“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” –– Unknown
Greetings friends and followers,
I hope the past two weeks of deepening your connection with your true self by cultivating your inner witness have offered you some new insights into your beingness. Perhaps you have even begun to notice a pattern to your vrttis (mental disturbances) of which Patanjali teaches us there are five sources (see footnote).
These categories offer a foundation for self-analysis for those who want to dig deep into yoga philosophy. What I find to be more accessible though, is to look at how these vrttis show up in our lives.
So beginning this week, we'll start to look at some common mental disturbances and explore how our yoga practice helps us to restore our inner peace. We'll start with one I know well –– our inner critic.
As always, class time and format will guide how deeply we go in each practice with Thursday offering the most light-hearted, and Saturday offering the deepest experience.
Click here for class information.
Footnote : In yoga sutras 1.6-1.11, Patanjali teaches us about the five sources of vrttis :
Pramana (correct or right knowledge)
Viparyaya (misconception / incorrect knowledge)
Vikalpa (verbal delusion / imagination)
Smrti (memory, including dreams)
“Unity. It starts with you. If not you, then who?” –– Unknown
Greetings friends and followers,
This week in our yoga practice, we continue to focus on developing our inner witness with a deeper dive into the sources of the vrttis (modifications) of the citta (mind).
As we explored last week, Patanjali teaches us in yoga sutra 1.3 that our true self (drastuh) is that part of ourselves that is uninvolved in our thoughts, emotions and actions. In sutras 1.4-1.11, he goes on to explain in detail, the sources of the mental modifications that disturb us, and how practicing non-attachment (sutra 1.12) cultivates our inner witness and helps to restore our inner peace.
Sri Swami Satchidananda explains in his translation of Sutra 1.4, “if we could calm our minds and get to the root of all of these mental modifications, we would be able to find unity in everything.”
We'll explore these concepts in more detail in this week's yoga offerings.
Click here for class information.
“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” –– Albert Einstein
Greetings friends and followers,
I'm back! Thank you for your patience and support through my break. 😊
For almost three weeks in October, Jim and I explored Nevada, Utah, Colorado and California in Mitzi, our vanagon camper. Our escape into the wilderness was liberating, rejuvenating and empowering. It also created space for me to think through the yoga teachings that I want to share with you beyond our physical pose (asana) practice, as well as how to create a more connected experience via Zoom.
For those who are not keen on change, don't worry, you'll see little difference in our asana practice. For those who are keen on personal growth and unification, I hope you will enjoy what I think are some fun new additions!
Here's a sneak preview...
If you've been practicing with me for awhile (or otherwise practicing embodiment), you may have already become adept at listening to your body and observing the thoughts and emotions that come up in a neutral way. In yoga, we refer to this as "developing the inner witness," which Patanjali introduces to us as "drastuh" (sanskrit for "the seer") in Sutra 1.3* of the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Our inner witness is the part of ourselves that observes our thoughts and emotions without judgement.
There is a very good reason the inner witness is introduced to us right after the welcome and goal of yoga.* Because it is the most important skill we can develop if we want to unattach from troubling thoughts and emotions and fully experience life for what it is and not what we think it should be.
Want to learn more? Please join me for any or all of the following offerings this week as I begin to take you on a deeper journey into the what, why and how of developing (or honing) your inner witness. Class time and format will guide how deeply we go in each practice with Thursday offering the most light-hearted, and Saturday offering the deepest experience.
Also, to enhance an overall feeling of connectedness, I'll begin inviting you, if you wish, to OM with me at the beginning and end of each practice. (I'll also explain why and how).
And finally, a word about practicing with music. This is a highly personal and, in some circles, even a controversial choice. I myself sometimes practice with music, and sometimes I don't. If you find that music helps you to connect more deeply with your inner witness, by all means, please add a playlist to your practice! (And of course, please put yourself on mute if you do.)
I look forward to seeing you!
Click here for class information.
* Yoga Sutra translations by Sri Swami Satchidananda (and my understanding in simpler terms)
1.1 Atha Yoganusasanam : Now the exposition of yoga is being made. (Let the study of yoga begin.)
1.2 Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah : The restraint of the modifications of mind-stuff is Yoga (The goal of yoga is to calm the fluctuations of the monkey mind.)
1.3 Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam : Then the Seer (self) abides in Its own true nature. (The ultimate gift of yoga is an ability to abide in one’s true nature. Or, if you want to have a little fun, "the dude abides.")
A special message for my South San Mateo Coast community, and all those impacted by California's historic wildfires.
My dear friends,
How are you doing?! I have been trying to connect with as many of you as I can. If we haven't connected, please drop me a line when you have a chance and let me know how you are doing.
Jim and I are okay. We were in the Sierras on vacation when the storms came through and didn't learn of the fires until we came back onto the grid on Wednesday. We cut the trip short, came home, and evacuated with the rest of you on Thursday. The chickens, our other two cars, and a few belongings are being cared for by a wonderfully kind new friend on Skyline near Half Moon Bay. We are gratefully living in Mitzi (our Vanagon), which is currently parked in a friend's driveway in Menlo Park.
So it will be awhile before I am able to offer yoga again. I have not done any asana for several days, relying on the grounding meditation practice that we have done over and over and over again to keep me centered and present. I hope you will join me in spirit.
Many of you are far more spiritually mature than I am, so I can only offer this. Patanjali (our sacred yoga sage) has guidance for us during times like these (especially on social media!). There are those who will handle today's uncertainty better than you. Take hope and inspiration from them. There are some who will not handle it as well. Offer them compassion; perhaps a virtual hug. And of course, take care of yourself. Our community, California, and beyond, need our loving and present leadership more than ever.
This is what we have been practicing for.
I hold all of you in my heart and in my prayers.
This past week, I introduced some dynamic new flows into our yoga practice before bringing ourselves into stillness. How did you feel? What thoughts popped into your head? What did you learn about yourself? Practicing with another teacher (Julia Midland) in this way earlier in the week was a revelation to me, so as I do with all of my meaningful self discoveries, I offer it forward to you.
What did I learn? My judgmental side, the one I thought I had “kicked to the curb,” is in fact, quite alive and kicking back. Yikes!
As soon as we started the unfamiliar flows — with 25 or more other yoga teachers in the Zoom room — my insecurities started to rise up. “I can’t do these flows! I look ridiculous! The other teachers here must be wondering how I was allowed in the room!”
Ever felt like that? (Choose your own context.) Everything I “preach” about pausing and letting go was completely inaccessible to me in that moment.
So I stopped. I just stopped. I took a few deep breaths in tadasana, and re-centered and re-grounded myself. I honored the truth of my insecurity and I listened to my inner wisdom. Brené Brown was there telling me, “vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.” And Aaron Neville was there telling me, “everybody plays the fool sometimes.” (So lighten up!)
Then I started again.
This time, I followed my own advice and let go of the judgement. I didn’t worry about the quality of my movement (except for being safe!) and I just started flowing with her and the 25 other yogis who I was now able to see in myself. Sometimes I accessed the flow, and sometimes I didn’t. I didn’t care. When she said “see how big you can be,” I reached and reached, and I toppled over, giggling. I have no idea if anyone was paying any attention to me because I went into my own little self-indulgent and meditative world. And boy did I have a good time!
Then we paused again. And my confusion became even more clear.
I was reminded once again that we practice because it’s unlikely that any of us, in any single lifetime, will ever completely rid ourselves of our demons and achieve total enlightenment. And we can never know when and where these gremlins will show up. But they will come, and when they do, we have a choice each and every time as to how we will welcome them. Will we look at them (ourselves!) and say, “Ugh, not you again?! I thought I banished you!” Or will we look at them (ourselves!) and say, “Oh! It’s you. You’re the one who reminds me that my pain is my purpose. My mess is my messenger. My greatest strengths wouldn’t exist without you, my greatest weakness. What do you need right now to feel grounded and whole? How about we start with a couple of deep breaths.”
Perhaps more importantly though, was the gremlin that didn’t show up (at least not this time!). That’s the one that might have had me closing the computer and quitting the class because it either, “wasn’t my kind of yoga” or worse, “she wasn’t my kind of teacher.” You know this gremlin. It’s EVERYWHERE these days. It’s the one that says, “you should…”. The one that closes our mind to others' perspectives and points of view. The one that becomes defensive or discouraged at any hint of a disagreement. The one that puts more weight on others’ actions (or inactions) instead of focusing on our own. The one that makes any challenge more about the messenger than the message. It was the release of this gremlin that created the space for me to take myself out of my comfort zone, risk making mistakes or looking silly, learn something new, really enjoy the class, and expand what I have to offer to you!
In yoga philosophy, we call this gremlin the asmita avidya, which is Sanskrit for our ego getting in the way of our ability to see things as they truly are. I can’t be sure it won’t be back, but now that I have truly experienced the joy of dropping my defenses and giving that particular demon a break, I’ll be better prepared to choose the right action next time.
So I invite you to listen to your demons. Welcome the ones who serve you, and release the ones who don’t. Because the one thing Aaron Neville didn’t get right in the song, is that when we can drop the ego and find the self-compassion to be vulnerable and imperfect, we actually can guarantee “that the one you love is gonna’ love you.”
Where does the space between the breath take you?
It’s been quite awhile since I blogged –– 16 months actually. I stopped when a friend and long-time yoga practitioner told me that she found my blogs to be “cute.”
I was devastated. To me, “cute” is associated with babies and bunnies and puppies. Suddenly, the meaningful self-discoveries I shared in the interest of helping others along their own path to samadhi (enlightenment) seemed infantile, sophomoric and silly. In other words, it shut me up in a hurry. Of course, I have no idea what she meant when she said it was “cute” because I didn’t ask. (More on that later.) Instead, I went to a place that I know well. The place where I tell myself I’m not good enough.
Do you know that place? Well, I don’t know about you, but I have become pretty tired of going there!
I knew in my head that I was supposed to find acceptance within myself, not others, but I just couldn’t completely internalize it. I “doubled-down” on my meditation practice. I chanted mantras. I practiced self-compassion and self-care. But nothing really moved the proverbial needle until I started doing shadow work.
The pain and suffering we see in the world around us are often mirrored by our internal pain and suffering. Shadow work invites us to shine a light on the parts of ourselves that we push away or hide from, and to embrace those parts of ourselves as a necessary aspect of being a whole person. Often the work is done with an experienced counselor or psychotherapist, and may also be done on one’s own or in conjunction with our yoga practice.
How does yoga help? Because we are spirits having a human experience, our bodies are how we interact with the world around us. What we experience with our bodies doesn’t lie, but our minds can make up all kinds of stories about the experience that may or may not be at all accurate! When we begin to master our understanding of our own bodies, we can begin to identify subtle changes that occur when our mind starts doing its work to make sense of the physical experience. We learn to trust those “gut feelings,” our intuition. This awareness then invites us to examine the roots of our avidyā (incorrect comprehension), and ultimately helps us to free ourselves from the negative grip that it has on us. This form of svadhyaya (self-study) can also uncover our hidden strengths!
Welcoming my shadow back into my life has given me a much deeper understanding of my strengths and my dharma, and an ability to be more open, honest and forgiving of my weaknesses. In other words, I finally understand what it means to have self-compassion! More importantly, by cultivating this self-compassion, I find it to be much easier to extend that compassion to others.
So why does this have me blogging again? And what does it have to do with an aversion to being received as “cute?” Overcoming some of my avidya has helped me to find my voice again. By welcoming my shadow back into my life, I no longer feel the need to run and hide when I receive feedback that conflicts with my ego’s perception. Instead, I can speak up and ask, “What?! Why?!” And listen to the response with an open heart and an open mind. In other words, it has pretty much cleared my blocked throat chakra! Maybe you’ve even noticed that I haven’t been losing my voice and clearing my throat as often in class lately?
Although we explore the foundations of shadow work in all of my adult group yoga classes, it can be most beneficial when experienced one-on-one in private. Please reach out if you would like more information.
The quote above inspired me this morning. Searching unsuccessfully for its source, it started to dawn on me -- who would want to claim such a glib utterance?
The past few weeks have been filled with distractions for me. A strong reminder of why we call yoga a practice! Some of the distractions offered a clear value -- such as canceling my personal practice to take care of a nagging car problem -- providing peace of mind and safe transportation in return. Others were energy vampires -- like following an unproductive "twitterstom" -- that wasted my time and left me feeling dejected and unproductive.
Many of the vampires, however, aren't so obvious! Until they are, and I end up berating myself (“I should have known better!”) for the wasted time and energy.
Does that ever happen to you?
Of course you know where I'm going with this. Our yoga practice can help! Writing this blog this morning, I realize that I've now written about the same topic two months in a row. So while I clearly have work to do to become more present and aware when it comes to making good choices for my energy, I'm celebrating the joy of the self-discovery that is taking me one step closer to samahdi (bliss or enlightment, the 8th limb of yoga).
At dinner the other night, my 21-year-old stepson was accidently doused with salsa by an unknowing fumble at the table next to us. A flash of protective indignation came over me as I thought about how wrong it was that he should have the salsa spill on him!
Ever done that?!
But Ben just calmly turned to his sister and asked her to wipe him off. When I commented that I was impressed at how well he was handling it, he responded,
"Yeah, well I could get mad, but that would just make me feel bad."
The obvious lesson is around learning to pause before we react, but for me, there was a deeper learning.
Ben's reaction "drove home" a conversation that Jim and I have been having around how, as highly sensitive people, we have a self-destructive habit of making each others' problems (and others' problems in general!) our own. Sometimes, as in this situation, when no problem even exists! This might be obvious to some, but for those of us who were raised in an era when young empaths were labeled over-sensitive or weak, we have a lifetime of mis-steps from which to learn and redirect our empathetic energy!
So as Ben was masterfully demonstrating the value of learning to pause before reacting, we were learning how even an emotion like empathy, given without pause, can create negative energy that offers no other power than to "just make us feel bad!"
Our new mantra? "It's only a problem if you make it a problem."
What energy will you bring to New Year? What will it give back?
With Thanksgiving approaching, I hope to successfully express to you how grateful I am to be part of such an amazing community. After almost three years in La Honda, I am still overwhelmed with emotion when I think about the amazing people who have come into my life through our yoga practice. I'm filled with gratitude for the warm and generous neighbors who have welcomed and befriended my family and me, for the children who usually teach me more than I teach them, and especially for the yogis who grace me with your continued participation in our humble clubhouse practice week after week.
You sustain me, and you inspire me every day to ask myself "what can I do next for my community?" Thank you for this incomparable gift.
I went to bed at 8 pm last night. I was exhausted from driving up north to collect our son Ben (a Chico State student), from sending out compassionate energy to those impacted by California's latest round of devastating wildfires, and from trying to sustain a hopeful outlook in the midst of never-ending hateful tweets and news reports.
At a time when many of us are feeling surrounded by negativity -- emotionally and energetically depleted -- our asana and meditation practices can be powerful ways to replenish our positive energy. Taking our yoga off the mat can be equally replenishing. Every time we extend a hand to someone in need; every time we share a smile or a laugh; every time we send out a positive thought or, if you prefer, a prayer; and every time we come together to genuinely connect with one another in a positive way, we are "doing yoga." We are replenishing our ability to remain kind and compassionate while creating much-needed positive energy for the world around us.
So whether you are participating in one of our regular yoga practices (see schedule), or you are replenishing yourself and your surroundings through love and kindness off the mat, I applaud and thank you for "doing yoga."
My intent with this blog is to provide more information about my weekly class offerings and to share the learnings and resources that have been the most helpful to me on my journey to my highest self. I hope that you find them to be helpful!