Opening to the closing

Here in Arizona the experience of autumn is still a foreign one to me. I grew up on the east coast and even after ten years my internal woodland creature looks for the cooling of the days and the crispness of the air that heralds the onset of fall. Every year come September and October that little creature finds itself confused and turning around in circles trying to avoid the continued heat and seek the brightly colored leaves and harvested squash and apples. Luckily Tucson has mountains, and if I really need a dose of autumn I can drive to it and sit in the smell of deciduous trees.

My internal schoolchild wants to gather up books and buy back-to-school outfits and sit at attention waiting to learn and perform. This year I have embarked on a master’s program journey to get a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. As suits my lifestyle and temperament, the program I have found allows me to maintain my life here in Tucson while pursuing the degree. I am fortunate enough also to have found a program that puts the lion’s share of the work in my hands, from determining due dates and class focus even down to the textbooks and resources I use for each class. It is for me a dream come true, as well as overwhelming.

I can hardly fathom how within just a few short years I will gain the skills to be a qualified counselor, permitted through education and licensure to assist people who find themselves stuck in all the various ways in which we find ourselves. But I can’t help but be drawn here. In both yoga and massage my focus is on gaining skills at navigating discomfort, maintaining a clear mind in the midst of the vicissitudes of everyday living, and utilizing our whole selves in the process. With only body and breath we miss out on the oceanic depth of the emotional and spiritual. Though these are in some senses less tangible they are no less important. Even now research is being done on the interplay between emotional and physical health, between the power of belief and the ability to survive, even thrive.

I am so excited to be here and doing this. I am excited to share it with you and grow in the process. I am excited to be overwhelmed and confused and unsure. I look forward to being exposed and learning how to be more vulnerable and humble. Feel free to come along.

New year, new…

Funny, this time of year. I love the influx of new students, people who have decided that now is the time to institute a yoga practice into their lives. Continuing students both grumble about and welcome the crowded rooms, both to share their love of the practice joyfully and share floor and wall space begrudgingly.

For my part I work to determine how best to introduce this transformative practice to new people while at the same time keeping it enriching to more seasoned practitioners.  And yet it puts me in mind of who I am considering my champion of 2017: Vishnu, the Preserver. 

Vishnu is the preserver and protector of the world, and his consort is the exquisite Lakshmi, she of beauty and abundance. He is, in the acronym of G-O-D, the Operator of the universe.

My culture of origin is not overly concerned with the preservation or the operation or the maintenance of things.  And yet, a yoga practice is, among its many facets, a mundane thing. Once the initial explosion of attraction and discovery has passed (and that can take a number of years, mind you), the practice becomes much less sexy and much more… regular. It has its beauty, no doubt. But the concept of sadhana (studentship) has to do with consistent showing up over long periods of time. And many of the most profound aspects unfold slowly and can only be experienced as the practitioner develops the strength and diligence that long-term practice brings. In this way I am totally a neophyte. I have been practicing for almost twenty years, and yet I have only begun to catch the barest scent of some of these things. I am still what I would consider a meh meditator (meh-ditator) and I have been doing it consistently – if not enthusiastically – for almost eight years now.

But this unsexy concept of the maintenance and preservation of the world, of the universe, has such a sense of softness and welcome to me at this time. I want for myself and for my students and clients and friends and family to feel a sense of welcome and connection to the world and beings around them. I am somewhat weary of the explosive energy of beginnings and implosive energy of endings. I am excited to step into the flow for a while and be part of that. It has the discomfort of pause in it, the space between the inhale and the exhale, the silence before the statement has been made, the waiting time, the during. It is LIFE.

Life is the space between the beginning and the end, made of many of those cycles, but really mostly space. As we are, mostly space. As the entire universe is, from what we can tell, mostly space. I invite you to open to the space and offer yourself to it, veering away from the addiction to big beginnings and showy endings. Let us relax into and celebrate the in-between.

For those whose interest is piqued by this concept, feel free to add some Vishnu into your life through the use of mantra, meditation, and murti. And may we all find peace in our now, exactly as it is.

Continuing forward

This past week left me reeling as it did so many of the people in my circle.  I was reminded how so many of us, in spending time with like-minded individuals, can live inside a bubble of belief that more people are “like us” than we might imagine.  I have also been exposed to many different viewpoints about how to handle the situation in which we find ourselves, and despite my fears and reservations and typical (for me) venturing toward the apocalyptic, I have begun to stabilize and put myself back together.

Byron Katie says “If you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” She reminds me that if things were supposed to be different, they would be different.  The very definition of the word “should” or “supposed to” indicates a tension between what is and what will be. If things are intended to change, if Trump is not “supposed” to be president, if our country and our world are “supposed” to be different, they will be.  For me this work begins inside myself. It is vital that I continue to meditate, that I continue to remain open to listening to and understanding any other person I encounter, and that I refuse to step into dualistic thinking. For myself I see this polarization as a primary issue, a seductive ideology that allows me to feel righteous and bolstered, and yet does nothing to help heal or connect or move forward.

Thus I do yoga. And I smile at strangers. And I help people when I can, and I take care of myself, and I listen to my heart as it pulls me forward toward unfolding my purpose in this world, Trump or no.

May we all find it in ourselves to soften and open to each other. Namaste

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Reaping

It seems from what I can tell that this year has been one of reaping. I spoke about it in a class this week, that the reaping has within it the elements of great benefit, as in those that are gained from reaping the harvest, bringing in the gains of one’s investment and time and hard work, as well as the sharp pain of the cutting, the emptying out, the severing of one part from another. My sweet kind yoga friend passed from this plane this week, both expectedly and unexpectedly. For him I sang many rounds of the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra, the Great Death Conquering mantra, whose plea is that to either bring one back from the brink of death to stay with us here in this world, or if not, to let one be cut from the vine, reaped as it were by the great Harvester, bringing the delicious essence of the soul back into the continuum. To allow that cutting to be graceful, merciful, and perhaps even quick. Let the blade be sharp and true.

I feel Tom at my shoulder, behind me, above me, surrounding those of us who knew and loved him as well as those affected by him in more second- or third-hand ways. His genuineness, his insight, his experience, his enthusiasm, and just the weight of his presence, I feel them. The word “guru” can be translated to “the weighty one”. Tom’s very self carried weight to it. When he was in the room there was this groundedness, this feeling of warmth and steadiness. He was a quiet guru, a guru who didn’t ask or desire to be a guru; the best kind. And he always kept learning. He attended classes and trainings and kept growing himself. He was a guru by way of example rather than by telling people what to do or how to live.

I am so grateful to have had Tom in my life, to have him still. Thanks doesn’t touch it, but it’s what I’ve got. Thank you, Tom.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I cannot believe how long it’s been since I’ve attended to my website.  As always I am grateful for it, knowing that I can always refer people to this page and rest content in all the work and time that went into putting it together just as I wanted it.

Recently I took part in a workshop taught by the magnificent Stephani Lindsey, bhakti yogi extraordinaire, whose level of practice and knowhow are matched equally by her sweet and open attitude as well as her continued devotion to bettering herself. It was, as she termed it, a “sane and sober” practice, one which through deliberate, slow, thoughtful approaches to the practice resulted in deep, grounded opening and exploration.  In short, I left inspired.

A couple of years ago on a trip back from San Marcos where we went to study with our teacher Christina Sell, Stef and I were talking about missing immersion-style intensives, where you just do yoga for like 6 hours a day.  We were bemoaning the lack of teachers available to put these on in Tucson now that both of our primary teachers of that sort had moved into different aspects of their own teaching.  It became apparent through discussion that if we wanted these intensives to happen, we were going to have to make them happen ourselves.

That’s one of the amazing parts of this practice.  It’s why there are so many freakin’ yoga teachers.  You get caught by the practice.  It entices and ensnares. It beckons you deeper, and the deeper you go, the deeper you want to go.  Sharing that with others is practically a compulsion at a point.  Where you go from there, who knows?

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The past few years since becoming a yoga teacher I have actually spent a fair amount of my time at my MMA gym. I am often asked incredulously how I blend these two parts of my life.  And yet, in some cultures yoga itself is considered a martial art. Indeed, the focus and endurance that I have learned in yoga, the ability to stay calm amidst waves of intensity, helps me immensely when I’m training and fighting. Conversely, the strength, carefully wielded power, movement awareness and continued inspiration that I sow through MMA lends itself beautifully to my yoga practice.  I mean, one of the most sacred yoga texts, the Bhagavad-Gita, takes place on a battlefield just before a brutal and bloody fight.

There is a sincere beauty in consensual fighting that is unlike anything else I have experienced.  Two opponents testing their skills against one another, each determined to bring their best to the exchange, an exchange that pushes them to their limits both physically and emotionally, it is so very pure.  It takes all the drama and anger away from just simply hurting someone else due to anger or pain.  It’s clean.

Recently I put my best efforts into applying to several graduate programs to further my education in the psychological aspect of health and wellness.  Several of the programs accepted me, and one did not.  This last was a program that I very much wanted, in many ways a long shot.  The rejection itself was not difficult.  I put forth my best effort – I had several chances to make my case as to why I would be a good choice for them.  In the end they determined I wasn’t. I have to trust their expertise.  Amazingly to myself, I was not sad because of the rejection.  As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “Always do your best.” I did. So no regrets. My sadness had more to do with the dream, the plan.  In my mind and heart I was already there and it was already in motion.  Having to change everything around and “settle” for a different plan was the hard part.  I’m still working through it, reorienting the momentum of my energy in a different direction.

Again comes both my yoga practice and my MMA practice to save the day. Plenty of times in a practice or a fight, things shift and it is necessary to move with it.  Sometimes the body is limited. Sometimes the mind is limited.  Either way, the plans only take us so far.  My east coast acculturated self has had a lengthy reeducation in this since I moved to Arizona 8 years ago. East Coast = you make a plan, it might as well be carved in stone. Nothing but death will keep me from it. West Coast = Plans? What are these ‘plans’ of which you speak? (Say it a bunch of times.  It will start to sound foreign. Plan plan plan plan plan plan plan planplanplanplanplanplan)

Anyway, point being, life is humming along.  I have a new class I’m teaching on Wednesdays at 12:15. I intend to be teaching a LoveYOBody class soon as well.  And grad school looms shortly ahead.

Come take some yoga.  Come get a massage.  Tell me about your life changes!

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Self Care

I have to say, this past while has been unusual for me.  Thank goodness for my yoga practice, which has been curtailed in its physical capacity due to some physical limitations.  It makes it all the more important that I maintain the other aspects of practice, meditation and personal study, accompanied by pranayama, which I am vowing as of now to resume. (Saying the words, that’s the start.)

A magnificent student of mine, who regularly attends several of my classes, recently went through a significant trial as her life turned upside-down suddenly. She handled it with remarkable aplomb, and I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the magnitude of the entire thing to come down on her.  And yet she has continued to show up, week after week, shaken certainly but still present, still practicing.  I asked her how she’s managing to hold up so well, and she told me the only thing she could attribute it to is her practice. The strength and presence she has gained coming week after week, day after day, has built the walls of her container strong enough to hold roiling waters.  B.K.S. Iyengar attributed the power of asana to be that which tonifies the nervous system so as to prepare the self for ever-increasing vigorous practice, and not so much that of asana itself as the really tough stuff: sitting still and roping the mind repeatedly back to stillness and presence.

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How do we keep practicing when it feels tiring or boring or like a chore? I find operating on the idea of things being good for me or things paying off later, down the road, that only takes me so far.  I need some more immediate benefits as well, and thankfully my practice brings that to me nearly every time.  Sometimes I need to get a little creative about it; for example recently sitting in meditation has actually been painful, so sometimes I meditate lying down, or in the shower, or in the tub. The asana practice itself has also been painful recently, which has spurred me to find an asana practice that I can do, poses that feel good, as well as applying asana principles to non-asana activities, like my MMA classes.  I use yogic breath, mantra, even balance and strength alignment cues, to keep me moving through my physical activities, allowing them for the time being to take the place of my physical asana practice.  So it stays alive in my life.

Finding ways to take care of ourselves in all the phases of life, whether sick or well, tired or energized, strapped for time or looking for things to fill the appointment book, this is where yoga practice comes into play in all its facets. It is a practice for all seasons, moments, phases of life. If you don’t practice, why don’t you practice? There is a practice for you no matter what or who you are.

So long

It’s amazing how this time thing happens.  I blink and it’s been months since I last updated.  I figure that’s a good sign.

Mostly my life consists of teaching, massaging, going to the MMA gym, and going to yoga classes.  It’s a good life.  Meanwhile I’ve been putting all the pieces together for this AMAZING UPCOMING CD that is due out within the next 1-2 months. I’m doing my best to get it in the right people’s hands before it’s released so everyone who should have it does have it and can promote it to pieces because did I mention that’s it’s AMAZING?

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Once that’s done it’s onto the next big life project: grad school.  Life has been so good these last several months that I ask myself whether it’s actually important to take this next step, whether I can’t just be content teaching and massaging and going to the gym.  I think I probably could.  But I do have a drive, a passion, to truly help people, help them on more than just a surface level.  And the thought of pursuing a career in Health Psychology, as a whole-health counselor, that thrills me.  I know that the people who will be drawn to me will be those who are tired of feeling crappy, or even just not their best.  They will want someone to help them figure out a plan and stick to it, someone to help them ask the questions they can’t see because they’re in the middle of their own lives, unable to witness their own blind spots.  I am so grateful to have amazing friends and a support network that help me ask those hard questions, and allow me to grow.  I want to be able to help others do this, with some skill and diplomacy. So there we go.  Grad school ho.

But let me not forget to include that there’s this upcoming CD!  Stay tuned for info as it becomes available.  Namaste!

Beginning again

As I look from my current vantage point what I can see most clearly is that the parts of our lives we give focus to are what grow.  Currently my world consists mostly of doing homework, working out or doing yoga, teaching yoga, doing massage and watching Netflix to turn off my brain.  Not much room in there for spending time with my friends, being outdoors, cooking dinner, keeping the house attended to, making music. This isn’t a complaint mind you, it’s just how things are at the moment.  And I see the distance I feel from the things in my life that were so prevalent a short time ago, and the intense pull that I feel from the things I have currently deemed Important. It’s a seductive room, that room of Importance.  I usually have my eyes wide open when I walk in, but once I stay a while I start to forget that I chose to walk into that room and decorate it the way I did, eschewing certain things for others.  It starts to feel, increasingly, sneakily, like that room comprises pretty much most of the world, all that matters anyway.

So I’m glad that I’m just about to start The Presence Process again.  It should help me get a little clearer about the room. This time I’m doing it with other people, and we’re going to check in with one another periodically as it goes.  The independent rule breaker in me doesn’t want to have “meetings” or be held to a “schedule”. Funny how hard it can be to just simply say yes sometimes. But one good thing about it is that I really will have people holding me accountable, and me doing the same for them.  Teams can help us get through stuff. That’s why I love public yoga classes. Like it or not, we’re on a team together for that hour or hour and a half, holding each other up and relying on each other at the same time.

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Either way, for me I am hoping that this time through the process I can come closer into contact with myself.  I am observing myself in a number of unfamiliar (and too familiar) scenarios, watching my behavior, thinking about it and trying to understand it later.  I know this means I am closer to being able to shift it in the moment, but I’m not quite there yet.  I still freeze up and revert to type, or let the saboteur run the show sometimes, though perhaps a little less extremely than I used to. I am really looking to understand what is real for me, and what of me is working really well, and what of me I need to kindly but discerningly work through to shift, and try to love it all. It’s so damned hard. And I find myself scared of what will come up next; what new emotional/ethical/philosophical/primal/soul-searching paradox is on my horizon? But the fear isn’t in charge. It just is there. Among all the other feelings.

Anyway. That’s where I’m at, in the dawn of the new year. Here is to walking the path as truly as we can.

I Appreciate Myself

So here it is, the last week. week 10.  It coincides with the taking of GRE’s and full-on immersion in two classes.  You know, plus life and stuff. But really the worst is over.

I am writing in the aftermath of the GRE’s, feeling shaky and unsure and very unconfident in myself.  I didn’t realize how much stock I was putting in how I did on this test, how much of my self-worth I see in the score, and how I rely on my history as a good test taker, which when out of practice for 15 years or so can throw a gal into a bit of a self-esteem tailspin.

So the statement for the week is well-timed.

As usual, the reading is much more than one would imagine from the statement.  This week’s reading centers around being versus doing.  It notes how in most people’s lives, we place value on what we do, what we accomplish, rather than the quality and experience of our lives.  Brown asserts that because we did not receive unconditional love as younglings, we looked outside ourselves and asked what we could DO to receive it.  As a result our lives became about what we could DO to get approval, love, a feeling of value and worth.  And he writes that the feeling we seek can come from nowhere but inside.

So the statement I Appreciate Myself invests us with love, invests us with value. And from the perspective of one of the other definitions of “appreciate”, we can increase our own value by investing love and positive attention on ourselves.  I increase my value through my positive self-care and assertion. So I look at myself and appreciate my unique set of traits and thoughts and qualities that create me as a distinct individual in this world.

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Brown also posits that much of the pain we experience in this world comes from the separation that we visualize between ourselves and other beings.  He says that most of the thoughts and actions that we do in search of the love we seek actually increase the gap between us and other people, for example comparing ourselves to others in order to be “better” or demonizing their actions or apparent intentions.  If one instead chooses to see the Other as a person who is also attempting to find and secure love and feeling of belonging in the world, we close the gap.  We become the love we seek.  And that love fills us and soothes the cracks and wounds that motivate us to act in ways that are less self- serving.

So this week so far I’ve been trying more than usual to look into the eyes of the people on the other end of things: the cashier at Whole Foods or the person next to me at the stoplight or the lady across from me in yoga.  I am not by any means succeeding 100% of the time.  But I’m noticing a feeling of calm and connection with regard to other people that is small but dawning.

In connecting with others intentionally, I am closing the gap.  And I am Appreciating Myself.

I Invite Myself to be Spontaneously Joyful

Week 9.

Things are turning up here on my home front, pressure-wise.  These last two weeks of The Presence Process are also two weeks in which I am taking GRE’s, starting 2 classes, being in a wedding, starting a volunteer gig, spending time with some folks in town from far away, and still managing my life.  So I am doing my best to keep my figurative shit together, and so far I have to say that it’s going okay.  I have to give some of the credit for this to the work of these last eight weeks.

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This week’s statement is supported by reading that centers around the underlying drama that blows up relationships.  It asks that you go through your relationships and notice what the common thread is in them that put them to bed as it were.  It asks that you notice what the dynamic was in which you played a part, and then connect that to what you learned as a child observing relationships around you.

This has been rich territory for me so far, noticing that my “I can’t be myself in relationships because then I get lambasted and rejected and then I wear myself ragged trying to be the person that my other wants me to be” story line is one that I can spot from my childhood.  So that’s helpful.  I noticed also that I was intolerant and withdrew my affection when my other would display characteristics or tendencies that I didn’t like.  This got me to the place of seeing my fear, a fear that by tolerating and accepting those behaviors I would assume them as well and become someone that I am terrified to become.

The next step is to define what love is by considering it to be the opposite of the definition you had instilled in you as a child, so for example, “Love is changing who you are for the other person” becomes “Love is being authentically yourself in relationships and deeply accepting and treasuring others for who they are.”  So I considered what might happen if next time I see those behaviors I find my compassion and extend the olive branch of understanding rather than withdrawing.  It’s scary but kind of exciting.

My friend this week said to me, “Whatever you do in your next relationship, just make it different than what you’ve done before.” I can work with this.

So then how does this connect to spontaneous joy?  Essentially Brown concludes that our pain and suffering is entirely under our domain, and that once we realize that our approach is all we need to tinker with, we can then choose joy in any moment.

Yesterday I was on my way to meet with one of my out-of-town friends and starting the litany of all the have-to’s in my head while I was driving.  Then I remembered the statement.  And I looked around me, saw the immense beauty of the Catalina mountains, felt the delicious kiss of Tucson October air on my skin, listened to the music that suddenly became not just background noise but the soundtrack to my incredible moment and let the joy flow through me.  It was magical.

I realized that even in this very dense time I don’t have to have the nose-to-the-grindstone chiseled jaw of steel to make it through.  I can remain joyful and grateful even as I am busy, and laugh as more obstacles come my way. And then no matter what happens, even if I don’t get the outcome I want immediately, I can know that the process was a joyful one, and will continue to be.

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