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.



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.


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.


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.

How do you decide?

In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed a privileged sort of fun. I bumble around with people who came to a decision to change some old habits. Something happened, some sort of ‘that’s it, this is it, who am I, I’m doing this, let’s go.’ And they didn’t just let the decision go. They acted on it.

So they tried some stuff out—pilates or running, rock climbing, swing dancing, diet or bike riding—and they get a little insight, and then a little frustrated, and then they pick themselves up and try again. They start to see that this decision is going to require some attention. That they want to be paying more attention to how they live their lives and interact with life around them. They stumble into ideas rooted in the practice of yoga. Not just ideas about poses and yoga journal conferences. But ideas about calming the mind through careful, consistent observation of habits and patterns of behavior.

And because I’m lucky, or because the wind blew, because the door was open, because I had availability on my schedule, some of them introduced themselves to me.

A friend asked me recently whether I would ever stop my yoga practice. He said, ‘Do you get tired of doing the poses and doing the meditation? Do you get tired of sitting still and then hearing people like me dismiss yoga as some false faith system? Don’t you get tired?’

I answered, ‘No. Because I make a new decision every day to practice yoga.’

Which means, I say hello to every morning with gratitude for the light shining through the windows. And then I decide to express my gratitude by making a decision to practice. Which is my way of growing my love—for myself, my questioning friends, my clients and everyone I haven’t yet met. It’s my way of knowing myself so I can know the world.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to fail a bunch. But a new day comes along with frequency, and, as long as I’m fortunate enough to awake to it, I’m regularly grateful to the light for returning. It gives me another opportunity to dedicate myself to my practice. Because the whole point is practice. The brief moments when light shines in the darkness are just gifts that remind me to recommit to my practice. Plus, they break my heart open a little more. And that just makes me happier to see how much light shines in everything. In everyone. In me.

The Yoga Sutra advises consistent practice. Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodha. We should use consistent effort and we should keep ourselves from attaching to it. And we should do this for a long, long time. Satu dirgha kala nairantarya satkarasevito drdhabhumih. The effort becomes fixed only when done over time, with reverence and focus.

Which means that a diligent effort requires a continuous decision. It isn’t easy to practice. The mind wants to be busy with external ideas. The body wants to be lazy or active or fed or rested. The decision is to become disciplined but the decision itself requires discipline. And every day, a new decision. Every moment, another one.

So see what happens if you start by making a decision every morning: today, I’ll practice yoga. I’ll practice coming to the present moment through awareness of my movement, my breath, the flow of my thoughts. And watch what happens if you do this a few days in a row. And if you fail to make the decision on one day, no worries. Just try again. And again. And again.

It’s always a decision. And no one else is going to make it for you. So when you make your decision, remember how special it is that others are doing the same. And appreciate the presence of your sisters and brothers meandering mindfully on the path—whatever path it is that they decided to pursue.

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.

Give thanks; get thanks.

I think we all know how good it feels to be thanked. Truly thanked. So consider this.

In yoga, we do asana to cultivate strength and movement in the body. We do this, believe it or not, consciously or otherwise, as an act of gratitude for these fleshy vessels that carry us. Sure, you may also want nice looking deltoids. And a yoga butt. Ultimately, however, acts of mindful movement are powered by a deeper knowing that these bodies deserve our attention and care. That maintenance of these bodies can’t be outsourced. That we are our own custodians.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the attention can go wonky. We haven’t upskilled and we pretend like we’re still 18. Like, for example, we turn upside down into handstands at 8:30pm with an expectation that we’ll fall into a calm sleep shortly after. Or we let our egos push your bodies into poses they can’t cash. These efforts are a misguided attempt at gratitude—something like giving your Grandma your favorite mix of dubstep and expecting that she’ll want to hoof it out to some illegal dance party with you. You gotta be thoughtful about your attention, capeeesh? You got to be considerate about your care. Good custodians know that maintenance should be both effective and appropriate.

Which is why I’m so grateful for my training in Viniyoga with Gary Kraftsow. The yoga I teach—thanks to his guidance—is less about what you think yoga should be and more about discovering what yoga will be for you. You may be ready for more pranayama. For more concentration. Or maybe there’s structural issues that can be improved. Maybe you’re tired of your patterns. This is the yoga that answers your needs. Which is a lovely gesture toward yourself—body and mind.

When you start giving yourself this kindness, you’ll start to realize how sweet it is to feel thankful for this life you have. That gratitude means understanding that what you have is plenty. And you’ll be inspired to offer what you have to others. And you’ll enjoy the feeling of gratitude from within and without.

So pay attention to your decisions. To the way you practice your yoga. And if you’re interested in developing a practice that honors your physical and emotional conditions without the demands of your ego, let me know. I’d love to help you consider a deeper path.

And thank you. Truly.



Finding happiness…

Well. Here’s a great big topic. Finding happiness.

I can hear the snorts. See the eye rolls. Because a whole lot of folks think happiness is something that rumbles into them. A storm that dumps rainbows and unicorn tears on the heads of those born under perfect stars. Or worse: a consequence of status. As if financial security brought happiness. Sheesh. If this was the case, I think all the billionaires in the world would be way friendlier. And not trying to take more and more from those with less and less.

But I digress.

Happiness. Consider for yourself how you feel it. Is it the consequence of situations outside of your control? Or is it some kind of magic that arises when the state of your mind allows it? And if your happiness was the result of external circumstances, how long did it last? Was it fleeting? Maybe just a moment of pleasure that you confused for happiness? (Which is not to say that pleasure can’t complement happiness… it can!) And if it came from within, can you access that feeling again? Like, right now?

Ready, go.

This is sort of how you cultivate happiness. (Though there are a lot of things you can do to help you do this. Like yoga! Call me!) No matter what, however, it must be cultivated. It doesn’t just find you. You may have friends who seem unrealistically lucky; you may know people who don’t seem to suffer quite as much as you. But look carefully before you make your assessment. Are you friends actually so lucky, or do they do something to create their good fortune? Do you truly believe they’ve failed to suffer in their lives?

We have the seeds of happiness within. And all the factors to allow them to grow. But we have to do a little work to get the sprouts sprouting. It’s sort of like seeing a beautiful plot of land alongside a river in a valley of sunshine and realizing no one’s planted a veggie garden. It’s just going to take the decision to become a gardener.

Take a moment. Look inside. And source that deep love and gratitude that occasionally overwhelms you. That’s where your seeds hunker down, waiting.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali writes about the arising of negative emotions. ‘When harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate their opposite.’ You can find this at chapter 2, sutra 33. And this, in a nutshell, is how happiness is created. When we indulge again and again in negative emotions as they arise, we cast a spell over ourselves. We come to believe that we have no control over them. We victimize ourselves with them. We say things like, ‘there’s nothing I can do.’

This kind of magic isn’t the kind that serves our best selves. So why do we bother with it? Because, somehow, we’ve been convinced that we can’t do anything to change. Despite the fact that change is always happening. Every moment.

Happiness attends the liberating realization that you can shape the change happening in you. This is also an important teaching of yoga. With the wise decisions that come from careful self-study—svadhyaya—we can influence the direction of change in our life. We can never stop change; we can shape the course it takes.

Consider the amount of time we spend cultivating things—relationships, careers, homes, gardens. This is a way that we shape the course of our lives. We don’t expect these things to manifest for us without a degree of effort. Positive emotions and the happiness that blossoms as a result of our practice with them requires the same effort.

The next time you find yourself stewing in a sludge of yucky blahs, take control of your mind. Remind it that you’ve got seeds somewhere in there and you’d like to water them a bit. Then shine some light on them. Think a happy thought. Turn your frown upside down. And keep doing that. Again and again. Forever.

Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tanninirodhah. With practice and detachment, your mind will calm. It may take a while. But so did saving for your home, your graduate degree and all those other things you hoped would make you happy. And didn’t quite hit the mark.

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.

Fire, study and faith.

The last I wrote, I was preparing to set out on a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. I was jumping in with a group of men and women participating in a trek organized by Warriors Live On.

As I review my last post, I see how ridiculously egocentric it was. Oh, silly ego. In Sanskrit, it’s ahamkara—a state of subjective illusion wherein I appropriate some thing or action and pretend like it’s me. Sure it gives a sense of I-ness, but it can really fence in the free range of consciousness. (Consider: ‘I’m a yoga teacher!’ Am I not, actually, something much broader?)

So, apologies for my moment of totally limited I-ness. But it was, at best, informed by what I knew. And before I left, I didn’t know the incredible men and women who would share the trail (and stories, and water, and jerky, and so much more) with me.

The mission of Warriors Live On is to provide life-changing adventures and life-contemplative guidance to combat veterans suffering the symptoms of post-traumatic stress after deployment in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. WLO is committed to demonstrating to these folks the transformative power of compassion—especially toward oneself. Their aim to foster a holistic process of healing to the veterans is part of the reason they wanted to incorporate yoga on the trail. Also on offer during the trek? Two licensed counselors and three Somatic Experiencing guides. From the start, there was no question that whatever was felt would be examined.

And feel, we did.

The weight of the packs, for one, the ground beneath our feet, and the heat. On the first day, a fire broke out within view but not in our path. The flames—a cunning tribute to a good, hot catharsis—also served to make an already sweltering day just a little more infernal. One of the veterans acknowledged her limitations early on and chose to resume the trek another time. Another veteran found himself seriously dehydrated; he also had to return home. It was a challenge. We felt the absence of our two new friends keenly.

All this, on just the first day.

But experiences are meant for experiencing. Even the Yoga Sutra agree that this knowable world exists to be seen by the seer. And then, if we’re good at discerning what we see, we let it go and become free.

And so we continued on.

In the mornings, we did asana to wake up our bodies, to lengthen our spine, relieve tension in our shoulders and necks, and to remember that we can channel our awareness by watching how the breath moves our body. We also moved our ankles and stretched our legs. I believe it served our bodies well. I know it helped us become a fun-loving family. Asana does that. It brings smiles to faces. And who doesn’t like seeing a smile?

But the yoga highlight on the trail, for me anyway, was an afternoon of walking meditation. It wasn’t planned; it developed in a step-wise process that made me grateful for the wisdom of my teachers and all those who walked before me.

It was our third day and the conversation among some of the vets had turned negative. Bodies were tired. Minds wanted to know how much longer. The topics, while unlimited in scope, shifted from bad to worse in tone. Though the pink and dusty desert landscape stretched over rolling hills and our trail curled around boulders and wildflowers, the chatter got heavier. My pack felt heavier. The heat of the distant fire returned to bother all of us.

We stopped in a tiny crouch of shade and the WLO leader and I spoke. She decided to intervene and I shared some thoughts. We agreed it would be a good time to ask for silence. We also agreed it would be good to offer guidance. So I shared two techniques that I hoped would be appropriate.

The group group gathered in a staggered line. We stood momentarily to feel our breath. In this moment of stillness, we prepared to move by feeling the position of our bodies in space. We noticed the sensations in our bodies. We each called to mind a true desire and learned how to phrase it as though it were already a fact in the present. I asked that we try the following.

We would walk and notice the feeling of our feet on the ground, our ankles, our calves with each stride. We would walk and pay attention to the details of our knees bending, our thighs moving through the air, the rise and fall of each side of our hip as one leg moved forward and the other back. We would feel the softness of our bellies and the expansion of our ribcage with every inhale, the contraction of the ribcage with every exhale. We would notice the way our arms might swing. And the position of our heads.

When we’d spent time scanning the details of our bodies in motion, we would fortify our true desire by giving it the strength of the ground beneath our feet. With every step, we would repeat the true desire as though it had already come to pass. As though it had long been fact. We would move slowly. And if we lost track of ourselves, when our minds wandered or time-traveled, we would return to noticing the sensations in our bodies. And as we noticed them again, we would allow our true desire to move through our bodies with every step, made stronger and stronger by the firm ground passing beneath us.

We passed two hours in silence. Even small breaks to share water or food were quiet. But our connection to each other was stronger. In the seclusion of our own personal meditations, we’d shared yet another experience. That experience was knowing that we each were in pursuit of our true desires because we loved this gift of life. Because this life deserves that we endeavor toward our greatest potential. And those potentials are already present and available to us. I’m pretty sure we connected with a certain faith: that our recognition of that access would benefit our own microcosm as much as the worlds we would return to.

We made it to Splinters Cabin and spent our last night along a riverbed. We didn’t do any more yoga together, but I sort of sensed that everyone was engaged in great contemplation. And this, along with that burning fire of intention, and a reverence for the fact of existence, is what the practice of yoga requires. Tapah svadhyaya isvara pranidhanani kriya yogah.

I remain honored and grateful to have shared the time with my new family and I’m already excited for WLO’s next adventure. I thank them for sharing their trust with me, and their stories, and their food, and their fears. I thank them for sacrificing so much of their personal comfort to serve our country. Each of them told me that they followed a deep instinct to protect their families and friends. We’re all fortunate to share a world with men and women who have the courage and integrity to abide that noble instinct. Because of these new friends, I now include all the men and women who serve this country in my prayers. That they will heal from the sadness, grief and anxiety they experience. That they will see how truly appreciated and important they are. That they will be happy and at peace.

If you’d like more information about Warriors Live On, or would like learn how to take part in their programs, please don’t hesitate to contact me or visit their website. In addition to organizing future treks, they are also working with the staff at Eight Elements West (including me!) to provide holistic healing to veterans looking to relieve their symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Off to hike. And a small prayer in advance.

About a month ago, the amazing executive director of Warriors Live On asked if I’d join a group of combat Veterans on a 4-day/40 mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. She wants to introduce them to yoga, with the intention that it’ll complement their healing process as they walk the trail. I thought it would also relieve tension in the shoulders, back and legs after the walk. So I said yes.

Yes. Of course. And without hesitation.

I was (and remain) humbled and honored by this adventure.

In between then and now, however, I’ve had a few epiphany moments that will sound silly to anyone with actual trail-traveling experience. (That would be anyone, it seems, who is not me.)

I’ve climbed a few mountains in New Zealand, and wandered around trails in California. But, really, I managed those on whims. I didn’t plan. I didn’t read. I just went out and always got back before dark. Maybe shortly after. Then I had a beer. Or a glass of wine. And I put my feet up. That’s what I know about hiking.

When the WLO Director instructed me to get fitted for a pack—generously provided to all the participants by Adventure 16—it dawned on me that trek means something more than hike. I would be transporting my personal survival on my back. Food, water, shelter. Layers. I would be forced to acknowledge that a whole bunch of things that I consider imperative—laptop, phone, almond butter, and about 15 books—were not actually requisite to my existence.

Then I realized that generous as Adventure 16 has been to WLO, they are not providing us with donkeys.

And no one I know volunteered to be my sherpa. (Really? No one?! Sheesh.)

The trek will follow the PCT from Big Bear Lake to Lake Arrowhead. In the morning, before we eat, I hope the Veterans will enjoy moving slowly through some yoga asana with me to prepare our feet, ankles, legs, backs, and shoulders for the 10-mile day. In the evenings, when we’ve settled into our camp, I’ll invite them to move again, and to breathe and notice their energy after the great exertion of pushing the ground beneath us. I hope I can share whatever knowledge I have with clarity and integrity. I hope whatever I can share will be a helpful reminder to each of the Veterans that the study of the self—through asana, trail-wandering, or that mindless state of wonder that both bring—is an elevating pursuit. It serves all of us to look within. May we all be safe and supportive of each other.

I leave tomorrow. My pack slumps against the wall in a state of half-packed anticipation. It doesn’t quite weigh more than I do. Please think kind thoughts for all of us! I’ll report back soon.