Established in yoga…while moving through it all…

I fractured my wrist at the end of October. The cast came off, December 11. During the time in the cast I floated through time and space, a little removed from life, a little removed from pain, a little removed from sitting with this unexpected event in my life. I did some responsibility taking around that somehow, but generally, I was floated by my spiritual practices in this place beyond time. I didn’t struggle against the weight of the cast to do asana (physical postures) practice, because I understand true healing to take place on the level of consciousness, first. Lots of healing happened on that level, and then the cast came off, and I plummeted back to Earth.  I was back in my body, remembering the accident and the pain, and meeting and seeing the limitation now embedded in my physical body. I was in shock. When I left the hospital and climbed into my car, I burst into tears. It wasn’t victimy. It wasn’t woe is me tears. It was sadness for the whole world, all of us, going through this experience of restriction. It was a visceral experience of the sense of vulnerability of our bodies and the sense of vulnerability to all kinds of forces external to us. This month in my classes we are talking about pratistayam, or to be established in.  In Patanjali’s  yoga sutra Patanjali refers to yoga as a state where we dwell in our true nature and the text builds a pretty good case that where we seem to dwell in the external world is intimately related to where we dwell inside. To make a choice to dwell in our true nature is to become established, and that is to position ourselves in such a way that the impact of external forces on our ability to move through the world is diminished. We become conscious co-creators of our life experience.

When I was in the hospital, initially, after the break, I was there four days. A significant amount of the time was spent discussing pain. This was what the hospital staff worked with me on. The managing of pain. The avoiding of pain. I liked the underlying message which was, you don’t have to suffer pain. I’d spent many years with the belief that I did have to suffer pain. Of course, there is that meme “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. I will say that what when you extract the suffering, it’s no longer pain. It’s just powerful sensation. But therein lies the rub. We have to choose not to sit in the state of mind of our own suffering. Randy, the very kind, bright-natured nurse who was my primary “pain coach” advised, “You don’t want to chase pain.” What does that mean? She explained that it’s very difficult to reduce the pain once you’ve allowed it to take hold. So, the process is to ward it off in advance, in this case by regular systematic taking of meds as the doctors prescribed. Every X number of hours. Isn’t that interesting? Patanjali advises the same thing. He says future suffering is to be avoided. And I think it’s good to note that Patanjali is not just one guy with one idea, but he organized all the information from what people who were practicing in that day were doing so, you know, it’s not the kind of information that gets outdated.

So if future suffering is to be avoided, how is this done?  Yogically, there are a number of different interpretations of what that means but for today let’s just consider that part of it, avoiding future suffering, is that we train ourselves through asana pranayama meditation and good old fashioned discipline to stay anchored, to stay established in our true nature. Part of that training is learning to catch ourselves when we are not in our true nature. Randy advised that pain was a tricky thing. In my post cast life I feel what she meant. It’s random and it’s stubborn – arising with no apparent logic. Although, the mind will try to give it logical source, ‘I ate french fries yesterday and must be inflamed’. But then one might notice the pain lingers long after the french fries are gone. 

The time came last week to remove myself from painkiller killers. You can’t really take Tylenol or aspirin, in large doses, forever. I’d left the high-octane painkillers behind while still in the hospital. There are herbs and there is homeopathy. Last week I began physical therapy and what I didn’t realize was how painful the process of rehabilitation would be. I’ve spoken before here about the releasing of fascial tissue and trauma stored within it. Now I’m living that daily and an important side note – when fascia is releasing you relive the pain of the trauma itself. Medicating at that point is thought to interfere with the release process. On some level, you have to feel it to heal it on the level of consciousness.

Just transcending just moving out of the place of awareness of the pain

might support psychological health in the moment, but holistically transforming the pain creates a more integrated healing. About three days into my PT exercises a return to a generally full asana practice, as I lay down to sleep, my whole arm caught fire with pain. It was clearly a fasica release, as I could feel the impact traveling through my body, as it had at the moment of the accident, dull but shocking. I already taken my herbs for the day. That was it. I was left with chamomile tea and deep breathing, as my only recourse. “I’ve entered the world of pain.” I thought, knowing that millions of people abide there full time. Now, I have some inkling of their experience, and I am awed by it. What that must be like to live there, in pain, through your whole body, all of the time. I think to myself that I don’t want to live in the world of pain. So as I breathe deeply and consciously, I effort to reorient myself to be situated, established, not in the pain, but in the calm center I have touched many times over my years of practice. Pain is tricky. It is seductive and magnetic and absorbing. This requires some effort.

But I really don’t want to live there. I chose to dwell in my true nature. The pain is not receding, but it ceases to be me. And instead, the sensation becomes an experience I am having. It sounds like splitting hairs. But when I pull myself out of the pain experience, it’s just another experience. I know that there is some experience within me at all times, that is not pain, and that somehow I will find my way to dwell in that space. I woke up the next morning amazed that I slept. Funny that, right? We think a billion bucks is the goal but how valuable is a good night’s sleep? The big deep pain of that evening is gone, but it still comes and goes both emotionally and physically as I reclaim the use of my arm as part of the whole of my body – and work to expand my reach. And now I feel really connected to a whole new level of this pratistayam thing – to master being able to sit in that calm sweet place as I deal with the challenges of the world. The practice becomes a a deeply essential life skill to have. It’s been very exciting. I was able to use my left hand to take some vitamins yesterday. And that was a big leap. And I’ve enjoyed creating sequences without the Down Dog for the time being. No plank, no Chaturanga. And a world of creative movement has opened up too.  My treatment goal is down dog. Okay, so two months ago, right before the accident I was jogging and doing a forearm stand and enjoying the process of reclaiming each little step. And now and then, I feel a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, my yoga practice will evolve into such a grand adventure, yet again.

Destination sovereignty: Co-creating your next step

Over the next 4 weeks we’ll follow a program of co-creating as follows (note, of course you will be inspired to veer into your own way of doing these things…I’m just sharing what I am doing);  You’ll want a notebook, and a nice pen, and for the third week, collage materials, magazines, or junk mail, I grab anything that might have words or visions which I can create into a vision board.  You can also draw your own items.

0.  Awareness practice

1.  Big picture, Little picture

2.  Revise, re-frame, rearrange the picture as you go.

3.  The vision board

4.  Action plan/timeline.

This week I invite you to consider, your big picture and all the little pictures that you are creating within that big picture.  We can split this up by time, and also by subject.  Larger segments of time (the year) and smaller (the day).  Larger categories of life (all our relationships, the world) and smaller (my family).  I’d like to propose that as you consider the course you want to chart this year, that you craft and design your plan with a mind to the big picture and the little picture. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra he tells that, when we arrive at the end of a series of steps, we see how we got where we are. We can flip that teaching around and understand that conscious decision making is a step by step process and that the steps we take to get from one place to another are happening continuously in a stream which is, for the most part, not conscious.  Until we decide to make it conscious, which is part of what we are doing here. We make thousands, maybe millions, of decisions a day. Intending, crafting and charting your course, moment by moment is a way to co create a life. Co create meaning We are Creating with the highest wisest aspect of ourselves with which we reconnect through our yoga practice. ‭For years I did this visioning once a year, vision board, goal setting. Everywhere, sometime during the year it would get lost. Years ago, I went to my first seminar about this, and the facilitator encouraged us to keep working and revising our plans throughout the year. I was so rigid at the time, I couldn’t do that- I couldn’t even imagine doing that. But as I worked with this idea from the Yoga Sutra of step by step conscious decision making, I learned to be more fluid about my outer destinations and more anchored in my inner destination. In my opinion, this was the basis of my successful pivoting throughout the past year during Covid-19. Successful being defined as never feeling thrown off course, always celebrating each new trail and never dissolving into defeat. This is a part of it, it’s a good idea to celebrate the journey to completion rather than the completion of some projected big dream.  Each step on the journey will contain little victories and little victories add up to big accomplishments.  The understanding of the little relationship between the little pieces an the big pieces is part of working the first creative step:  Big Picture, Little picture. 

One of the things I learned as a conscious co-creator was that I could create castles in the air and actual opportunities galore. But there was a big disconnect with my ability to manifest the opportunity and my ability to ground those opportunities into tangible successes. I might get 30 people in a class if I desired it, but they were a hodgepodge of people so diverse that my teaching became fragmented, and no good roots were grown which sustained the work into the  future.   As you craft the big picture those roots ar important…where is the desire coming from and what is it really about?  Perhaps the beautiful new home you dream about emerges from a place of love for beauty and craftsmanship, or perhaps it has significance in the realm of extended family. Perhaps the new romantic relationship you desire is a desire for  sharing or collaborating or good old fashioned enjoyment.  Perhaps the new career path is about discovoring and embracing your own gifts and value.  It’s good to turn the larger visions over like precious gems, investigating their many facets.

When crafting the large vision, be prepared to revisit and rework it periodically, and reflect on it often. 

I then begin a process of working the vision everyday in some way.  I make a quicker more mundane list of the ten things I want to experience each day, maybe effectiveness or communication, joy or flirtation.  At the end of the week, I review those lists and my larger vision, and create a 10 item vision plan for the week.  Once again I repeat the daily vision plans. Make note as you do it, that each time you work your program, you are planting seeds of creation.   

The little plans were powerful. They became actual action plans towards my goal, so at the beginning of the day, I committed to what I wanted by scheduling actions related to the large goal.  This moved things forward but it also did something more important. It acted as a filter. Perhaps I envision a work role or romantic partnership. When the time came to take action toward the goal arrived, I would find myself resisting, never sending the resume, never meeting the fellow for coffee. I learned that somehow I wasn’t aligned with those goals right now. As much as I thought wanted them, I wasn’t ready to have them.  So, I would just “turn them over to spirit” and re-frame the bigger picture vision.

So that is a way to develop and work with these visions in time.  Remember though, that a miracle can happen in an instant, so taking the time to do this, isn’t because the goals take time to develop.  It’s to get ourselves ready to receive.

Spend Day 1 of week 1, writing out your big vision.  In the big vision, I suggest that you include all the different areas of your life, relational, financial, social.

Each day of this week, between our posts, go through and craft your little big, little picture list. What are you going to take from those large visions into your day? Note any feelings or resistances that come up.  By December 26 your vision will be clearer and more embraceable.   Because actually, we’re going to we’re using these steps to develop the big picture that we want to launch our new year.

Each morning think about how you want your day to go. Refer to the vision and integrate relevant action steps into your daily obligations. It’s likely during the day that you will forget, get distracted and redirected. These are excellent times to stop do a little breathing or a yoga posture.   Check in to see how you actually want to move forward with your list. .Which brings us to an important piece.  The best visioning includes a foundation of an awareness practice. Yoga, meditation, dancing.  Whatever it is that allows you to step outside of who you believe you are for a few minutes and connect with your highest and wisest self. 

That’s it for today, I hope this helps you to get started with charting your course for your next new beginning.

To register for the gathering on December 26th where we will share our visions, please sign up here:

All my classes are offered at this time as pay what you are able and are comfortable with via Venmo, PayPal or Zelle, radhanatalie63@gmail.com

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcrd-qtrjIpH9z4EHsJhn1lvDoFmiAib_6h

The Healing Narrative

About three weeks ago, I spent a few days in the hospital after having emergency surgery for a fractured wrist. As the physician’s assistant reviewed the x-ray’s with me before my discharge, I mentioned that this would be a time of learning about how hands and wrists work. I am yoga teacher, and know that sometimes this is how we learn the best, through healing,  through putting it all back in order.  He responded that he was glad I was approaching the process this way.  Some folks just want to be fixed and other folks are prepared to do the work.  For each there is a path.  Hatha Yoga, traditional healing practices, to me fall in the path of work.  A Muslim client of mine once told me that Allah, God, could heal through any path she chose.  I believe this to be true.  I also believe that we are responsible for consciously aligning with and choosing our path and our healing team.  I have received much spontaneous healing, and much healing work in which my role was to receive.  But in all cases, my healing required that I show up and do the work of healing, whether that meant changing my lifestyle, my attitudes, forgiveness, practicing, getting up and taking a walk every day, or just plain old deciding that I don’t want to feel bad anymore and I’m willing to change.

The healing narrative that I live and share is that empowerment and healing comes through self-mastery, responsibility, and surrender.  It’s a working path.

So in this narrative, what is the place of rest? What is the place of receiving?  For me it’s being spacious around my willingness to change.  Much of that is about being willing to soften my opinions and resistances and expectations, allowing them to be transformed.  Much of that is about accepting things I may not be able to change and allowing myself to accept what is. Sometimes it’s about accepting discomfort. But my ability to do that well, arises from the work that I do.  The surrender and the work are inseparable.   The work of yoga, of healing, trains me to step beyond my habitual ways of doing things.  Beyond those habits, those ruts of thinking I have created, is the inner teacher.  Like a wisdom field behind a stone wall, the practices are the gate.  So maybe the surrender piece, is, once I’ve opened the door, to be willing to lay down in the wisdom field and let the light shine over me.  Or maybe the effort is the knocking on the door, and the surrender piece is the willingness to step through the gate whenever it opens and waiting until it does.  Either way, as we walk down our paths it’s good to be conscious about our choices, bearing in mind the use of the particular tools we have access to, and what they are for and who to find to help us use them.

Our outer teachers train us to use the tools, so we might have the tool when we need it.  I’ve found my outer teachers were always spot on in identifying my major obstacles. That often hurt.  I find my inner teacher steps in and speaks the loudest when I’m trying to fix the television by banging on it with a hammer.  (stop! stop!) We need the right tool for the job.    That hurts sometimes too.  But it’s like a surgery.  I’m very grateful they cleaned out and rebuilt my wrist.  I couldn’t have done that myself. I find the inner teacher is the quiet voice which directs me to the right tool, the right person, if I’m listening.  Sometimes they aren’t what is the most comfortable for me. But if I’m spacious sometimes I find I’m being shown a new way I’d never considered before, or sometimes one’s I have rejected.

In a way the healing narrative comes down to whatever is needed for you, or me, or whoever, to change the story line which is not in alignment with our highest best mode of living and loving. And to change that narrative requires that we let go of the story our personality has created about who we are, and be open to becoming an expression of our true nature, and the gifts that we are here to share with the world.  Those gifts are like the sun, sometimes hidden behind clouds.  In this sense healing is not a fixing but a growing, an allowing, a fulfillment of promise.

So what is the action step? Know our healing narratives. Explore the stories we tell ourselves. Start out creating the willingness to live a different story, if we want a different result. That is all. A little bit of willingness goes a long way.

Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves

Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves

We’ve spoken in these posts about yoga in terms of “yoking” or joining with, our higher self, God (dess), love or truth.  We’re always going to join with something.  Most of us are joined, intimately, with our personalities and the conditioning from our past experiences.  The yoga practices are designed to liberate us from the confinement of those identities, opening up fields of possibilities which are obscured by those limited perspectives.  The practices open us up to the vastness of our sacredness, our divinity and to an experience of life which is larger than ourselves.  But we live in a field of influences.  As we open up it’s important to be clear in our elevated personal intention. i.e. “I wish to yoke to the greater  creative force of the universe”. Otherwise it is all too easy to find ourselves swept away by a tidal wave of charisma, affection, or illusion.  I believe this is the source of many controversial events in spiritual history.  Participants got involved to find themselves and lost themselves instead.  It can be a very easy thing to do, getting lost.  In order to navigate the fields of liberated consciousness it’s wise to learned to stay centered as you practice (tapah), to develop your self-awareness of your own inner feeling states of consciousness (svadyaya), and to clear that you are surrendering your own restricted consciousness states to a higher consciousness state appropriate for you.

There are numerous techniques to stay centered in your practice.  Two widely used and simple techniques are the focus on the breath and the focus on the third eye center which is between the brows and slightly back.  Both techniques can be used in asana practice, in meditation practice, in bed, standing in line or on the bus.   It can be helpful to learn with eyes closed, but both techniques can be practiced with eyes open.  To focus on the breath, direct your inner gaze to the tip of the nose and watch each breath as you beath in and out through the nostrils.  To focus on the third eye center, direct the inner gaze to a space between the brows and slightly back, and allow it to rest there.  For both practices, the gaze can be directed either by moving the physical eyes or just directing the attention.  When you discover your attention has wandered, just bring it back again.  Try starting with 5 minutes and build from there.

Self-reflection is a perpetual on going process.  It may begin with noting your emotional states, and then deepen into subtler states of consciousness.  Just practice checking in with how you are feeling, and then what you are feeling underneath the feeling with a receptive and gentle awareness.

In the practices of bhakti yoga, practitioners nurture a relationship with what is called their Ishta devata. The Ishta Devata is their preferred form of God (dess), or guru.  Many western practitioners begin by working with Hindu deities they feel an affinity, a guru or or even Jesus.  Mahatma Ghandhi worked with truth.  You can take a quality that you aspire to embody in your practice and work with that.  Then the practice is to allow oneself to surrender into that.  For example, say I aspire to beauty and graceful femininity.   I find a symbol of that…a flower, a book, an image of Venus, and I focus on that, or in my asana practice, I dedicate my practice to aligning with that.  My experience is that it works well if you don’t use other people for this, or you can develop their flavor of the qualities instead of your own.

These practices work best when we hold them gently, training ourselves to rest in our own sacred centers and intentions rather than creating rigid boundary lines which we then defend by pushing the outside away.  Nurtured carefully, gentle centering practices allow us to stay clearly on our own path while opening up, connecting with others and accessing higher states of consciousness.  As the inner doors fly open, we find ourselves within ourselves, rather than losing ourselves in others.

The Forces Within

The Forces Within

In my observations as a yoga teacher all the postures we take, on and off the mat, have a variety of expressions one of which is the reflection of what we are feeling that day.  Some people shift from expression to expression in their postures, trying to find the one that “fits”.  Some people identify with one expression or another and hang out there for awhile until a new idea sparks transformation, or they feel the pain of the imbalance acutely and decide it’s time to change.  The days we live in require a great deal of strength and resilience.  Students thrive when given the opportunity to nurture their strength.  All of the Tadasana based straight line postures (Plank, Chaturanga Daṇḍāsana (low plank), Vasisthasana (side plank), Vrksasana (tree)) invite us to reflect on and move beyond the psycho-spiritual-physical tangles which obstruct our ability to experience the power of our wholeness. 

I always teach plank early in the class.  Why?  Because it tells me a lot about who I’m teaching and what they are in the mindset to engage with on any given day.    Over the years I’ve come across (and experienced in my own body) some common expressions of plank which could be thought of like this:

  1. The Conqueror:  Every ounce of will is drawn forth, the eyes and jaw tighten, the body is wrapped around the posture like grasping onto a twig if  we were falling off a cliff.  The breath is forced or held. 
  2. The Non-Chalant:  A similar determination to conquer the plank, or perhaps the way one feels in that moment, but being aware of the mind body implications of everything, we attempt to look cool.  The face and jaw are relaxed, the will is strong, but maybe the leg or the eye or the arm are twitching out a steady current of subconscious disharmony.
  3. The Dread:  The teacher says plank and there is hesitation (not today!  Do I have to do this today?).  The brows furrow – the face and body droop before even attempting to shift into the posture.  The body shifts forward into the plank and then crumples to the floor under the weight of expectations. 
  4. The Flying Buttock:  Exactly what it sounds like, our tailbone is not in alignment with the rest of the spine and is jutting up towards the sky.  Somehow, it seems to make things easier.  But the dis-alignment interferes with the subtle dynamic of balanced strength which we can cultivate through these straight-line postures.  In other words.  It’s easier, but not the easiest.  It’s a little like contorting yourself to adapt to an intrusive seatmate on a plane or subway.  We hold back a little from our ability to extend out into the world with the flying buttock shape.
  5. The aligned: The alignment comes all together, balanced front and back forward and backward and up and down and right and left and it’s EASY. And it SHOWS. This plank can be held for a very long time, by persons of all ages and appearances of physical body strength. The person inhabits the body rather than conquering it through will. The capacity for strength emerges from inside, not out.

None of these are bad or wrong but they can be invitations to bring a little more yoga into our yoga.  Yoga meaning to “yoke together”  to bring a little more of our inner being into our actions on and off the mat. 

Embracing the spiritual practices of yoga opens us to the exhilarating vastness of possibility.  To integrate that vastness into our lives requires a moment by moment yoking to spirit as we take action.    Breath is the key to this on and off the mat. Breath is a doorway to the subtle realms.  Developing an understanding of balance in the body supports this.  Balance in the body frees us from some of the struggles of the postures and opens an inner spaciousness which allows us to inhabit a physical action and tap into the vast potential of a given moment.  Releasing the external goals allows the body to be aligned by the illumined inner and outer forces, rather than our perceived shortcomings.

To cultivate right effort in your plank  try these:

  1. Focus on the breath
  2. Focus on the balance, which will always be some evening out of two opposing forces
  3. Release the goal – or perhaps the thought of the goal-including your expectations of what it would take to achieve it
  4. Extend in all directions
  5. Repetition and consistency

Practice of an integrated plank posture reveals our capacity to succeed through attention, presence, balance and extension (used in a geometric sense rather than anatomical), allowing us to funnel our spiritual potential into our physical form.  We no longer have to build strength, we become strength.

Open Sesame

It is an extraordinary moment.  Around me, I see those moving through life untouched by the turmoil in the world.  I see others, devastated.  I find myself fluctuating between the two.  Fluctuating is the key word here.  Flux is a substance used in metal joining (Attaching two metal pieces to form say, a ring).  It has a function of purification which facilitates the yoking of the pieces together.  The flux of my life is this moment of heat and challenge.  That process of fluctuating is a purifying one, my doubts, my fears, my worries, my angers are brought to the surface and purged.  In the moment that alchemical reaction is happening I have a choice.  I can identify with the matter which is being expelled or I can release and let it go.  To identify with it will move me away from yoga.  To release it and keep doing the work – allows me to move deeper into the experience of alchemical strength.  The joining of spirit and matter.

Forearm stand is the current focus of my personal practice.  Each morning  against the closed bathroom door, with an eye towards learning to balance in the center of the room, I lift, awkwardly into the position.  The other day I was in a time crunch but wanted to honor my commitment to work on the posture every day.  I flipped upside down and reached my foot back towards the door behind me to press against it and come back into balance and…the door swung open behind me.  What followed was an inelegant dance of flailing limbs and indecision resulting in a sideways crash into two drums, an electronic keyboard and an altar (I have yet to ascend into the level of real estate which would allow me to have a separate room dedicated to my yoga practice). 

It happens. 

But the glory is always there, the divine spark never leaves, and it surfaced a moment later when I picked myself up from the rubble, calmly said “ouch”, reordered the chaos in the belongings I’d crashed into,  and then promptly took child’s posture.   I just knew that any imbalances in my musculoskeletal system from the flailing would be rebalanced in steady breathing child’s pose.  Here’s to agility.  I don’t talk about it much, but I’m 57 years old (just a number of course), and I walked away from this without even a day of pain.  It was all absorbed within minutes.  This is the power of a well-balanced integrated yoga practice.    Agility.  Don’t try this at home!  But just know that when we allow ourselves to go deep in the process of yoga, power emerges in the most unexpected and subtle ways.

The impact surfaced the next day in an interesting way.  Pain?  No.  Restriction?  No.  Imbalance?  No.  But I was unable to lift into forearm stand.  I couldn’t get off the ground at all. 

“I guess, “  I thought, “this is what they mean by a setback.”  I settled into another child’s posture and allowed myself to find peace with that, breathing, accepting, not judging.  Then I proceeded to take headstand, a steady and confident posture for me.  Had I forced myself to keep trying the forearm stand I would have gone into conquest.   I want harmonious union, not conquest.  So, I honored the setback but maintained some ground in the world of the upside down. 

Conquest is exhilarating.  But it doesn’t stand on it’s own.  It requires that you reclaim it day after day after day.  Claiming the same victory over and over.  Harmonious union, with a posture or a life circumstance,  establishes a foundation of creative growth and an expansion of possibilities.  This is why inhabiting the simpler postures with awareness and love deepens our practices so much.  We become one with the shapes that way.  We internalize them and then that wisdom extends into every posture that we do. 

There was a time I learned in life that showing up consistently would change everything.  That became my effort.  Just to show up even if I felt tremendous resistance or fear.  Historically, when a relationship felt difficult, I would avoid and run away.  Showing up did change things.  But it was a fight inside to do that and that conflict continued to show up in the relationships I was trying to show up for.  Something deeper than showing up was called for.  Wholeheartedness was called for.  I learned that I needed to resolve the part of me that wanted to run away to begin with.   Personal resolution opened the door to experiences in relationship in which conflict transformed into love. 

The question then became less about conquering my shortcomings and more about understanding and embracing life as it was. After all, why keep balancing against a closed door when an opened door offers so many un-imagined possibilities?

Are you ready?

The heart of the yoga teaching  is that there is a unified essence underlying the spiritual teachings of the world.  There are many paths, and one destination, although each one of us experiences the destination differently.  All spiritual teachings are merely fingers pointing at the moon.  There is one truth which exists beyond the form of any teaching.  The teaching merely points us in the right direction, and through practice and grace the experience of yoga, of union with the divine, is experienced directly. We choose the depth of our exploration, and so  we choose the depths of the empowerment we wish to draw from the practice.  Wholeheartedness and integrity are  never finite.  To be congruent, inside and out, is to discover an extraordinary form of strength.  The seeker becomes the finder when joy and feeling better give way to true self knowledge and empowerment.

The word yoga comes from the root word “yuj” which means to yoke together.  Like an ox pulling a cart, how much easier things can be when another is by our side, yoked to us and pulling the cart with us?  In it’s most essential and authentic form, yoga is about aligning and working together with the divine heart mind, the truth, love itself.  That process of yoking – building that connection – building communication and co-working  as terrains are travelled and burdens hauled, is the heart of the journey.  The working of the relationship  creates the connection.  Alignment with our true nature, is the work to be done.  The healing of the fundamental schism – that experience of being alone and unyoked – is the pathway to coming into our true power, our true resourcefulness, our true prosperity and  creativity, our true identity as love itself.    This experience of wholeness within – our Destination Sovereignty – is available to all who are willing to change their minds and open their hearts.  It is the resolution of all lack, all loneliness, all love longing. 

So how do we begin?

I taught for some time in Central New Jersey, where traffic was, erratic.  One day it would be fine, and the next it would take hours to drive down the road.  When describing how long it took to get somewhere we would say – “It takes a half an hour for travel and a half an hour for the adventure.”  You never knew what was going to happen.  When we embark on a journey it serves us to consider that it will be an adventure.  This way disruptions became scenic detours and delays opportunities to rest.  The spiritual journey is no different.  The only guarantee is that when the journey is over we will not be the same as we were before.  Life is like that you know, but to take a spiritual path, the path of yoga,   is to take the reins and  face the adventure head on.  Old ways will be shed, new ways will be introduced, we will allow ourselves to be melted down and reshaped into more exalted forms. 

So perhaps we should begin our journey to sovereignty by asking ourselves

“Am I ready?” 

Many people at this point are tempted to check out.  As we scan our lives for stability and security we may want to ask ourselves is there is really anything out there we can count on?  If so, maybe it’s not the right time to embark.  But if we are wobbly and uncertain, stressfully buffeted from one way to the other, wishing we had anchor, a secure place to rest our heads, then, we might want to ask ourselves again,

“Am I ready?”

While there are no guarantees, to have a sense of security within ourselves, well, that is certainly helpful, isn’t it?

It is not a question of repeating spiritually what others have done before us, for our adventure begins beyond that.  It is a question of a new creation, entirely new, with all the unforeseen events, the risks, the hazards that it entails–a real adventure, whose goal is certain victory, but the road to which is unknown and must be traced out step by step in the unexplored.  Something that has never been in this present universe and that will never be again in the same way.  If that interests you….well, let us embark. 

From “The Sunlit Path”, Passages from Conversation and Writings of the Mother, Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India

Creating a Mosiac – Integrating Spiritual and Material Goals

The process of integration consists of millions of choice points where a single aspect of a life reflects our inner values or external values.  In the context of yoga (yoking) philosophy and practice each single aspect reflects proportions of spiritual and material expression.  Consider gold.  It must be mixed with another substance in order to be substantial enough to wear as a very useful ring or necklace.  Gold is just too malleable and soft to hold a shape without some other element present in the mix.  My experience is that our practice of yoga is like this.  Too much pure spirit leaves us ungrounded and ineffective in our lives.  This is not much use for ourselves or others unless your role in life happens to be embodying that ideal for others.  We need a mix and we can work consciously with our choices to create the right mix for the lives that we are creating. 

I studied the energetics of food around the time I transitioned into veganism.  My food teacher, a seasoned wise man who had been vegan for many years, did not think that I should be a vegan.  It didn’t fit what he saw my role in life to be.  I objected and went my merry way, working as a yoga teacher in a school which emphasized heavy duty spiritual practices and deep meditation.  He was right, I crashed to the ground with that, unable to manage the business of being a yoga teacher, and reside in those exalted realms.  My colleagues, many of them, had others to support them in the business functions, but to be honest, I knew I was a better teacher when I was grounded and present physically for the students.  When I still had my corporate job and taught in the evenings, my classes were packed.  Of course, I was younger and all of that, but, the grounding I had in my job helped me to relate to what every one was going through. I shared the way that yoga worked in my day to day life at work. 

So, I considered what my food teacher told me, and I decided that veganism was a really really important component of my practice.  I would have to change something else to create the perfect mix of spiritual and material for my life.  I chose to re-enter the work force and to lighten up a little on the extreme practices that I was doing.  I felt better, more awake of my life and more aligned – meaning I felt like myself again.  It’s a constant juggling act integration.  A little more of this, a little more of that, and developing the awareness to feel when the mix is perfect.  Generally when the mix is perfect I feel functional, strong satisfied and balanced.  In that place of integration there is balance strength and joy.  Balance strength and joy isn’t some long off goal I’m always working towards, it’s my chosen normal.  In that normal I find that I’m productive and I have the energy to be kind and generous.  In balance, in alignment I find that I don’t feel that parts of myself are suppressed.

If balance strength and joy aren’t goals in some far-off future, what does setting goals have to do with anything? 

Well, in a life of thousands of decisions at every moment, it’s good to know where we are going, what kind of balance or expression feels optimal to us, and then re-establish the “goals” of how to get there.  I’ll write more about this, but for the time being consider this, my goal of integration is built on an understanding that with my time I am creating a mosaic.  Several times a week I sit down and create visions, schedules and commitments to myself.  I block out time for each of the things that are important to me.  For example, for some, working in the soup kitchen is their spiritual practice, for me it is asana and music.  For some, health is jogging every morning, for me it is nurturance and good food.  (Some jogging doesn’t hurt!)  But the point is, I work with all the components of what is important to me and make sure they are all represented in that schedule and then my goal is to actually fulfill what I have scheduled for myself and the outcome is assured.  It’s very effective.  It means I learn to write a little faster, keep the kitchen clean while I’m cooking, and not spend all my time chasing money but to step by step do what I can to make my time worth more, to myself and others.  Then moment by moment, choosing to honor the schedule (sometimes choosing not to if, say, someone needs a hand).  It means not procrastinating on what I am wanting to do! 

I consciously choose the sequence of my week, and then roll it out, knowing that it may need to change.  At that point I recalibrate.  You may recognize this from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, at the end of a series of steps we can see how we arrived at a given destination.   We flip it around and take charge of the steps along the way so we can create consciously.

As far as asana practice goes, well, I do the same thing.  I try to create a well-rounded practice and I build it over time, practicing those postures I like and those I don’t.  A steady well-rounded practice, like a steady well rounded life will establish the discernment to detect when something is missing  or when the balance of life needs to be adjusted. 

It’s not romantic, but balance allows our energy to be available for romance, love, creativity…whatever we want.  Balanced energy sustains, it doesn’t deplete. 

It is my deepest wish that this information is useful to you!

Have a blessed and wondrous day.

Ha—tha—-Yo—ga

“….the Kula Arnava Tantra states [that the] the ultimate purpose of Hatha-Yoga, which is God-realization, or enlightenment, here and now, in a divinized immortal body.  This is often expressed as the state of balance or harmony (samarasa) in the body, when ordinarily diffuse life energy is stabilized in the central channel.  This idea is present in the term hatha yoga itself, which is esoterically explained as the union (yoga) between “sun” and “moon” the conjunction of the two great dynamic principles of aspects of the body-mind. “  Georg Feurstein, commenting on the Kula-Arnava Tantra, in the Yoga Tradition (1998)

This sums it up!!

Here are many words which describe the potential of a yoga practice, all of which reflect the culture and time in which they were said.  In an age of skepticism (now), few are enticed to the mat for something like “God-realization”.  What does that even mean?  “Divinized immortal body”.  We have bionics, why do all the work of hatha yoga?  So, let’s step back from the words of the Georg, and uncover the essence of this.  The yogi attains a magnificent state through the alchemical combining of two opposites into one presence in which opposition ceases entirely. Let’s consider that the opposition never really existed.  The body and mind were always one, the left and the right were always two parts of one body, but some how we experience ourselves as fragmented.  When we cease to swing from one polarity to another, we will function optimally.  In any moment, to function optimally would be to outperform any previous and similar circumstance.  In other words, evolution.    When we cultivate honoring balance and harmony on and off the mat, the best aspects of ourselves will shine through our physical form:  emotional and relational depth, creativity, wisdom and innovation of all kinds.  Whatever our field of endeavor, yoga practice with a mind towards balance and harmony expands what we are capable of. 

We’ve been in Shelter in Place for 15 weeks now.  In the months before the shutdown, I’d left a long term, very exhausting job, and unexpectedly found myself teaching yoga again.  I was a substitute teacher.  I taught enthusiastically through the holidays, stacking classes with abandon, sure that when the holidays were over the intense need for coverage would diminish.  It did not.  My base camp was a tiny yoga studio in the Inner Richmond, San Francisco.  Sometime in February people began to get sick.  Teachers, students, front desk staff one by one being taken mysteriously ill.  The studio ran out of substitute teachers and I was working my ass off.  I was chugging along thinking everything was fine, I was rising to the occasion!  I’d lost my center.  On March 17, 2020 when Marin Country went into Shelter in place, I took to my bed, tired beyond having the energy to question or fear what was happening.  I never got sick.  I was exhausted. 

It’s 15 weeks since the shutdown.  Today, I made a new recipe for lunch.  Everything was calm –  the bounty of colors and smells as I tossed the ingredients one by one into the pan drew me deep into the present moment.   I realized that I was in balance for the first time in a long time.  It took 15 weeks of solitude, nurturing and yoga for me to return to my center.  It amazes me that it took that long.  Compared to many modern American lives, my life is pretty balanced.  Today was a day of focus, accomplishment, giving and nurturing.   The point is, when we go out of balance, the rebalancing may call for  some awareness, some presence and some time.

What do I notice in this new state of balance? After all, each time we rebalance we land in a different place.   I’m aware.  Aware of how I am standing, alert to the smells, sounds, sights and tastes of the world around me.  It’s easy for me to respond to the neighbor who asks for a little of my time.  Laughing comes easier, and so does hope.

An imbalance can sneak up on us.  First, we are doing a little more of one thing and then another.  Before you know it, we’ve lost our center.  While a “divinized immortal body” may seem remote to us, the fragility that arises when we become out of balance is familiar to just about everyone.  When we are in balance, we are strong and resilient.    Balanced here refers to resting our attention, awareness and presence inside of ourselves, rather than having our attention pulled by ten thousand things.   Or in the language of Mr. Feuerstein, “ordinarily diffuse life energy is stabilized in the central channel.”  Classically this is done in meditation, but our waking lives are reflections of those inner energies, and the inner energies are reflections of our waking lives. When we are centered our attention is broad enough to hold the awareness of all the facets of our lives while we stay stably rooted in our own awareness.   

It’s a superpower, to choose where and when to give your attention to something, and to choose to stay focused when the guy next door is using his chain saw.  It’s a superpower to cultivate the skill of harmonizing the body and staying well.  It’s a superpower to not be buffeted by the fluctuations of the world around us.

There are many approaches to harmonizing the body  and reclaiming our center in the yoga practices.  What I consider the most useful, is to  just begin with the structure of a given posture.  The weight balanced between both feet. This weight distribution will, in turn balance our channels, right and left, or in classical practice the sun and the moon.  If we practice just this, with consistency and detachment the sense of fragmentation dissolves as our central channels are awakened.  We begin the movement towards a deeper level of potential and fulfillment.

Stay High

From:  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

Sutra 1.12:          abhyasa-vairagya-abhyam tan-nirodhah

In Devanagri:      अभ्यासवैराग्याअभ्यां तन्निरोधः

Pronunciation:  abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ

Idea:  The fluctuations of the mind cease through practice and detachment. 

Why practice?  Isn’t the practice now to be out on the streets supporting our allies? It is, but our time on the mat is important, too.  I once had a cat named Toshi.   I was an inexperienced cat guardian, and quite frankly, not very good at it.  I never much brushed him, it was boring and I didn’t think he liked it very much.  When the day came when I realized that he was getting older, I felt called to brush him.  We sat for some time together, brushing.  Me, and Toshi the cat.  That day, I had no time for meditation.  I posted something about it on Facebook later in the day and one of my friends said, “No, Natalie, you need to meditate AND brush Toshi.”  My time management was not very good in those days.  Brushing Toshi took precedence.  Everything about Toshi took precedence.  I have to say, when he choose to leave his body, I was so glad that I’d spent all that time with him.  But the decisions I had to make about his well-being during that time, would have been easier had I not fallen off my practice wagon.

A fundamental principle of the yoga practice as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the practice of Abhyasa.  It means to dwell in the experience of yoga.  It also means to be consistent in your practice.  From one perspective, this consistency is about discipline, and the way that a dedicated discipline whittles the frivolous from their life.  From another perspective, there is the dwelling in yoga.  Scratch  below the surface of  the idea of dwelling, and we find that dwelling becomes being established in the state of yoga.  To be established in the state of yoga is to be unwavering in our expression  of yoga’s peace (shanti) in all facets of our lives.  When established in the state of yoga, nothing, I mean nothing, could sway you out of being in alignment with the truth, peace and love that is yoga (so I’m told).  We become established through consistency in practice, over a long time, without veering from our commitment.  We know where we are in our practice when we experience how much or how little it takes for our stability to turn into a wobble. At what point does the emotional turbulence of our minds take precedence over our practice?   We may be attending to the burning fire, but our attendance would be enhanced by the stability our established yoga practice confers.

Being anchored in our peace does not mean that we do not communicate.  The most effective communication unfolds when we are tapped into the higher dimension of ourselves.  If we spend a lot of time on our mats or our cushions, or in deep contemplation of the teachings, then that relationship with our higher self becomes more and more prevalent in our expression off the mat. 

Sometimes, there have been those called to act drastically under divine order.   I never assume that I am called that way.    I know that there have been times in my own life when I spoke harshly to others and I really felt it was something “higher” coming through.  But we cannot really know, so nowadays, I stay anchored in peace to the best of my ability and never presume I am being called upon to judge my brothers or sisters.  I can communicate my perspective, but I do my best not to judge.  I know I never listen to one who is judging me, why would anyone listen to me if I was judging them?

So why practice?  There is enlightenment and self-care and exercise and calmness, but right now I propose we consider the importance of maintaining our practices so that we are stable, non-reactive, loving, and wise.  Established in yoga.  As the miraculous Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”  Or we might change that to, “When they go low, we stay high.”  To the best of my knowledge, I have perfected none of this.  But I do reflect on what I have done and have not done.  I check my results.  I do commit to practice and take the high road, to the best of my ability and if I fall I forgive myself.

Keep the love alive,

Natalie