Life, Yoga for Everyone

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]

Life

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

Life

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.

Gratitude
Life

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). Often, we’re a little detached from it — we see how happy it makes people, but we end up enjoying a quiet day on the beach instead.

However, after a week of hearing GRATITUDE yelled at me in every email and Instagram post, I decided to  embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving (well, one interpretation of it, anyway) and ask myself what makes me feel grateful.

In addition to the obvious gratitude for food, shelter and good health, here’s what popped onto my gratitude list — 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. And it’s a version of #2.
  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. Binge-watching. Especially binge-watching 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!

 

Life, Nature

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.

Turtle-hatchling-Florida

sea-turtle-hatchling-eggs-florida
Amanda counts the number of hatched sea turtle eggs
Life

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!

Life

Yoga to the Rescue on New Year’s Day

New Year’s Eve started off perfectly, with a pre-midnight prosecco toast at home, giving us time to then join a group of yogis and yoginis and chant a continuous Om again and again, as a beautiful way to herald in 2015. (Thank you, Simply Yoga, Andi and Karen). The next treat was a walk on the beach with my husband, watching the fireworks dance in celebration of the New Year, talking of our hopes and wishes.

Party PiggySounds idyllic, right? Then the movie script changed. We got home to a mighty thumping, pumping, throbbing and pounding … words which could be easily misconstrued, so I’ll quickly add that they were all related to the raucous party noise of our next door neighbours, with their 70s music belting out into the new year and straight into our living room.

The instant disco reverberating throughout our house eclipsed the vibrations of our harmonious Oms two hours earlier. I’m the first one to whoop at the funky sound of Barry White, or boogie in the kitchen to Disco Inferno, but by 2am my tolerance for YMCA and Ring My Bell had vanished, as had my New Year Cheer. Finally, we got to sleep by 2:30.

When I woke up a few hours later to teach a yoga class, I felt like sh*t. Grumpy and bad-tempered at how shattered I felt (I am NOT good on not enough sleep), I grumbled and complained to my husband, seething and directing I-hope-they-have-monumental-hangovers curses through the hedge and into next door.  Instead of waking up with unbridled joy for the potential of the New Year ahead, I could only see it through manure-smeared spectacles as I stomped off to teach yoga.

Breathe. Om.Within a few minutes of greeting the students, the routine of yoga kicked in and came to my rescue. There’s something about the ritual of rolling out the mat, settling into a comfortable, cross-legged position, and taking those first few yoga breaths. It’s as if the body, mind and breath remember these actions and receive the signal, “Yeah! Yoga Time!”, recognizing it as the chance to relax, let go, and see the world differently.

As we began with a few calming breaths and brought the mind to a quieter place, my words about welcoming in the New Year actually felt true, not just something to say to create a nice vibe in the yoga room. We prepared to chant the sound of Om and send out good thoughts for the year ahead, for ourselves, our loved ones, and for all humanity.

With surprise, as the A-U-M resonated through my body and out through the crown of my head, I found myself including my partying neighbours in that wish, as they appeared, unbidden, in my Oms.  They had transformed from inconsiderate party animals to just another little slice of humanity, celebrating life – and my anger had disappeared in the sacred sound of Om and the calm of the breath.

These are the moments when I am eternally grateful for the practice of yoga. Sometimes I can use these tools at the exact time they’re needed to diffuse emotions, and other times they come to the rescue afterwards, sprinkling stardust on the world and making it right. Sometimes, all it takes is just a moment to sit quietly, release the mind from its busy activity, and BREATHE – and our perspective on the world can change.

This is my 2015 yoga wish for you – for today, for any day, for every day. We can change the way we feel, by taking the time to pause, sit comfortably and …

  • close the eyes
  • relax the shoulders
  • breathe slowly, in and out of the nostrils
  • release the tension in the jaw
  • take another few breaths, perhaps allowing the exhale to lengthen, without forcing it
  • bring awareness only to the breath, as the inhale and exhale rise and fall in the chest
  • invite the mind to focus only on the breath for a few minutes – and if it becomes distracted by external noises or internal thoughts, gently draw the mind away from the distraction and come back to feeling the breath come in and out of the body.

After just a few minutes of stepping away from the busy activity of the mind and choosing to breathe calmly, when we open our eyes, the world may seem a calmer place and the mind may have more clarity, in a state of relaxed alertness.

At a minimum, we will have mostly likely lowered the heart rate, lowered the blood pressure and released some tension in the body. And perhaps the yoga of pausing and breathing will become a daily habit, not just on those days where we feel blasted by the pulsating remnants of Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting. Happy New Year, everybody.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]

Life

Winter Solstice and Yoga

The spectacular solstice sunrise I watched this week, jumped the queue and interrupted my intended “crucial ingredients for a more balanced life” blog post. (Perhaps that’s better suited to the New Year anyway, when we’re all determined and motivated, making resolutions for the year ahead…)

I tend to think of the winter solstice and the end of the calendar year as a time for us to reflect on lessons learned, accept the year’s experiences as more threads to the tapestry of life, and leave behind what no longer serves us. It’s also a time to make room for the possibility of bright new beginnings, welcoming the sun back into our lives.

The solstice was a few days ago, but it’s not too late to feel the energy of the year coming to a close and take time to contemplate the year ahead – perhaps bringing these intentions and wishes into your meditation and physical yoga practice. I enjoyed this mindful yoga sequence on linking your yoga practice to the energy and intention of a winter solstice.

Celebrate the wonder of a beautiful new dawn!

Winter-solstice-sunrise

 

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]

Life

Where Are The Goats?

Yes, I’ll admit it. It’s been difficult to adjust to “normal life” after months of yoga bliss in the Himalayas. I’ve been back home now for over two months and apart from the happiness at seeing my husband, family and friends again, the re-entry into Western life has been challenging.

During the last few days of our yoga program, Yogi Sivadas had smiled and said, “People come to India and get a culture shock. Then they stay for a while. And then, when they go back to the West, they get a different culture shock!” How true. Of course there was an adjustment to life in McLeod Ganj, India, starting with the taxi ride from the airport, but it was really only a matter of days before different became normal, and unusual became part of regular life, including the mischievous monkeys as surprise visitors in our cottages.

Acclimation on coming home – some observations:

  • Where are the cows in the street, and the goats eating the adverts off the walls?
  • Gosh, it’s odd to sit on a chair, instead of cross-legged on the floor
  • Everyone is in a rush
  • Everyone seems to be complaining about something, and it’s almost always about something trivial
  • The local charity shop is the happy recipient of the pile of Clutter I Don’t Need Anymore. What made me think I NEEDED so much? (and don’t even get me started on Black Friday greed and hysteria)
  • Oh. I’m noticing it’s actually quite a challenge to be a constant “flame of consciousness”, when not everyone around me is even aware there is a candle in the room
  • How did a Starbucks chai tea latte creep into my diet again, on a regular basis?
  • Wow, it’s not as easy as I thought it would be, to stick to the healthy routine that kept me so happy in body, mind and spirit
  • The word F@*k seems to be making a more regular appearance in my vocabulary lately
  • I’m so happy to have a busy yoga teaching schedule and share some of the things I’ve learnt … now, how can I squeeze in more yoga and meditation time for me?

It soon became apparent that the shifts in lifestyle were actually less about the obvious things, like goats in the street and Tibetan monks in the shops. It’s been more about how to hold on to the simpler lifestyle I had in India, where I made do with less and yet didn’t feel I lacked anything. How I felt alive and energized every morning, even with the pressure and pace of our nine-hours-a-day-six-days-a-week schedule. How I saw life through a veil of calm and perspective, focusing only on things that mattered. Every day brought simplicity and ease into the way I thought, spoke and behaved.

The goats LOVEd eating the adverts on the walls!
The goats LOVED shredding the adverts off the walls!

And that’s the magic that I’m determined to hold on to. The goats were adorable and I miss them. But it’s the other, less tangible, pieces of the peace puzzle that I promise myself I will not lose. I’ve been preparing for the “Yoga in India” playshop I’m holding this month, and I’ve been reading through my notes of many hours spent with Yogi Sivadas, highlighting the crucial ingredients for a more balanced life.

The good news is, it’s not actually that complicated. I’ll share a summary in my next post.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]