Looking Forward

We are in the sixth month of a world-wide pandemic, and there are only meager signs of it slowing. This, plus the explosion of awareness regarding racial injustice to which we have born witness can really make a person stop and think. Not to mention the global climate change crisis or the economy…it gets overwhelming. If you are like me, when faced with these grim events, you are depending on your yoga practice and contemplative exercises more and more. I personally have found some solace in meditation — getting up earlier, sitting in stillness for a little bit longer. However, there is nothing like a well-rounded yoga asana practice to release the pent-up tension physically, mentally, and emotionally too. I am continually amazed at how effective yoga, breath work, and meditation practices can be at helping calm an overactive nervous system. This is why I am so proud to say that I have been a part of the Yoga Center of Columbia Yoga Teacher Training Program and the Ayurveda Immersion program for over five years now. Yoga Teacher Training can help you progress in your own practice as much as it will help you to offer the many gifts of yoga to others who are in dire need. If you want to learn something, teach it! The Ayurveda Immersion program will help you develop a specific daily routine to support your well-being and combat stress and anxiety. The more you help yourself, the more you can be present to support others, your family, friends, and community as well. We plan to hold these trainings in person, as long as it is safe to do so. Otherwise, they will take place on Zoom, but you will still get personalized attention with each of these programs. I hope you’ll consider joining me!

I came across these words from my friend and fellow yoga teacher Mary Byerly; she lives in Costa Rica and hosted the first international yoga retreat that I ever led. Ah, we were so innocent then. Her words seem like good thoughts to share here:

Please continue to take good care of your body, mind, and soul. May you be able to enjoy the beauty of nature, your loved ones, and the connections within your community. May we all find the way to hear and see each other as the spark of the divine we all are, beyond what we look like, what our politics are, and who we love. May we find unity and work with each other for a better world. –Mary Byerly, E-RYT500

Global Yoga Therapy Day

Today is Global Yoga Therapy Day!

Yoga Therapy uses yogic techniques — yoga postures, breath work, meditation, mantra, mudra — to support a wholistic approach to life, good health, and mental and emotional prosperity. In honor of Global Yoga Therapy Day, I created a video about coping with the global (and local) crises and anxieties of the moment. Enjoy!

Click here to view this short video.

Black Lives Matter

I would like to preface this by saying that I am not an historian, and I am definitely not a social activist, but given the protests of the last few weeks I discovered that I have something to say. Social activism was never in my purview. I grew up in a middle class white neighborhood, went to school with mostly white people, and lived my life without thinking much about how people of different color had very different experiences. 

In my college years, instead of social activism, music was my fascination, and all kinds of people made great music, most certainly Black people like Jimi Hendricks and Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave. I had a few black friends but never really paused to think how differently our experiences of America were.

The protests in the recent weeks have definitely made me think twice, think a hundred times, more. George Floyd died a senseless death at the hands of police brutality. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, and so many others for so many years have suffered and lost their lives at the hands of racist bigots. It is disgusting and despicable and unexplainable. It is time for this to stop.

I asked a Black yogi student of mine how he is faring during this crisis and he suggested I check out We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-nehisi Coates as that has provided some support for him during challenging times. I have never considered myself “white privileged,” but my eyes have been opened. The systemic bias against people of color can no longer be tolerated. It should have never been tolerated. If yoga teaches us anything, it is that diversity is beautiful. It is the nature of things to expand, grow, shift, change, and diversify. It is a yogic practice to welcome diversity as a unique expression of Universal Consciousness.  Universal means that no one is left out — no animal, plant, or human being, regardless of race, creed, or color. All people and all beings deserve love, compassion, and understanding *and* a peaceful home in which to live without fear.

We need to talk about this.  Even more, we need to listen to what Black people have to say.  We need to listen to their stories, keep this dialogue going and make radical changes to weed out the vile racism that has shaped America.

I offer here some words from my teacher, Douglas Brooks of Rajanaka Yoga, because he always seems to say things thoughtfully and with more skill than I ever could.

“We are outraged by the senseless murder of yet another Black person at the hands of America’s police. In the last week we have continued to see police violently responding to peaceful protestors, including Federal officers in front of the White House and the military in battle fatigues at the Lincoln Memorial. These are stains on our present that are the consequences of a past we must address with honesty and seriousness.

We must speak out. We must protest. We stand together with all of the victims of these murders. We reject their silencing, their systemic oppression, and the prejudice waged against them on the basis of skin color. We march with all who seek justice across our country. We will say of the names of the murdered and today we say again his name: George Floyd…

We need actionable, concrete plans to address the deeper issues and so create sustained efforts and relentless commitment.” Find his full statement here.

And here is a list of resources compiled by NPR to educate oneself about the disease of racism in this country:  https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/06/06/871023438/this-list-of-books-films-and-podcasts-about-racism-is-a-start-not-a-panacea

Yoga is a universal practice — anyone of any color, race, religion, no religion, age, sexual preference, socio-economic background, or physical or mental ability can practice yoga and discover its healing benefits.  One of the first principles of yoga practice is called Ahimsa – the practice of doing no harm in thought, word, or action.  This is a universal principle because it should apply to everyone everywhere.  A yoga practitioner attempts to engage with the tendency within oneself to elevate or diminish, to separate or cling in order to recognize that all people come from the same source and all people deserve love, harmony, good health, and a happy life.  There is always more work to do, within ourselves and within our communities.  Black lives matter.

I pledge to no longer be complacent to race matters and to stand with those who stand for justice.

India 2020 – Short and Sweet

Our annual India Retreat was interesting this year, special thanks to Coronavirus. The day before we left, we knew it would be a challenge because Emirates had already canceled our return flight due to the lack of passengers. We were some of the last people allowed in to the country and thank goodness we were able to get out in time as well.

We made the most of what we had. Rimmi led our first yoga practice at the Taj Hotel in Delhi, beginning with a loving-kindness meditation that we sent out into the world for the upliftment of all beings and closing with a quote from Swami Vivekananda:

Give me understanding 
Teach me patience & acceptance 
Help me remember that whatever happened in the past 
happened for the best 
And whatever is happening now is also happening for the best.  
I came with nothing 
And I will leave with nothing. 
What belonged to someone else yesterday is mine today 
But what is mine today will belong to someone else tomorrow 
In this ever-changing world help me see your unchanging principle 
Which is that true happiness and peace come from the simple understanding that we are all connected and that we all come from the same source. 

We saw the Taj Mahal with a very small crowd of people. We visited the Ahaneri Step Well on the way to Jaipur and we got to spend some time in Jaipur — meditating, doing yoga, and visiting.

Udaipur and Rishikesh will have to wait for next time.

There are many things I love about India that keep me coming back, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the warm and friendly people. But one of the things I like best is, it seems like everywhere you look there is something to bring you back to Consciousness — like the random sign in Delhi, or the monkey feasting, or the kids laughing. They all become a reminder that we are all part of one big human family, no matter where we live.

Happy New Year 2020

Vasistasana – Pose of the Sage Vasista

I began gymnastics when I was 5 years old. It was an immediate love affair with moving and stretching and making beauty, or at least attempting to, with my body. I continued through high school, competing on my intermediate and high school gymnastics teams, even going to the state championships one year. I was never that great; one year I won the “Most Improved” award, but I loved the discipline of the practice and some of my teammates were really amazing, one having studied with Béla Károlyi, and it was a privilege to watch them practice and compete up close.

So it was a natural transition in college to take up yoga. There is a similar discipline of the physical body as well as the mind. My first yoga teacher was actually a meditation teacher first and foremost and I then had a new obsession.

Both meditation and yoga have served me well over the years, providing a firm grounding in self-care and a basis from which to live fully, and now that it is 2020, I am reaching a landmark birthday this summer. Dare I say it? 5-0. Yikes. It is causing me to be a bit more reflective at the start of this new year.

Each year I like to choose a word that represents my intention for the year to come; past words have included “ease” and “curiosity,” and this year, I choose “forgive.” To me forgiveness represents a way to allow things to just be, as they are, without me trying to change them. Forgiveness goes along with “allowing.” Allowing things to unfold as nature would have it, and “welcome,” creating a sense of welcome within your own body and mind so that you can inhabit yourself with love and kindness.

At a certain point in life, you realize you have to live with the choices you’ve made. You are no longer making choices about career, house, children, or partner, for examples, and you are living with those choices. Some things can still be changed, for sure, but many times it is the art of living with your choices where the real depth of life, feeling, and emotion occurs.

My teacher Douglas Brooks says, if you choose to love, you will grieve. So, we must accept that, allow that, and when the time comes, even welcome grief as an inevitable part of living fully. This welcoming of grief is in the recognition that we have loved and do still love fully.

I find that yoga has taught me how to exist with all of the rasas, all of the flavors of life. It is not simply a bondage to liberation model of yoga where you meditate long enough and hard enough and eventually become liberated from this world, free of the fetters of life itself to experience eternal bliss. This seems the way for the storied yogis who remove themselves from society and go live in the caves of the Himalayas to reach enlightenment.

This photo was in Maine, not India

I once sat in Ramana Maharishi’s cave (in Arunachalam, Tamil Nadu) and found my own unique experience. However, most of us have a daily life of responsibilities. The 10, 30, or 60 minutes of meditation and 10, 30, or 60 minutes of yoga practice daily builds a rhythm of deeper understanding and insight that allows me to recognize that everything is okay, just as it is. I want to live in this world, I choose to have friends and a community that is meaningful to me. This is how I define “living a full life.”

And the great thing about forgiveness is that enlightenment standard I may be reaching for occurs everyday in the simple relationships between family, friends, community, yoga students. In that recognition, I am truly free.

50? Bring it on.

Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, 2017

YTT 200 Graduation!

2019 Yoga Center of Columbia YTT200 Graduating Class. Congratulations!

On November 24, 2019, I had the great good pleasure to participate in the graduation of these lovely yoginis! We spent a year together at Yoga Center of Columbia practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation, learning about yoga philosophy and the subtle body, and figuring out how to best convey this ancient-yet-modern wisdom to others. These yoginis spent time in class studying, outside reading and practicing, apprenticing with all kinds of people, including those with autism, in the 12-step program, and living with Parkinson’s disease. The yoga teacher training program is nothing if not fulfilling.

A yoga teacher is a yoga student who is just a little further along the path. An inspiring thought: the yoga path can last a lifetime because there is always more to learn. When one is born on this earth, they “got the lucky” as my teacher Douglas Brooks would say. And yoga practice helps any human to recognize that luck and also live even better. They say that if you want to learn something well, then teach it. Well, here’s YOUR chance.

Next year, Lucy Lomax and I will be co-teaching this life-enriching program. Dive deep with us.

Yoga Indulgence in Costa Rica

On November 9-16, my friend and fellow Yoga Therapist and teacher Lucy Lomax and I led a true Yoga Indulgence at Pura Vida Retreat and Spa outside of San José, Costa Rica. This was an amazing week of yoga, adventure, and spa treatments. Oh and, of course the food was excellent.

Each morning, I led meditation and yoga classes based around the idea of creating sacred space for yourself. A ritual is an act one engages in with awareness, thoughtfulness, and intention. Yoga practice, and meditation, pranayama, or yoga nidra, is a ritual act, and it can provide a sense of place, connection, and belonging. Our 15 yogis and yoginis formed a bond during our week together: “One striking aspect of this event was the absolute cordiality of the yogis. It was as though we had known and loved each other for years.” Lucy led the afternoon yoga practice and yoga nidra, also based on this idea of sacred space for oneself, and Susanna Harwood Rubin’s book Yoga 365, as seen below with Julia, the retreat cat, provided wise words for our exploration together.

It is faded out, but that book is Yoga 365. Julia ran the place.

During yoga practice, we worked with flexibility and adaptability, strength, balance, and how a ritual of regular yoga practice can support our lives through the challenging times and the good. In between the daily bookends of yoga practice, there was time for adventure! Ziplining, hiking in the rainforest, boating with the crocodiles, visiting a toucan and sloth rescue. Some pics:

We had so much fun, we plan to do it again next year. If you are interested in joining us, please contact me!

Yoga For Back Care

This past weekend I had the great good pleasure of meeting Dr. Loren Fishman when he came to Yoga Center of Columbia to offer his certification training on Yoga for Back Care to a full house of yoga teachers and therapists. It was just about 20 hours worth of sciatica, scoliosis, piriformis, quadratus lumborum, facets, herniated disc discussion, and more. I continue to be amazed at just how supportive yoga can be to one’s good health.

As you may know, I became a Certified Yoga Therapist in September of 2016 (three years ago!) when IAYT first began certifying yoga teachers. This is the highest level of certification a teacher may receive. It is a fascinating prospect to me because, my yoga practice has been so healing in my own life journey, and it is an honor to be able to offer similar healing to others. When drugs and conventional medicine fail, yoga offers hope without the side effects. The main issue is, one has to practice! This is the hardest part, just getting onto the mat every morning (or at least at some point during the day). But if you can discipline yourself for a regular practice, the benefits can be immense.

I once heard the phrase that indulgences like sweets, alcohol, and other recreational activities are elixir at first, and poison later on. Whereas, yoga may feel like poison in the beginning, but it is elixir in the end. And, I am here to say, it only gets better with age. My practice has been 28 years running and I only want to do more yoga, not less.

Our crew with Dr. Loren Fishman, Sept 8, 2019

Some students were asking about his books. He has many, including: Healing Yoga; Yoga for Back Pain; Yoga for Arthritis; Yoga for Osteoporosis.

His website is a great resource, also. You may purchase his books there.

Or, you may contact me. I will be happy to meet with you to create a home practice specific to your needs. One on one with a qualified therapist is really the best way to make the most of your own practice.

A little personal attention is always fun.

Nelson Mandela once said “When you let your own light shine, you unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” Dr. Fishman spent many years with his teacher, BKS Iyengar, and that light is being passed along even today.

Provence in May 2019

This year eight intrepid travelers joined Annette, Rita, and me in a beautiful farmhouse in Pertuis, Provence. The owners converted the farmhouse, complete with stables and a few outbuildings — one of the bathrooms still had the feeding trough within it. There were many nooks to explore in this home with a unique spot for meditation in one of the smaller buildings and an excellent great room for yoga practice. We were able to practice yoga outdoors on the patio when the weather was a little warmer, and we had several dinners outside too. It was really a lovely setting to rest and restore, and enjoy the amazing French countryside.

Our farmhouse in Pertuis
Lunch in Aix
Cezanne’s inspiration!
Inside Cezanne’s studio
Colorado of Provence. It was a little scary out on that ledge, but worth the climb.
Some of our hikers at the top of the mountain

Next door to our farmhouse was a horse farm. These lovelies were huge! Percherons are just a little smaller than clydesdales.
This is part of an ancient cedar forest on top of the mountain. It was such a calming forest. There were signs asking visitors to keep silence to maintain the meditative vibe. It was ethereal.
Yoga! Yes, we did lots of yoga. It was a special treat in the afternoon sunlight.
“Colorado” means red in Spanish (I am told). Other hikers left these cairns for us to enjoy.

India Travels

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, so I want to get you caught up on the 2019 trip to Southern India with Roaming Buddha’s Rimmi Singh and myself. I took over 300 photos, and it is difficult to choose which ones to show here, but below are some highlights from the last trip.

Our group at Arjuna’s Penance on the Bay of Bengal at Mahabalipuram
Arunachalam – the sacred mountain where Ramana Maharishi reached enlightenment
Lakshmi giving a blessing to one of our travelers in Pondicherry. She’s good luck!
Ready to meet Nataraja in Chidambaram!
Our group of travelers standing together in front of relief sculpture of the Pandava brothers at Mahabalipuram
Kali Temple in Chidambaram. Kali is often seen with blood dripping from her mouth. We got it on our feet. Really though, it’s kum kum (koom-koom) powder and it is auspicious.
The hotel pool in Thanjavur. So refreshing, and yes, that is an outdoor bed on the far right.
Yes, we do practice yoga during our travels too. How do you think we keep our energy level up so high? 😉
Birthday celebration for one of our travelers!
Implements from our homa ceremony (fire ritual) for auspiciousness.
Everyone needs their very own garlic truck. No vampires here.
Children from the school at a tea plantation in the Periyar mountain area. This is the second time we’ve visited their school. We brought them backpacks, umbrellas, and ice cream.
Fishermen in Kerala. Love the colorful boat.
Final day before our flight home. This is at the Taj in Kochin; two of our travelers enjoy the infinity pool.

Next year we will visit northern India once again. Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Rishikesh and Haridwar. Join us!

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