from acts of violence and how important it is that we don’t leave them alone. She said those who find forgiveness and love are the real heroes of her stories. She was talking and it was her experience, but it wasn’t all about her.

She said something that really touched me. As in, when she said it, I felt a big gut-response to the words. She said, truth springs from the earth, so if we want to get close to the truth, we have to put our feet on the ground. Of all the calls to action, this one got me. And she is a living example of what she is asking others to do.

She’s on a first name basis with Jesus. Her relationship to the divine is personal and intimate. Sister Helen said that when she first agreed to write a letter to a man on death row, that was “sneaky Jesus #1.” She had no idea where he was leading her. She was willing to open her heart to write letters, which was all she could handle at the time, so that’s what she got. Sneaky Jesus #2 was when she agreed to be this man’s spiritual advisor. It was another single step, and look where it led – it led her to know and fulfill her dharma.

I’m interested in these personal faith stories because I’m still wondering and exploring my own — a story that unfolds a tiny bit more every time I practice yoga, every time I kneel at church, every time I feel some knowing that moves through me, every time I say yes to something that I can’t really explain. It was an honor to spend time in the same room with Sister Helen and to see, so palpably, that she believes her life is guided by something divine. The way she tells the story, it’s because 20+ years ago, she was willing to open to the moment, to what she calls God’s grace, and follow her life in the right direction.

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I’m happy to announce my upcoming class in Austin, TX:

Healing from Addiction with Yoga

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–       Cultivate a positive relationship with your body

–       Develop tools to support you in every phase of recovery

–       Foster well-being
and emotional stability in a supportive small group environment

COMMUNITIES FOR RECOVERY

Tuesdays 12:15-1:30

May 10th – June 14th, 2016 (6 weeks)

10 participants

 ! FREE !

Please contact me to reserve your spot or to find out more

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Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th! IMG0172

REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments to receive your discount. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

http://handson-retreats.com

Piano Lessons for my children… worthwhile or an exercise in self-torment?

Here's a romantic evening shot of our sweet piano, and two of my mom's beautiful paintings.

Here’s a romantic evening shot of our sweet piano,

Do it well.

Do it with a good attitude.

Do it for a long time.

And you will become it.

Hazel and Nora started piano lessons a few months ago and it has been fascinating to see how they are each responding to the piano, the music, and a practice routine.  I’m watching their skills develop little by little each week. Hazel is a good student in all things. She keeps up with her work and doesn’t like to disappoint those that are counting on her. She also loves music. She practices, has a good attitude, and likes what she’s learning, which all help to make her a really good piano student. Nora, on the other hand, is not enjoying piano. It’s parental/child mutual torture to get her to practice even a few times a week. When Wes is here, she does her best to get him to talk about anything other than piano. He patiently keeps her on task. He might be a saint.

The girls have different attitudes about these lessons, but both are progressing. Nora is almost through her first book of songs and Hazel has moved on to some sheet music. Even though Nora is learning stuff and is getting better, there’s a notable difference (pun intended) in how much the music seems to be a part of each of them. Hazel likes it, owns it, and is really proud of what she has accomplished. Even though Nora is spending time at the piano, her real energy is going into avoiding the task. When she’s playing she’s really practicing wearing us down. On days we are very persistent, she focuses on cranking out the minimal amount of practice with as little effort and the least amount of attention possible. (True confession: As much as it annoys me, I can totally relate. I wasn’t much of a piano student and employed many of these tactics myself. )

Watching the girls learn this new skill makes me wonder about two things:

  1. What is my attitude when I practice yoga? Which kind of practitioner am I? Am I practicing with attention? Am I operating with a good and open attitude? And am I connected to what I’m learning? Or am I going through the motions but actually practicing  ‘avoiding what I’m really there to do’?
  1. Patañjali lays out the process of yoga and how we learn something new in Yoga sūtra 1.17 and it totally applies to piano lessons.

This sūtra says…

vitarka-when we first start piano, we have only a gross understanding of it

vicāra- as we practice, it becomes more subtle

ānanda- this process brings us joy

asmitā-rupa- eventually we know the piano so well that we become one with it.  We don’t have to think about correct posture or “every good boy does fine.”   It’s already there in our muscles and on the paper when we sit down.

anugamāt- It’s through this process over a long time that 

saprajñātah – our understanding of the instrument and the music that it makes, becomes a part of us.

If we want to have more of something in our lives, then we need to spend time doing that thing. It’s not enough to merely go through the motions. We practice to have more of the kind of experiences we want and with an attitude that fosters a love of learning, ānanda. The experiences that help us to connect, earnestly and eagerly, to the things we want in our lives, are experiences that shape who we are and who we become.

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Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREATIMG0172

REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th!  Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

Learn more at http://handson-retreats.com or contact me with any questions you may have.

The raw landscape

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Ollantaytambo, Peru

I’ve been back home for nearly a week, but I’m not settled or back to normal. In some ways, I guess that’s good. Travel has a way of changing my perspective and I wouldn’t want it to wear off in a mere 5 days. I want all that perspective to stick around so I can continue to be more aware of the things in my life that are particular to my life. The special circumstances, this environment, the location, the privilege, my family, and my inborn constitution are just a few of the aspects of my life that shape my experience. These factors don’t look exactly the same for anyone else. As a matter of fact, sometimes they look really different. Some people grow up with llamas and live in the countryside and speak Quechua. Some people don’t have running water and have never been on an airplane. Some people know how to make amazing woven cloth with the most intricate of patterns from wool using natural dyes and a loom-thing that they wrap around their waist.

Yoga gives us tools and experiences that helps us to see things more clearly. I think it also gives us a fortitude to see stuff that isn’t so easy to see. Maybe it’s that I’m entering middle age and maybe it’s that travel isn’t all about the adventure anymore, but I need this special strength to be able to look at my life and the lives of other people. It’s good to be able to see the things that I do that could change. That need to change. I need this space that yoga creates in me so I have the ability to stay with something that might be hard to think about and not get so overwhelmed that I reach for the distraction or the next adventure. Sometimes seeing things without all the personal protective shields in place is tough. Seeing more clearly can be difficult and raw.

There’s also raw beauty. Raw passion. Raw love. That stuff is really amazing, though can be difficult in their own way, without the personal protective shields. It’s all part of the same raw landscape. And it is worth the visit, even if we come back from that place and can’t sleep very well and have stuff lingering in the gut. I’m glad I went and I’m glad I continue to go.

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Goodbye Peru

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We leave Peru today. Hazel can’t wait to be home and asks the details of our itinerary every few hours so she has an accurate hour count till she’s back in her room. I think it might have something to do with how often I lean in to “sing” the sounds of the beautiful Andean pan flute in her ear. We won’t have to worry about pockets full of change because Nora stops to get her photo taken with every baby lamb, alpaca, and llama she sees, an opportunity gladly offered in exchange for a little propina, or tip. We could write our own guide book on the locations of all servicios higenicos, bathrooms, in historic Cusco. Nora has had some tummy trouble for the last 25 hours, though she isn’t bothered. We learned that she considers her digestive distress a rite of passage, referring to it as her “butt period”– a term that sent all of us into uncontrollable hysterics at the one fancy restaurant we’ve visited in Cusco.

The children have heard me curse more in the last week than in their whole lives. Dave says that’s what happens when I’m south of the equator. I have to laugh at myself because before I came my yoga practice was so consistent and I felt so good that I actually had a vision that I’d bring peace, love, and appreciation of all things to the South American continent. It hasn’t happened exactly like that. Last night, Hazel congratulated me on my first day of no cursing. This was premature because moments later this street dog ran out in traffic and narrowly escaped death by taxi. It was literally under the front of the car when traffic came to a halt. The s-word left my mouth and of course Hazel heard. We have some great memories and photos to take back with us.

Family Vacation

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I’m in Peru with my family, and I’m so happy to be here. I’m also grouchy. My digestion doesn’t know what to make of the ceviche, the weird fried park food, or the massive amount of fruit I’m eating. My body is complaining about the combination of airplanes and miles of walking. My sleep has been good, but it’s hot at night so my dreams are craaaazy. As a result of the state my system is in, the charms and delights of discovering another culture and country are annoying me. Dave says I’ve officially reached middle age.

In the yoga classes I teach, we’ll do something hard and then rest. It’s an opportunity to notice how easily we are able to adjust and shift between the variety of situations we find ourselves in. If we were just attempting 20 repetitions of utkatasana (they look a lot like squats), but now find it’s time to lie down and rest, can the heart rate, the muscles, and the mind let go of that effort and exertion and be with what is happening now? Can we move gracefully from situation to situation and be present with what is?

The longer I’m here, the better I am at remembering my perspective is influenced both by the state I’m in, the ways I care for myself, and what I choose to focus on.  When I notice what’s happening and take appropriate action, I can more easily enjoy what is in front of me. Today, I woke up and could peek in on my girls sleeping together in the same bed, cheeks pink from the warmth of sleep and yesterday’s sun. I appreciate the glimpse of my sister’s life in Lima—her office, her apartment, her grocery store. I get to hear the way she expresses herself in another language and spend time with some of the people in her life that are so special to her. There’s so much more, and the true gift of yoga practice is the expanding ability to choose what to focus on and to be with these special moments when they come.

How to Take a Nap

MY husband, Dave, follows this comedian guy, David Rees, who hosts a series of how to videos about regular stuff. It’s called “Going Deep with David Rees.” Hot topics include: How to shake a hand, How to dig a hole, and How to open a door. With charm, seeming candor, clever graphics and a few expert special guests, he provides really good insight into the given topic in 22 minutes. Last night, we watched the episode: How to take a nap.

I’ve known that sleep has a function and the different cycles of sleep are important so the body can recover and recuperate from the work of the day. Ayurveda offers several guidelines to follow for good sleep. One suggestion is that you don’t eat right before sleep so that the body can do its best R&R without also having to divert energy toward digestive functioning. But there’s more happening during our sleep than letting the body recover and repair on a physical level. The different cycles of sleep are important for memory, processing experiences, and creativity. It helps us on a mental level, too!

According to our video’s sleep expert, there are 4 sleep cycles and they each serve a function.

  1. Hypnogogic or hypnic jerk can happen in this very light sleep stage. You might have the feeling of falling and then jerk awake.
  2. We visit a transitional stage at the beginning of sleep and again toward the end of sleep. This stage is believed to be important for motor skill learning.
  3. During Slow wave sleep we replay memories of the day
  4. In REM sleep, the recent memories that were reactivated during slow wave sleep are integrated creatively with other experiences. This is where the bizarre scenarios and random people may appear. .

It takes time to get all the way through a session REM sleep. A nap can serve a different function depending on it’s length

20 minutes can refresh your attention when energy slumps during the day.

60 minutes can take you through slow wave sleep allowing you to process your memories—good if you are studying for an exam or learning something new.

90 minutes is typically long enough to go through a cylce of REM sleep, which can be useful if you are an artist in need of a creative boost or a scientist awaiting the next breakthrough.

Of course these cycles also apply during our night-time sleep, too.

The more I learn about the wonderful and endlessly complex human system, the more humbled I am. There’s a wisdom to the way that we function and every aspect of that functioning can support us in balance and wellness. More and more, the effort I put toward healthy living is about setting up my activities and the pace of my days so that my system can do what it does with the fewest obstacles from me. If I want good sleep, I have to stay off of the computer after dinner. I need to have a daily schedule that isn’t super stressful, so I can feel at ease and relaxed most of the time. I need to practice yoga and go for a walk. I need days that aren’t so scheduled that I can lie down for that 20 minute nap when I feel the need. The way I see it, good sleep and general health isn’t going to come from tips and tricks. It comes out of a lifestyle that is balanced, and attitudes and behaviors that respect the inherent wisdom of the body.

ojai valley

REGISTRATION OPENS SOON!

OJAI WOMEN’S RETREAT

Practical Transformation: Healing your life from the inside out

with Amanda Green and Carol Prentice

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT 5TH, 2016

Join me for 5 days in beautiful Ojai, CA, where you can replenish and reset with master teachers as your guides.  Steep in the wisdom of yoga, ayurveda, and the Alexander technique and well-being while enjoying delicious food,  beautiful accommodations and the surrounding Ojai valley.

 

Full of Light

 

I love this photo of my cousin and Honey, probably because I love these two men so much.

I love this photo of my cousin and Honey, probably because I love these two men so much.

Honey, my grandpa, had a fall about a week ago. He does some exercises and some walking every day and it was during one of his walks that he lost his balance. Initially, he had some pretty bad bruising, swelling, and a few scrapes so he’s been laying low.

One day last week, I packed a lunch basket so we could eat together at his apartment. We had a wonderful visit. When I asked how he was, he said he was fine, and he said it with such sincerity and brightness that I didn’t have any difficulty believing him despite the bandages. I like these visits when I have Honey all to myself. He asks about my family and my work and wants to know how I’m doing. I seem to come up with a question about his life that I had never thought to ask before. And we find some things to laugh about. Before we are through, our conversations always come around to Grandma Mary and during this visit, when we were having our ice cream with chocolate sauce, Honey brought her to us by saying, “Grandma and I liked to have ice cream after almost every meal.” This was my opening to remember her with him, to ask about her favorite flavors and to say how much I miss her. I love thinking about what they looked like when I sat across from them at their kitchen table when I was a child. He misses her so much. Spending time talking about her and remembering her together feels really important.

After we talked and cried a little about Grandma Mary, I asked again how he was feeling, and commented that his swelling had much improved from earlier in the week. He said, “Well, I feel fine, but I hurt all over.” And he meant it. Both parts. Because part of him really is fine, untouched by his soreness and his injuries, and then there’s this other aspect, the physical parts, that need to heal. It’s so interesting how clear he is that how he is doing isn’t inextricably tied to how his body feels. This idea is in the Yoga sūtras, too. One of the root causes of suffering is asmitā or misidentification (YS II.3 and II.6). When I confuse my body, my sickness, my job, my role in the family, or any material aspect of my life, with who I really am, it causes suffering. Honey gets it. He lives it. And it’s really wonderful to be around.

The yoga sūtras teach that when we connect and identify with this special place, it’s said to be full of light (YS I.36). Even though I’ve had an intellectual grasp of this concept is something amazing to see in someone. It’s how Honey lives. He is full of light and I’m so grateful for his example. To see this in him and in how he lives is so meaningful. He brings this teaching to life and his special way of understanding himself (most everything, really) makes him such a pleasure to be around. I aspire to be able to say, “I’m just fine” no matter what else is going on in my life because I can stay connected to this light within me and remember who I really am.

Married, part II

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People Places Things — it’s a  movie

Dave and I have been back together for Married, Part II for a couple of years now. The hurt and the tumult of our separation isn’t so close to the surface anymore, though occasionally, a memory from that time will come up and I can feel it’s presence even if I’m not actively thinking about it. Like when you have gas… you can go about your day, but you aren’t as relaxed as you could be.

One evening last week, with the girls in bed and Dave out of town, I snuggled up on the couch to watch a movie. I picked one from the ‘quirky comedy’ list and, turns out, this story is about a couple navigating separation and co-parenting after divorce. With this story playing out on the screen, those gassy feelings I mentioned moved into the realm of fully conscious reflection. I could relate to the confusion, the excitement, and the parenting negotiations that went on with our hero and heroine. I appreciated the story telling that gave time for the uncomfortable stuff that’s a part of divorce. I was happy, in the end, when the two of them were able to move on.

Memory is such a funny thing. We might forget something that has happened to us, the details may fade, we may remember something correctly or incorrectly, or imagine something. However they come about, and in one form or another, these experiences stay with us. In the first chapter of the Yoga sūtras, Patañjali presents us with 5 functions of the mind, one of which is smṛti or memory*. In YS 1.11 he defines smṛti as the “unthievable record of your experience”**. Untheivable… can’t be stolen. I love that because it is totally true.

Memories don’t leave us, but as we create more memories, the old ones do change and can be refined. After the movie, I went to bed but didn’t fall asleep right away. I was having a lot of old break-up feelings.  They are so different now than when I was in the midst of it. Back then, I could feel my heart race and my body respond over the littlest reminder. This time, they didn’t overwhelm me.

Time heals. Yeah, okay. But the thing about time passing is that in that time, we have other experiences. Time spent laughing together, really listening to each other, offering care and feeling loved – all of these things leave their own memories and record behind.   These experiences have more power than the break-up ones once did.  The new experiences are the ones I want to connect to, and am trying my hardest to create. As a result, these new experiences are reshaping the old memories and giving rise to who we are together now.

 

 

*The 5 vṛtti, functions of the mind.

The mind can…

prāmaṇa — perceive correctly

viparyaya – perceive incorrectly

Vikalpa – create something that isn’t there (imagine or invent).

Nidra – be in a deep, dreamless sleep

Smṛti – create memories

 

*This translation comes from yoga sūtras classes I took with Chase Bossart.

A story for the new year.

 

Bundled sage for energy clearing

One evening this week, my friend Katherine was visiting and she found this bundle of dried sage on my kitchen counter. This dried sage is for energy clearing. You set the thing on fire then blow it out and the bundle smolders making all of this wonderful smoke. You can then poke the smoky bundle into open doors, drawers and cupboards and wave it around doorways and windows clearing out any stagnant energy. This kind of thing is right up my alley. And I’m here to tell you, it makes a huge difference in how my house feels.

Katherine already knew all of this because I had given her her own sage when she moved into her new house. She hasn’t yet used it so I told her about the most recent sage-ing ceremony I had, thinking it might inspire her.

One afternoon, Dave and I were home alone together and I decided it was time. We opened all the doors, windows and drawers and then lit the sage. I held the bundle as we went through the girls’ rooms, but then I got a little obsessed with wiping down the dirty door frames so Dave willingly took over and continued down the hall and into the back of the house, whisps of smoke trailing behind him. When I came out of my cleaning trance, I walked into the living room to find Dave dancing around lifting his knees and elbows like a kokopelli. He was wielding sage in one hand and playing a renaissance festival bamboo flute with his other. It was awesome and hilarious. He was really into this sage-ing business, I could tell.

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Katherine and I laughed about the story then went on to have a really fun night together.

I got a call from Katherine the next day and she said she was really touched by the story of the sage ceremony. She had shared it with a couple of people during the day and she wanted to tell me why.  She said that it was an example of so many things going really right in my relationship. I didn’t have too many expectations that the sage-thing go a particular way and Dave was open to this kooky plan and he was willing to participate in it with me. In the end we had this really fun and sweet time together. A time that might not have been possible if we weren’t both willing to turn towards each other and stay open to the variety of experience that each of us brought.

I was so touched that she had given this so much thought and that she took the time to share this with me. I felt appreciated and seen and loved by Katherine, and there’s not much better than receiving that gift from a dear friend. Her story also gave me an opportunity to reflect on and to appreciate where Dave and I are in our relationship. Katherine has known us for years. She’s seen us through the early days, our traumatic break up and subsequent separation. She’s been a part of our lives as we cautiously dated, repaired what seemed too broken, and eventually got back together. Dave and I have always had funny, happy moments, but there was a time when they weren’t so easy and pure. An adversarial undercurrent was always there.  Now, I’m freed of that feeling and these happy, funny moments happen all of the time– Easy. Loving. Pure.

On the phone with Katherine, listening to her retell my story, I had an opportunity and the time to swim around in this realization of how things have changed in my relationship and to appreciate it. She acknowledged it with me in a way that showed me that she was seeing me and that by seeing me she was able to see something in herself. And it all feels so wonderfully human and connecting –to know someone really well and to still love them, a friend, a partner, your friend’s partner. It’s something really special to appreciate all that we are and all that we’ve been through, to witness each other changing and to believe in it. It’s so hopeful. My friend helped bring all of this to the surface in a way it usually isn’t there for me. And it tasted so sweet.

 

Here’s to more of this sweetness in each of our lives in the upcoming year. Welcome 2016.