This year I asked the teacher trainees to write out why they wanted to teach yoga. I am always interested in that answer because it helps me to shape the lessons to fit the desires of the trainees. And, following my self-imposed rule of only asking students to do what I have either already done or am willing to do, the assignment helped me to place my reasons for teaching into a somewhat cohesive writing.
As with all of my sharings, I hope this will resonate with you in some way. I hope you will be able to recognize what I wrote about below because I feel it is an essential element to our collective serenity. So the first part is about ME, and then it's about you further down. I hope you won't get tired of reading the ME part and continue to the bottom where it is about YOU.
What I recognize about teaching is that when I am teaching, I get to meet what I suspect is my true self. When I am in front of a class or with a client I encounter that self which continuously surprises and delights me. The delight might arise because I have made sense, finally, of a teaching I received long ago, or I see a pose appear in my head which fits the needs of the class (or just one hungry student) or a difficult question has arisen and I was able to capture the essence of it to share. It feels magical to have an answer that soothes someone or helps them to make sense of an issue they struggle with, or an asana offered helped someone reclaim a part of their body or relieved someone's pain. Having these experiences keep me traveling on the road of faith and surrender. Seeing that I know something I didn't know I knew is magical, and I love believing in magic! If this limited mind and body can retrieve something from the space of wisdom, have that harvest confirmed as appropriate by the recipient, and then replicate the encounter, how can that not confirm my faith and give me the ground to surrender my small-self's needs and concerns? After awhile you get to know the difference between the "magical" response (the place of wisdom) and the "neurotic" response (the place of personal ego mind and story) . I can say it is because of these encounters over the years I now spend less time and energy convincing others that they should heed my neurotic responses, and generally I believe them much less myself. This, my friends, is a path towards serenity.
So yeah, all of that was about ME. More about me is that I am so unendingly grateful to everyone who has been one of the hungry seekers, one of the curious clients, one of the in-pain asana students who come looking for something, even if it is simply the desire to get the old body moving again. It is because of you who walk in the door that I have continuously been able to dip into the unending spring of wisdom that my teachers have pointed to. I am also very grateful that I can pay my mortgage and keep my kids fed and educated because of your business. It seems crazy amazing to have both in one package for the past 16 years. Actually it is pretty darn magical! Thank you, thank you and thank you again.
So that was about me, now about you. You too have had this experience, the one of being pushed into the well of wisdom, and you have witnessed someone going into the same well. You are sometimes the pusher! Don't you LOVE seeing people do what they do well? When you recognize that they have slipped into the well and brought you back something beautiful and intoxicating, something of truth, isn't it amazing? Whether it is an athlete, a musician, an author or poet, a cook. an artist, a singer, any kind of teacher, a fixer of small or large objects, a farmer.... I believe we all love to witness that, even if we are not the ones dropping in to the well we are participating just the same. Sometimes you go, sometimes I go. Sometimes we go together, and sometimes we have to wait around for someone else to go. But we are participating always, we are always near the source, and if we are then indeed paying attention, we see if we take one tiny step over this way or that we can fall right back in to the source.
Do you know this experience? Think about it and I bet you will see that yes, you do! I am not one to spend a lot of time on social media, but I want to hear your story! Please share your experience of this, either by posting it or by email. Share it for all to see, thank someone for pushing you in or retrieving something you needed. When we confirm it to ourselves it becomes more real, and then, well, anything can happen.
Happy New Year to you all. My wish is for all of us to move into 2019 seeing newly, and recognizing ourselves as the magical beings that we are.
There is a word in Sanskrit, amrit, that loosely translated means nectar, the sweetness of life. In sanskrit when you put an A in front of a word, it negates the meaning. Mrt is the root for the word myrtur, which means death, so amrit means not death. Non-death may seem to imply that you live forever, but if you ask the vampires, eternal life in this body turns out to not be so great after all. Really the sweet part of amrit is that you do not have a fear of death, and when there is that lack of fear, we can live very differently. Because we live in one of the few safe places in the world, many of us don't fear that we are not going to make it home at the end of the day because of random violence. However we do fear many things related to certain deaths, such as the death of our personality and ego, the death of our possessions and status, the death of our youth and cognitive facilities, etc. Because we fear these things, we are held back from living fully. We are tip-toeing around actions that may cause the death of one of those fears (pick your favorite).
There is a saying that goes if you want to live truly, you should learn to die daily. There is a lot to be said about that, but for now, as we get ready for the new year, let's focus on beginning the process of dying to death. How? Well, OF COURSE our yoga practice helps with that. Through the study of scriptures, by knowing our bodies and nervous system better, and knowing our minds at least a little bit more, we not only see where we are stuck in the fear-of-loss mode, but it actually changes. Sometimes we fear the insights, sometimes we fear the process, and sometimes the outcome- and so we might be unwilling to begin. But consider this- if you are already fearing death, which is after all is inevitable, and affecting how you are able to live, why not indulge in a fear of something that can have a different outcome? What might that look like? It is different for everyone, but one thing is you won't suffer the burden of really controlling behavior, and that will make everyone else around you happy too.
In the upcoming winter of 2019 we have many great classes and workshop that can help you to begin to see how the tethers of fear are robbing you of really living. Meditation with David, Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita with me, an amazing workshop with Rafa (stay tuned for the Shri Yantra workshop with Diego on the same day!). All of these studies help you develop insights which allow you to begin to untangle your fear of living .
I know that if I was really tasting all of life fully it would be as satisfying, no-probably much more so, than a great chocolate chip cookie (one of my favs.). And this is a pretty amazing recipe, so I hope you will try it. Let the sweetness of the treat inspire you to find sweetness in all your actions that are born from freedom. When you taste life that way, it is hard to go back. Click here to see what's coming up in 2019.
Many of you have asked how you can get more information on the teachings I share in class. Here is an amazing opportunity to get in on a crowdfunding campaign for a book by Parvathi's Guru, Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati.
This book is a companion to the 2017 biography "The Goddess and the Guru," and has been compiled and edited with with Guruji's direct input and involvement. The book presents a broad and generous selection of Guruji’s major, lesser-known, and never-before-seen works, together comprising a startlingly original and eye-opening primary sourcebook--laying out, in engaging, accessible prose, the deepest, most secret and closely guarded traditions of authentic Sri Vidya Hindu Tantra.
View the video below to find out more about Guruji, his vision for the book, and a discussion of its topics as told by the editor and compiler of the work.
CLICK HERE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN, and get some great perks based on your donation, including bookmarks, book hard or soft cover copies, art prints, dvd's, and even a piece of Guruji's favorite shawl. Any level of donation will help bring these essential teachings to a wide audience.
What if you were perfect the way you were, and there was nothing else to do? You didn’t have to “work” on yourself, become a better person, prove how great you were to anyone. You didn’t have to “save” anyone, or knock anyone down to feel ok about who you were. Wacky idea, no?
This was the message I got at the Lovelight Festival this past weekend in Maryland. Many different voices were saying just this in many different ways. You are what you are seeking, you are perfect, there are no accidents.
One of the people who spoke this message was Shakti Durgaya (that’s her with me in the picture)! She runs the Kashi Ashram in Florida. Mukunda had great respect and love for the Guru there, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. So it is no surprise that Shakti Durgaya and I felt a connection last year when we first met. This year I got to spend some time in the “red tent” with her and her graduates. She passed on some wonderful teachings from her Guru who left her body two years before Mukunda. She told us Ma Jaya would say there are no throw away people, there are no mistakes. One thing that really struck me (I am afraid I don’t remember the exact words) is that we are here to allow the divine to express itself through us, act through us, etc. The rest of the time (and here is where the challenge is) we are navigating the world around us, trying to stay out of trouble and conflict, until we can be in the space that allows us to step aside and let the divine act through us once again. (Shakti Durgaya said this in just one sentence. Me, not so much.)
Later that day I offered a workshop on the Dakini Mandala of Emotions and understood why I was so taken by that idea of navigating- the Mandala is a phenomenal tool for navigating through life when we are not remembering we are the vessel for the divine. I believe all of these spiritual practices are just that- tools for navigating through the to-do lists, the societal demands, our families needs, our busy mind, until that one blissful second arises where we are simply the vehicle for the divines work. We are completely absorbed, focused, unafraid, unconcerned about how we look, feel, act, and are completely competent in what we are doing…because we are not doing it. And then, the moment passes, and we start the navigation again. If we are staying awake and aware, as we are slipping and sliding around life, we see the things that pull us into the crevices which prevent us from being the messenger of the divine, we see the triggers that move us back to the self-centered space that is quite far from spirit. When we see those places over and over again, we eventually know to take a wider arc around them as we continue the movement from one action to the next. Or we perfect our release techniques and can get out quicker. Our sadhana (spiritual practice) keeps us alert and offers us a life-line to pull us back towards the moments of absorption.
It is amazing to think of how many opportunities we have to let the divine work through us, whether it is to ease someones heart with a kind word, take away a moment of struggle, or just shine light on some darkness. We have all these opportunities, probably hundreds of times a day, yet we miss them because we are trying so hard to be better people, get better jobs, be smarter, skinnier, more flexible, stronger, have more friends on FB and more likes on Instagram. We are trying so hard to exist in an illusion we know is impermanent.
It would be quite an amazing world if we all believed and knew there was nothing left to do, and we just kept looking for the opportunity to express the divine. Being at Lovelight was like living in a little diorama of a world that was just like that; a place full of people who were looking for that moment of absorption, and once found, would smile and take everyone else with them.
I heard a very sweet story from a client today. She told me she asked God for a sign that she could in fact be of service at a time when she was in one of those crevices where all you can see is how trapped you are. She walked out of the building she was in and encountered an older person who was disabled and was using a walker. She noticed the persons shoe was untied. My client went up to her and asked if she could tie her shoe, fearing she might trip and fall. The answer was “Yes, would you mind?” And so my client knelt down and tied the shoe. Then she thanked God for the sign. It was so simple, so powerful, and she got what she asked for. Look for your signs, they are in fact all around you.
Get to know your mind
You have heard it over and over again-
So, what is keeping you from practicing? Is it because it is hard, takes time, you don't know how to do it? I am sure you can write an impressive list, but the bottom line is that list is not going to make you feel better, think better, sleep better. Nor is it going to change your brain for the better. In fact your list of "Why I don't...." is cementing your habits in place, the same habits you wish to break.
This month we will be reading from the book Mindfulness in Plain English. And it is just that, all about meditation in straight forward language. We are also offering two courses that can help you start to cross off items from the "why I can't" list. David will be offering Meditation for Beginners and I will be offering an 8 month Spiritual Studies group. David and I have been practicing together for 18 years. Of course we have our own lists too, but one thing we know to be true is that without support and a formal group, the "why I can't/wont/leave me alone" list is much more attractive. Fortunately, we have had a steady group of people to practice with and they always pull you back to read the "Just do it and stop whining" list.
So join in one of these sessions and start writing a new list of how you aremeditating, and see for yourself if you begin to think, feel, sleep and live better.
The Dalai Lama is a selfish guy
People often tell me that they feel selfish working on themselves and doing spiritual work. After all it takes time away from family and friends, and it takes money, and people naturally feel bad using these resources to sit around and seemingly do nothing. My counter to that usually goes something like this: do you think you can make positive change anywhere before you make positive changes in yourself? Gandhi said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.… We need not wait to see what others do.”
The biggest polluter in the world are the negative thoughts and tendencies we put into the atmosphere and into the space we all share. If you don’t believe that, spend a day or more in the company of a very grumpy, caustic personality and see how you feel after. See how your behavior is towards friends and strangers after immersing yourself in this toxicity, see what your outlook on the world is. Or hang out in an extremely manipulative environment and observe how you then act in the world. Are you really able to not bring that stuff home and spill it on your family, or dump it on your casual acquaitances and the other people sharing the highway or train that you take back and forth to work? Some of you are in these kinds of situations all the time and you may not have the choice to remove yourselves. Changing the other people in that situation really isn’t an option if you think about it. Surely, someone else thought to do that already, and if they didn’t succeed most likely you won’t either. So now what? Do you want to continue to be a carrier, or find a different option?
Just because you can’t SEE the outcome of spiritual work doesnt mean you, and everyone around you, are not GETTING something from it. Parvathi once spoke of a student she had who was convinced she wasn’t getting anything from her private yoga sessions and really wanted to stop but her family wouldn’t let her.
This consciousness-raising work is not selfish. One might even say NOT doing the work if you have the inclination, the means, and the opportunity is selfish. As my teacher pointed out on our last retreat, the majority of the people in the world are struggling daily to survive, to literally not die. Those of us who live in relative peace with enough food and a safe place to live are the minority. If we have the ability to bring light in to the world by clearing our mind, by finding our seat of authentic generosity, by not polluting the world with our negative, repetitive, old worn out thoughts and tendencies, misperceptions and envy, why would you not do it?
If you said “Well, it’s not easy…” you would be right. It takes time, discipline and courage. But please don’t think it is selfish work, because that implies that all the people who are doing it now are selfish- like the Dalai Lama, like the all of the monks who gave up worldly possesions to pray for world peace, and the priests, ministers and other spiritual leaders we are so fortunate to have in this world. Have you ever thought about what this world would be like without them? I am sometimes chilled to the bone considering it- if there weren’t so many people praying for the welfare of this earth and all the inhabitants, where would we be now? If we think there is too much darkness and cruelty in this world today, what if those spiritual beings also thought this path to be selfish? Is the world a better place because you vacuumed your carpets instead of sitting down to clear your mind?
Yesterday I had the great fortunate to spend an hour with a new client who was struggling. It was beautiful to witness her unfolding. During our session she was able to recognize her power and light in a non-threatening way, and she left smiling and hopeful because she felt she could now show her children the love and attention they crave, something that she craves too. As a result of this session I was home too late to prepare dinner. I looked in the fridge only to find that my 16 year old had prepared a beautiful salad, fresh corn and peach cobbler for our dinner. See, when you make room for spirit to emerge, the universe will support your effort. Try it and you will see.
Interested in the upcoming Spiritual Studies course? Click here
More Confessions From a Yoga Teacher......
When I was in Italy I took a yoga class in Florence with Guido (that is him above) which was pretty difficult. I didn't realize it was going to be a rigorous Ashtanga style class and that I would be, by far, the oldest person in attendance. I wanted to write a post about that class for two reasons; while Guido led a very strenuous class, he didn't push, or demand, or judge. I found him to have a deep caring energy and assumed that he has a very strong personal meditation practice and a deep dedication to all the limbs of yoga. He pushed, but was not a bully, which is a rare combination. I was also excited to find that even though I hadn't done most of those poses in a long time, my body could still do them! I appreciated the muscle memory and the level of fitness that a “yoga body” can retain, even after many years (especially since it was my body!)
I never wrote that post. I think it's because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it did in July. Traveling to Italy, then the beach, and then being in retreat where I sat for 10 days straight while hosting multiple house guests for over 2 weeks really took its toll on my asana practice. Really, it took a toll on all physical practices, from tending the garden to walking to the grocery store . I have been able to sit in meditation for much longer, which is good, but that doesn’t really help to maintain the physcial body. So while my experience with Guido showed me that my body is resilient, my subsequent experience with lethargy showed me that strength gained is so very impermanent. As the end of July crept on, I found my knees hurting, my feet were so tight in the morning it took time for me to be able to walk to the bathroom, I was not able to fit into certain clothes, my shoulders were tight… on and on. (Sound familiar?)
You would think spending all day telling people to exercise, move their bodies, and tremor would remind me that I needed to do the same to maintain a level of well-being. It's not that I didn't want to follow my own advice. It's just that things got in the way, and I experienced the fallout from my neglect. Of course, this is not the first time I have “fallen off of the wagon.” But it is the first time I've done it at the age of 52, when most bodies start lose resiliency.
Personally, I don't think it's so bad to fall off the wagon every now and then. After all, when you do so, it is a good time to experience what your practice has been giving you all along. It can be hard for us to trust in a practice that is consistent and know that it's doing anything for us. Because we are consistent with the practice, it is consistently working, and we can imagine our well-being is simply a natural outcome of breathing. But think again!
Everybody is eventually lured out of routine by the allure of recklessness (and pasta, gelato and chianti!). I think very few of us escape the pull. And when we experience the fallout, we can either continue down the slippery slope of decay or jump back on the wagon. If we jump back on, and things switch back, we know for sure it is our dedication to our practice that is keeping us happy, not just good genes or happy coincidence.
As things happen, just as I was conjuring up this post, I saw this article in the NY Times which talks about what happens when you take a vacation from your exercise. Take a look if you are interested in the study.
(New York Times article: "Take a Vacation From Exercise? Your Body May Not Thank You")
So now you know, I'm not just shaking my finger at you when I'm encouraging you to come to more classes or to stick with your practice. I am shaking that finger at myself too. I will be spending August crawling back on the wagon and invite you along for the journey.
Today I finished up an intense 11 day retreat with my teacher. (Just in case you missed me during classes, I am back as of Tuesday morning). I am so grateful to have had everything in my life fall into place and allow me the time and resources to be able to attend the whole session. (Thank you so much Yoga Loka Staff and my ever-patient family!) This was an unusually long stretch of time spent together as a Sangha. We were finishing up year 2 of our training and began our final year, year 3, in the same block of time.
The training has so far included pujas, fire ceremonies, hours of sitting in meditation and hours of asana practices, reading, homework, attending lectures .... just like for any one who strives to learn something in depth, it takes a lot of time and effort. There were many years of practice and study that led up to participating in this training which included the same elements, just at a different level of understanding.
If you asked me what was the most potent thing we have worked with so far, it would be mantra. Chanting, chanting and more chanting of mantras, out loud or silently, while sitting, standing, doing asana and even dancing. The power of mantra is real, effective, and powerful, and vitally important in this lineage. It is funny in a way to have done so much, and find that it was simply the mantra after all.
It is never too late, or early, to start chanting, and there are so many wonderful ways to do that. Give it a try! You can start this Thursday at 7:00 pm with the yoga class I am leading with Girish. He will be chanting mantras for you while you move, or just sit. This is a great way to feel the mantras in your body. He will also be offering a Kirtan at Sky Island in Upper Black Eddy PA on Friday. That is when you can chant along while sitting. These two experiences are the best way to quickly feel mantra power! You will know what I mean at the end of the event. There will also be more classes in the fall that will give you the opportunity to practice, learn about, and understand the power of mantras! Stay tuned....
I love when modern science lines up with ancient knowledge. With science getting more and more sophisticated, and reports of this work becoming more accessible because of the internet, we are seeing in writing the ideas that uphold what those of us who have been studying, and trusting, yoga for years have experienced. It almost makes one want to shake their finger and say "told you so", but of course I would never do that. (Click to read the article on "the Sanskrit Effect")
Once, many years ago, there was another yoga studio in the area that advertised their classes as being "real yoga" with "no chanting at all!" I knew this was directed at classes at Yoga Loka because we chant! I also know it makes some people uncomfortable. But some people also are uncomfortable getting their teeth cleaned, exercising, getting a yearly physical, relaxing, and doing a million other things that keep them healthy, vital, and enjoying life.
Now there is this report that says chanting is good for us too. There are people who just know they like it, which is surely enough reason to just do it. But knowing you are helping your brain as you join in with your favorite kirtan wallah is like winning the lottery! OK, maybe that is too dramatic and you are not that into chanting. Just know that even listening to mantras can have an effect on your energy, your mind, and your physical brain. No need to even open your mouth. My training has taught me that mantras repeated internally actually have the greatest benefit. But joining your voice with others in community can not be underestimated either.
There are two great opportunities to hear mantras with amazing vibration the end of July. I will be leading an all level asana class with Girish chanting, live and in person, right there in the room with us. Moving to live music is amazing! It amplifies the benefits of both the mantra and the asana. The next night Girish will be holding a kirtan in Upper Black Eddy at Sky Island. Either of these experiences (I of course recommend you do both!) will give you the felt experience of the benefit of mantra, and you won't need a scientist to tell you that this is medicine. If you would like to read more about mantras and their vibration, Girish has an amazing book about mantra which you can find online (Amazon link below), or get a copy from him directly.
See you there!
Yoga With Bonnie/Music With Girish: Thursday July 26th, 7 to 8:30 pm. $35 to pre-register, $40 at the door. Click here to register, or click here to view all of our other workshops.
So what’s going to make you happy? Let’s get more specific: what’s going to make your brain happy? And let’s focus on things that are simple and easy to do instead of stuff like winning the lottery.
This article from www.thriveglobal.com notes five ways neuroscience answers that question. Try some of these techniques out for yourself;
2. Smile - and wear sunglasses
The brain isn’t always very smart. Sometimes your mind is getting all this random info and it isn’t sure how to feel. So it looks around for clues, called “biofeedback." The idea is that your brain is always sensing what is happening in your body and it reviews that information to decide how it should feel about the world.
You feel happy and that makes you smile. But it works both ways: when you smile, your brain can detect this and say, “I’m smiling. That must mean I’m happy.” So happiness makes you smile, but smiling can also produce happiness. Feeling down? Smile anyway. “Fake it until you make it" can work.
Continue reading about how to make our brains happy HERE, and then check out the rest of our upcoming workshops and events to enliven your body and being as well.