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.)

Yoga to go.

I teach yoga almost everyday. For this, I’m grateful. And fortunate.

I love the students who show up with their mats and their water. They have their special clothes and they like a certain place in the room. Sometimes, they pick themselves up and try another corner. Sometimes, they find their space taken by someone new and they have to accommodate a change they didn’t want. Ah well. Such is life. They move and find a new space to inhabit. It’s a lesson, whether they realize it at the moment or not.

Someone asked me recently what my favorite part of yoga class is. ‘That’s easy,’ I said. ‘The sangha.’

She shrugged.

‘The community of folks,’ I said. ‘All of us hanging out.’

She clarified. ‘No, no, I mean, like the sun salutes or the backbends or handstands.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Then it’s the breath.’ It’s true: I do love hearing everyone breathing. It’s hypnotic. And slightly euphoric.

She shrugged again and I felt like I should just stop answering her questions. I made nice and said that I like teaching all the poses and I love the hello and good-bye portion of class. (Also true. People come in a little scattered; people leave with bright eyes. It makes me melt a little to see them transit through these phases.)

The woman told me that she liked savasana.

‘Yay,’ I said. ‘Me too.’ Because sometimes I try to make nicer than nice. (Though I do love savasana. I mean, come on. I’m not totally crazy!)

As I thought about this interaction later, I wondered if I’d been unnecessarily obtuse. I thought that maybe I should have just picked a pose or two. It’s not like I don’t know that asana classes are comprised of a sequence of poses. I spend a lot of time putting these sequences together for my students, and I always hope I do a good job. When I teach, I enjoy almost all of the asana I include. When there’s a pose I don’t like to teach, I intentionally teach it again and again. When there’s a pose I’m not enjoying, I try to find ways to do it with pleasure. So, surely, I could have just told this woman that I like all the parts of a yoga class for different reasons.

Then again, I told her the truth. My favorite part of a yoga asana class IS the community. It inspires me to refine my personal practice, to think compassionately about the limitations of my body and other bodies, and to share my happiness with others.

All of which, in my mind, contributes to the greater purpose of a yoga class: to make yoga a to-go affair. It should be prepared and packaged up special order to each and every person interested in living a good life. It should be seasoned to taste and delicious to the practitioner’s unique experiential taste buds.

Which is a big ask out of a 75-minute class, one or two times a week.

Which is why a few private yoga sessions can be a nice supplement to a developing practice. Yoga, essentially, is a science intended to help us develop the wisdom to pursue lives appropriate to our natures. It may start in the studio but it doesn’t have to stay there. Yoga can come and go from the studio. It can develop anywhere, really. On the beach. In your room. On the lawn. Even distractions don’t really detract from a yoga practice if you decide to accept their place in this world without letting them interfere in yours. (That’s harder when it’s a kid or a spouse with a demand, but communication helps this kind of conundrum. As in, ‘Not just now, thanks. In a moment.’) (Okay, MAYBE the kid will get it. The spouse? That depends on the training you’ve done with each other.)

So here’s an exercise for you. A real life yoga exercise. Try it at home. Or anywhere.

Every morning for one week, set aside five minutes—that’s nothing, really—to do the following:

  1. Stand with very good posture and find your breath. Pay attention to it as you inhale and exhale. Feel the details of your ribcage moving, your spine moving, your deepening breath, your increasing height as your breath deepens. Do this for 10 breaths.
  2. With a slow inhale, reach your hands over head. With a slow exhale, take your hands to your sides. Do this 5 times. Try to come up on your toes as you inhale! Notice if it feels different to breath while moving your arms compared to breathing without moving your arms. (Just notice!)
  3. From your standing position, inhale slowly to bring your hands over head. Clasp your hands and bend toward the right on an exhale. Inhale back to center then bend to your left on an exhale. Do this two times on each side. Feel the long lines of the left and right sides of your body. Notice whether the sides of your body feel different from each other.
  4. From your standing position, place your hands on your hips and, with a slow exhale, fold forward. With an inhale, come back to standing. Notice the strength you have to use in your legs and tummy. Try to keep your shoulders away from your ears. See whether it’s easier or harder to inhale or exhale in this movement.
  5. In your standing position, close your eyes and notice how you feel after just this little bit of breath and movement. Feel the structure of your body—the stability of your bones, the sensation of muscles that have stretched and moved, the circulation of your blood. Feel the way your energy moves in your body. Notice the light behind your eyelids. Consider your breath again. Then open your eyes.

At the end, smile. Go get a glass of water and tell someone you love them. Why not? That’s the best way to learn that our very highest purpose is to create and share love with others. The movement and the breath are just the tools we use to do this without too much interference from negative stuff. (Of course, yoga offers other tools as well. Meditation is one that’s particularly nice. But more on that later.)

Finally, let me know how it goes, hey? And if you want some guidance, ring me up. I’m happy to help. Seriously, it’s what I love to do.

And remember! You can always find me at Eight Elements West in La Jolla.

 

Yoga is so hard, for other reasons.

Inevitably, when people learn that I teach yoga, I get this: ‘Oh god, yoga is crazy hard.’ Or, ‘Yoga! I’d do it if I wanted to, you know, rip up my joints.’ Or this: ‘Sometimes I worry I might break my neck. Is that normal?’ Finally, the most common of the common doozies: ‘I did P90X yoga. Whoa. Killer.’ Yikes.

Also perversely funny. Is a marketing campaign successful when the public perceives the product as potentially homicidal? Maybe these days, yes? In place of bolsters and blocks, should we stock our studios with helmets and pads? Maybe we should introduce tigers to class? And gladiatorial guest teachers?

So what’s going on here? Are the people attending yoga classes junked out on adrenaline?

And what does that say about people like me? Me and my friends who teach? Those of us who practice daily? Are we the executioners? The kids with suicidal tendencies?

Well, this turned grim in a jiffy. (Here I thought I was nurturing a little happiness in some handy pockets.)

No question that yoga asana, done safely, offers some decent challenges. Poses present little tests for the body. Sometimes you need strength you don’t quite have; sometimes, it’s balance. Or flexibility. Maybe you need to learn how to relax into something; or to let go while remaining stable; or to contain mobility while remaining soft. Generally, all of this guided by a healthy helping of the breath.

It’s a bundle of action, that’s for sure.

But it isn’t death-defying. And it shouldn’t be risky. The key to putting all this together is a focused mind. And that, my friends, is the greatest challenge of all. Preparing yourself for Bird of Paradise or Sirsasana might seem like a task demanding life insurance but I’d argue that an appropriate response to that fear might be: ‘I’m not ready.’ Not, ‘let’s give it a go, then!’

Which is where the focused mind comes in. A clear mind—one that listens to the depth and quality of the breath and the alarm bells in the body—is a mind that will put the brakes on before you launch into Visvamatrasana without adequate knowledge of your undertaking. A clear mind knows when to say, ‘no, thanks,’ and ‘not yet.’

And this, with respect, is what those yoga classes poking at the mental hive of mortality are failing to cultivate. At the very beginning of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, he writes yogas citta vritti nirodha. Yoga is the ability to direct and sustain the mind’s attention without distractions. Or, yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind. When this happens, tada drastu svarupe avasthanam. Correct understanding happens.

In other words: when you understand, you don’t perceive the poses as inherently dangerous. You know your limit and respect it. You play carefully before you reach it. You’ll have the vision to see why you don’t need to launch into that bird of paradise or headstand. You’ll have the courage to sit the pose out. You’ll realize that the true challenge of yoga is the maintenance of this focus, and not the silly poses, some of which, are nothing more than ego boosters in an esoteric disguise.

There is yoga for everyone, you know. It is mindful yoga—modified for the body performing it, appropriate to the background and experience of the person. If a teacher is making you look around for the reaper, I’d argue you’re in the wrong class. Listen to your suspicions, ask for help or roll up your mat and find someone who will help you. Or, if you’re looking to really experience yoga and what you’re doing is just throwing weights around in poses with battlefield-ready names, I’d suggest you look around for something different. Go ahead and brave the quest to understand. I dare you.

Yoga is out there to help you discover peace in your mind. So you can discover the consciousness behind it. And your truest, joyful nature.

What a gift. Thank you, Patanjali. To correctly and clearly understand. Imagine the burden this kind of clarity removes from your life beyond the mat. Imagine how much easier life will be when you work on the truly challenging part of yoga: the focusing of the mind.

Circling and circling

Every once in a while, I find my yoga practice leads me back to a place I’ve been before.

Lately, I’ve been following a sequence to balance my courage and fear. For you chakra lovers out there, it’s a manipura thing. I have a habit of hanging out in the ether and failing to find ground. Which makes it really hard to endure the ether sometimes.

See, we all have to give ground to our higher pursuits. As in, foundation. And vice versa. The earth in us has to be worked to produce fruit. At our very center, we channel the energy cultivated by our base instincts into our greater accomplishments. If we fail to feed ourselves or steer clear of danger, it’s unlikely that we’ll survive to contribute anything more than exhausted CO2 to the universe. On the other hand, if we indulge in food and fear, sex and sleep without transforming this energy into action, we can turn toxic. Or dull. Or fat.

These days, having my own little studio tests the boundaries between ambition and panic. Just when I wonder how I’ll ever endure, someone pops up looking for help and, lo, I’m the one who can. Just when I question my choices in life, I experience a profound joy with a client who is feeling a little tranformed. Choices, it seems, always come right, come what may. But that knowledge doesn’t always stop me from swinging between audacity and dismay.

So to balance my pendulum, I worked up a practice to balance myself. My checklist:

  • contend with my courage so it yields to caution;
  • honor my caution and move forward.

Simple enough. I sequenced it with help from Yoga International and a whole lot of thought about the Viniyoga I’m studying.

It initially required a damn lot of tummy work. It had a navasana built for stormy seas, some tadasana to urdva dhanurasana drop-backs and planks scattered throughout. It’s for me, not you, so don’t go plopping onto your head. To transition through my energy builders, I added dynamic chakravakasanas, vajrasanas, and shalabhasanas. Also, it begins and ends in savasana. Intentionally. To start in a place where I can find my breath. To finish in a place where I can let it go.

And then I move into a pranayama practice of nadi shodana and sama vritti. There might be more nuanced exercises I could do, but these two serve me well. Calming, balancing, even. They also served to teach me this lesson about circles.

I practiced my sequence early this morning. I had clients coming in later and wanted to feel calmly confident about my abilities and powerfully centered for their benefit. But I’d also practiced last night. And taught two classes. And seen two clients earlier in the day. In addition to meditating in the morning and going for a run.

I was settling into my sama vritti breathing after practice this morning, plumbing the depths of my lowest bandhas, actually, when my sweet monkey mind hollered at me.

‘Hey,’ it said. ‘You’re doing it again.’

‘Shut up,’ I said.

So he repeated himself. Again and again. When I was done with my breathing, when I was ready to slump, I finally listened in.

This thing I was doing? I was trying too hard.

The practice I’d just done was too much for my energy level. It was depleting me and leaving me fatigued before the day had even started.

Which, ultimately, is a good lesson. And one I’ve learned many times in my past. It’s the very lesson that this manipura thing is trying to teach me. I have to care for myself to endure.

So, silly me, and yep, I’m humbled to admit how many times a lesson must be learned before it sticks. But it’s the same for all of us. Especially these lessons that teach the mind and body to honor the presence of our true nature. At least I’ve learned enough since the last pass through this particular pattern to see my monkey mind’s suggestion as a hat tip to my nature. It means my mind is starting to understand there’s something greater than it. Greater than reckoning with fear and courage. Greater than pushing too much. We’ve glimpsed that stable soul together and know it’s watching. But it won’t watch if we don’t find ways to nourish it.

And all of this reminds me of this perfectly meme-able T.S. Eliot quote.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

On my next journey through this place, I wonder what will be new. And how my monkey mind will kick me in the ass to see it.

Breathe like you love it.

At the start of every class, I guide students through a breath awareness exercise. Natural breath. Breathe in; breath out. That kind of thing. Try it a minute.

Feels good, right?

My posture sequences are made to follow the breath so I jumpstart the process. The breath ignites the body. Animates it coherently. If I don’t offer some breath awareness at the get-go, I’m guaranteed a few students with arms waving around completely out of sync with the rhythm of their bodies as we move into asana. It’s like watching animation mishaps. Like seeing Mickey Mouse getting all pompous but his arms are on the opposite side of the screen.

So, we breathe. We take a moment to observe the nature of the breath. Sometimes there’s a hunt for the breath. The other day, a student’s eyes popped open. He asked me, ‘Where the hell did I put it? I mean, where has it been?’ He looked a little frantic. Like maybe he’d left it in the car with the windows up.

‘Breathe,’ I said.

And he did. Hunt successful.

And, like people do, he settled in. Students start to breathe and their bodies move with the breath. Subtly in some places. A bob in the head. A little nod in the knees. The movement is more pronounced in other places, especially as the breath begins to naturally deepen. The ribs expand and contract. The belly rises and falls. Up and down. In and out. Just watching all those bodies puts me at ease. They’re an ocean of waves.

During this time, I cue students to release into the ground. To feel themselves letting go so that when they start to move, they’ll do so from a place of calm. As they begin to build strength, it’ll grow on a foundation of integrity, not rigidity.

I’ve noticed that some students resist initially. They twitch. They fidget. They breathe like someone frustrated with a messy kitchen. Sharp little inhales upon seeing the chaos. Exasperated exhales, like a resignation to the task of cleaning. Resignation that this breathing is just a gate they must pass through before the asana starts.

Dear, dear impatient, breathless students. Your breathing is the heart of the process. (The heart and lungs?) It’s essential. Try not doing it while you read the remainder of this post if you don’t believe me.

Actually, don’t. Please keep breathing. Long, slow exhales. Let’s continue.

I cue the sharp breathers to pay attention to their breath. To ascribe qualities to their observations. Does this breath feel smooth and deep, like an old river flowing? Or does it feel sharp and jagged? Geologically new and unsure of its path? We note it, as a method of letting our body know how closely we’re listening. Then we let the breath move deeper. Eventually, all bodies find their rhythm. Eventually, all bodies know how to breathe themselves. We just just have to get out of their way.

Which is what leads me to this post. We don’t always have to be mindful about the simple act of breathing, but it’s a good idea to acquaint ourselves with the rhythms of the breath. You might find, when you do, that you’re breathing like someone facing imminent attack, someone who believes the call is coming from INSIDE the house. You might find that you’re breathing by lifting your shoulders up to your ears, a recruitment of body parts that should be doing other stuff. Like, not hurting, for example. Like not contributing to your overall stress.

You’ve probably heard lots from your personal trainer people and maybe your huffpo exercise gurus about anaerobic exercise. I think people just like to say it. Anaerobic. So many vowels! So smart. Well.

Anaerobic literally means without breath. And while it’s okay for short periods of exertion—even a highlight of our physiological function that’s saved us from lions and cars that don’t slow down for pedestrians—it isn’t your everyday wear. These days, we mostly use it for high intensity interval training, over durations of 30 seconds to two minutes, with the intention of building strength and endurance.

But you need to breathe. Producing energy without oxygen increases the lactic acid in your body (which might be detrimental to muscle function, over the long-term) and you won’t burn fat or, really, do much of anything positive metabolically when your body is oxygen deprived. You might build up tolerance to withstand fatigue and build some muscle. And that’s a good thing, occasionally.

But, let me ask you, aren’t you already withstanding fatigue? And, those muscles don’t have to be massive to have healthy mass. Anaerobic work has its place. But it’s a short, small place. The place that could use some expansion is aerobic. Filled with breath. So much long breath that you start to relax. Try it. This is where you’re body finds its way to a healthy metabolism, to calm responses, to healing.

Fortunately, our bodies won’t let us go without air. Unfortunately, we do a pretty damn fine job of testing this. We rush and do and push ourselves into constant connection with a world we can’t touch. We forget or don’t know that connecting to the world inside us requires this breath awareness.

In a previous post, I gave you four restorative poses to try during the high holy month of yoga. (Yoga month is a strange concept to me, but I digress.) But in honor of the intention, and if you’re curious, try this little exercise and see how it makes you feel.

Get comfortable. Maybe even come to savasana. Once you’re there, start deepening your inhales and exhales. Inhale to a slow count of four, then exhale to a slow count of five. Let your breath expand until your inhale count reaches 6 or 7. Your exhale might get to 7 or 8. Keep your exhale longer than the inhale, a practice called langhana breathing that naturally calms the nervous system. Feel how your breath simply flows. When the inhale is done, the exhale comes. When the exhale is done, the inhale arrives. Continue through 10 breaths and slowly let your breathing come back to a shorter count of 4-5. When you’re done, spend a moment just letting your breath flow normally. Feel your body breathing itself. Then get yourself up slowly and pat yourself on the back. Nice job. You’ve just cultivated a little love for your breath.

Shall we sankalpa?

I’ve got news: The world is yours.

Great, I hear you thinking, how am I going to clean this behemoth?

Thankfully, we share in that responsibility. (We have a lot of work to do; you start with your side.)

Still. The world is yours. Mine too. And the dude in the backward baseball cap next to you? His, as well. Also, it belongs to your gun-toting brother-in-law. Your scandalously dressed niece. And that neighbor who thinks revving his motorcycle sounds like itty bitty kitty purrs. Ah, we are a motley bunch of stewards. May we co-exist in peace.

Speaking of peace…

I remind you of your existential responsibility as I offer up a beautiful gesture shared with me by Kate, the owner of PB Yoga & Healing Arts. She suggested that the community at our studio invite our students and clients to cultivate a sankalpa for peace and to share in the experience of this sankalpa for the next 108 days. To prepare for this sankalpa, we remember our own essential power to direct the world—and our lives in it—in the direction we desire.

As a steward, you may not always acknowledge just how much say you have over the comings and goings around you. Let me offer a few considerations to get you thinking.

1. The world is as you choose to view it.

Emerson said, ‘Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.’ This may rankle a few, but the mind is the ultimate creator. It is the architect and the inhabitant. Expressions of the divine are generally projections of the mind. As Rumi said, ‘the beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.’

Our divine minds are the arbiters of our realities. Most of us have tolerated an experience of suffering. And most of us have enjoyed unbridled joy. Between these two extremes, we experiment with various blends of happy and sad. Maybe you failed a test and rose from the ashes by laughing it off. Maybe you injured yourself and wallowed for months. Responses to suffering depend on the way you allow your mind to view the base problem. Has a chasm opened at your feet? Are you fighting a vacuum sucking you into the earth’s magma? Or is the sun still shining and off in the distance you hear a train whistle calling you to understand the transient nature of things?

The world is yours to perceive. You only have to listen for the train whistle.

2. You are responsible for cultivating the type of world you wish to perceive.

Since I’m throwing around quotes, consider the great Gandhi showstopper/counselor’s office poster note: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Sometimes, a saying loses its edge with repetition so let’s put this another way: it’s up to you to do the right thing.

I wonder, sometimes, how it’s come to pass that the only people who seem to feel empowered are the wolves of Wall Street and the CEOs of massive corporations. Maybe because we call them powerbrokers. We call them Masters of the Universe. You see how we have invested power in them? We did that. Weird.

But they have no more intrinsic power than me or you. They only have more money. But not necessarily the ability to create a world any better or worse for themselves than me or you. They might gain a billion dollars and wallow for years. See, for example, the Koch Brothers. In other words, they don’t know how to satisfy themselves. And that’s why their world probably doesn’t satisfy them. Sad.

You, on the other hand? Satisfaction is available with thoughtful effort.

You have only to focus your mind, that great instrument of creation, set an intention, and draw your mind again and again to your innate powers to see the intention through. You are responsible for the cultivation. And also the harvest.

3. Cultivation and harvest is way more fun with others.

This, I think, needs no further explanation. It’s always more fun, more supportive, more inspiring to join an effort with others. Granted, you have to work with your own mind, exploring your own solitude in its depths to find the requisite focus for this. But it’s nice to know that others are doing the same. For this, yoga classes are nice. And meditation classes. And eating food together. And jumping over waves.

As these ideas settle in with you, I invite you to join the sankalpa. I wrote up a little explanation and direction that we’ll be sharing with our students at PB Yoga & Healing Arts. I share it here with a hope and a wish that you’ll find time and inclination to devote a few minutes of your yoga practice setting your own sankalpa for peace that will become a part of our greater sankalpa practice.

We know we need it. We know the world needs it. So let’s be the peace.

Will you join me? If you start today, with 2014’s last harvest moon, your last meditation on the peace you bring to the world will be on December 24. What a wonderful gift for yourself and the world at the close of another year. So much better than socks.

I am peace. I share my peace with you. I share my peace with the world.

Today and for the following 108 days, the community of teachers and healers at PB Yoga & Healing Arts invites you to join us in nurturing a noble sankalpa. Together, let us make a solemn vow to bring about peace in ourselves, our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our world.

A sankalpa practice grows from the premise that we are all perfectly placed to fulfill our hearts’ desires, the mission of our souls. We have no need to become better or different. We carry within us the means, the spirit, the energy to cultivate our desires. We carry within us our deep and divine minds.

To realize our aspirations, we turn our minds toward them. Again and again. And again. Our minds grant us wisdom and power, and qualities of the eternal, the sacred, the wonderful that nourish our goals without our egos interfering. Today and until December 24th, we won’t wish for peace and force it to happen. We’ll make a promise.

This is sankalpa. A solemn vow, a rule to be followed above all others. It’s determination to support a high truth. By its very definition, a sankalpa calls on us to recall the very purpose of our existence. It reminds us of our true nature, our purest intentions and guides our choices to honor them.

Now, for a few minutes, let’s dedicate our yoga practice to bringing our sankalpa to mind. We’ll state our sankalpa silently to ourselves, affirming our resolve as though it has already become a fact, nourishing the energy within us to realize our promise.

As we settle into this sankalpa practice, let’s remember that we are, each of us, open, timeless and whole. We are peace. We are already creating the peace that we have resolved to share in our worlds. Silently repeat your sankalpa to yourself as we practice. I am peace. I share my peace with the world. I am peace. I share my peace with the world.

Relax and restore

On Sundays, choose to rest. Notice that I’m reminding you of your choice in the matter?

Here’s what happens when we rest: the body grows calm and the mind becomes quiet; the mind becomes quiet and the heart begins to speak. I’m not trying to get woo-woo on you here, but I am suggesting that the heart has a vote in the way you live your life. Which means you might occasionally give it a chance to weigh in on things. Maybe it wants to hear from an old friend. Maybe it wants a garden. What is your heart telling you? How good would it feel to follow its wisdom?

What else happens when you let yourself relax? Usually, pain decreases. This is because relaxation and pain are conflicting states. Daniel Rockers, psychologist and director of the Pain Clinic at my alma mater, UC Davis, says ‘relaxation and pain… don’t usually co-exist.  Good centering or balancing mechanisms … can help lower tension.’  Want to find a good centering or balancing mechanism? How about a hammock? Or an hour of Slow Yoga? Or a massage?

Even easier: mindful breathing for ten minutes.  You’ve probably felt the panic that comes when you hold your breath for any length of time. That’s your body’s alarm going berserk because it’s not sure what you’re up to. That alarm is the same that rings when you’re frightened, stressed or anxious. Long, controlled, easy breathing pulled deep into your abdomen turns off the alarm, soothing the body and the mind, leaving you calm and relaxed. Ta-da!

So take a moment today and relax. If anyone asks you what you’re up to, tell them you’re investigating a balancing mechanism. This will make you seem like a very productive inventor who is discovering the next big thing. Which, in fact, you are.