Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Keepin' it Real - and a Grateful Heart

It happens every time. 
I go in to the class without expectations - only knowing that the class is going to be warm and that we usually start with subtle, small movements either on our backs or in a seated posture. Before other classes, I might warm up my spine and my hips a little bit....because at this stage in my yogic journey, I know my body well enough to know how to warm it up before I try challenging poses.  But when I go to Theresa's class, I know she's got that covered. 
Theresa Murphy that is.  Then she begins.  I mean, she begins...talking.  (This is part of the "it" I mentioned at the beginning.) Many teachers (myself included) begin class with some kind of "centering" which may include breathing, focusing your attention into one-pointedness some way or another, finding an intention for the class, which is all well and good.  This is a great way to get the mind cleared of extraneous thoughts, come to the here-and-now, and to be open in mind, body, spirit for your yoga asana practice.  Then there's Theresa who speaks from a place not only of deep knowledge and experience of this practice, but a profound space of intuition.  I've always known, or felt rather, that intuition is more intelligent than knowledge.  You know those people who have the "gift of the gab" but at the end of the conversation you have no idea what was just said?  With Theresa, the opposite is true. One sentence makes me feel like I've just been on a pilgrimage. 
Sometimes she will talk at the beginning and throughout class about a physical attribute such as a specific muscle group that we might be working on for the day, "Reaching through the webbing of our fingertips," or "those small muscles on the sides of the gluteus that we rarely pay enough attention to."  Other times her class themes are more abstract though in a way that I can only describe as ethereal. Today she spoke of "letting go of the "holding on" of the thoughts and actions that make us separate from each other, the environment and the space around us, and instead being with the present moment as a blissful connection to all that surrounds us."
I promise I didn't get that quote exactly right.  In fact, there shouldn't even really be quotation marks around it.  I'm not able to articulate the eloquence with which she rolls words out of her mouth, from that intuitive place inside her, that truly allows you, the student, to feel safe, connected, and like you were put on this earth to do great things....and of course to come to Theresa's class every week.
The class begins slow, as I mentioned, and you roll through the class not even for a moment being able to guess what might come next.  In some flow classes and other types of asana (posture) classes, there seems to be a predictable rhythm at times, going through seated postures, standing poses, twists, etc.  In Theresa's there is a delicious mystery at every turn.  Sometimes this mystery is in the form of a crescent-lunge twist where your armpit is guided further towards your knee than you ever thought possible.  Sometimes it's in the shape of Supta Virasana, a pose which for me has always been excruciating to the knees, but with Thersa's guidance of "scooping your belly hollow like a canoe" and "using your core more than you ever have before" and "letting your kidneys and tailbone fall away from each other," somehow I melt into the pose over a bolster like silk draped over a cushy French chaise.
By the end of the class, many times holding some kind of "peak pose" that I never thought I'd be capable of achieving, I always have some kind of breakthrough. This could be in the form of more open hips, a fuller heart, or something bigger like an easeful backbend or a light and strong handstand.  I often go home after her class and sit in silence, feeling a sense of growth and accomplishment all in one, sometimes going over the poses or the subtle movements in my head, hoping that somewhere in my body, I've retained her teachings. 
Then it happens again. That "it" I was telling you about.  This "it" has happened to me after weekend-long yoga trainings or hours-long workshops, or when I've been in the presence of "big name" yoga or meditation teachers after long moments of meditation.  This feeling of utter peace.  This feeling of gratitude.  This glimpse of spiritual enlightenment.  Her words settle on a place in my heart that reminds me that I am in a place of comfort, that I am in a place of holy, and that I am in the right place, on this journey of mine, on this journey of ours, at the right time.  This feeling of connectedness with all beings.
Theresa has a classy and articulate way of addressing world occurrences and relating them to our yoga practice. Today she referenced the awful shootings at the South Carolina church and told us a story of a Master who was asked by one of his students after one of the atomic bombs was dropped in WWII, "What kind of  heart-mind would be able to create such a thing of destruction and hurt?" The Master replied, "The kind of mind that says, 'I like this, but I don't like that."  She suggested again that we "let go of the "holding on" of the thoughts and actions that make us separate from each other," and once again, I felt a deep sense of knowing...a deep sense of...Theresa.
At the end of class we sit upright on our sits-bones and sound that universal sound of peace: one single Om.  I am always the last to leave class. I sit there for a moment, letting it all sink in.  I want to tell her all these things that I feel, every single class, but I'm never sure how to put it into words, so I sit, in gratitude, and hope she feels my grateful, emanating heart. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015: The Year of Intentions and Manifestations

For the past four years, I've done away with Resolutions.  They don't work.  It's very easy to make a resolution - to make a statement about what you want to do - but as many people know, it's quite another to stick with the process and to see it all the way through.  

That's why four years ago, I resolved to do away with resolutions and instead invite in themes for the entire year.   I wrote about my themes in my New Year's blog from last year which you can read here.  

Each year, in addition to creating a "theme" for my entire year, I also write out goals. Last year, I wrote out 20 attainable goals in the front of my journal.  I recently looked back at them and guess what?  I only fully completed one of them. Sure, I made progress on a bunch more but I got to thinking, "How can I make sure I actually attain my goals?"

In 2014 I turned inward a lot.  I was a homebody. I listened to loads of meditations, read tons of articles about how to dream big and how to go about chasing those dreams.  The theme of setting intentions and allowing those intentions to manifest came up pretty frequently.  I started writing my dreams over and over in different ways: in the present moment,  in attainable little steps, by trying to use my senses and understand my feelings about what I wanted.  As Eve Agee mentions, "Writing down how we feel will manifest what we want even quicker because our feelings activate the "Law of Attraction" and become a mighty force in our creation process."  

I happened across webinars for year-long intentions, 90-day intentions and weekly intentions and how much this has helped the leaders I've been listening to and studying get focused on their business/relationship/health, etc.  What was really powerful, however, was looking back at 2014 and being grateful - grateful for all of the people that came into my life, the natural power of essential oils that began to heal me, time spent with family and friends, becoming a yoga teacher, launching different parts of my business, and so much more.  It made me realize that although not all of my 20 goals at the beginning of my journal were completely met, that we always have to leave room for surprises.  In fact, part of the webinar I took part in regarding 90-day intentions instructed that after you set your intentions by first desiring them, then writing them down - you must let them go.  Let your mind become clear and open to receive anything that may come your way.  

I decided to look up the definition of resolution to remind myself of the actual meaning of the word and to confirm that what I was doing with intentions made any sense. 

plural noun: resolutions
  1. 1.
    a firm decision to do or not to do something.
    "she kept her resolution not to see Anne any more"
  2. 2.
    the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.

It sounds so definitive, doesn't it? Moreover, the example that is used is a negative one and actually creates anger in me when I read it.  The first definition suggests that I make a decision now and the second that there is already some sort of controversial dispute happening. 

Then, intention: 

  1. 1.
    a thing intended; an aim or plan.
    "she was full of good intentions"
  3. 2.
    the healing process of a wound.

Ahhhhhhh.  Now this seems more like it.  I have an aim and a plan, and the example is much more positive in nature.  As I write, I am already relaxing more and a smile is forming on my face.  What's more interesting is the second definition, which is new to me - that it is also a healing process.  This makes me feel better about my intentions already. 

So perhaps you are still working on your goals for the year.  Maybe this post will inspire you to create intentions for the first time.   In reviewing all I learned from last year, I've realized my goals need to be reviewed constantly; they might change, and smaller goals and intentions should be made along the way if I truly want to attain them and it's a good way to hold myself accountable. 

In 2012 I Expressed Myself Radically.  In 2013 I tried to Connect, Collaborate and Create.  2014 was all about Giving and Gratitude. In 2015 I will create Intentions that turn into Manifestations. 

Remember: "You are never given a Dream without also the Power to make it come true." Richard Bach

Happy New Year. 
Om Namah

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Teaching has taught me so much about myself.  The more I teach, the more I crave to learn more so I can be the best possible leader and instructor for my students. 
It is said by Buddhists that just by being around the dharma (Buddha teachings), even if you don't understand everything you hear, it does a world of good and breaks down your egoistic and conceptual mind.
I love to be inspired and to learn from yogis and scholars and leaders who are more experienced than me.  So I couldn't think of a better way to start off my vacation than by attending the "Eight Verses of Mind Training" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a two-day workshop entitled "Soul Food" by international yoga teacher, Desiree Rumbaugh
After chanting the Heart Sutras in Vietnamese, Sanskrit and English, the Dalai Lama began his teachings.  One of the first things that struck me was when he mentioned that "the proper way to start to know the Buddha Dharma is here," pointing to his heart.  He explained that it is necessary to continue to study and read teachings and practice meditation along with all of the other limbs of yoga, but it is just as important to have your own experiences and apply what you have learned to your own practice. 
Pamphlet from "Eight Verses of Mind Training," Wang Theater, Boston, MA

It was such a good introduction, or segue into my weekend with Desiree because her words of wisdom complemented so well the teachings of the Dalai Lama.  She mentioned that here in the west, and all over the world, for that matter, those introduced to yoga focus so much attention on one limb of yoga - the asanas, or postures - when really the other seven limbs will help us so much in our posture practice and throughout our lives. She mentioned how important it is, as we age, to constantly oil this "machine", this human body, by performing the physical asanas and how this gives our body an innate intelligence to heal ourselves.  Coupled with a "sitting" practice, this will keep our minds sharp as we make our way into our golden years. 
Desiree Rumbaugh at West Hartford Yoga
When people who have never done one yoga posture in their life say to me, "I'm not flexible enough," I try to make them aware that this sentiment is far from a requirement for practicing yoga.  Desiree reiterates this when she mentions that the whole point of yoga is self-awareness - that's it!  What reminded me of the Dalai Lama's teaching was when she told a story about how, when you find yourself complaining about someone else and what they say, or what they do, and how this annoys you - stop and look at yourself.  Really stop and see if this very thing that drives you insane is actually something inside of yourself that you might need to work on.  The Dalai Lama says that 90% of the negative emotions that come out of our own mouths are just our own mental projections!
Imagine if you could stop and turn inward and fix it all on your own and turn all that anguish into peace?
That's exactly what we did in Desiree's workshop.  With a contagious smile, and an effervescent demeanor, Desiree has a way of making difficult poses simple and fun.  I was able to tackle a few different poses that I've struggled with in the past, namely Sirsasana II, Parsva Bakasana and Parivrttaikapada Sirsasana.  What this "success" in poses mostly does for me, however, is remind me that if I work hard enough at something, I can achieve anything I set my mind to.  I always come out of these workshops with more tricks for my practice and that of my students, but also a renewed sense of self and an appreciation of the journey of self-awareness. 

Check out some videos from the workshop here!
Full Wheel
Confidence in Cobra
Strength in Hand Stand

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dear Teacher

Dear Yoga Teacher,

I needed to get this off my chest so you'd know how I feel.
I know you haven't seen me in class in a while.
Sometimes I just can't make it.  I'm too tired. I've worked to much. I can't afford it this month. I'm involved in too much. I have an injury.
But I think about you a lot.
I think about how I'd feel when you'd tell me in downward dog to spread my fingers wide and push down through my index finger into the floor.
When I'd push through the balls of my feet and bend my knees, shooting my hips up to the air, how that extended my spine and sent my energy soaring.
I think about in a flow, how you'd cue the breath and remind me that the breath is what initiates movement.
I think about Warrior I - how a subtle nudge of my back foot could send my hips into alignment - in Warrior II - how just by telling me to be aware of my knee over my ankle, that I became mindful of not lunging too far.
In Tadasana, Mountain pose, the way you instructed to pick my toes up to feel the weight and energy under the balls of my feet and my heels was so awakening.  I would then place my toes back down, but you'd tell me to keep that energy pulling up from the earth into my hips and to give my energy back to the earth.  How a slight lengthening of the tailbone, shoulders down the back and my low belly in-and-up grounded me and made me feel so strong.
I think about you, yoga teacher, and how from these words, these words of wisdom, you planted a seed to allow me to know myself better; to allow me to become more aware of my actions, my thoughts, my character.
Because I was able to conquer Crow pose in your class last time I was there, the other day I took a chance in my business - a leap of faith.  I knew I wouldn't fall far. And I knew I'd come out stronger because of it.
I think about in Triangle, when I hinge at the hips, how aware I have to be of my spine collapsing, lengthening from my hips, and extending my heart forward.  I think about how this awareness has helped me to be aware of other subtleties in life - how I treat people - how I treat myself.
In twists, you teach us to twist first from our foundation; then lead with the heart - to let our gaze follow but to always stay in line with our heart.  Off the mat I act with my heart first. Thank you for that.
Once in class the first pose you cued was handstand. You said, "I wanted you to feel what it was like to be present." Thank you for that, too. I think of that moment every time I notice I'm too much "in my head."
And sometimes it was the way you made me soften.  After studying the Bhagavad Gita you had us believe we were the Atman - to find that power in our heartspace - and to lift up, full of love, into a full wheel.  I've never forgotten that moment - when I felt like I could conquer the world.

So thank you - yoga teacher. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for teaching and doing what you were put on this earth to do. Thank you for giving a part of yourself to your students and sharing your gifts with the world.

You may not see me in class all the time, but you are always teaching me.

Om namah. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Although I feel like I've been teaching for a while, with having taught private classes and having taken so many trainings, I finally and officially taught my first "Intro to Ashtanga" class the other day to a room full of students.  I was a little anxious leading up to it.  Since Ashtanga is such a unique and specific sequence and is something I trained in years ago, I wanted to make sure I practiced it enough to get the sequence perfect in my head and in my body. 

In the hours leading up to the class, I practiced the entire Primary Series to feel it one more time before teaching - and then I was just excited.  I felt so ready to impart the knowledge I had learned over so many years, from so many different sources, and really make it my own for my students. 

The class was pretty full.  I started out at the front of the class, demonstrating when I needed to, and walked around the room, helping people into poses or just showing them the pose up-close.  Some people had been to an Intro-to-Ashtanga class before, and for some, this was their first time.

75 minutes go by of ujjayi breathing, vinyasa movement, upward and downward dogs, and finally...savasana.  I spoke with a student in the class for a while afterwards who was so excited that I was teaching this particular style of yoga.  I was glowing.

I went home and ate, hung around for a while, then I got out of my clothes to take a shower. I looked down at the pants I just threw in the hamper. My eyes grew big. I picked up the pants.  There was a HUGE HOLE in the back of my cute pink yoga pants.

Like - not just a little hole that had started to unravel at the seam - I'm talking a RIP that started at the seam, and went to the middle of my @$$. 

I was mortified.

I looked down to see what kind of undergarmets I had on. Black. Phew! Pink would've been better. Thoughts raced through my head, "When did this happen?" "Did I sit on something in the car?" "Did all my students see this or did this happen on the way home?"

Shocked, all I could do was get in the shower and laugh. I thought to myself, "I wonder which was worse - this, or when I walked out of a public bathroom with toilet paper hanging out of my pants."

A few days later, I finally emailed a student I knew in the class if she had noticed my "hole" to try and solve the mystery of when the rip actually happened.  She replied, "I did notice it but because you had black on underneath I thought you knew and just wore tights. Hahaha. I thought to myself seems odd she would wear torn pants for her first time teaching but whatever."

Brilliant.  First day on the job and I introduce my students to my gluteus maximus.

A few days later I went to a family party and I noticed my 9-year-old step-niece had a hole in the back of her shirt - I guess she had just ripped it playing outside.  Apparently someone else had pointed it out to her earlier and when I said something, she felt embarassed.  She had known the week prior that I was going to teach a class and I said to her, "Hey remember that yoga class I went to go teach the other day?"  When I told her the story a huge smile of relief came over her cute little face and I realized that my "hole" had served it's purpose.

If yoga and meditation has taught me anything, it's been to go-with-the-flow and not care what other people think.  And if I can inspire a 9-year-old to do the same, well then my job was successful.

Here's to feeling...hole.

Om namah.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Letting it all Go

Happy Spring! Mmm. I know - real happy. Today on my way to yoga class, ice pellets were hitting my face and covering my car!  Oh well. I guess it's a good lesson to be in the moment and not get too excited over warm weather just yet - because it all may change.

That brings me to the topic at hand - letting go of what you think the outcome might be or of what may happen at any moment.  From the teacher perspective, this lesson has presented it's way differently than when I was just a student of yoga.

That's right.  After over a decade of practice, I now am itching to teach - a lot.  I've completed almost 300 hours of teacher training over the past 3 years, not including the many workshops I've completed with some of the greatest teachers of our time.  Over the past year, I've been teaching a weekly class of private students who graciously allow me to try out different sequences on them and who have noticed improvement in my tone, pace and assistance in postures. This particular 200-hour training will be finished in May.  And as part of our requirements, we must observe 16 hours of classes at the studio, making notes on these very characteristics in the teacher.

Today I went to observe an intermediate class that one of my teacher-training instructors was leading.  I ended up walking in the class with him and proceeded to the back of the room.  I set up my yoga mat length-wise but folded it in half trying not to take up so much room.  I always bring my iPad when I observe: I turn the sound off, fade the light until it's almost off, and the keypad is also silent.  I really don't make a peep.  I was way back in the corner but there's another group who like the back corner too: Beginner yogis.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I begin typing and observing the class.  After about 5 minutes of cat/cow pose and then downward dog, a student near me dropped to her knees, turned to me and said, "Are you going to be doing that the whole class?"
"I'm observing the class," I said without much emotion.
"Would you mind doing that somewhere else? It's really distracting." I looked up to find my teacher's eyes which were gazing inquisitively in our direction and I motioned to him with shrugged shoulders, "Where do I go?"
He pointed to the front of the room and shrugged as well, as if to say, "I guess there?!"

I settled in as quietly as possible and continued observing but had wanted to write my feelings down.  For a little while I felt bothered - not so much in the "I can't believe she told me to move" sense, but my mind raced around a bit: "I wonder if I'm bothering anybody else? I wonder if my iPad is really distracting.  The pad of paper I had last week sounded so noisy - I thought this was better!  I wonder if I'll ever be a great teacher.  I hope she doesn't know I'm going to start teaching here next week." And this went on and on in my head for a few moments! I noticed a "breathe" cue from the teacher and started to relax.  I came back to the present.

I began noticing this woman's practice.  Since I was at the front of the room, I tried not to look up when the class was facing the front - there were enough down-dogs and side-of-the-mat poses for me to do that. This was an intermediate class and the woman who told me to move was far from intermediate.  I started to breathe with an even deeper, relaxed breath and thought back to my beginning practices.  All beginners want to stay at the back of the room.  No beginner wants an advanced practitioner to notice or look at them.  She must have felt unconfident and conscientious about her practice.

Later I spoke with my instructor who explained that it was fine to sit at the front, and like I had guessed, just better that I not stare into the class when they were trying to focus their drishti (focal point or gaze) at the front of the room.

I was feeling fine about the whole thing when I left and then noticed more ice had fallen all over the back window of my car.  I turned the car on and started brushing away the blanket of sleet.  The woman in the back of the room was walking out of the studio in her hospital scrubs after a shower and came over to me.  "I'm so sorry I asked you to move - I just didn't want anyone to look at me!" I thanked her for telling me to do so, apologized that I was so close to her and said that I didn't mind at all - that I was happy to move to the front.

This small, kind gesture put a smile on my face and just reinforced that even though she communicated directly to me and it seemed that I was a real bother, her asking me to move actually had nothing to do with me at all.  It was all about her feeling comfortable in her own body and in her own space.

So even though I was observing from a teacher perspective, I was a student once again - humbled by another student and by the lesson of letting it all go.

Om namah.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Getting Real

To each his own.  I truly believe that.

Letting the universe and the spirits that make it up take its course is just about all we can really do.

At the ripe ol' age of 31 I'm noticing a few things happening, all due in part to my continual reading of the dharma and yoga practice and training:
1) I am more aware that I (and we, and everybody) judge people.  This can be as simple as thinking, "I really like that shirt," (positive judging) or "He really should not have worn that color," (negative judging) or "that bird must've flown a long journey to get here," (neutral judging).
2) I try to stay away from any kind of excessive judging - if our ego allows us to do it so naturally, why would we succumb to watching, or listening, or looking for it?
3) I try choose new friends more wisely, and don't take what my friends do or say as personally as I used to since we all have our own paths and journeys and essentially all come from different planets, so to speak.

I have a friend who watches a reality show every week.  He says it "reinforces why you shouldn't have friends."  He says it's a mindless show that allows him to unwind and decompress.

I would love a show of hands.  The last time you were in a room full of shouting people - especially rich housewives who gossip about each other and each other's spouses and family (if you were ever so lucky) - do you feel at ease or "un-wound?"

I have absolutely no problem with anybody's habits, hobbies and extra-curricular activities - as long as they don't cause harm to someone else and it makes you happy - all the power to you.  If I don't want to be involved, I'll let you know or I'll leave.

Watching a reality TV show about rich housewives' personal lives is not on the top of my list.  Here's why.

A friend told me recently I had to "up my twitter game" in order to run a more successful business.  I totally agree with this.  I don't have a smart phone, however, and really don't like being on social media for more than an hour a day.  She suggests I tweet every hour, at least. Ugh.

After a really successful twitter day with re-tweets and tags and #hashtags galore, I felt like I had brainfreeze. Legit. You know when you eat ice cream and you can't do anything to rid you of the pain that is permeating your brain?  That's what I had.  A complete Twitter freeze.

I get a similar feeling if I'm on the ol' FB too long.  It's less hectic feeling, but it's as if I stopped breathing for a while and then someone woke me up and told me to breathe again. ahhhhh.

Think back to a time if you ever over-heard someone gossiping about someone else or talking about a topic that you felt really strongly about.  Did you want to say something? Did you say something?  Did you feel a pressure in your chest or your throat?

Take the above three sensations and put them all together in one big juicy package.  That's how I feel - physically and mentally - after watching maybe even ten minutes of these kinds of reality TV shows.  It takes me back to the middle school hallways - the high school locker room - the back of the bus (aha, huss that fuss).

Thich Nact Hahn would probably say something like: Watching this kind of behavior is akin to punching a pillow over and over again.  Some psychologists in the western world recommend this action to rid yourself of anger.  Thich Nact Hahn would say, this just reinforces the anger inside of you, building it up and making it worse.

The funny thing is - about my friend who watches this stuff and thinks it decompresses him - I wouldn't say his behavior either during or after watching the show is - peaceful.  I usually sense agitation, frustration and stress.  Being his yogi friend, I've tried to impart just a little peaceful wisdom on him so that the agitation doesn't sink into his physical body and make it worse.  Problem is - this stuff is addicting. 

Well - as I said - to each his own.  The practice of yoga, after all, isn't for everyone.  Maybe I live in a dream world.  I mean, who knows what is real and unreal anyway?

All I know is that when I go and sit in silence or read some kind of dharma while my friend watches a shouting match over haircolor and man-stealing - we emerge with a very different definition of friends and of hope for the world.

In tribute to "getting back to reality" I bring you this Thursday throwback :)

Om namah.