One of the many benefits we get from a yoga practice is an increased sense of well being. Whether we wanted that to happen, or expected it, it will happen. Whether we are flexible or not, can do a headstand or not, feel spiritually inclined or disinterested in that aspect of yoga, you are more likely going have better sense of well-being after a class than you did before. Those of you who were practicing with me when Yoga Loka was over the laundromat may remember leaving class, walking through the Sunday morning laundry crowd and having someone look at you and say "I'll have what you just had". Feeling good is obvious to others, even if you don't realize it at first yourself.
There is a physiological reason for this and it lies just below the skin. The fascia, that lovely slippery, hopefully pliable, tissue that is everywhere that you can not see, is embedded with interoceptive nerve endings. These nerve endings are stimulated through touch (massage, a hug, etc) and also the movements that occur during a yoga class. When we move our limbs we are activating these nerve endings, especially as we twist, pull, stretch, bind, wrap our legs around each other- this is all moving the fascia (and the lymph- good for your immune system) and making these interoceptors light up. These nerves then stimulate a section of your brain that has been linked to a persons sense of safety, contentment and presence. This is also why hugs feel so good. The wiring is built in for this to happen. We just need to start the process.
At a time when there is limited contact with other beings we may be finding that we really are missing the hello/goodbye hugs, the handshakes and the casual contact that we used to have on a daily basis. And we might be suffering from this lack by not having the stimulation of interoception as much as the pandemic, the economic situation and unknown future. Moving your body more can take the edge off and leave you with a sense of contentment that the yogis call Santosha. And this Santosha from one hour of mindful movement can last you a while. Each person of course is different, maye you need a full 1 1/2 hours many times a week. Schedule in that movement each week so the work of the hugs can continue.
When someone starts to get serious about doing sadhana (spiritual practice) in yoga they will usually be guided by their mentor or teacher to do the practice for 40 days. Why 40 days? I don't really know. But this duration must holds some importance- Lent is 40 days, Moses led his people through the desert for 40 days, Noah traveled in his Ark for 40 days and 40 nights. (Ramadan is 30 nights, and some tantric traditions suggest 30 days as an appropriate time for sadhana.)
I have done many 40 day practices, and my experience is that around days 25-30 things get really hard. You begin to forget the original intention behind the practice, your determination begins to flag, you get antsy, and you start to internally list the 1000 things you should be doing instead.
We are now 36 days post studio closing. I don't remember the actual date that the NJ Governor Phil Murphy decreed all non-essential businesses need to close, as our household essentially started our confinement on the 16th, the day the studio closed the physical location. That was my husbands first day of working from home, my kids were on their already isolated spring break, and I turned my attention to shifting everything online. So now there are 4 days left to complete my family's 40 day practice of confinement, and most of you are not far behind, if not ahead.
In retrospect, last week, the 30ish day of the practice, we started to sag here. My daughter spent a few very sad days and just wanted to stay in bed, I didn't think I could face teaching another class in front of a camera, my husband was about to melt down from the stress at work. I heard from other people that they were similarly uncomfortable or despondent.
By the end of the week, I found things shifting again. And we are still here, getting more comfortable in the not-so-new-anymore rhythm, and expanding our ability to align ourselves in the way the world is now. It was then I recognized the progression of a 40 day practice. The thing about taking on a 40 day practice in the yoga world is you know once the 40 days is over, so is the practice. However, for those of us who are "lifers" when it comes to doing sadhana, there is always another 40 day practice to take on. And sometimes one finds 40 days was not enough, and the practice gets extended to 120, 180 or 360 days. After a few practices under your belt, you begin to realize that the first 40 days of a practice is just the introduction- sometimes it takes the first 40 days just to understand how to organize your life and family around your sadhana commitment (or visa versa). Then, when you see it CAN be done in that first 40 days, and HOW to do it, the next 40,120, 360 days of practice is when the real internal work happens.
I was listening to an old lecture by Parvathi the other day and she said something so amazing about patience which I will try to paraphrase, although I am sure I won't do it justice- Patience is not when we are sitting and waiting for something to be over (I think we can call that tolerance). Patience is staying present while knowing you don't know when, or if, or how, it (whatever it is) will end. What you do know is that you can not do anything to speed the process along.
So our sadhana of patience continues on, and all of us are in the practice together this time. If you feel like you are failing, don't despair, this is a known characteristic of all sadhana. The one thing we can know, as happens with all dedicated sadhana, is that we will emerge from this changed. And as sadhana is designed to increase consciousness, we can know that our change is evolving us and the collective consciousness. We will all understand the change in ourselves and the world differently as everyone's practice is unique to them. I am confident that we can recognize an acceleration in consciousness if we choose to look for it. Like tantric sadhana, it may not be apparent at first, but it is there. Anyway that is what I am going to look for as this practice evolves in comprehension, integration and duration. I hope you will join me in that outlook.
I hope this email finds you healthy and active, and eating well, staying connected, staying calm and well rested. I know you have heard it before, these are all important things to do while we continue social distancing and monitoring the state of the world in whatever way you have chosen to.
In this newsletter I have included some articles that you might be interested in reading, so please scroll down for the links.
I have also included some notice for upcoming online workshops that I hope will support your emotional and physical health in the weeks to come. The workshop that is ready for registration has a live button that will take you to the registration. You will see a few different options the cost of the workshops, please pay what you are able to comfortably afford. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve the community by offering these practices that have sustained mankind for generations. Those of us who have received such teachings are obligated (with the blessings of our teachers) to make them available to those who want to learn them and who will practice them.
Because you will see varying price points in the workshops, (and for drop-in classes) I thought this would be a good time to introduce the concept of Guru Dakshina. This is the exchange made between the person giving a teaching and the person receiving the teaching. We readily understand the exchange when we buy something that has a price tag on it- we pay and then we have the object. We also understand the exchange when someone offers a simple greeting- if they say hello, we usually say something back. These exchanges maintain an appropriate energetic flow and a harmony between the people involved in the interaction, and it upholds the integrity of what has been given. I have never shoplifted anything, but I can imagine if I did, I probably could not enjoy the object that I had taken, as the exchange was inappropriate.
Similarly there is an exchange required when someone offers something like a teaching or a practice. The greatest return is to do the practice with regularity, dedication and devotion! Whether it is an asana sequence to help strengthen your knees, or a mantra that can help with healing and boosting the immune system. In modern societies we put a monetary cost to the exchange because that is how we best understand transactions, and that is how most societies are run. Sometimes people may not think they got what they paid for because they haven't invested in the practices, or teachings, by working with them, or they believe that since they paid for a teaching they can co-opt the information they received without doing the practice consistently. This way of thinking degrades the energy of what was given, so it does actually lose it's value. If we were asked to offer for the exchange what we considered as our most precious thing, it might actually be the same for all of us. It is what we value the most and never have enough of- time. Patience, practice and the recognition of value all require an appropriate amount of time invested.
People who offer free workshops and classes often find that attendance and or follow through is poor- many people may make a commitment and don't show up, or they don't make the investment of time that is required to understand what they have received. And just as often people may skip a class or workshop because its cost is beyond their means, or beyond what they consider to be the value of the offering. And that consideration of value is important, and is probably why many people stay away from free offerings- they may perceive there is no value to it if the producer has offered it at no charge.
It is because of the perception of value that I wanted to write about this today. I think it is vital that as many people as possible practice yoga, or something like yoga, right now. I am more than confident that this will make a difference as to how we emerge from this health and economic crises. Many yoga studios are offering classes for free or by donation. Many are asking for donations to help pay their bills. If you are out of work, and want to practice yoga, now is the time to do it, and fortunately several yoga studios and centers are making it possible to do just that. All you have to do is just find the place you are comfortable with give it the time and diligence the offering deserves. Don't be shy about taking a class that you are not paying for (or paying full price for), your exchange will be the attention that you give it.
Teachers who have been initiated into a lineage have an obligation to teach now. We are put a huge value on our own practice and what we are offering to the communities we serve. We continue to fulfill the Guru Dakshina to our teachers and our teachers teachers. The people who "practice what they preach" and are engaged in the full spectrum yoga practices recognize them as "life changers", and I wont even try to put words to how valuable that is.
Those who have the means to pay for classes right now can feel confident that whatever studio they are supporting with their attendance and membership is helping that studio get the teachings to the people who want/need them. I want to pass on a beautiful definition of a yogi from my main teacher, Parvathi- "A yogi is a person who gives more than they receive". How different the world would be if we all adhered to that even 25% of the time! What would our society look like If we could leave a room a better place than we found it? We would certainly upgrade our own energy level and consciousness, and that no doubt would spill over onto the people who will eventually walk into that room (even if it is not for a long time yet.) Now that things have slowed down for most of us, we can try this practice. If you take it on, let me know what happens for you! And please spread the word to your neighbors, friends and family about online classes, especially if they need the discount. It is time to get everyone practicing.
I am extremely gratified so many of you have shared that practicing yoga has helped you keep on track and centered as concerns about the spread of coronavirus mount. The Yoga Loka community is a strong and caring one. I'm not surprised to learn of the support we are getting from each other at this time.
That's why I share with mixed emotions my decision to temporarily close the studio to onsite classes and move to an online, live-stream model.
I truly believe that the enhanced safety and hygiene practices we put into place this past week have been effective, and everyone attending class has been extremely careful to comply with them. But too many factors cannot be controlled, and I am no longer certain we can guarantee the studio is safe for our community to practice together in groups. Across the country, other yoga studios, health centers and fitness clubs have reluctantly come to the same conclusion, following guidance provided by the state Commissioner of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and other health professionals and agencies.
Fortunately, we have an alternative: live, online classes that recreate the communal feel of classes held at the studio.
We had a good number of people live-stream today's two morning classes. The takeaway from their experience (read some testimonials below) is that a teacher-led, guided practice at home can provide benefits similar to one taken at the studio. I know how important yoga can be to feeling safe and well-cared for at this time, and I want to make sure you get what you need. The very act of teaching yoga gives me so much and connects me so deeply to our community, so this is a bit self-serving. (I admit it, my great hope is that you feel as good after taking class as I do after teaching one.)
Some of you may be a bit hesitant about the technical process of joining live-stream, but never fear, I am here to help you overcome that!! You can rely on me to help clear up any confusion you may have about registering for classes, making payments, etc.
Detailed instructions on how to join a live-stream class are posted here. I'll soon post a short info video with the details as well.
More asana classes are in the planning stage as is a series of free treats, including TRE, Meditation and Yoga Nidra, all practices that will help you de-stress, and keep your immune system strong. Stay tuned!
I appreciate your patience while I add to the offerings and get it all up. And you will probably be getting more newsletters from the studio, which you can always delete if you are not interested in getting so many! I hope to send you some inspiring news too, so take what you want and do away with the rest.
If you want your class block frozen just let me know. Blocks with no expiration date will stay as is, there is no need to freeze. If you are on auto-pay and do not think you want to do live-stream, you can freeze your contract, but I will need to hear from you to make that happen - and I do hope you'll give the live-stream classes a chance. Based on what I've heard from students who tried it today, I am comfortable predicting you will find the experience more than satisfactory.
If you want to freeze a block, please use this link to email me directly (rather than replying to this email)..
If you are like me, the more you understand about the coronavirus, the less stressed you will be. I want to spend my energy educating myself and sending light to where it is needed, to those infected, to those working in health care, and to the communities affected most by the disease - economically and physically. And I want to focus my energy to keep my immune system strong.
To that end, I want to share this information video that I received in my inbox this morning. It describes how the coronavirus works, what it does to your body, and how your body can fight it. The video is about 8 minutes long, so it won't take too much time to watch.
Happily, there are many sources of information and encouragement when it comes to building and maintaining a strong immune system. If you are interested in following an Ayurveda, herbal or homeopathic protocol, I posted some sources below.
Given the growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus, you will not be surprised to learn that Kashi Ashram and I have decided to cancel the upcoming AYT retreat. We feel it is important to respect people's hesitation to travel at this time, so we will try to reschedule the retreat in the fall. Stay tuned for more information on that. In the meantime, I am offering a one-day Ayurvedic retreat on Saturday, March 28 (see information below) which will cover much of the material that I was going to teach at Kashi.
Based on best practices encouraged by the NJ Department of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and other experts, we are instituting some changes at Yoga Loka as well.
Lakshmi is the bringer of abundance and sweetness. She helps to remind us of the beauty of all that we have by enlivening the senses and keeping us in the flow of gratitude. With her grace we can recognize and stay true to what we value, which can be a difficult task in this world of chock full of social media, instant shopping and all of the other distractions the world of technology and busy mind brings.
The tantric yogis define love as the unending experience of bliss. What is bliss? We could define bliss as experiencing everything we encounter as wonder full, or being full of wonder. When we are full of wonder we are not busy judging, indulging in criticism, or experiencing lack. Isn't this also true when we are experiencing love? We are full of wonder for that which we are loving! We experience the object that has inspired love freshly, with all of our senses awake, and we take in all of the details. We sit in the precious present moment as we interact with that object that is sparking the love in us. As with many things, it is a razors edge to experience the power of love. If we desire it too much, we co-opt it by our attachments and craving, if we fear it, we push it away, if we are unsure of ourselves, we get jealous and that leads down the road of mistrust. What can keep us balanced on that razors edge of love? Lakshmi of course. That is one of her jobs and delights.
Let's face it, we all fall to one side or the other of the razors edge when it comes to interacting with love. We grab too hard, or we don't make a move forward, we push it away, or we miss the opportunity because we were stuck in paralysis. These things apply not only to human love, but to love of all things- nature, art, literature, non-human animals etc.
One of my favorite songs by Neil Young is "Love is a Rose". Take a listen to the very beginning of the song, I think he captures the essence of the razors edge in the first 4 lines. When our busy minds co-opt love, we forget how to dance with the fear may come in which makes us grabby or stingy, or the lack that comes in and makes us arrogant and rigid in our interactions. We forget the essence, the beauty of the rose, and we forget that we can stay in wonder of its delicate petals and it's heady scent, without needing to grab it. Lakshmi reminds us that to be the observer of this beauty is actually all we need, as we can be showered with bliss by being the witness more so than by being the owner. And as the observer we might be able to see how much the rose gives without requiring anything in return. Lakshmi does this because she keeps us in harmony with what we value at our essence. She helps us perfect our dance with fear so we can sit by the beautiful rose, and simply be with it. She does this because she wants us to be close to what we value, what we adore, and what brings us closer to our true nature.
If you want to know more, join me on the 15th for the Lakshmi Sadhana. It is true, all you have to do is ask Lakshmi and she will show you these things, but you do have to know how to ask. She is a bit more particular than some of the other deities- after all what she gives is the pure wealth of awareness, and if you value that, you will value knowing her.
This past Thursday I was in Philadelphia for a workshop and decided to go in early and take a yoga class. It is harder and harder for me to find a class that I feel comfortable in, for many different reasons. If it is in a city and is a vinyasa flow or similar level of activity, I look around and see I am the oldest one in the room. (That is not the part that makes me uncomfortable, it's the look from the teacher who is afraid I am going to have a coronary that gives me pause.) Sometimes it is because the music is not in harmony with the instructions from the teacher, and I find that disharmony disruptive to my nervous system ("Follow the smooth slow flow of your breath" might be the instructions when there is a rapid chaotic drum beat in the background.) Most of the time however the discomfort is because the teacher is following a disturbing trend. "Feel a stretch" teacher says. "Where is that supposed to be?" inner voice says. "Feel the stretch in your back body as you come into this backbend" teacher says. "Too bad the muscles are actually in contraction." inner voice says. "Put your arms this way.... because it is sattvic" teacher implores. "How does she know if its sattvic for me, with my injury and all?" inner voice muses. I wont even get in to how ruffled I was by Thursday night's teacher telling us that if we cross our fingers the opposite way of comfort it will help fend off Alzheimer's. My inner voice almost pushed my outer voice into protest.
This class happened to be described as "alignment based". When I walked in the teacher welcomed me, introduced herself and went into a quite long explanation about how her yoga is not one size fits all, as I will see when she offers modifications, and that my alignment might not fit with what the cue is, etc. I ordinarily would love that intro, except I really had to go to the bathroom, having been on the train for 1 1/2 hours, and it turned out not to be accurate.
What is the disturbing trend I reference above? It is this: at no point did the teacher ASK anyone what they were feeling. When she gave her one-size-fits-all cue or individual correction, she never followed up with "do you feel that?" or "is that better for your body, more sattvic, can you feel your body more?" (I would have settled for even a "Y'all still with me? Is this making any sense?"). Instead, she literally told the class what we should be feeling based on her script. She might have let slip a "See how that is better, right?!!" every now and then without waiting, or really inviting, an answer. Here is why this disturbs me- This kind of "guidance" takes all the power away from the student on the mat and puts it in the hands of the yoga teacher, who, unless there is something I don't know about their super powers, does not know the students anatomy, surgical or injury history, does not know what kinds of physical activities the student currently or previously has participated in, does not have a complete (or like in my case as a drop in brand-new student, ANY) idea of what the students proprioception is (knowing where your body is in space) or interoception is (knowing how your body is feeling internally) or know if the student is able to connect with the present moment and not be triggered by something that causes them to dissociate. Without all, or even some, of that information, there is NO WAY a teacher will know what the student is feeling and experiencing. If you tend to dissociate, or just have had a bad day, and the teacher TELLS you what you are feeling, you will believe them and believe it to be true, without question (especially if they are very charismatic) . If they ASK you, or even invite you to look for what you are feeling, it will help to ground you, bring you present, and allow you to know more about yourself and EMPOWER you to continue to know yourself more. Understandably it can be quite comfortable to have someone tell you what you are feeling rather than looking for yourself. But what happens when you are in real life, and you are having a confusing emotional disturbance, or a pain in your body that you have to explain to a doctor, and you can't reach the teacher to tell you what is happening, or what is next in the script?
Yoga teachers have an obligation to guide a student to find out more about themselves by asking good questions. The truth is, we yoga teachers DO NOT need to know the answers. In fact, if we think we do know the answers, we are doing our students, clients and ourselves a great disservice. A good question posed to a person in a pose is worth much more than a script written by someone who has never met your body, and repeated by someone who doesn't feel it necessary to ask "how are you doing, what are you feeling, what is going on in your body?". And if the question is asked open-ended, that is with no agenda, then a door is opened to a beautiful array of potential discovery and intimacy with your soul and it's vehicle, your body.
While I was editing this weeks newsletter I was listening to a podcast about "Disconnect Syndrome". It was an interview with a father and son team of M.D.'s who have done massive research about what makes us continue to make bad choices. Regardless of what we know is best for us, and as motivated as we may be to do it, we continue to make choices that we know are not going to lead us to feeling our best. (Did I mention I was also eating a triple chocolate brownie at the time? More about that later).
Listening to this coming off of a 2 month adventure through an amazing book on neuroscience was an added eye-opener. I will include the link to the podcast, and name of the book at the bottom if you are interested. For now I will just give you a very short synopsis now. Basically what dad and son were talking about is the loop we get in to that doesn't allow us to access our pre-frontal cortex, or the decision making part of our brain. They said even one night of too little sleep, or a one-night indulgence with brownie bingeing (oops) and social media will knock us out of access to this part of our brain that encourages action based on what we know to be true- not just because we read it somewhere, but because we have the experience that it is right. We know what to do, and then we don't do it, and then we wonder who turned off the lights while we were walking down the path towards well-being. Who jumped out of the bushes and said "quick, over here, I have a triple chocolate brownie for you!!". (My defense about the brownie is that I know and love the person who made it, so to me it was like eating love shaped like a square.)
Will the sugar I just ingested make me do something I later regret (like writing this post)? Sugar causes inflammation, and inflammation changes your access to your pre-frontal, rational portion of your brain. So does lack of sleep, too much screen time and not enough out-door time and lack of social interactions. These things weaken your decision making muscles and increases your disconnect to the home of good decisions.
According to the Doctors, I am doing a lot to counteract this one-time slide (were it actually just one time, lol) by:
Spending time in the healing arms of nature was another suggestion, and of course getting enough sleep.
We can not deny that the brain is a formidable force to reckon with. There is so much going on, so many things that can go awry, so many things we regular people don't understand about the circuitry. And so much rides on well balanced transmission. So what to do? I guess we listen to the advice of people doing the research and follow their suggestions and stay present to our habits. Another thing they suggested is find some way to push us towards the things that, at a time of clarity, we knew was right action. Something like setting a timer if you plan on going on social media, using a friend to work-out or go to yoga with, having ingredients for good meals in the house. If we don't enact a plan, we are going to be battered about by the soup of neurotransmitters that are responding to doughnuts and brownies, and late night TV, not the ideas born during clarity and connection to the cortex. Yes, this is what a class block WITH expiration date is all about. Pay for it in advance, when you have the clarity of yoga brain, and let that motivate you to keep going.
If you are ready for such a motivator we have a class block on sale this week, 20 classes for $202.00. You can scroll down for the link to this product. And if you would like to listen to the referred to podcast you will find the link below. As well, the Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean. (I listened to it on Audible). Link to Amazon also provided.
Happy reading and listening and see you all in the frontal cortex soon!
The readings from Mother Teresa this month have really inspired me, I hope they have done the same for you. Most of my inspirational readings have come from Andrew Harvey's retelling of stories of Mother Teresa and other historical figures that are recognized as great humanitarians, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. In Mr. Harvey's book, "The Hope", he writes about many leaders, some of whom he has spoken with directly, and relates to the reader the commonality among these noble beings. They all pointed to the same activity that offers, or offered, them strength and inspiration- spending time every day praying and meditating with the god aligned with their beliefs . It is in this communion they are filled and fortified with the juice that keeps them going in the difficult work that they do. This is a quote from "The Hope" from Marion Woodman, a pioneer of the Divine Feminine (pg 133); "Continuing to do sacred work in a world as crazy and painful as ours without constantly grounding yourself in a scared practice would be like running into a forest fire dressed only in a paper tutu".
If you have had the benefits of meditation and prayer proven to you and believe in its power, and you are not able to be consistent in a practice, the question to ask is simple- Why not? What is it that is pulling your attention away from doing the thing that you know brings harmony to not only your life but the life of others? Only asking the question very directly will bring you the answer, and empower you to engage in the actions needed to do what you know works. It is not uncommon to be confused by your own resistance.
If you are not engaged with some sort of quiet contemplation and self-care, what is holding you back? Mr. Harvey encourages those interested in being Sacred Activists to be active in caring for their bodies, making them strong containers, and filling them with the energy that comes from meditating and/or praying. It is only a healthy, fit body that can be a suitable container to hold high levels of consciousness.
On a practical level what does this mean for those of us who may not go as far as Sacred Activism? Maybe you just want a peaceful Thanksgiving, with minimal drama. Or you find that you want to begin to respond differently, rather than react in the same old way. Consider this - if you are unwilling to "fill" yourself, unwilling to attend to your own body, how can you expect to be able to do the same for someone else? And why expect someone else to do for you what you are not willing to do for yourself? Yes, it seems selfish to sit in meditation or quiet contemplation, it seems like an extravagance, and at times it seems like it is not working. Yes, it's difficult! Yes, you might convince yourself you have many more important things to do, but do those things ultimately offer you true contentment? Look at what others have accomplished, and imitate them. They have already invented the wheel, you can just borrow the blueprints.
If you were to approach this scientifically, and you want to see change in this world (or just in your family, or at work) you know a catalyst has to introduced. You would then look to see where change has been accomplished historically by others, and you would try to replicate what they did to get the same results. (You don't have to choose something as dramatic as moving civil rights forward in the US and South Africa, or Indian Independence.) Look towards the others who have done great work and do what they did. Imitate what you admire and you will become that. Be bold, be the catalyst, and see what follows. Be consistent, because as Rumi wrote "Prayer is not just for the set times of kneeling and bowing; the real challenge of prayer is to prolong that state of absorption always, to keep the heart in a constant fire of adoration, whether you are asleep or awake, writing or reading..."
If you already have practices, such as meditation, tremoring, asana, try to be consistent, starting today, and see how it affects your holiday this coming week and in the weeks ahead. If you don't have anything to work with, download the meditation to follow along with. See what happens! And please let me know the outcome.