Nature as Your Sacred Yoga Studio – Happy Earth Day

What do I do when I’m homesick for the call of the wild? When my South African roots have me longing for the serenity of the savanna, instead of driving south to the airport, I head west to the Everglades.

Within minutes of getting into a kayak, there’s this mushy thing that happens in my belly as my stomach muscles soften into instant Savasana. A soppy look appears on my face when I see my first Great Blue Heron of the day (for the umpteenth time, and yet I’m still captivated by the swaying S-curve of its neck in its pre-dinner dance). I’m mesmerized by the heart-shaped lily pads bobbing up and down in the water; a solitary white flower here and there, catching the light.

Loxahatchee-heron-yogaressaThe light. The cliché of the wide, open spaces and blazing sunsets. The stillness. That same sort of silence you experience in “the bush” in Africa. Quiet, but not quiet. Buzzing with the sounds of bird calls, frog croaks and insect chirps.

Sometimes I’ll add the clicking of my camera shutter to the ambient noises, in the hope of capturing some of nature’s splendor. Other times, I put away all cameras and devices and simply breathe it all in; taking a photo with my memory, able to recall it later in all its splendor, without my Instagram feed.

There are no roaring lions or prancing wildebeest out here, but an energetic bullfrog impressively impersonates a warthog. If I half close my eyes and squint a bit, the leathery gator looks like our crusty crocs of the Southern Hemisphere, except with better manners.

I’m not looking to replicate Africa out here on the “River of Grass”, because the Florida Everglades have their own magic. But I do feel the same joy of being connected to nature. I am grateful for easy access to this aquatic beauty that has earned the hefty titles of World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance.

Loxahatchee-everglades-yogaressaNot just on Earth Day, but on any day, if you ever doubted that Nature has the power to heal, simply spend some time outdoors to feel it soothe and revive you. A recent, annoying conversation suddenly doesn’t really matter that much. Maybe worries dissipate a little and life looks positively cheerful. Maybe you simply remember how to be in the present moment and breathe.

Loxahatchee-yogaressa-earth-day
Trade in Heron, Tree, and Tortoise poses for the real thing, as you bask fully in the Yoga of Nature. Per that sage, Albert Einstein,

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.

Yoga teaches us awareness of the inner Self and awareness of our connection with, and impact on, the world around us; including its creatures and habitat.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

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Yoga Myth Buster: “Yogis Are Always in a State of Bliss”

There’s this perception that yogis are in a perpetual place of peace. Constantly floating on a chakra-colored cloud of consciousness. SO not true.

Yogis get angry, impatient, fearful, agitated, and sometimes just downright banshee crazy.

yoga-myth-buster-blissYogis can be unkind. Dishonest. Greedy. Envious. Think the opposite of all those beautiful notions described in the yamas (the yoga ethical guidelines), and you’re at the opposite end of peace. In other words, you’re a human being.

In a former life, as a business exec in the demanding high-tech industry, I welcomed yoga as a release from stress and a return to sanity. My husband welcomed my yoga practice even more—for his own sanity. When your beloved tells you, “Umm, I think it’s time you went to yoga”, you know you’re behaving more Banshee than Buddha.

From the start, yoga transformed the way I felt, gave me glimpses of bliss. And when that peace disappeared (sometimes it didn’t even last much beyond the yoga studio parking lot), I realized that I could find it again and again, by simply returning to the yoga mat. And the more I returned, the more peaceful I started to feel.

If it Weren’t for Yoga . . .

We are wired to respond to life in certain ways—a result of genetics and cultural influences. Some behaviors can be modified or softened over time, but others remain unchangeable.

Thousands of Oms later, yoga hasn’t changed the way I’m wired. I’m still me. I am Not the Dalai Lama. I am just a better person than I would be, if I weren’t practicing yoga.

There are still evenings I come home, ranting about some idiot driver on the I-95. I am also capable of a heated and colorful conversation that would make a sailor blush (perhaps, delivered in my South African accent, I can get away with that, somewhat). There are days when I look at the world and feel great depths of despair and sadness; the antithesis of peace.

Here’s the difference: Pre-yoga, I would have burst a blood vessel or kicked the cat in anger (metaphorically—we don’t have a cat). Or I would have reached for a giant-sized tryptophan treat: chocolate cheer and sugar satisfaction.

Yoga and meditation have changed my perspective of the world and how I interact with others. I now have an entire toolbox of techniques to help me experience equanimity. I pause to observe my emotions and thoughts, and then consciously choose a state of peace (or not—and then I notice the consequences of my choice, and learn from that). These are powerful skills for navigating through life, beyond the rectangular strip of the yoga mat.

Yogis may not always be in a bubble of bliss, but through yoga we smile at the joy of landing more often on that chakra-colored cloud of consciousness, however long it lasts.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

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Yoga Myth Busters : “Real Men Don’t Do Yoga”

If you’re a guy who won’t go near a yoga studio because you think it’s full of flexible, fit, slim, young women, that’s completely understandable. (Although I have male friends who would see that sentence as immediate motivation to rush to yoga quicker than you could say Om).

For thousands of years, yoga was taught and practiced mostly by men, in India. When it became popular in the West as a fitness craze for women in the 70s and 80s, it somehow also acquired a stigma of being a woman’s thing—of no use to men. You know, like macramé.

How ridiculous and how untrue! For decades, women have enjoyed the many yoga benefits of flexibility, strength, balance and peace of mind; while men continue to suffer from lower back pain, tight hamstrings, immobile hips and the endless stream of thoughts of a stressed-out, busy mind.

businessmen-yogaWhether it’s to supplement or replace a sweaty gym workout, or you’d just like to be able to pick up your grandchild without herniating a disc, you too can join the growing number of men in the US benefiting from yoga.

Gym dudes will see improved flexibility and increased muscular endurance from the long holds in yoga poses. Golfers will enjoy an easier swing, from more limber spine and hips.

Businessmen will discover improved concentration and focus, perhaps setting an intention for their work week with more clarity, after experiencing how using intention during yoga creates awareness and discipline.

With manic schedules and stressful responsibilities, that one hour or so of yoga may be the only time for some men to decompress, slow down, and breathe.

And don’t worry if you can only do 10 percent of what an ultra-bendy female next to you is doing. Choose instead to do 100 percent of what your body can do. That is more than enough. The general female tendency of more flexible hips makes way for the overall male tendency of more strength, so there will be poses most men can access more easily than most women—if that matters to you. You’ll know you’re really “doing yoga” when you don’t give two hoots about that kind of competition anyway, because you’re too busy enjoying how good you feel during and after yoga.

Almost convinced? Here’s a nudge that may motivate you … yoga improves your sex life. Yes, read that again. An NCBI study (pubmed/20646186) reveals yoga as “an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in men.”

Athletes, film stars, singers and business execs have turned to yoga; as a powerful anti-ageing tool for building stamina, improving concentration, and reducing anxiety and depression. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Sting, Adam Levine, Russell Simmons, Robert Downey, Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and many more. That’s quite a diverse group of yoga guys.

There’s a yoga mat waiting for all men; it’s simply a matter of finding a yoga space where you feel comfortable. Do some research, perhaps try a class led by a male teacher, or go with a friend—male or female. It won’t be long before Warrior and Plank Pose become a casual part of your health and fitness conversation.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

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Yoga Myth Busters : “I’m Not Flexible Enough To Do Yoga”

If I had received a secret yoga power for every time I’ve heard that statement, I’d be enlightened by now. As yoga teachers, we shake our heads in frustration when we hear it, because that’s as illogical as saying I’m too dirty to take a shower. It’s precisely because you’re inflexible that you need yoga.

yoga-cartoon-too-stiff-to-do-yogaCan’t touch your toes? Perfect! You’re an ideal candidate for yoga. If anything, you could benefit even more from yoga than the naturally flexible yogis, whose bones and joints genetically slot into place with minimal effort. Your stiffness means you’ll really feel the positive effects as your body starts to experience relief from being tight.

Ultra-bendy yogis can also easily injure themselves through hyperextending their joints, or going too deeply into a pose. Lucky you, Mr or Ms Creaky Joints—the more inflexible you are, the quicker and louder your inner alarm will ring when you’re reaching your limits, and so you’ll stop (if your ego is in check) and avoid injury.

Yoga isn’t about an end goal that culminates in a glamorous photo of an impossible pretzel pose, anyway. If we did manage to tuck one foot behind the head, does that make us a better person? Of course not.

What does make us feel better is releasing tension in the body, easing the mind from the busyness of the day, and taking long, relaxing breaths.

Ready to take your rigid limbs to the mat, then? Good. Some tips along the way:

  1. Patience. Cultivate buckets of it. Without patience, you may force yourself too far into a pose, and cause injury.
  2. Experiment and find a yoga class where you fit in, with an experienced and encouraging teacher who understands your body type.
  3. Don’t give up after one or two classes. I’m naturally inflexible and I promise you, with regular practice, it does get easier—to the point that it can become seductively addictive, because you feel so good during and after yoga.
  4. Explore. Be curious, instead of judgmental, about the physical mechanics of your body and how and when it feels challenged. What happens if you relax a bit in the poses, instead of trying so hard? Are you holding your breath instead of breathing with ease?
  5. Warm up before yoga, especially if the weather is cold. Try a short walk, or arrive ten minutes early to do some simple stretches.
  6. Avoid comparing and competing—with yourself as well as with others. It doesn’t matter what’s happening on the mat next to you. As long as you’re in the zone of safe alignment, measured breathing, and no pain, you will benefit from your practice.

gumby-yogaGo for it! Get your stiff and inflexible bod over to a yoga studio, recognize and smile at the other kindred spirits who can also hardly touch their knees, let alone their toes, and ease into some stretches that will make your muscles, joints and soul sigh with gratitude.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

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Yoga Nidra and the Power of Intention

You’re in a Yoga Nidra class and you’re asked to set an intention . . . is your mind immediately paralyzed into a blank screen of zero inspiration?

yoga-nidra-meditation-0939-webIf you’re unable to conjure up, at the drop of an Om, a statement any more profound than, “I will remember my shoes when I leave yoga tonight”, all that’s needed is some reflection on why you do this thing called yoga.

Whether it’s for a kick-butt, sweaty, vinyasa class, or an affirmation for Yoga Nidra guided relaxation, intention has the power to transform your practice. It shines a mindful light on how you live your life; harnessing and feeding your hopes for more ease.

How to Discover Your Sankalpa

Your intention (or sankalpa, the Sanskrit word for resolve) could address your state of mind, or physical health, or a shift in your relationships — whatever could benefit from more joy. Think of it as a vow between you and the Universe.

If this has you grabbing a pen and paper and revving up the analytical, intellectual mind (because #driventogetitright), then relax a little and consider sankalpa is not about achieving goals. Avoid the temptation to use intention to fix something that is “wrong” with you.

Instead, connect with your emotions and beliefs. Your sankalpa already resides within you, as a heartfelt longing. Ask yourself some introspective questions, then dive deep into your heart space and simply pause and listen. Dwell on what may contribute to an effortless state of being.

After some reflection, form a precise sentence that helps support your heart’s wishes.

Your intention statement is:

• Positive

• Easy to remember

• Stated in the present tense, as if it were already true (even if it’s not)

For example, instead of, “I will stop being angry and impatient”, try, “I am patient and kind, with myself and others”.

Your sankalpa may be the same for several weeks or months, or it may be different on a particular day, when something else is occupying your thoughts. Sometimes, you’ll feel as if your self-inquiry has unlocked the secrets of the Universe. Other times, you’ll simply observe the intention to rest and create stillness in body and mind.

Examples of Sankalpa 

Resist the urge to nail Nirvana by throwing every possible thing into one long and complicated sentence. “I am happy and healthy, blissfully filled with contentment and joy for all the loving people and situations which I am blessed to receive with deep gratitude for my abundant and prosperous life” could get lost a little, out there in affirmation land. “I am happy” is a perfect alternative. Here are some other examples:Meditation-yoga

• My body is healthy, my mind is clear.

• My world is filled with joy and love.

• I believe in myself and that what I have to offer is of value.

• I sleep peacefully, and wake up rested and energetic.

How Intention Works

Yoga Nidra is a meditative sequence of observing and welcoming all sensations, emotions and thoughts.

This “conscious sleep” state is ideal for hearing positive messages, and altering negative habitual thought patterns. When you silently state your intention during Yoga Nidra, the subconscious mind receives it as if it were already true — even if the doubting mind doesn’t believe it.

The beauty of doing this practice regularly, and with sincerity, is that your positive statements linger in the subconscious mind, long after the guided relaxation is complete.

Yoga Nidra can truly become a gateway to positive change and personal transformation. And, it has the handy side effect of you knowing your heart’s calling, the next time someone cheerily instructs, “Now, set your intention!”.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the new buzzword for an old tradition. It’s been revamped, repackaged, rebranded and given an extra swipe of lipstick (or dash of aftershave) as we read about how celebrities, successful business execs, and most recently, Olympic athletes, are using the magic of mindfulness, as part of their daily routine.

So, what is mindfulness, exactly?

Mindfulness is the state we are in when we are not distracted, but fully immersed in the present moment. That’s it! Nothing more complicated than that.

Most of the time, our attention is distracted by our thoughts and emotions, by our worries or anxieties about the future, or by regrets of the past. We are rarely truly connected to the present.

When we practice mindfulness, whether it’s part of a formal routine, or simply a random minute or two during a busy day, we hit the pause button and intentionally pay attention to what is happening, right now. Read that again—intentionally pay attention to what is happening, right now.

This can be really boring, when your mind would rather be distracted by something else; like when your next coffee break is, and what if you don’t get that important phone call, and why did you say that thing you said in that meeting last week, and how annoyed you will be if they’re still doing construction work on your route home … which is why mindfulness is often described as a form of mental training. It may not be complicated, but it may take discipline to adopt mindfulness habits, and to “be here, now”,  in this very moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is,

“The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.

And I would add two important words to that—”without expectations”.  Approach mindfulness without wanting any specific results (well come on, enlightenment, hurry up already). Replace judgment or expectations with curiosity and commitment. Simply apply mindfulness techniques regularly, and over time, notice the impact that has on you.

There are a myriad ways to practice mindfulness. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s a good start: Elisha Goldstein’s “7 Things Mindful People Do Differently“.

And then, keep exploring. I find myself drawn to some mindfulness and meditation techniques more than others, and I also enjoy new approaches to these ancient techniques. With time, you will find your very own answer to the question of What is Mindfulness, as your personal practice unfolds.

what-is-mindfulness-yogaressa

To your clarity of mind and joy in your heart!

Namaste.

 

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A Revolt Against The Revoltingness

Peace
“Philando Castile, I’m so sorry we all know your name today.” I read this today, in an Elephant Journal post. I am sorry, too, and tremendously saddened.

We can post memes and # tags and change our Facebook profile picture in some sort of statement of support, sympathy, hope. And that’s okay, but it leaves me feeling mostly hollow.

The world has been a fairly f%@$ked up place lately. As I watch the latest #WTF news item, I vent and curse and rage against the world, feeling all the emotions. Bewilderment. Anger. Despair. Fear.

I try and understand more about what’s really going on; I consider different perspectives; I wonder if there’s anything I can do to make it different (and there usually isn’t). Sandyhook, prayforparis, jesuischarlie, Londonbombings, cecilthelion, OrlandoStrong, prayforIraq, DallasPoliceShootings — each hash tag laden with grief.

And then I proactively and determinedly get up and go and do something that will create the exact opposite feelings, a kind of revolt against the revoltingness of things around me. I don’t want to wallow in the evil, the atrocities, the tragedies. I can’t. It’s a pointless spiral of sadness that can become overwhelming.

So, I walk through the darkness, step over it, beyond it, and I choose to find a way to create happiness, light, love; within me and around me. I do any small thing that begins to create a bubble of joy inside. Hug a friend, cuddle a dog, smile at a stranger, go outside and marvel at nature, BREATHE, exercise; feel the bliss and gratitude of being alive. The unexpected comfort of ordinary things.

Yoga embraces the full spectrum of life, from dark to light; it’s the full human experience. I’m not dismissing the darkness. It is there. But I won’t let it override the goodness of humanity. There is abundant kindness, compassion and love in our world, too. This viewpoint is vital, for cultivating hope. It puts me in a more positive place, to make my small, but valid, contribution to a kinder world, and hope for a ripple effect outward.

I can’t do anything to heal the grief of Mr Castile’s family, I can only send prayers. Surprise, surprise, I can’t make global terrorism or animal cruelty disappear, either. But I do find one small shred of joy begins to expand into a bigger, brighter outlook on life and when I focus on that, I notice the uplifting effect it has on me and those around me.

My role in the revolution, this revolt against darkness, is to maintain the awareness and balance yoga cultivates; refusing to succumb to thoughts or behavior that are rooted in fear, or that create separation between me and the rest of my fellow human beings, no matter how different we are. The practice of yoga is available to all, a reflective space in which to plant and nurture seeds of joy and compassion.

B.K.S. Iyengar says, “Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim”.  That’s what I’m doing today. In a somewhat tiny acknowledgement of the pain and suffering of others, I’m choosing to not let that light dim. I invite you to do the same.

Peace.

Iyengar-quote-light-yoga

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Muy Bien — My Top Ten (Costa Rica) continued …

(Here’s the first part of the Top Ten list in the previous post).

6.  Pipa Fria

Pipa-fria-0328iWho needs Whole Foods, when you can pick up fresh coconut water at the numerous roadside fruit stands?  Pull over immediately (smiling and pura vida-ing) and don’t be alarmed by the machete the fruit guy is holding. Watch, as within seconds, he hacks open an unripened, green coconut and transforms it into a goblet of

coconut water

Here’s how you might be used to drinking coconut water …

pipa fria

Here’s your upgrade to a whole new world of coconut

heavenly sweet water, complete with a straw he’ll pop through the top. It’s the perfect, refreshing pick-me-up; loaded with vitamins and electrolytes, and the treat continues once you’ve drunk the agua de pipa, as you use the “lid” of your coconut to scoop out the soft flesh and eat that, too. Watch the creator of coconut nirvana nifty work:

7.  Toucans

So adorable that they deserve their very own mention, even though they kind of fall under #1 Nature. These comical birds arrived in the treetops in a flashy display of color and noise, looking like they’d just rented their feathers for Halloween outfits.

toucan in flight

toucans-costa-rica

8.  Howler Monkeys

The alarm clocks of the jungle, a sound that had me smilingly coming out of sleep and ready to greet each new day. The howlers also added their grunting and calling to our outdoor yoga classes, and we’d hear them in the trees around us in the evenings, providing the perfect backdrop for a story about Hanuman.

howler monkey

9.  Fireflies

Yoga spaceYes, I know they have fireflies in other countries, but the Costa Rican fireflies were bigger than any I’ve ever seen, and seemed to have adopted the pura vida culture too, as they floated into our yoga space during Savasana; big, bright, glowing orbs of light, dipping in the air around our yoginis, adding fairy-like magic to the already idyllic surroundings.

 

10.  Yogayoga-retreat-costa-rica-0449gi

A magnificent setting like Lake Arenal in Costa Rica will heighten your experience on the yoga mat and jumpstart your prana; whether you’re rocking a joyful backbend, or you’re deep in contemplation. Eckhart Tolle describes being in nature as “a compelling portal to presence”, and it’s true. Practicing yoga in a paradise like Costa Rica will create memories you can come back to, once you’re back home and living your Other Vida.

So, there you have it. As if you ever needed any encouragement to head to “The Happiest Planet on Earth” (according to the Happy Planet Index), these ten reasons to go to Costa Rica are a mere  introduction to the beauty that awaits you in this peaceful soul of Central America. Enjoy!

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Muy Bien — My Top Ten (Costa Rica)

I tried to keep it to just Five Fab Reasons, I really did, but it was impossible. I couldn’t condense a week of immersing ourselves in the splendor of our Costa Rica yoga retreat, to just five little cameos. So, I opted for a Top Ten (out of a shortlist longlist of over thirty), and here they are, in no particular order.

iguana

1.  Nature

Magpie-jay

The cheeky magpie jay enjoys breakfast

Nature, AMPLIFIED.  Wildly-colored frogs, prehistoric-like iguanas, vibrant bird life and a stream of gigantic butterflies that look like they’ve been added by the animators at Avatar.

 

2.  Pura Vida!

Translated as “pure life”, this exclamation is used as a greeting and as a Two Thumbs Up smile of appreciation, as you acknowledge a mutual zest for life and the joy of “real living”.

Pura-Vida-5791

The always-smiling Flaco, anticipating every need on our yoga retreat

Note: You might look like a tourist, but try and sound like  a local, by pronouncing it, “poora beeda” (not pyura veeda), and feel free to adopt this as a happy mantra during your stay — I wasn’t sure if it was just a corny PR slogan whipped up by the Costa Rica Tourist Board, so I tested it the moment we landed, and received an enthusiastic pura vida! in response, from the smiling immigration tico, as he stamped my passport.

Pura-vida-0450

This gentleman, riding a horse and cart, was happy to pause and say hola to us

 

The ticos and ticas are the friendly, warmhearted Costa Ricans who echo and amplify the essence of pura vida. They’re proud of their eco-aware country, they have a great sense of humor and they seem to operate at a level of happiness that comes naturally, without trying to find it.

Their natural appreciation for people, nature and life in general, comes easily. An interesting recipe to consider, for those times when striving for happiness doesn’t work.

 

 

3.  Scenery

Arenal Volcano

Sunrise skies on fire – exactly like this, no photo enhancement required

Volcanoes and sunrises so spectacular, you’ll want to bottle them up and take them home with you. Pause long enough to take a break from the picture snapping (guilty!), and just sit and take it all in; creating an imprint on your mind of the colors and sounds around you. Costa Rica offers 20,000 square miles of abundant, unique biodiversity in a microcontinent of volcanoes, jungle, thermal springs, beaches and rainforests.

Rio Celeste waterfall

Rio Celeste waterfall

Sunrise Costa Rica

4.  Fruit

Fruit that looks, smells and tastes like real FOOD. Passionfruit, pineapple, mangoes, starfruit, papaya … they never tasted so good. A kind of juice-dribbling-down-your-chin-and-you-don’t-care good. Stop at the roadside fruit stands and indulge in fruit heaven.

Costa-Rica-fruit-stand-0678b

Papaya-web

5.  Adrenalin Rush 

This is the land that invented zip lining — because why wouldn’t you hook a pulley over a stainless steel cable and hurl yourself off a perfectly safe platform, to go whizzing through the treetops, hundreds of feet above terra firma? Pura vida, in full force.  I’d been mustering up the courage to try zip lining since my first trip to Costa Rica ten years ago, and  I kept finding (perfectly sane) excuses for not doing it.

Ziplining-costa-ricaThis time, I took the leap; inspired by our group of feisty and fun-loving yoginis, who were equally determined to try this adventure, and fortified by the very capable crew at Los Canones, who briefed us well. We listened very carefully to every instruction on how to avoid finding yourself hanging upside down, suspended above the forest, and Ziplining-costa-rica-0116how to stop in enough time to not go crashing into the next platform — all of this gave me the courage I needed to take that first step into nothingness. It’s around those few seconds that you vaguely remember reading zip lining described as “death slide”, which you then dismiss immediately, take a deep breath, an even deeper Ommmmmm, and then you’re off!Ziplining-costa-rica-0203Ziplining-costa-rica-0225

 

 

 

 

And the thrill and shriek-inducing exhilaration is immediately addictive, so that you’re eagerly looking forward to the next slide and the next one and the next one and then oh, no, you can’t believe it’s over.   Next stop: bungee jumping in New Zealand. Just kidding. Wouldn’t catch me doing that for all the pipa fria in the world.

Still need another five reasons to head to the land of pura vida? Here you go …

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Be My Yoga Valentine

OM heartValentine’s Day can conjure up feelings or thoughts that are far removed from the original intention of this day. Depending on your perspective, February 14 might create the same forced expectations of New Year’s Eve, where the pressure is on to have the most romantic, love-filled time with your sweetheart, and a non-stop flow of red emoji hearts and roses leaping off your cell phone screen.

However you experience Valentine’s Day, here’s how you can choose to see this Day of Cupid differently, beyond the Hallmark sales and florist ka-chings.

Yoga is a celebration of the heart and most yoga philosophy explains that Love is the source of everything, a Supreme Consciousness that is present in everything. This tells me we can choose to recognize love in many places — in the exquisite sound of music, the power of a pasodoble dance, the way a sunrise breaks open the sky with brilliant light and vibrant colors, the kindness of strangers who expect nothing in return, the times that nature is so spectacular it takes our breath away and renders us speechless.

Heart cloud at sunrise - when you look for love, you'll see it

Heart cloud at sunrise – when you look for love, you’ll see it

When we’re able to recognize love in these ways, suddenly, we can see love everywhere. The Immense Love that is the kernel of everything, that reveals itself every time we feel a flicker of tenderness, affection, gratitude, joy or compassion. This approach to observing life through a filter of lurrrve, will either fuel the furnace we already feel inside, or it will create a spark and start to fill a void, if that place has been somewhat neglected or empty lately.

Yogaressa-lotus-heart-2798

Surprise! I find a tiny, heart-shaped leaf attached to my yoga pants and that makes me smile

As Valentine’s Day approaches, look around you with the belief that love is everywhere, notice that there is already an abundance of love in your life. The power and presence of love is endless.

Then treat yourself to a bright and beautiful bunch of flowers and celebrate the love and life within you. Fall in love with Life. Because that, I’m sure, is the ultimate celebration of the heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Yoga Nidra Virgin

Yoga-Nidra-Cocoons

Yoga cocoons at Simply Yoga, Delray Beach

If you teach yoga, there’s nothing more rewarding than someone stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time. There’s also nothing more frightening — when it’s your yoga class and you’re not sure if they’re going to like it, and for a moment you question whether you should have asked/persuaded/begged/blackmailed them to try it, and you wonder if you’re going to be the one yoga teacher in the world who is responsible for Ruining Yoga Forever.

Marie Speed has enjoyed some yoga in the past, but is brand new to Yoga Nidra. This month, she was our Yoga Nidra Virgin and I’m relieved and delighted to report that not only did she not run out of the studio at the first chime of woo-woo yoga music,  leaving her shoes behind as she made a hasty exit, but it sounds like she actually enjoyed the experience. Chubby sardines and all.

Here is Marie’s hilarious read, courtesy of Boca Magazine

“So I have this pal Julie Murphy from South Africa who used to be a corporate big wig but is now this great yoga teacher who runs around India for fun and is always talking about things like “alignment” as opposed to shoe sales. For some reason she still likes to hang out with me now and then despite the fact that I long ago replaced my downward dog with a sideways slug-on-the-couch variation. So here we are walking the other day and she tells me about this new practice she has launched called Yoga Nidra which Wikipedia likes to call “yogic sleep”—an hour of lying down on a yoga mat listening to woo-woo music and Julie telling you how to be happy.

Sign me up, I said, wanting to be supportive, and there I was last Sunday, my yoga mat neatly rolled out, looking at a sea of other people hunkering down for a state of consciousness described somewhere between waking and sleeping which is pretty much how I operate anyway.

At first I was sort of alarmed; the prospect of drifting around in a semi-conscious state with a bunch of strangers …” read more …

 

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20 Things To Be Thankful For At Thanksgiving

GratitudeOkay, let me be clear about this. Thanksgiving is not “our” holiday. We weren’t brought up in America and even after many years here, it’s still a holiday we sort of observe from a distance, watching people cheerfully make plans for family get togethers and turkey trimmings. Sometimes, we celebrate with friends who welcome us into their homes to join in on the holiday cheer (and eat oddities like sweet potatoes and marshmallow — yum, by the way). But mostly, we’re a little detached from it — we see how happy it makes people, but we don’t really get into the spirit of it all. And don’t even get me started on Black Friday.

So, finally, after a week of feeling like GRATITUDE was being yelled at me from every forwarded email to every Instagram post, I took a few minutes to embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving (well, one interpretation of it, anyway) and asked myself what makes me feel grateful.

In addition to the obvious gratitude for food, shelter and good health, here’s what popped onto my list of gratitude — maybe some of these are yours, too.

20 Things For Which I’m Thankful (in random order):

  1. Love.
  2. Water, in all its forms … rain, ice, ocean, lake, river, and even tears, especially when they are tears of laughter.
  3. A good book, and actually finding — no, MAKING — the time to read it.
  4. Puppies!
  5. Rainbows.
  6. Unicorns. No, not really, just threw that one in, as it seemed to naturally follow puppies and rainbows (However, I do have a secret wish that I could conjure up a unicorn as my patronus , and so I live in hope. Bring it on, Expecto Patronum).
  7. Hope, because without it, we’re screwed.
  8. Watching the moon rise (extra gratitude for when it’s a full moon).
  9. Mistakes, because once I’ve stopped muttering about how I won’t do that again, the mistake becomes a good learning experience so that (most of the time) I don’t do that again.
  10. Champagne. It’s the bubbles.
  11. A sense of humor. I guarantee that life looks different after you’ve had a good laugh.
  12. Yoga, because it brings more of #1, 5, 7, 11 and 15.
  13. Wifi. How on earth did we manage without it?
  14. Switching off Wifi and remembering and enjoying what we did without it.
  15. Random acts of kindness, especially from strangers, as it fosters feelings of hope for humanity (see #7).
  16. Nature, in any form. Watching it happen, being in it, being a guardian of it.
  17. Bingewatching. Especially bingewatching Game of Thrones with a friend who’s read all the books so she can explain why they’ve just killed off the character whose role you finally understood or who you adored on sight and thought would survive every beheading, disemboweling and throat-slitting.
  18. People who respect the apostrophe. Yes, it matters.
  19. Travel and the joy of exploring other cultures.
  20. My husband, and all the other people who love me, just the way I am.

Pooh-Piglet-GratitudeOne of the interesting things about making a list like this? I started off with “10 Things For Which I’m Thankful”, quickly expanded it to fifteen, accelerated to twenty, and then found myself feeling ridiculously thankful for a list that seemed endless. Positively cheerful that there are so many things for which I can feel grateful. Grinning and thankful almost to the point of combustion, skipping into the kitchen to start our holiday weekend.

There may be something in this Thanksgiving thing, after all.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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This May Tempt You To Try “Yogic Sleep” — The Ancient Practice of Yoga Nidra

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My body sleeps, but my mind stays awake … huh? How does that work? Welcome to the paradox and the power of Yoga Nidra; exploring the state in between being asleep and being awake.

This is not pretzel yoga, or kick-butt yoga, or sweat-your-bits-off yoga … it’s Anyone-Can-Do-This yoga. You need nothing more than your desire to create a sense of calm in the body and the mind — no special skills required. In fact, the most challenging element of Yoga Nidra is often the ability to stay awake!

Yoga-Nidra-Benefits-7352So, what exactly is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra places you in a state of tranquil awareness, preparing the mind to receive positive messages, at a subconscious and emotional level. In my experience, two major things happen:

1 — Relaxation

Lying on the ground (or seated), listening to a specific system of guided relaxation, your body comes to a place of complete rest, while the mind remains alert and yet calm. Even as you enter a dream-like state of consciousness, your mind stays awake; following the verbal cues, becoming aware of sensations in the body, and using sensory perception and visualization techniques.  These methods for calming the body, the subconscious mind and the sympathetic nervous system, are extremely grounding and relaxing.

2 — Intention

This is a powerful aspect of Yoga Nidra, when you introduce your intention (or sankalpa in Sanskrit).  Here, you state your affirmation for personal transformation; your wish for what you would like to be, or have, in your life — good health, calm mind, confidence, success, a change in your relationships — whatever your heartfelt desire is. Think of your sankalpa as a vow between you and the Universe, or a higher being.

Some examples are:

  • I am happy and healthy in body, mind and spirit.
  • My dreams and aspirations become reality.
  • I breathe in calmness and breathe out peace.

Yoga Nidra creates the perfect setting for you to initiate change in your life, because it is easier to alter habits in this “conscious sleep” state than in the waking state, when we are typically more resistant to change. Although you are not trying to actively fix or change anything during the Yoga Nidra practice itself, regular repetition of positive affirmations in this state, can be transformational.


Yoga-Nidra-classIf you’d like to try Yoga Nidra, join me every month at Simply Yoga, or contact me re other Yoga Nidra events.

And for those who would like to do guided relaxation at home, I’m delighted to have just finished recording a Yoga Nidra CD, accompanied by the peaceful music of Richard Brookens, available here.

To your continued physical, mental and emotional good health!

Namaste.

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The Turtles Went In Two By Two, Hurrah, Hurrah

Nature decided to gift my sunrise stroll this week with the magical experience of watching these little creatures on their intrepid journey to the ocean.

As if the gorgeous sunrise wasn’t already enough, suddenly there was Amanda, rescuing turtle hatchlings that hadn’t managed to climb out of their nest. (Note: she’s with Delray Beach Environmental Services and officially tasked with doing this – not something you should do without authorization, unless you want to face a hefty fine of up to $100,000 per turtle touched).

As I looked around at the faces of the beach walkers whose day, like mine, had unexpectedly begun with a turtle rescue adventure, there were smiles of delight and awe. These were the turtles that hadn’t managed the mad dash to the sea in the middle of the night, because they couldn’t – they weren’t strong enough and would die on their own. Kind humans to the rescue. Amanda carefully pulled each turtle out of the sand and the hatched-egg debris, and we watched them clamber and stumble across the beach, with a collective “Aaaaahhhh” (from us, not the turtles), when each one made it into the water.

It’s a life-affirming celebration of Nature to witness something like this. When we’re connected to Nature, we’re connected to the pulse of our planet, to ourselves, to Source.

Maybe that recent, annoying conversation doesn’t really matter that much. Maybe worries dissipate a bit and life looks more cheerful. Maybe stopping to spend fifteen minutes watching rescued turtle hatchlings scramble towards the early sunrise and surf puts a smile on my face and I experience the sheer joy of being alive.

Makes me spontaneously start singing Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic”  … “We live in a beautiful world…” Indeed, we do.  “Yeah, everybody here’s got somebody to lean on …” Even the turtles.

Have a great weekend; one that includes a happy connection with Nature.

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Amanda counts the number of hatched sea turtle eggs

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Everyone Needs Chillaxing Time, Even Krishna Das

Krishna Das, beloved kirtan singer of many years, put out a message on YouTube last month, saying that he is taking a 6 to 12 month sabbatical in 2016, to “rejuvenate, rest and get some juice back in the system”.

The video startled me a bit, because he does look tired, worn out. His web site team says he’s okay, not to worry, but of course we do worry. Because he’ s Krishna Das; cool kirtan crooner of New York and India, with a velvety voice and all the humor you’d expect from someone who’s lived a full life in those dramatically different destinations.

This “ex-Jewish boy from New York, chanting the name of Jesus” (and holy Hindu deities) has been touring the world pretty much non-stop, for the last 20 years.  He didn’t hit the road until he was 47 years old – “And now, somehow, in 20 years, I’m 147 … I don’t know how that happened. So I have to take some time off.”

Krishna Das at an Anusara Yoga workshop, Feb 2009, Miami

Krishna Das at an Anusara Yoga workshop, Feb 2009

A dude this laid-back and inspirational is not supposed to get tired, right? Isn’t he living a life of bliss, following his dream, living his passion, as he soothes us with his music, his beautiful bhakti stories and life lessons learned from his guru, Neem Karoli Baba?

Truth is, Krishna Das needs a break,  just like the rest of us. He uses his music to perform Seva (selfless service, believed in ancient India to help one’s spiritual growth) and so he’s constantly giving; always sending his energy outward. Yes, he also receives energy and love in return from his fans, from the audience, from every concert, but endless living out of suitcases and traveling from city to city, takes its toll.

Reading about Krishna Das’ sabbatical is a good reminder for us to take stock of our energy levels and notice when they need replenishing. It’s also a reminder that yoga is about balance, and without balance, we can find ourselves depleted. Balanced diet, balanced sleep, balanced exercise, balance in how much we work and how much we rest and play, balance in our personal relationships.

At an Anusara Yoga workshop in 2009, we were delighted to discover that Krishna Das would play his music and lead us into the peace of Savasana. I bumped into him outside, looking a bit frazzled and struggling to carry things from his car to the huge hall where hundreds of yogis and yoginis were waiting. I offered him a hand and carried some bits and pieces upstairs, happy to help the person who had been bringing me musical bliss since 2002, and who was about to give more, singing us towards serenity.

Krishna Das, you’ve given us thousands of hours of uplifting, joyous kirtan music. Now it’s your time. Don’t even think about doing “a couple of local things around New York,” and the Skype sessions you’ve suggested, to stay in touch with your fans! Please, disconnect and do what’s needed; the “healthful recharging” mentioned in your newsletter.

As I reach for my iPod to play some of my favorite Krishna Das tracks (gosh, so MANY! Which one should I pick? The one where he sings Amazing Grace with Sting? The classic Hanuman Chalisa?),  I send him love and gratitude for sharing his extraordinary kirtan talent. And as I listen to his deep and soothing voice, I wish him a healthy and happy sabbatical. We’ll be waiting patiently for you to return to the circuit, once you’ve fully recharged those Bhakti batteries. Jai Jai Hanuman!

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