Deciding to love.

I realize, sometimes, that when I say the word ‘love,’ a vacuum can appear to suck up my credibility as a being of this world. I’ve seen how mention of the word ‘heart’ and direction to place hands over it often leads to a pause. In that pause, a brief internal struggle… will a simple gesture toward the heart leave me weak? Will I become vulnerable?

Weak, no. Vulnerable? Absolutely.

The strength to go to the heart is herculean precisely because the journey asks for a confrontation with our defenses. We believe we’re alone and must keep ourselves protected. At the heart, we realize our deep and abiding connection. We connect to our selves, to others, to the divine. It’s in the heart that we encounter our true mission in life and the longings that must be settled as we accomplish that mission.

An example from my personal life? I used to be a lawyer who wanted to help. I wanted to secure justice for those who suffered. I fought hard and argued often against the ways our systems impose inequities because of poor health, limited bank accounts, skin color and place of birth. It was important work. And it broke my heart. With every success, I watched, again and again, a new challenge arise to replace our victories. In grief, I left my career to heal my heart.

That was when I had to contend with my embarrassment and misunderstandings about the ideas of love, hearts, god, and self. I did it with the help of a few sage travelers: teachers, friends, trees, bees. I learned, over time, that my heart was always waiting for me. She is eternally patient and compassionate. And when I go to her, she gives me the whole world without a fight.

The only thing my defenses guarded well was my resistance.

Still, a resistance is a blessing. It gives us a rope to follow when we can’t quite see clearly. Eventually, I understood the route.

It isn’t always easy, however, to give myself to my heart.

It’s a decision. Daily, it requires that I catch myself in my judgments and opinions. Frequently, I find myself thinking I know better than love’s guidance. And rarely, but importantly, I land in a position of not understanding at all how to find my way back.

Which is when I learn the most. What I learn is this: whatever the situation is showing me is a path I’ve yet to navigate.

Unfortunately, the brutality committed by police isn’t a new path. I’ve seen this before. It precedes me even. And, in my own life, at 20, I was beat by riot police. It’s a horrifying display of power. I yelled and I pleaded as they held , threatened and hurt me. I settled a case against the police when I was 22. Several months later, the police shot a black man multiple times as he reached for his wallet. I felt the horror of my decision to forego trial.

I became a lawyer, in part, because I thought I owed service to justice for the injustice I accepted. As I practiced, I learned that justice doesn’t serve our hearts. As I recovered from my former career, I realized that love does.

Still, these last few months have challenged my choice to love. It isn’t just the murder of George Floyd that got me. I lost the path to my heart for a bit because watching Mr. Floyd die as others officers watched followed a string of hurtful realities.

Because in this worrying time of pandemic, we also witnessed the shooting of a young man jogging through a neighborhood. And we saw a white woman in Central Park seek to dominate a black man by means of police intervention. So when George Floyd was killed, the arising of rage was immediate. Marching behind: guilt, despair, sorrow.

The disproportionate use of force against black men and women is a hideous example of multiple systems that do not foster either justice or love. Our national inability to foster just and loving relationships between black and white (and all shades in between) speaks to our collective insistence to remain distanced from each other and the heart. We believe we’re meant to be separate. We even laud our great individual rights.

The greatest right of any individual is to discover that her free will may be exercised in removing the obstacles to her heart at any moment. Regardless of her circumstances.

In my life, as I exercise my will, I’ve learned to remember the many ways that our experiences complicate and obscure our path to love. I’ve learned to imagine how I could be as brutal as a provoked cop and to know the weight of the cruelty. I’ve learned that I would not wish that weight on anyone.

Still, in the last week, the return to love was hard work.

I had to follow the rope of my resistance. I worked with each emotion. Rage first. Guilt then. I understood the helplessness it was masking. Despair, because I couldn’t understand how to hope. And sorrow. The sorrow reminded me of love.

In the sorrow, I remembered to pray for George Floyd and his family. I knew there was love there. I prayed for the families of all those who have died or been injured by the police. I felt their love. I prayed for my black friends and reached out to share my love and thank them for the love they’ve given me. I prayed for all my friends. I prayed for my family and all those who are kind, generous, compassionate toward me. I felt the abundance of love.

I returned to my heart.

From there, I prayed for Derek Chauvin and his family. I prayed for the men who beat me decades ago. Love is also there. And though the weight of those actions is overwhelming, love lifts it. My responsibility in life is to decide to love, regardless.

Moving into the heart demands power. Practicing in the heart asks for patience and wonder. Being in the heart requires stability.

Thus, this word ‘love’ and its representation at the heart tries to be a bit of a vulgarity. The effort is great but each of us are strong enough. Just because something is hard does not mean we should reject it. Indeed, the challenge is for us to rise to it.

We seem to reject love because moving through emotion and surrendering ourselves to our true union means our identity has nowhere to stand. It cannot fathom that we stand together, completely connected without even needing to know each others’ names.

My friend, love is what we all share. It requires no particular time or place. It doesn’t require blood or passion or even proximity. These gifts are simply our training. Our vast connections await our decision to put love into play.

The reform we require is the shift to our hearts. The intellect will resist what it doesn’t fathom but we can navigate our resistance. It will take us toward the truth of love. It is our union and our unity. Love is what binds us.

Let us proceed, then, in love and see how we all transform.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another. For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans

Finding our wisdom.

I hope this post finds you well. I send you so much love.


The horrifying death of George Floyd, the important protests and unsurprising escalation of violence are lessons for all of us. We share pain. We share anger. We share grief. And when we don’t honor the presence of these emotions, or when we feel unseen in our pain, the expression of them can be overwhelming. 

We are meant to learn from our emotions. And we can never ask anyone else to do the emotional work that we haven’t. So I share with you my experience. 

I sit with my rage. It burns in my belly and tightens my heart. I invite it in. I say, ‘you are a welcome guest, free to settle in me.’ It hurts. It reminds me of the pain I’ve caused and the pain I’ve suffered. I see so many memories. I make space for them all and listen to them. One by one. I cry. I give them the home they need in me. These are the sources of wisdom in my life. I ask to learn what remains for me to learn. There is so much. And then I remember that I’m never alone in my suffering. And when I breathe out, I imagine the faces of those I love. So many beautiful faces! I feel this love and share it on my exhale with everyone who also feels anger. I do my best to offer the softening relief of love. I imagine it carries around the whole world. I imagine the love moving gracefully with the clouds, gently embracing us all.

Over the last 5 days, I’ve been doing this practice again and again. For five minutes, 20 minutes, a half hour. Many times a day. Whenever I feel the fire rise in me. I do whatever it takes for me to move into the place where I’m not pretending to be at peace but am feeling calm enough to share my love peacefully. The anger continues to teach me. It evolves into sadness. And this too issues its painful prick. So I invite it in. I give it space and listen to the memories and lessons. And then I breathe out my love. I pray you feel it.

In this life, I’ve been fortunate that my skin color has not been an origin of my hardship. It has, however, offered challenges to many who I love, respect and serve. I do my best to stand in peace with these friends, colleagues, and students, empowered by the wisdom of my own suffering so I can share my strength with them. I do my best to ask questions and listen to answers I could not know from my experience. I do my best to honor the lives of men and women who know different hardships and similar suffering. I do my best to stand in peace so my friends feel safe and supported as they invite their own emotions home. 

This week, I invite you to practice yoga with me. I’d like to move and breathe with you. I’d like to pray with you. Let’s be together so we can invite our emotions home. They have so much to teach us. The wisdom lives in them before it can thrive in us and be shared.

It’s time for us to learn together. Please join me for practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30 throughout June. I’ve moved to Zoom and the link will be the same, weekly. 

Yoga for Us.
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I’m so grateful for you in my life. Please feel welcome to reach out if you’d like a friend around, if you’d like to breathe together, take a mindful walk or just share some jokes. Please be thoughtful about the amount of media you consume. Please eat wisely.

I love you.

Preparing yourself for meditation.

More and more often, these days, I’m hearing from folks who are trying to begin meditation practices. They’ve read a book, downloaded an app, found someone with a nice voice on youtube or they’re going it alone, just sitting there, waiting. What adventurous people!

And then I hear from people that they aren’t suited to meditation because they tried it and they failed. Aw, well. Please let it be known: meditation is accessible and meditation requires practice. We can learn how to do it and we can decide to do it with patience and compassion towards ourselves. If we expect to become enlightened unicorn guru masters at the first go, we’re in for a great big sad. So how do we approach this? With total friendship toward ourselves.

Here’s the thing. Sitting down to meditate cold is about as comfortable as doing anything else cold. Let’s face it… most cold things are uncomfortable. At first. Until we warm up. So why not cultivate warmth and comfort?

It seems that meditation is becoming pretty hip for a few reasons. Some of them are pretty awesome. These are the ones that acknowledge how unnecessary it is to remain in anxiety, to languish in sleeplessness, to suffer chronic pain, to deal with constant distraction. Sometimes, I hear meditation is used to improve a love life or advance a career. That’s all well and good, but it might be a little ridiculously tunnel-visioned. In other words, it’s pretty likely that your love life isn’t awesome for a variety of reasons that are going to require a bit of self-examination. Likewise with your business. Let’s just acknowledge the appropriate starting ground. Realize and soften the impact of you on you (be a friend!) and your world improves.

This is where the concept of meditation may be helpful to understand. In the West, a lot of folks simply think of it as ‘sitting there.’ Some folks consider it daydreaming or spacing out. The contrary is true. Meditation is the practice of cultivating a single-pointed focus so the mind’s chatter quiets down. We can call it contemplation (originally, ‘the act of looking at’) as well, acknowledging that this means a high concentration on a single object.

Over the millennia, the focus of attention may have been light, God, love, breath. Whatever it is, it is only that in meditation. The process of being in that focus, over time, cultivates a merger with that object. What begins as an inward focus develops into an absorption in the one-pointedness. This has been called emptiness by Zen practitioners and fullness in the yoga tradition. Same same.

(In fact, the word zen is the Japanese word taken from the Chinese word dzjen or chan which is taken from the Sanskrit word dhyana, or meditative state. All paths get you there.)

Patience, grasshopper. It takes practice. The practice of meditation offers an abundance of gifts in itself. As you learn how to redirect your mind again and again, you will discover that this process is also available when you are not intentionally meditating. When we develop agency over the mind’s pursuits, we learn how to direct it to our benefit or the benefit of any situation. We become calmer because we aren’t ricocheting from thought to thought to thought without relief.

The kindest thing you can do for yourself as you begin is to prepare wisely. Choose a quiet space, turn off distractions, assess the condition of your body, pay attention to the speed of your mind.

For the space, let it be clean and comfortable. Make it special for yourself so you can develop a relationship with the space that will support your endeavor. You may like to light a candle, water a plant, or gaze on a pretty picture to settle your energy as you start.

For the body, ask yourself and answer honestly your ability to sit with an upright, extended spine for more than 5 minutes. If this is an impossibility, you’ll simply work your way up! Though it seems like yoga asana may be strictly for the purpose of instagram, the truth is, most of the poses are meant to prepare your body, energy and mind for the rigors of sitting still over extended periods. A simple sequence of gentle forward folds and simple spine extensions will increase your body’s acceptance of the position you will take. You may be interested in doing the simple, short practice here to prepare.

As you begin, please consider sitting just on the edge of a chair with your feet firmly resting on the ground so that you can lengthen your spine comfortably. If you insist on sitting on the ground, please lift your bum onto a bolster so that your knees are lower than your hips. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. If you need to move, do so mindfully to relieve whatever ache is developing. As you continue in your practice, over time, these instincts to fidget will diminish.

For your mind, as you get started, simply listen to the burbling brook of babble in your mind. There’s no need to judge it. Sometimes, I like to thank it when it’s particularly raucous. ‘Thank you, wonderful mind, for all of this amazing activity.’ That way, I remember that mind is a treasure that like a pile of gold coins with a tendency to scatter itself all over the place. It’s also nice at the start to simply notice the patterns of thought. I like to say, ‘Oh, you again. I hear you but now we’re focusing on …’ Sometimes, my mind will offer up a series of startling images or ideas. I say the same thing. ‘Oh, I hear you. Right now, let’s focus on …’ Constant redirection. And if I get lost in one of those images, it’s no problem. As soon as I realize I’m lost, I say, ‘Oh dear, we’ve wandered. Let’s get back to our focus on…’

Over time, with practice, the thoughts start to come more slowly because the mind has become more adept at remaining with its focus.

It’s not unlike strengthening muscles. At first, it seems impossible to lift a certain weight or run a certain distance. Over time, with training, it’s not only possible but pleasant. We learn about our capacity and the obstacles we put in place to enhancing it.

Most importantly, and I know I’m repeating myself, always remain friendly with yourself. That means all parts of you. A meditation practice does no good if we push and punish ourselves. I always loved when my teacher would remind us, ‘if you insist on being an asshole when you meditate, meditation will make you a bigger asshole.’

The best preparation is choosing how to be kind to yourself, to be comfortable, to be a friend. Please don’t be an asshole.

 

 

The High Purpose of Asana

I think we can all agree that yoga, these days, appears a little absurd.

People carry their mats in stylish little bags and spend most of their day in pants especially designed to enhance your down dog. Great! May all our down dogs be so happy for the assistance.

Now what do those pants offer my mind? Or my heart?

The deeper practices of yoga intend to take any of us who are willing into an experience of bliss. What does that mean, actually? A quiet mind. In the stillness, your Self. The capital S indicates its importance. It’s your true nature. The resident of your heart. The eternal you that is not confined to your body or ego. The you that realizes how to move beyond suffering. It’s a spiritual thing, for sure. It’s the science of Self-realization. We are the scientists of ourselves. We use the system, experience its effects and consider the results. No one can experience it for us. And no one can tell us, really, what our bliss will be. Not your teacher. Not your mate. We can only study ourselves and find out. That’s the dance.

A neat thing about the dance is the variety of steps for your particular rhythm. You can plop down and meditate until you know the choreography, but this isn’t completely feasible for folks who have to work to pay rent and may also have some back pain. You can study the old texts a ton but the shoulder tension could distract you from that ultimate realization. Who knows?

Which is why yoga is a system. It’s got a bunch of options available to you as you progress in your practice. It also has a variety of tools to aid in the progression. And to help you understand how you should practice, Patanjali kindly offered eight steps to guide you: yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayo ‘stav agani. The eight limbs of yoga are social and personal conduct, posture, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and absorption.

Oh my gosh! Asana is in there! Long live yoga pants; long live my down dog!

In the West, most people equate yoga with asana. If people learn I’m a yoga teacher, they want to know my favorite pose. (Savasana. Duh.) To most, yoga means a form of exercise. Or, gentle yoga means a form of stretching. Or, restorative yoga means a form of napping. And, more recently, yoga therapy means a form of rehabilitation. All fine. Each of these forms are good and helpful. But there’s so much more. Taking asana to be the whole world of yoga is to take the spot where you currently sit as the whole world. Please don’t limit yourself.

Asana is just a fraction of a greater system. And the system is more vast than even Patanjali’s simplified rubric. Still, asana absolutely is part of the dance. Here’s why.

The practice of various poses will help you figure out the physical and energetic disturbances that keep your mind hurtling at mach speed. The appropriate practice of asana will balance your energy, so you can learn to settle your mind. It may be that your body requires physical purification. Certain asana, done in certain ways, are very effective for this. It may also be that your body requires greater strength to sit still. Certain asana are effective for this as well. In coordination with the asana, we also should learn to regulate our breath. This sort of integration of appropriate asana and pranayama gets us moving toward a greater understanding of our energy (and how to work with it) and how to start focusing our minds.

Another lovely aspect to asana is the familiarity it will give you with the temple housing your soul. Your body isn’t going to live forever. I’m sorry if I’m the first one to tell you. It also isn’t redeemable for a trade-in. The one you have in this life is the one you have to work with. You can look around these days and see a ton of variations on the theme of body-neglect. Folks in pain. Folks eating crap. Sedentary folks who don’t want to make the effort to let their bodies move through space. Highly active folks who don’t want to make the effort to let their bodies rest. So many people have forgotten how to be friendly and loyal to their bodies. They care more for their pets. (The reason we love down dogs so dearly?)

An appropriate asana practice can help you start to pay attention to what your body needs. That lovely body of yours is constantly sending you signals. You may be familiar with those for hunger and those for ouch. Listening in more carefully, you can hear it ask more specifically. It may ask for sunlight or a siesta. Touch or a banana. Protein or the feel of dirt under your toes. The body knows what it wants. It’s amazing how often we fail to give our bodies what they want. How we fail to provide an appropriate offering to the temple.

Finally, an appropriate asana practice is a kick in the pants for self-discipline. It’s a thing these days: we prioritize everyone and everything but ourselves. Some people even hold this habit up as an achievement. Well, it ain’t gonna get you on the shortlist for sainthood. Just suffering.

Having a short sequence of postures to do in the morning or evening will help us learn to create space and time for ourselves amidst the noise. Even to realize that the noise is not all that noisy when we learn to integrate it properly.

So. Asana. Purposeful. But not everything. Pants or no pants.

Final note: I’ve mentioned several times the word ‘appropriate.’ Yeah. Intentional. If you’d like to know more about what’s appropriate, contact me. And if you’re shy, just think about this: would you expect a 30-year old marathon runner to do the same series of movements as a 70-year with a recent hip transplant? Do you think a new mother, post-Caesarean, with barely a moment needs the same movement patterns as a 45-year old dude who works in a cubicle all day and drinks beer all night? Good. Now send me a note and let’s talk.

I love you and your yoga pants.

 

 

Learning to meditate.

Someone called up and said she’d been reading about the benefits of meditation. She said she wanted to get started. She said, ‘I want to meditate 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night.’

Great, I said.

The woman said, ‘I have so much stress in my life. I usually work more than 50 hours a week and my husband and I have been going through some conflicts lately.’

I’m sorry, I said.

The woman said, ‘It’s going to be hard for me to get to you, though. So can we meet somewhere? I have to drive a lot for work. Maybe we can meet quickly somewhere or you can just give me some guidance over the phone?’

Hmm, I said.

I wonder if you can guess the issue that will arise if this woman tries to simply sit down on her own to meditate for 20 minutes. Even 10?

Here’s a clue: she won’t. Or she will for about 3 minutes and then she’ll fidget. She may check her phone. She’ll get up and come back. Within a week, she’ll decide, ‘I’ve been trying this for a week and I’m not enlightened.’ And then she’ll stop, concluding, sadly, meditation isn’t for me.

Which is precisely why there’s this gift bag of techniques offered up by traditional yoga.

Does your back hurt? I promise you that learning to meditate with a sore back is unlikely to bring you peace. Is your mind spinning? Same story. Do you struggle to be kind? To tell the truth? To rein in your greed? Yeah, well, deepening the practice of an asshole only deepens the asshole. Which is to say, someone who isn’t looking closely at herself to determine appropriately non-violent, honest and selfless behavior is only going to strengthen the patterns that keep her looking every which way but in. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we’re provided with the yamas, a set of restraints for worldly interactions, and the niyamas, a set of observances for inner processing. Toward others, be kind, be honest, don’t steal, be moderate, and free of greed. And toward yourself, be clean, content, disciplined. Study yourself and be devoted to something.

Not surprisingly, these are the first two of eight limbs meant to guide a seeker from raucous mind to absolute peace. From there, move the body. Then the energy on the wind of the breath. Tame the sense organs. Learn to focus. Become fully attentive on the object of focus. Then, give up the object and remain fully attentive. That’s meditation. By practicing that for a long, long while, with adequate preparation, maybe someday we’ll all comprehend the incomprehensible vastness of the universe and the pure potential of consciousness.

In the meantime, we’ll be more peaceful, healthier, clear-minded, less stressed and more compassionate. It’s worthwhile, even if we don’t all become Buddhas.

But it starts with a careful sequence. A series of steps to prepare the body to feel, to relax, to sit comfortably. Another series of steps to prepare the energy to withstand the process. And then practices for the senses. Practices to train focus. For some, mantra japa. For others, chanting. Maybe yantras. Maybe murtis. There’s a lot in the gift bag, curated over millennia to address various personality types, physical conditions and social conditioning. These yoga practices aren’t simply isolated magic tricks or exercise regimens. They’re tools of a system. They help the seeker see herself clearly and complement each other as the we develops her skills. And each tool serves some element of our daily interaction with existence—body, energy, mind, intellect, spirit.

It’s such an incredible gift bag. So thoughtfully compiled. All about you. The greatest gift of all being the compassionate recognition that plopping yourself down in lotus to ascend into mindless absorption isn’t natural after decades suffering and delighting in life.

So. Yoga. A system to know yourself. A system to lead us toward clarity of purpose and calmness of mind. A system to teach us all that we are all Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and Mahavira. If we let it.

That woman? To start, I gave her an asana sequence with breath regulation. We did a short visualization before she settled in to rest. She said she had a marvelous experience in savasana. She wants to learn more.

IMG_3378.JPG

 

The technology of Yoga

What an honor it was to spend the last few days at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Diego assisting my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. Curmudgeonly Gary. He has the onerous task of traveling widely to these corporate-sponsored events—for whom poses do a better job than self-inquiry of selling— to say again and again, ‘Yoga is not simply asana.’ He says it kindly at first. And then he repeats himself. And then he take a long, deep breath when someone raises a hand and asks, ‘so should I keep my feet hip-width or not?’ His answer should be trademarked under the American Viniyoga Institute: ‘It depends.’

I don’t believe I run the risk of learning too much curmudgeonry from Gary. For this, I can thank earlier teachers, the law and a healthy few millennia of past lives. But in the spirit of curmudgeonly cooperation—curmudgeonly community?—I offer this little echo of Gary’s broken record and a hopefully helpful metaphor.

Every time I’m introduced as a yoga teacher, someone is sure to say, ‘oh, you must be really flexible.’ Or they harumph: ‘those poses are for circus freaks.’ Or maybe, ‘I should stretch more.’ Even funnier lately, when I meet fellow yoga practitioners and they tell me, ‘I just can’t get a good workout in your kind of yin class. I need to sweat and get my heart rate up.’

Okay, right. Where to start? Honestly, with a small sigh. And then a little bonk of my heart to jostle my compassion muscle. It is absolutely the case that we are all perfect souls seeking higher consciousness. Our paths need not always converge or even cross. And I’m grateful for the tension that I may practice the discipline of patience. Breathe.

So, what does yoga mean to you?

If yoga means poses, you’re not wrong. You’re just missing the forest for a tree.

(If yoga means racerback tshirts with wacky sayings—’puppies, lattes and yoga!’— you’re totally on the pulse of the Yoga Journal Conference of 2016. But you’re a little distracted. Please pay attention.)

In fact, yoga means union. And the union it seeks is within you—body, mind, spirit— and beyond you. It is you learning how to master your body and mind so that you can be you. Your best you. It is you discovering that you are infinitely connected, absolutely perfect and invested with unconditional joy.

The history of yoga is long, circuitous and complex. The tradition, however, can be viewed quite simply. For several thousand years, humans before you have sought a path to find peace. There have been masters—sages like Jesus, Buddha and Mahavira— and there have been millions of ardent practitioners. The ardent practitioners discovered from the masters that an steadfast effort toward self-exploration and discovery can transform their microcosmic power. With this greater personal power inside, they can spare a little to contribute some positive change to the macrocosm. This potential is the birthright of every individual. And yoga is simply a means of finding it.

Wow. That’s awesome, right? But how?

Around 2600 years ago, a guide book was offered. This is the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It’s generally accepted that this small compendium of yoga advice brings much older wisdom into one location. And it’s by no means the only book to consult on yoga. But it’s so well-organized and this post is already going to be way too long. So. The Yoga Sutra. We’ll start there.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali lets us know that yoga is a system. Followed diligently and with humility, it will quiet the fluctuations of the mind. It requires discipline and patience, deep self-inquiry and devotion. There are eight limbs that must be practiced. They are, in order, the ethical restraints, internal restraints, postures, breathing practice, sensory control, concentration, meditation and integration.

You’ll note, poses are one-eighth of the practice. And the poses we find familiar were not described in print until the Hatha Yoga Pradipika came around… in the 15th century CE. Which isn’t to say that postures were not taken to assist a practitioner’s ability to sit still for meditation. But they probably weren’t taken in conjunction with an awesome playlist, live DJ or stand-up paddleboard. Although, what do I know?

All of this is to reiterate, as Gary says, the poses have no inherent value on their own. It is the poses practiced for the purpose of self-discovery that come to mean something. The poses, like the ethical and internal restraints on behavior, like the breathing, the concentration, the meditation, all of it, serve as a mirror. These are tools that serve us as we pursue our paths of self-discovery. As tools, they are fantastic. Practiced for the sake of the tool itself, they are meaningless.

Think of it like this: if I show you a bridge between two land masses, do you immediately think of the cranes used to build it? Do you want to know more about the bolts used, the brand of cement and the grip on the wrenches? Maybe yes, if you’re an engineer. But the engineer will see the bridge for its utility, its harmony, its safety and know that its construction required more than a knowledge of nuts, bolts and the wrenches to bind them. And this is precisely how an engineer of the self must think: though we may be fascinated by some of the tools we use, ultimately, we’re building a bridge. It’ll take more than a tool or two to get there and we’re going to need to change our tools as we progress. And age. And learn.

We want to move from the chaos of our minds toward the peace in our souls. If we obsess on the wrench, we’re never going to move beyond the tightening of nuts and bolts. And there’s a lot more to a bridge than nuts and bolts. Just like you are so much more than that beautiful body containing you.

Now, what’s yoga to you?

I know. It’s about the pants.

What was I thinking?

(Please note! You may also be interested in reading up on Tantra. Which actually means system. And will be the topic of some other post, some other day. For now, I have to go balance in eka pada koundinyasana. Until I find enlightenment.)

(Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, please join me at 8 Elements West on the first Wednesday of every month at 6pm. We’ll chant the Sutra and discuss.)

Here’s a simple little bit about love.

Every morning, I say thank you. First thing. It’s a practice.

When I put my feet on the ground to get out of bed, I take quick account of my many gifts. Legs work. Cognition: check. Hands open and close. Eyes see. I’m fortunate. I love my life. Thank you.

And then the day starts.

I share this because I’ve come to realize a few things in the last year of living alone. Whether you’re fortunate enough to have a love share your bed or if you’re simply growing love in your heart, it’s the love that counts. Not the partner. Not the bed. Not even the legs or hands or eyes that function. It’s the love YOU have. It’s your love.

We may initiate other practices to help us stabilize the love inside us. Some people choose to scrapbook memories; some people bake cookies for their friends. Other people surf, go to church or volunteer somewhere. We might cook or clean or teach or draw horoscopes for people or make necklaces to give away to those who need them. Our practices are usually about being of service, whether to ourselves or others. About taking ourselves out of our routines and offering ourselves to another moment. And in that other moment, we rediscover our connections. To ourselves first. And then with others. And the world around us.

And when we find those connections in whatever idiosyncratic practice we keep, and when we let ourselves experience a sense of gratitude for the connections and the practice itself, we discover a totally cool feeling. The connection we’re feeling is just a longer word for love.

Check it out for yourself. I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong. We all love love. We all have our little ways of cultivating it. I, for one, practice yoga— did you know it means union? Another word for connection.

But my practice doesn’t mean I buy $100 mats or sticky-soled socks. It just means that I do my best to remember—no matter what I’m doing—that I conduct my life honestly, kindly, moderately and with devotion. I take care of my body and my mind. I study myself. I express gratitude. I do my best to be compassionate. I remind myself to see the light inside myself and inside others.

But all this, with all due respect to yoga, is somewhat of an abstraction. A necessary one because it helps to have a practice that guides me. But an abstraction nonetheless. The practice simply helps me remember a very simple thing.

Which leads me to my point. The simple bit. What if you remembered on a daily basis that your entire purpose on this fine earth is the act of making connections? Of creating love? That your highest and best use is to be of service to love. Whether you share love with another, teach others about love, receive love without condition, inspire others to love or help love to grow where it hasn’t yet rooted.

The only important consideration for you and me and everyone else is connection.

Love.

It’s the whole point. And it makes the whole point much, much clearer when you just surrender and accept it.

I love you!

Tell your mind: Just hush.

At certain points in your life, surely you’ve heard an inner voice talking to you. Who am I kidding? That voice is talking to you all the time. Am I right? It’s talking to you right now. It’s saying something like, ‘why are you wasting your time with this. You have so many other things to do. Like… oh, when can I get some fro-yo?’

And you may have noticed that the voice isn’t always kind.

It might have said things like, ‘I can’t believe they asked you to dinner,’ or ‘you’re going to wear THAT?’ or ‘well, they’re just being charitable so bow out and eat that pizza from the freezer instead.’

Maybe your voice gets straight to the point: ‘You don’t even deserve their dinner or their charity. Look at you.’

Or maybe it’s more socratic and it does that open-ended thing like your dad used to do that shuts you down immediately. ‘What are you thinking?’ Ugh.

(How’s that for a funny, almost paradoxical question? I mean, THAT is precisely what you’re thinking. Come on, mind! And also, lighten up! I’d be thinking something so much better if you didn’t ask everything with that horrible tone.)

Oh, that voice. Imagine that voice in a body. Sharing your living space. Telling you how little you’ve made of your life. You’d be looking for a new housemate. If it took you to the beach for a fun day out, then told you how crappy you look in your bathing suit the whole time? Please say you’d ditch it. Go for a nice swim. Enjoy your time alone.

Right?

But this voice, we can’t really escape it. It keeps talking. Just today, I laughed when I heard that voice suggest that the meditation I was starting wasn’t going to serve me at all. Wouldn’t it be better, it advised, if you just had a cup of coffee? ‘Oh voice,’ I had to say, ‘just hush.’

Which isn’t to say that it should always be quiet. Sometimes it has really interesting information for us. Like, turn left, avoid that pothole, pick up the wedding present and call your clients.

But sometimes, for a little bit, it would be awesome to get a little silence. So we can listen into our deeper wisdom. Which may sound bonkers to you. Or not. But here’s the deal. That voice you hear endlessly yammering is the voice of your mind. For a lot of us, it get so consistently loud that we lose track of the messages that our intuition has for us. We can’t access that deeper intelligence and power through all that ruckus. For even more of us, we’ve completely forgotten that we have a source of wisdom deeper than the mind. We just… forgot.

And that’s because the voice of the mind tends to go on and on and on. Ceaselessly. Amidst all that flibber flabber blah blah, we forget that we have any control whatsoever over its agitation. All the negativity—the fear, doubt, grief, shame, guilt—that it broadcasts can actually be turned down. We can even work to prioritize a practice that will minimize these emotions. And when we do, we can start to seek peace in our wisdom with a peaceful mind. How can we possibly expect to find calm with the help of a distracted, confused and agitated mind? We’re lost from the first step.

But we have the means and ability to quiet that voice. We can say, ‘just hush, my dear dynamic mind.’ We can ask it to settle for a bit while we explore the reservoirs of joy, intelligence and knowing that come stock in all of us.

How so? Deepening your yoga sadhana to include breathing techniques that will help you understand and shift your energy, meditation practices that will help you identify your mind’s processing patterns, mantra practice that will guide you toward focused attention, and prayer to build your trust in all that surrounds you. These are just a few elements of an integrated yoga practice. This is how yoga brings you to a place of balance. This is what it means to be in union: to master the ceaseless fluctuations of your rambling mind.

Send me a note if you’d like to chat a bit more about this. I’d love to hear from you.

Outwit yourself.

A yoga practice should always be smarter than your habits. This is a slight paraphrase of T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of T. Krishnamacharya and the author of the book every yoga teacher training grad seems to have and not have read, The Heart of Yoga.

(Seriously, read it. And also read Health, Healing and Beyond if you’d like to know more about the father/son relationship between two foundational teachers of modern yoga.)

So it comes down to something like this: to cultivate an intelligent practice, we need to cultivate awareness about our patterns. Imagine all the frustration you’ve experienced in life because you’ve gathered up the will to pursue a goal but ultimately lost the energy to complete it. Or you’ve mustered the courage to try something new but not necessarily enough to ask for help. Or maybe you’ve gone so gangbusters on a plan that you ended up hurting yourself, thus consigning the plan to the shelf once again. 

These little failures are great. Use them! They’re guideposts to limitations imposed by our habits. Look at your failures and discover your habits. 

Then.

Build your practice. The most important thing about a practice, I think, is an understanding that it’s yours. And it evolves as you do. Because it’s a practice. Which means that you do it again and again. And you remember that a practice is the constant integration of everything you’ve learned in preparation for something more. In the case of a yoga practice, well, my teacher would say that it’s in preparation for death. Long may you live.

As you build your practice, please remember to honor yourself first. If you’re in classes, recognize your limitations and interests. Find a teacher you trust who can help you integrate these into your self-study. Acknowledge your patterns and share with your teacher the ways that they’ve been in your way in the past. And then watch as your yoga becomes a process of evolution rather than just a repetition of poses and sequences. This is the viniyoga of practice: that every path toward knowing the self is paved to benefit the self on the path.

In the last few months, I’ve had the good fortune to work with a student who came to me to strengthen her core. As we discussed her interests, she acknowledged that she often feels short of breath. She also shared her history of feeling like she should know more than she does. From this powerful self-evaluation, we started to build a practice that would encourage questions and breath regulation. Only three months into her yoga practice, and her breath threshold has rapidly increased, as has her curiosity. Her curiosity daily inspires her commitment to learn more. And through these quick changes, she’s becoming physically stronger. She said today, ‘I remember when I couldn’t inhale to four and the strain of it scared me. And now I look forward seeing how my breath moves in me, whether I’m doing my asana or just taking a walk. And I’m asking questions of everyone.’

This student has found her way to a practice more clever than old habits. Her old habits are falling away in the process. Which means she’ll have to engage in evaluation again. And again. And again. This is the development of higher consciousness.

With this awareness, she’ll continue to modify her practice to suit her evolving needs, restrictions and patterns. And as she continues, she’ll become stronger and more aware of the myriad ways that her journey through life can embrace all of its beautiful mysteries—whether these come as people, projects or topsy-turvy challenges.

As long as she always remembers this: whoever seeks her higher self must remember to outwit the one she intends to leave in the dust.

Because time is always moving.

Happy New Year, my friends. I hope you’re inspired by the turn of the calendar and delighted by your place on earth. Why not?

As we reflect on the march of time, it’s darn common that we look at ourselves and wonder: who have I become? how can I be better? what the hell happened? Or maybe we aren’t quite so confrontational. We may, instead, make a promise to ourselves that sounds something like a sweetness offered to a neglected kid: I’m going to make you happier. Healthier. Stronger. Fitter. More productive. More creative. Different.

We make goals; we make promises to ourselves. And then we join the march of time—to steadily march away from them.

I write today because I have a suspicion that I’m starting to understand why this happens. I don’t want to be presumptuous, so correct me if I’m wrong.

When we make promises to others, we aim to assert our accountability. ‘I promise I’ll be there in 20 minutes!’ In essence, we’re saying: ‘I will not let you down.’ We don’t want our friend to be waiting outside for an hour so we get in the car and get our ass down to our friend.

When we make a promise to ourselves, the issue of accountability becomes a little fuzzy. ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes!’ doesn’t really matter if it’s just you waiting on yourself. What are you going to do if you don’t make it? Pace the block cursing that flake… I mean, you? Unfriend yourself on facebook? You’re just going to sigh and have a beer. If you even notice that you let yourself down.

So why do we let ourselves down? What’s up with that? I think it has something to do with this: we prefer to avoid suffering. Because we don’t understand the value of suffering. And the resilience of our own hearts in response to it.

Consider this. Your best accomplishments are generally hard-earned, fueled by passion, sweat, tears and a refusal to surrender. We all have a few of them. We sometimes forget how we got there. So let me suggest a little guidance from an old tradition.

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, we’re told to practice consistently and remain detached in order to shift our patterns toward greater understanding, integration, control of wild thoughts: abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodah. In the following sutra, we learn: tatra sthithau yatnabhyasa. Practice—through an ardent and sustained effort—will bring stability to this understanding. With this understanding, we find tranquility. Calm.

Which all seems pretty familiar. No?

It is a great gift when we are able to succeed and experience the satisfaction of a goal completed. We feel exhilaration and relief. It is a blessing when we turn the requisite steps of success toward the development of our best selves. This is when we find calm. Equanimity. And this is what Patanjali is getting at. This is how we find the stability to stick with our resolve. To go the distance on behalf of ourselves so we can be tranquil.

As an exercise, consider answering the following.

What efforts do you make that lead you toward greater stability in your self-knowledge, toward personal calm? What actions can you commit to that will lead toward this stability?

What efforts or actions do you make that lead you away from this stability? What actions should you release because they deter you from calm?

It’s a good time for this kind of reflection. It’s the new year. It’s a time of renewal. Of course, any time is appropriate to begin considering your patterns of activity that serve or challenge you. But now is now. And this is the only moment I have. Join me in giving it a little thought.

Because time is always moving. And we all are so lucky to move along with it. Hopefully, with great love for the calm in our souls and the bodies that usher them around this good earth.