The Full Circle of Vinyasa – Transcendence

In its purest form, the Vinyasa experience  is what Patanjali calls samyamah, a synthesis of  forms of concentration which modulate the fluctuations of the mind, in this case, the focus is on breath, movement, intention and internal anchoring in the moment by moment unfolding of time.  The result is that beautiful transcendental physical flow that so many of us admire, aspire to and experience.   In my experience the vinyasa is an inner experience first, an inner experience of moving intentionally through time and space oriented primarily in an anchoring in the wisdom self. 

To understand this brings us to one of Patanjali’s key instructions about yoga, that yoga is nurtured through the practice of abhyasa (practice time spent dwelling in the true nature) or practice dwelling in our true nature, the wisdom self, and vairagya – detachment.  These practices form the landscape from which the classical practices of renunciation arise.  In it’s essential form, renunciation is an inner practice, developed through outer practice.  A simple moment when you soften around a moment of change can teach us a lot about the inner landscape of yoga.  What do we feel as we begin to move, is it sticky?  Clunky?  Awkward or painful?  Or does it flow?  Are we able to be still comfortably or at a different pace, comfortable?  Our capacity to do that is built on practicing this inner spaciousness which arises with practice and detachment.  The experience of and wake from the COVID related worldwide shutdowns has triggered an avalance of change.  Having survived four job changes and a tumultuous presidential election which, last night I found myself cringing in fear at the thought of further changes which will likely be unfolding as we move forward.  Who knows what’s coming?  Cringing.  I was  actually cringing.  And then, like a good dream my years of practice kicked in and I was awash in love and gratitude rather than fear of what was to come.  I am grateful that I was here in this beauty and that I have had the experience of knowing amazing people in my life.  Things may be different for all of us moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.  I find this way of vinyasa-ishly moving through a challenging experience helps me keep it in perspective.  It’s like walking through the streets of the city, any city.  Every neighborhood has it’s flavor and feel and we are just walking through those varying flavors and feels.  An uncomfortable neighborhood doesn’t require us setting up house there.  One the inner level we don’t need to set up camp in an interior landscape of opinion and belief which doesn’t serve us.  Instead we set up our camp in the wisdom self as we move through the discomforts and comforts  of life.  Th

In its purest form, the Vinyasa experience  is what Patanjali calls samyamah, a synthesis of  forms of concentration which modulate the fluctuations of the mind, in this case, the focus is on breath, movement, intention and internal anchoring in the moment by moment unfolding of time.  The result is that beautiful transcendental physical flow that so many of us admire, aspire to and experience.   In my experience the vinyasa is an inner experience first, an inner experience of moving intentionally through time and space oriented primarily in an anchoring in the wisdom self. 

To understand this brings us to one of Patanjali’s key instructions about yoga, that yoga is nurtured through the practice of abhyasa (practice time spent dwelling in the true nature) or practice dwelling in our true nature, the wisdom self, and vairagya – detachment.  These practices form the landscape from which the classical practices of renunciation arise.  In it’s essential form, renunciation is an inner practice, developed through outer practice.  A simple moment when you soften around a moment of change can teach us a lot about the inner landscape of yoga.  What do we feel as we begin to move, is it sticky?  Clunky?  Awkward or painful?  Or does it flow?  Are we able to be still comfortably or at a different pace, comfortable?  Our capacity to do that is built on practicing this inner spaciousness which arises with practice and detachment.  The experience of and wake from the COVID related worldwide shutdowns has triggered an avalance of change.  Having survived four job changes and a tumultuous presidential election which, last night I found myself cringing in fear at the thought of further changes which will likely be unfolding as we move forward.  Who knows what’s coming?  Cringing.  I was  actually cringing.  And then, like a good dream my years of practice kicked in and I was awash in love and gratitude rather than fear of what was to come.  I am grateful that I was here in this beauty and that I have had the experience of knowing amazing people in my life.  Things may be different for all of us moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.  I find this way of vinyasa-ishly moving through a challenging experience helps me keep it in perspective.  It’s like walking through the streets of the city, any city.  Every neighborhood has it’s flavor and feel and we are just walking through those varying flavors and feels.  An uncomfortable neighborhood doesn’t require us setting up house there.  One the inner level we don’t need to set up camp in an interior landscape of opinion and belief which doesn’t serve us.  Instead we set up our camp in the wisdom self as we move through the discomforts and comforts  of life.  Th

In its purest form, the Vinyasa experience  is what Patanjali calls samyamah, a synthesis of  forms of concentration which modulate the fluctuations of the mind, in this case, the focus is on breath, movement, intention and internal anchoring in the moment by moment unfolding of time.  The result is that beautiful transcendental physical flow that so many of us admire, aspire to and experience.   In my experience the vinyasa is an inner experience first, an inner experience of moving intentionally through time and space oriented primarily in an anchoring in the wisdom self. 

To understand this brings us to one of Patanjali’s key instructions about yoga, that yoga is nurtured through the practice of abhyasa (practice time spent dwelling in the true nature) or practice dwelling in our true nature, the wisdom self, and vairagya – detachment.  These practices form the landscape from which the classical practices of renunciation arise.  In it’s essential form, renunciation is an inner practice, developed through outer practice.  A simple moment when you soften around a moment of change can teach us a lot about the inner landscape of yoga.  What do we feel as we begin to move, is it sticky?  Clunky?  Awkward or painful?  Or does it flow?  Are we able to be still comfortably or at a different pace, comfortable?  Our capacity to do that is built on practicing this inner spaciousness which arises with practice and detachment.  The experience of and wake from the COVID related worldwide shutdowns has triggered an avalance of change.  Having survived four job changes and a tumultuous presidential election which, last night I found myself cringing in fear at the thought of further changes which will likely be unfolding as we move forward.  Who knows what’s coming?  Cringing.  I was  actually cringing.  And then, like a good dream my years of practice kicked in and I was awash in love and gratitude rather than fear of what was to come.  I am grateful that I was here in this beauty and that I have had the experience of knowing amazing people in my life.  Things may be different for all of us moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.  I find this way of vinyasa-ishly moving through a challenging experience helps me keep it in perspective.  It’s like walking through the streets of the city, any city.  Every neighborhood has it’s flavor and feel and we are just walking through those varying flavors and feels.  An uncomfortable neighborhood doesn’t require us setting up house there.  One the inner level we don’t need to set up camp in an interior landscape of opinion and belief which doesn’t serve us.  Instead we set up our camp in the wisdom self as we move through the discomforts and comforts  of life. That, is transcendence.

Where Vinyasa Begins Intention

A long time ago when I began to practice yoga vinyasa, one day during practice this thought arose ….this must have something to do with surfing…that riding of the waves of breath and movement.  I sensed, that there was some common element physically.  I found out soon there after that the first “landing” of yoga vinyasa in America was in the surfing communities of Hawaii and California.  The connection between the two disciplines, I felt, must have been mula bandha.  Mula bandha is a physical lift of the pelvic floor which allows one to balance while moving.  Esoterically mula bandha is associated with the practice of inner alignment, to direct one’s energy towards the highest possible levels of mystical consciousness.  It is a practice which leads to tremendous clarity.  We don’t need to go into deep resonance with the sacred to know this, if you’ve even done a few rounds of sun salutation, you know that clarity emerges quickly with such a practice.  While there is a physical component of mula bandha, the activation of it on the level of consciousness is achieved only through intention.  The physical activation of the pelvic floor wakes the energy up.  The direction of our focus will determine where the energy goes.  There is no right or wrong about the directing of energy, but it’s good to know that our results will very much be determined by  the direction of the energy.  In true vinyasa fashion this idea is circular, our intention . will determine our focus which will determine the direction of the energy which will then create a result which will influence our intention and so forth. The most important moment In our yoga practice is the moment we override inertia and consciously go about choosing a direction. 

In the classical schools the only intention considered potent enough to activate the bandha was  desire to know God.  The aspirant would begin each practice bowing down to God and the Guru who represented God in form.  In America this intention became softened somewhat to offering the good of our practice to others, a classic Buddhist practice.  The energetic result is the same because the energy is directed towards something beyond our personal needs.  It’s uplifted.  In recent years in America the practice of intention has shifted again, now to honoring ourselves and good self care.  Good self care is essential to a yoga practice, but as an intention it can keep you anchored in what you need, rather than your most illumined potential. Following Patanjali’s formula we know that what we focus on grows.  We don’t want our needs to grow. The heart of the yoga practice is to transcend our needs and fulfill our potential (hence the complex landscape of renunciation practices which have historically defined the practice).  Deprivation is undesirable and not effective.  But to direct our intention higher than our needs is to uplevel our capacity for living.  But even this requires some conscious consideration. We need to be aware of what we are intending. 

To offer oneself as a vehicle for the divine may result in a role where you are the deliverer of blessings hard truths.  An important, but not always fun role.  An intention to serve may yield gracious and elegant opportunities to serve others, but you may have to deal with constraints on your self expression or ability to make decisions.  To intend to know true compassion may inspire you to give away your last dollar.  To intend to align with the most magnificent and expanded vision of your divine sacred infused snowflake self (no two are alike you know) well….that may lead you on your own magnificent divine journey which may include being compassionate in your own unique snowflake way.   It’s nothing we need to fear.  The point is to be awake and clear in the creative opportunity that Vinyasa presents.  Vinyasa, broken down into it’s parts is to place on purpose.  To place a purposeful intention at the beginning of our practice and then to consciously observe our ability to focus as the moments arise and fall in the practice is to take ownership of the power of asana in a whole new way.   Intending a practice is frequently invoked in yoga class, which is good.  Then it is up to us to discern the best way to use that opportunity. 

(c)natalieullmann

The last word on Sukha (सूख) – Joy

We spent a lot of time this month speaking of the cultivation of ease in our lives and yoga postures – sukha.  But there is another essential facet of the sukha experience which in some ways eclipses the idea of ease, and that is JOY.  Joy is key in the yoga practice:  we cultivate it, and the experience of it is the culmination of the yoga experience. 

The Joy referred to in yoga is a spirit rooted, inspired state which arises from within as our practice unfolds It differs from an outward kind of happiness or pleasure in that it grows in stability over time as we become established in our well-done practices, it’s lack of correlation with so-called “happy” experiences in life, and that it emerges from within.  My personal experience, the few times I’ve touched it, is that it’s flavor is truly sweet.

This deeper flavor of sukha is connected with primarily through our cultivation and openness to our inner development and practices, breathwork, devotion to our relationship with our higher power, meditation, and sacred text study.  You may have other inner practices which serve as deepeners in your personal spiritual recipe.  It’s the deepeners which bring us to yogic Joy.  Joy is this form is also met through good service to others.  This doesn’t mean necessarily running down to the local soup kitchen to ladle soup to the homeless, although it could mean that.  It means truly seeking to render service in whatever role you have assumed, whether it be a clerk or the president, a school teacher or a musician.    You may have discovered that joy of this nature is infectious.  If you have ever been blessed by the experience of having your table waited on by someone who is embodying true service…it can almost be giddying to be in the presence of such a person. 

Another aspect of Joy to consider is that when Patanjali (an ancient sage and expert on yoga) tells us in his seminal work “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” that our postures should be stable and joyful, he’s advising us that we don’t need to suffer. This is very very important.   Yoga is not a “no pain no gain”.  endeavor.  Everything that yoga has to offer is encompassed in an ever increasing stability in the state of joy. You are  meant to be happy.  The work in the practice though, is the discovery of what happiness truly is. 

May you have a blessed and wonderful week and I hope to see you in class today!  Links below. 

This post is from the weekly newsletter I send out to students, complete with easy links for classes. If you would like to see this in your email once a week, and once more when the new moon month begins, please sign up for my email!!

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Destination Sovereignty: Co-creating your next steps


From here to there. Assessing and re-assessing where we are and where we are going.

As we work on our co-creative skills, the ideas we hold for any creations may seem like distant horizons, and indeed at that moment they are. It can be frustrating. At I time like that I know for me it can feel like the person I am is trapped in a life that won’t let me be me, and I long for the day when I am situated in a way that support this freedom of personal actualization. The trick is that we have to actualize internally to get to the place where that freedom becomes apparent externally. In the end we discover it’s been there all along, within us. Perhaps we slipped slipped past opportunities in our limited perceptions, not seeing them for what they were or, in some cases, we were to lost in our limiting beliefs or perceptions to consider that we could succeed in the opportunity. In Sanskrit and the yoga practice this is called “chitta vrittis”. This can be loosely translated as our mental contents including beliefs about ourselves and the world. Fear not! Yoga is one of the many universal spiritual curriculums which align us with our inner guidance, and open a gateway to the divine qualities which exist in the realm of possibility within and around us. These curriculums are pathways to get us from where we are now, to the place of co-creation and sovereignty. Spoiler alert: When you get to a place on the path where the expanse of possibility opens, you see and know and experience that these possibilities were in you all along, and that you cannot lose them. You will were already there. When we aren’t in that limitless spaciousness we traverse the path from here to there. From who we are now to who we want to be. Each moment practicing the steps which move us forward with the faith that we are who we envision we might be. On any journey, you need to know where you are, to get where you are going. This week, while doing our daily and weekly visioning. we incorporate the periodic re-assessment of our visioning.


I’d like to emphasize today the importance of an awareness practice in the process of co-creation. It’s important, and is illumined in the assessment process process which we’re adding on this week. Some visions which appear to be unrealistic to the small self when in critical mode are perfectly reasonable from the perspective of your highest self. A vision drawn from our smaller self may be attainable. But we may discover that it costs us our connection to our higher wisdom, and we can’t see this when we’re completely absorbed in that limitedness. Nurturing higher awareness allows us to access these different perspectives. Anything which opens the mind to more expansive realities will be helpful: yoga, tai chi, meditation, chanting, and esoteric music studies. The list is endless. I’ve known people who could do anything as an awareness practice that somebody else might not do as an awareness practice their meditation was golfing, painting etc.. It’s how you do it. It’s being willing to spend that time, just fully absorbed in an activity and opening yourself to higher realms. I teach yoga asana because that is my primary tool for opening the gateways to a higher vision in a balanced and grounded way, and it works for me. I need that grounding.

The assessment process is about refinement not judgment. Our first creative impulses may be what the personality wants versus what our deeper self wants. There’s nothing wrong with that. But our personalities in part are created by either conforming to or resisting the world around us. The higher states of consciousness unfold a deeper level of personal desire, which is unique, authentic and true to ourselves. They also open a path to navigate through the world to a destination, harmonious with that unique inner unfolding. So I encourage nurturing a consistent personal awareness practice that you enjoy.


So what do we do to assess our inner vision? This step has two stages.


1. How do you feel?


First, I periodically check in to see how I feel about the larger vision. Last January, I envisioned 30 people in every yoga class I taught. Now, that goal is not that important. I’d rather have 30 people a day reading my blog posts and listening to podcasts, and allow the classes to arise organically from that. Last year, I couldn’t have imagined that. I was enmeshed in a studio system which obscured my higher vision. During the years worked in the studios, I worked my inner program and now, I can make choices which feel more organic and natural to me. I expect these more organic foundations will yield stronger structures in my creative work. So the first step of assessment is to see how I feel. Oh, and to allow myself to adjust those larger visions accordingly.


What do you see if you zoom out beyond your biggeet vision?

As I zoom out from what I know: a yoga class with thirty people, I see that vision is a little small. I refine it to be a little more effective and a little more spacious: a financially successful business writing, speaking and teachin. It’s broader, it’s more inclusive and it contains more possibilities within it. I had had been nursing a desire to break free of the studio system but a year ago, I couldn’t have seen how. That has transformed in part because I keep aligning with my higher self, and it’s evolved into a more expanded vision. Rather than counting the heads in class, and imposing my will for more people to come, I’m focusing on what I really have to share. Spaciousness is key to reassessing, so…zoom out.

Who do you want to be?

Part of the process of co-creating is allowing ourselves to be changed into the people we envision ourselves to be in our grand vision. Who do I need to become to participate in the vision? It’s common to perceive that achieving the external goal will transform us into the person we want to be, but it’s actually the opposite. While I’m creating my vision. I’m invited to become the person who will live comfortably in that vision. This can happen instantly, or if it’s more comfortable for us, it can take a little longer. The step by step daily visions are useful here. To be successful. That’s one of my goals. To be succesful I must be confident and focused in a healthy way. So I enter that on my daily vision. Not necessarily in those words, confidence and focus may feel far away and daunting. But it might be something like. “Today I’d like to effectively complete the following tasks”. And through those tiny steps I build focus and confidence that I can accomplish something that I want to accomplish. My daily vision includes a couple thing I am certain I can do. I set my self up for an experience of success that way. These things they sound so mundane, right? But it’s just my experience that larger, more exalted visions do best when grounded, and a lot of the grounding process is through detail. That’s true in yoga asana, as well. A lot of what grounds a posture is subtle transformations of movement as opposed to larger gross movement. To embody a relationship, I want to be gracious and loving, and to hold loosely. And so every day, I make it a part of my practice. Today, just create the intention to be a little more gracious and a little more loving. Part of that is honoring the tiny ways to do that. putting my hair up a little more carefully, ironing my blouse a little more crisply. That’s something to me that is kind of gracious that embodies a certain graciousness that kind of care taking of presentation. At work, bringing a little more attention to a task was gracious , thinking about things to do that will make others comfortable, or happy in small ways. This brings us back to the foundation of creation in yoga, that every step we take as a creative one, and that by bringing consciousness to each step, we become intentional co-creators.


Our steps so far are as follows:


Stage one

Write out a big vision for the year including all areas of the life

This works best with 10 or less items. Then write out bite size visions for the week or day. Incorporating steps towards the larger vision. Follow through on the daily vision, as best you can.

Stage two

Refine and Reassess


Periodically reassess so we go back to the beginning we review what our visions are, how they feel. Do they still bring us joy.


Every Wednesday I’ll be posting about some creative process steps for envisioning the new beginning for 2021. On the 26th, we’ll gather on zoom and share our visions. That day we’ll actually talk about the importance of sharing the vision and rooting for each other.

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

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.

On healing and empowerment….

We roll towards November in a sea of circumstances no one, I mean no one, is particularly happy with.  When we take our yoga off the mat to become conscious creators of our lives…it can be befuddling.  How did I get here? 

I’m typing this with one hand.  While it’s true, I am lucky, it’s my dominant hand, the creative in me loves the energy that comes with bilateral creativity – structure and freedom.  I’m having an empowered moment in a yogic sense, although I am well in the midst of an unconscious creation – my left wrist is fractured.  I tried several times to write the newsletter which I had planned for the, but  I surrender to the pivot in my journey.  Unconscious creation is something I’ve seldom heard discussed in manifestation circles.  My experience is that it is part of the process of creating.  If Cinderella hadn’t lost the shoe, if she hadn’t gone back into the realm of her step-family after losing her shoe, the story would not have been complete.  Boring, actually.   Makes me wonder if maybe that time back in service to the step-family helped her to know she was a princess through and through.  A dignified, gracious elegant expression of princess.  My understanding of spiritual practice is that we don’t have to create suffering to grow, but that sometimes our darkness needs to come to light in order for it to be transformed.  In this sense an unconscious creation is not about making a mistake, but rather about healing.  In this context, by healing, I mean the process of remembering that we are whole,  and growing into the capacity to express that wholeness.

My days in the hospital were full, and not painful at all.  I felt charged with energy of healing and inspired by the competent knowledgeable people on my healing team.  In particular, I felt nurtured by the brave strong women responsible for my daily care.  The nurses and their assistants were my main companions, and so, I heard their stories of growing through healing to become the women they are.  They were key to my process.

I’ve mentioned that in this integrative process of yoga that sometimes “a tangle” arises.  A place where the wholeness of the spirit is blocked from shining through.  In listening to the nurses and engaging the healing process, my inner “brave strong” was ignited and given space to shine.  I realized that, in my role as a legal assistant, and even to some degree in the yoga business,  I’m invited on a daily basis to just shelve that and be a passive participant in the process, do what I’m told and what is expected of me.  So I suppress it.  For me to express wholly it needs its voice.  Those qualities must be reintegrated into my life.  My spirit has just declared ‘NO’ to it’s suppression in no uncertain terms by creating this situation in which I can express brave strong.  As I move forward in healing, it’s my job to find a healthy venue for my brave strong, so I don’t create this kind of thing again, and that’s the work.  To use the unconscious creation as a vehicle for evolution. In my opinion this is a powerful understanding to nurture when we encounter obstacles in our yoga practices.  They are vehicles to move towards the remembrance of who we are – whole and complete.

How to work with an unconscious creation – when moving in a positive direction, full of good intentions and the whammy hits.  Once again from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the practice of kriya yoga (tapah, svadyaya, ishwara pranidhanani) can be useful. Kriya is purification, and any process of purification on the level of consciousness is healing.   Some ways in which I’ve applied  the practices:

  1. Owning the unconscious creation.  I took responsibility for the presence of this event in my life.  This acceptance is a form of surrender, or ishwara pranidhanani,  Releasing of blame empowered me to move out of victimhood.   “I don’t know how I created it, but I did”.   In asana practice, be willing to consider that taking responsibility for your physical challenge opens the door to the possibility of change  in the body.
  • Saying “I don’t know how I created it” fostered spaciousness for svadyaya – self-reflection.  By releasing self-blame clarity arose in my self-reflection, allowing perception of possibility – in this case of healing.  This process is supported through meditation, or just simple resting in the breath – in the body. In asana practice, consider that the permanent may not be permanent, or perhaps our legs are not so long that we will never reach our toes.
  • Take action.  The first morning after  I woke up in my own apartment, I rearranged the furniture in my dressing room where the accident occurred.  I made myself good food to eat even if I didn’t feel like it (because I’m worthy of that) and I did my homework for my computer class with one hand.  Healing is sometimes just about doing things differently, so I open to those little rearrangements.  This is tapas, effort, commitment, you take a step forward maybe a small one, no matter what, in alignment with what you now know to true about you – your divine qualities.  It could be brave and strong or kind and forgiving or creative and fun, whatever calls for expression. 

This month we’ll be moving forward with Ustrasana, camel posture, with a consideration that our hands are the vehicles of our hearts. Expect some upcoming work with the hands, and the end of the year will bring us into downward facing dog.

Class schedule will remain the same, please note that I won’t be demonstrating most postures for the time being. 

May you be healthy and well!  May the practices of yoga support you in the creation of a joyful life.  I look forward to seeing you in class soon. 

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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

Santosha (contentment)

An attitude of contentment (santosha) gives rise to unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction. ||42||

In Marin County/San Francisco we are now at exactly 20 weeks since the first day of the shutdown.  That is a very long time, and much has happened in those five months.

One of the teachings of yoga which has become a bit controversial these days is a practice called Santosha.  In that practice, the yogi assumes that everything is perfect as it is, and goes about making living their life in that way.

Here is the underlying principle.  If you react to something you do not like, it creates a condition, a likelihood that that the condition will stay the same, or keep repeating in the life.  By choosing to look at everything as perfect, the yogi plants a seed for everything to unfold perfectly.  Here is an example (and I’m not saying this is true or not true, it’s just a hypothetical example)

During the shutdown, many people who live their lives with relative freedom experienced, maybe for the first time in their lives, a degree of oppression that prevented them from walking down the street, eating where they wanted to, going to church, hanging out in a bar, earning morning.  Whatever it is.  Everyone had a different experience of this, and many felt oppressed.  In that oppression minds were opened to understand a little better what life feels like for those who live in perpetual oppression.  We had a big shift.  Things may not be resolved as of yet, but there was definitely a shift.  So the yogi, understanding that everything is perfect, knows that only a shutdown  of this magnitude would have created the pressure cooker in which so many  minds and hearts could be changed.

On a more personal level it’s useful to look at where we each are right now.  What happened for us?  What shifted?  In those shiftings, what opportunities were created?  Sometimes we just have to train ourselves to see them.

Long before I practiced yoga, a very savvy NY recruiter was sending me out to interview for paralegal positions in some of the fanciest law firms in New York City.  Good pay, great benefits.  She also sent me to this tiny little firm, two attorneys, just hiring their first patent clerk.  I saw an opportunity.  She was astounded.  It turns out that she just included them because she knew one of their daughters.  They taught me so much about patents at that little firm, and it served me well for years to come.  Things are not always what they appear.

So, in yoga, the maximal push of a posture is not always the means to the biggest result.  On one level, when we first start, that’s how we “feel”  progress.  But in yoga the subtle shifts are sometimes the most powerful.

संतोषातनुत्तमस्सुखलाभ

saṁtoṣāt-anuttamas-sukhalābhaḥ

From the practice of contentment, one obtains unsurpassed comfort and joy.

Thriving in Balance

I once dated a gentleman who was a practicing Hindu. I was new to yoga, and was not yet deeply familiar with the many Gods and Goddesses, their forms and their qualities. I was kindly disposed in that direction and had some exposure to the religion. His deep swim into the ocean of that exotic and alluring landscape intrigued me. At that time, it was still common, at least in New York City, to see representations of the Gods and Goddesses adorning the studios. Often, there was no indication who they were or what it all meant. Some of them had many arms and carried objects I was unfamiliar with. They seemed to be similar to one another and different at the same time. I felt I was supposed to understand, and I didn’t. So one day I asked him. How many arms do they have? He turned and looked at me like I saw daft and responded, very seriously, “As many as they need.” I didn’t understand and he explained that they were Gods/Goddesses and so they were infinite and so they weren’t limited by a particular form, they could just manifest as many arms as they needed. It remained a mystery until a yoga friend of mine had a child. her husband turned to me one day and said, “Now I understand why the Goddesses have so many arms”. A kind reference to the many roles his wife was now tending to, simultaneously. We all do this in our own way, mothers or not. It’s not surprising that yoga and Hinduism emerged from the same landscape. Just as the Hindu deities appear centered as their many arms swirl around them, yoga practices nurture our ability to stay in our center while reaching in multiple directions to tend to the requirements of a various roles.

It begins with the right and the left. It’s more common these days for a yoga teacher to create a sequence to mix the movements of the right and left side. If you’ve taken such a class you know that the brain skips a beat and you may feel the beneficial effects of being jarred out of the routine flow of thoughts that we each carry around inside of us. No matter how complex or simple the routine, the bottom line is that every yoga practice is done equally on both sides.

Most of the traditional healing arts observe a roadmap of the human anatomy. Yoga is no different. In the simplest of terms you have three primary channels which are very important. We all have a left side channel (the ida) which nurtures the various flavors of interior experience: depression, intuition, sleep, coolness, lunar, yin, the spiritual and the feminine. We all have a right side channel (the pingala) which is associated with various flavors of external states: anger, action, heat, solar, yang, the physical and the masculine. When these two side channels are balanced, the energy is drawn into the neutral third channel which is called the sushumna. When the energy is elevated in this subtle central channel we are transformed spiritually. This is the most fundamental teaching of yoga. Our practice will progress smoothly and harmoniously when we are perfectly balanced right and left, materially and spiritually, neither directing our anger outward or inward but finding resolution, when we nurture both our masculine and feminine qualities in equal measure.

Many times we are tempted in our practice to charge it up in whatever way we can, and then relax. This is great fun to do! But when we are looking towards a long term shift in our quality of life, the practice unfolds with more value when we approach it with an intention towards a state of balance. It can actually be one of the biggest challenges to determine the right amount of effort in a given posture. It requires attention and, consistency can be really helpful in this way. A daily practice helps us to observe what happens in the body as a result of what we have done, and provides the information with which we can identify what we need to tweak to obtain and optimal result. The optimal result being a healthy body which feels resilient and strong and an awake clear mind, unfettered by emotional or mental afflictions. We then dwell a state of balance in the body and the mind, centered on a very deep level.

So, what can we learn from those many armed Goddesses? That being centered is not about pushing away the world. It’s about extending ourselves out into the world. We don’t move our center towards that friend in need, we stay in our center and extend our hand, our good will, our strength. When we extend we share as opposed to giving ourselves over to. It’s subtle, but then some of the most powerful techniques from the yoga practice are saturated with subtlety. In fluctuation subtlety is lost. In balance, subtlety is visible.

So what do we do to stay in balance? We observe. We notice. We stay still a moment before charging forward. We honor process as much as destination. We trust that if we attend to what is here in the moment, that the path with unfold with it’s own wisdom.