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.

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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.

Putting it all together

The thing I love most about my Viniyoga training? Gary Kraftsow’s stubborn and persistent message that yoga is more than asana. Thank goodness for Gary. Thank goodness for the students who came before me who confirmed his path. His teaching is authentic and it works. Bodies change. Minds change. More importantly, people change their perception of themselves. I’m honored everyday to be his student. I’m grateful that he hasn’t altered course despite what I imagine would be some strong pulls for him to consider other paths.

In my funny beach ghetto, yoga is widely understood as a physical practice that takes place in a studio, on a rubber mat, in specially designed clothing made from organic hemp or body-slimming plutonium or something. The innovation of all the inconsequential components of a yoga practice is a mesmerizing example of the distractions our society enjoys.

Did you know you can practice yoga without a Lululemon bralette? I promise you: you can. You can even practice without a playlist. Your breath can actually serve as the rhythm of your movement. Astounding. We are amazing beings, us humans. Even without our toys and gimmicks.

Especially without them.

When we begin to set aside the unnecessary parts of what is commonly known as a yoga practice, the bones of a practice become apparent. In the quiet, in the austerity, we can begin to notice what our practices might be missing.

For example, I have a student who used to do his asana practice to music. As a result, his ability to observe his breath was pretty weak when we started working together. He’d never really listened to it. When he started to hear it, he discovered how labored it was. How his inhales caught in his throat. How he never let himself exhale completely. It took only a few sessions and he was suddenly able to move with more comfort. His breath changed. And lengthened. He started to notice that he could relax himself when he got in bed, simply by extending his exhale. He discovered an amazing tool for himself—a tool completely free to him, not available on Amazon or at the gift shop of your favorite yoga studio.

Another student had pushed herself in some serious hot yoga classes. This is a woman who was already dealing with high stress in her personal life. She experienced frequent anger—at herself and those she loved. She came to me with a yoga blanket, a yoga towel, a water bottle, really short shorts and her phone. She resisted when I initially told her that she wouldn’t need any of those things to lie on the floor for a while. She gave me funny looks when I asked her to move with her breath into a sequence that would calm her nervous system. But she came back because she felt better after resting, after eliminating some of her body’s suppressed energy. When she learned how to settle herself, she discovered that she felt a deep connection to her own vibration. Now she’s learning to silently and verbally chant as a way to explore this vibration. She’s incorporated a mantra into her asana practice and she spends more time in child’s pose, feeling her body learning how to relax.

When we surrender all the toys we gather to distract ourselves—when we strip down— we start to discover who we are. From that place, a yoga practice can be developed that integrates so much more into the physical practice. We can work on the breath, we can learn to control our senses, we can come to stillness, we can concentrate and meditate. We don’t turn our back on our asana. Instead, we discern the appropriate movements for our current condition and we incorporate breath or mantra or sound.

Our practice becomes so much more interesting at that point. Like the former hot yogini (though temperamentally cooler, she remains a hot woman), we might discover other methods of practice to complement our idiosyncratic potentials. Some of us might want to incorporate mantra with our practice. Some might like prayer. Or maybe a little bit of everything.

There’s so much to explore beyond the material fiddle-faddle; there’s a whole smorgasbord of practices to focus the mind and body toward joy and freedom. We need only become willing to release our attachment to the things that identify us as yogis and look a little more closely at the patterns that have allowed those attachments to form.

And this, my friends, is why I love my Viniyoga practice. And why I enjoy sharing it.

If you’d like to explore the potential of an integrated practice for yourself, please join me on the next two Saturdays, July 25 and August 1, at Eight Elements West, for the last two workshops in a series called Moving Toward Stillness. We’ll be looking at the things that prevent us from sitting still and learning more about using our breath to help us train our attention and feel our inherent joy.

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 on the inside.

Ah, re-entry. I’ll use the metaphor of that awesome Philae probe landing on a hurtling comet to announce myself back in the world: where are my harpoons?! (I would also sing for you. Like this.)

Fortunately, like the Philae, I’ve made a ‘fairly gentle landing’ and I’m curious all over again about what’s what. This old, familiar terrain is new again. And because I’m more human than machine, I get to feel out the sensations of shift even as I operate ground control. Whoop!

So what am I on about? For two weeks, I camped and learned at a phenomenon I call hippie-yoga camp. I do it twice a year with the American Viniyoga Institute’s Foundations for Yoga Therapy program. We are a strange batch of yogis. If yoga remains in anyway subversive, this form of yoga is perfectly tailored—or, maybe, purposefully left seamless—for the misfits.For two weeks, we discuss body mechanics, the physiology of the breath, yoga philosophy, sequencing skills and a bit of esoterica. The asana practice, while understood as the gateway for the west into yoga, is taken fairly lightly. We don’t pretend that perfection is possible. Not in the physical manifestation of a pose or in the emotional result. We are flawed and deteriorating bodies. Our goal is to rot gracefully, as free from our neuroses, attachments and silly limiting behaviors as possible. The time we spend cultivating this grace is what yields the grace itself.

(I won’t prattle on about how much I’d like the training to go on and on; you can snoop on my love letter yourself.)

When the two weeks end, we disperse to our worlds. The worlds where we didn’t/don’t fit so well. We try to figure out how to fit again with this insight into the things we really should leave behind.

So here are some impressions. The rocks and dips around me matter far less than my internal topography. Which is to say: what is outside me is all perception gathered by my busy, seeking mind, which, in its great hubris, has decided to identify as me. The thing is, my mind is overstepping its place.

What I am isn’t a matter of the elements around me but an inherently balanced energy within. Because my mind is so damn communicative, however, I’ve listened to it for most of my years. What a nag. Let this be a lesson to us highly verbal humans: watch the word count else others begin to believe our bullshit.

Being heard has given my mind power to say that it knows how to describe my nature better than anyone else. It says things like, ‘you should be really worried’ and ‘people probably don’t want to read this blog.’ Oh mind of mine: please hush yourself.

I write this now because I’m highly aware that the privilege of hippie-yoga camp is the access to these kinds of insights. As time distances me from the wild turkeys who accompanied me down the hill every morning, and the deer who gathered at my campsite like I was some sort of Snow White, my mind will probably regain some control. Or maybe I’ll be able to keep it at bay? Asana is a start. Pranayama is a whole other experience in silence. And the moment after I let go of controlling the breath? That’s the glimpse of quiet that I’d like to grow.

Defenses usually dismantle upon observation, just like monsters in the closet. And if the mind is offering anything to any of us, for the most part, it’s a fortress hiding the light of our true nature. With practice and letting go, these obstacles clear up.

Patanjali said, abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodha. My teacher says that it’s practice that allows the letting go. So, onward to the yoga. In all of its forms. It is the cause and effect of innate faith.

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.

A word from Whitman

As a gift for the weekend, I offer you this gem from Leaves of Grass:

Me imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,

Master of all or mistress of all, aplomb in the midst of irrational things,

Imbued as they, passive, receptive, silent as they,

Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles, crimes, less important than I thought,

Me toward the Mexican sea, or in the Mannahatta or the Tennessee,

or far north or inland,

A river man, or a man of the woods or any farm-life of these States or of the coast, or the lakes or Kanada,

Me wherever my life is lived, O to be self-balanced for contingencies,

To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do.

May you be carefree and react to your world as the trees and animals do, which, coincidentally, is always appropriate. And, if you can, consider joining me on Sunday at PB Yoga & Healing Arts for A Restorative Yoga Class at 9am.

When was the last time you did yoga?

I occasionally mount a pretty high horse to scowl upon some trends in yoga classes. If you want to see my gnarliest bitch face, tell me that you love power yoga. I’ll mellow some (but not entirely) for this: I don’t do yoga because it’s for acrobats. And while my face may look peeved, I promise the anger is not for you when you tell me you won’t go back to yoga because the teacher pushed you too deep.

Like a bell ringing, every time I hear these things—which happens surprisingly often—a devilish yogi sheds another ounce of bodyfat.

Yoga has become a million different things to a million different people. It’s flying on scarves attached to steel supports. It’s choreographed to acoustic guitars. It’s floating in the bay. Why not? Somehow, the western audience hasn’t been content to let yoga guide them from movement to mindfulness to breath to study. Instead, we’ve morphed yoga into activities that border on the absurd. For example: ever wonder if there’s yoga on horseback? I looked. The answer is Yes. Nascar Yoga? Sure. Yoga for dogs? Absodogalutely.

To do yoga these days, you don’t even have to do yoga. You can hang upside down or jump on a stand-up paddle board or probably take a rocket ship to the moon. Then you can call it yoga. Ta-da! Yoga! I’m riding my bike and calling it yoga! I’m sitting on the couch. Yoga. You, my friend, reading this: nice yoga.

Except. Something’s missing. In all that yoga, where’s the yoga? You can turn on the hose and call yourself a fireman but you aren’t putting out fires. Throw flour in an oven but you won’t make bread. I hate to bear the news, but just because someone calls it yoga, even a member of the lululemon cult, doesn’t make it yoga.

So what, then, is yoga? And why am I such a formalist prig?

While the history of yoga is long—dating back millenia—and the methods of its practice have varied, it was consistently a mechanism for unifying the activities of body, mind and senses. In Hindu philosophy, it is one of six philosophical schools for the acquisition of knowledge, systematized by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It was Patanjali who defined yoga as a philosophy, as citta vritti nirodah, or a way to still the fluctuations of the mind. His system to accomplish this includes eight limbs— or passages, maybe—that carry the student toward this goal. This is the very definition of Ashtanga—eight-limbed.

Patanjali’s contribution to yoga was not simply formative but advancing. Millenia of consideration preceded him, including the Mahabharata, one of two epic tales of ancient India containing the legendary Bhagavad Gita. It was in the Mahabharata that the idea of nirodha or cessation—of attachment, senses, thoughts—is described as an avenue toward realizing the true self. Then Patanjali set about a checklist of efforts that could withstand a little cessation. Right conduct, for example, can be thought of an exercise in restraining ourselves. He suggests we stop with the harming, the lying, the stealing, the lusting the greed. He complements these imperatives with various observances: thinking clearly, being content, keeping austere, studying the self and surrendering to greater forces. Only after these guideposts for proper conduct does Patanjali suggest that we take a steady and comfortable seat, that we breathe, withdraw from the senses, attend to a single object, contemplate intensely, and then merge our consciousness with the object of our meditation. Phew. It’s a lot to do. Probably not manageable if all our time is taken up swinging on ropes and calling it warrior.

Then again, maybe we aren’t all interested in catching the mind in its perpetual bounce. Maybe.

Which brings me back to lunges and why I’m a formalist prig. After 10 years of practice, I hurt myself doing a deep, deep backbend I didn’t need to do. After 12 years of practice, my pain was still occasional. After 14 years, I still sometimes regretted that backbend. So in the last six years, I altered my practice. I stopped attending classes unless I knew the teacher and knew he or she was great. I read the Sutras. Again and again. I learned anatomy. I learned to breathe. I learned the physiology of breathing. And I learned to sit steadily and comfortably so I could meditate on my behavior and actions. I tell people I’ve practiced yoga for 20 years, but it might be more honest of me to say my yoga practice truly started six years ago.

Am I saying yoga is more than lunges? Yes. Way more than lunges on a surfboard or lunges on a trapeze. Unfortunately, if a lunge on the ground seems boring to people, then leaving the lunge behind for something quieter might be even harder. But the truth is, the challenge of yoga becomes greater when the exercise becomes quieter. And it’s more interesting. More sincerely fun than anything trying so hard to impress you. Imagine your mind is a superball. Now remember how awesome it felt to occasionally catch that damn thing. And to watch it soar. And how disappointed you were when the superball rolled into the gutter. And how you got over it?

Ah, impermanence.

The western approach to yoga has focused on the physical postures—the asana—and flirted with breath and maybe meditation. But asana is only one limb of the yogic path. It is intended to prepare the body to sit in contemplation, and then meditation, for as long as it takes for the mind to stop its incessant chatter. Not to sleep. But to find freedom. Like a superball. Except a superball at peace.

Freedom from all thoughts of I and mine; that man finds utter peace.

From the Bhagavad Gita.

So when was the last time you did yoga? And are you ready to start?

Is it time?

One of the finer gardeners of fruitful wisdom, Dr. Seuss wrote this little plum: ‘My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?’

Too frequently, the best observation comes too, too late. Which is why I ask the initial question: Is it time? Is this the moment for you to do those things you want to do? Whatever they may be.

As you ponder the latch on that pandora’s box, consider also the adjectives you would use to describe your perception of time. Is it free and floating or rushed and condensed? Is it out of your control? Is it a flock of swifts before sunset– chaotic and divingbombing your head?

I have this theory about time which isn’t really my own at all: it’s relative. It behaves in accordance with the position of the observer. And, forgive me for getting a little metaphysical with the theory of relativity, but just as light is a constant, so is a deeply rooted iota of you. In the Vedas, a body of texts that comprise the earliest Sanskrit literature and the oldest scripture of Hinduism, the absolute– Brahman, or the nature of truth, knowledge and infinity– the constant. It is also the original source of all that exists and ever will come into being. It isn’t god; etymologically, it is that which causes things to grow. Like the speed of light, it doesn’t change. Our perception of it, however, depends on our position.

Which is a long way, slow way of introducing you to the idea of establishing control over your time. It’s yours to appreciate but it’s wily. It’ll escape if you aren’t careful. It flies and it only comes back if you ask. It sticks around only if you pay attention. It may even expand if you sit still with it for a long, long quiet time.

So how about you give it a try? No side effects but a little moment of rest and respite.

Set aside ten minutes in the morning and sit down without your phone, your coffee, your dog. Set a timer and take a seat. On the ground, the grass, the couch, the pillow. It doesn’t matter. Sit and listen to your breath. Count your breath. If your mind roams, escort it back to your breath and count again. Feel your inhale lifting your ribcage. Feel how the exhale lets it drop.

Breaker Bay is a fine setting.

I hear you. ‘Ten minutes!’ you’re shouting. You’re thinking ten minutes could be used for better things, important things, things that will make you better and important. Things like learning Mandarin, writing a book, establishing a petition to change small business laws.

Well here’s a bonk to your head: you’re wrong. Ten minutes in the morning is totally not enough for any of those things. But here’s the thing: ten minutes in the morning will alert that absolute inside you that you’re paying a little attention to it. And it will respond to the call. Ten minutes in the morning will make it possible for you to prioritize that other stuff later, if you really want to. You’ll start to see yourself pursuing those lofty goals or you’ll see that those goals aren’t even yours. You’ll find time starts to stick around because you’ve started to pay attention to it. It’ll still pass, but it won’t go so damn fast.

Have a listen to S.O.S. as you think on this more deeply.