It feels pretty outrageous to have a space of time ahead of me this summer to craft my offerings for the fall. I am so grateful to the Tribe–those dedicated and loving individuals who showed up on their mat, week after week, to dive deeper into their practice and the teachings and meaning of yoga.
Today was the last week of my classes and I was desperately seeking parting words. It felt akin to seeking the right words when parting from my kids who are now young adults…desperately seeking for some brilliant wisdom…and something like “make good choices” is all that I can blurt out. After all, they have probably learned all they are going to from me–at least the big stuff.
So in searching about for something more profound than “make good choices,” I landed on Ahimsa, the first of the Yamas in the ancient yoga text by Pantanjali, called the Yoga Sutras. It’s a text that offers a path of right living, and is over 2,500 years old. The Sanskrit word Ahimsa translates into “nonviolence,” which I admit sounds pretty assumptive–so to clear the air here, I am not presuming that anyone is outwardly violent. Ahimsa suggests just the opposite: a loving compassion for all beings, all people, including oneself (self compassion).
Focusing at the heart, the center of compassion and love, we paused or a Loving Kindness Meditation to really sink into it a bit deeper. So rather than “make good choices,” I’ll leave you with this: lead and choose from this place of compassion. If we all did that, imagine what a beautiful world it would be.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. Every year I am faced with the task of teaching to a diverse group of people for whom the word “mother” means something entirely different. For some their mothers are not with them now, for others they may simply not want to think of their mother, and others may never have had a mother…..so the word is loaded….so I avoid it altogether and instead, I ask people when they come to their mats to consider the word “mother” as a verb, as in “to mother.”
Most people mother, or support, others. The majority of people who walk through the door into my classes are in the “sandwich generation” so they are mothering up AND down, caring for their ageing parents, relatives, or friends and also for their children. But what we ALL have in common is the support structure: the rich network that is built through friendship and family–even if it is adopted family–to lift us through the challenging times.
Perhaps it is a phone call to check in, a little gift that magically shows up when you are down, or even just a smile. There is compassion, empathy and a consistency that is there. And you play your part in creating that support for others. It’s our “sanga” or community that we are a part of, that connects us to others in a meaningful way.
Take some time this week– a week that crescendos on Mothers Day–to appreciate all the caring and mothering that has been shown to you. Wrap yourself in a blanket of that love and compassion; recharge with it so you can send it out to others.
And in a nod to mothering everywhere, here is a photo of my most recent creation this week, a vegan and gluten free banana bread! Thanks to Minimalist Baker’s recipe, found here. I just added giant volumes of walnuts because my husband loves them!
In a yoga practice we often find ourselves in downward facing dog during a sun salutation. The instructor might say “walk, step, or hop to the top of the mat.” So what is all that hopping all about? Well, it is the jumping, or springing forward, of yoga. It takes a lot of core strength (I refer to it as the engine or the “gas”) and it takes something else: you must shift your gaze to see where you are going.
In my life at the moment I’m kind of treading water. I haven’t committed or made progress in a few areas because I am waiting for puzzle pieces to fall into place, or I might not have exactly scoped out what I want the next step to look like. It’s pretty common, I’m sure you can relate. But the elements of a jump forward on the mat also applies to our lives. Most importantly, the internal gaze forward. We are so very busy and otherwise consumed that we often don’t give ourselves permission to look up, look forward, and see what it is that we’d like to pounce upon. It’s a very important step because we want to be poised for the jump and need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
Once you fully engage the core and commit, the jump isn’t hard to do….also not unlike the moving forward and onward in your everyday life. They say luck is at the intersection of preparedness and opportunity. Finding the internal gaze, your next step, sets you up for the opportunity when it arises.
Last weekend we got our first snow of the season, and it fell on the outdoor holiday lights in our neighborhood, turning the crisp little white lights into glowing orbs. The days have been becoming shorter and now we have arrived at the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The lights outside hold our attention, draw us in with their beauty, and help us forget about the darkness–and maybe even celebrate that darkness. It is truly the season of light.
During this season of light it is important to go inward to connect with your own inner light. The yoga teachings (sutras, chapter one) talk of “the light within that is free of all suffering and sorrow.” We often block our own light without even knowing it. So as we sit now at the solstice, here in the dark, dust off whatever is blocking your bright light. Prepare to leave behind whatever is hindering it from shining its brightest, so you can bring your truest, most brilliant self into the new year.
Sharing some light with you! To help you celebrate the solstice, here is a fantastic recipe for vegan/gluten free cupcakes. Be prepared to be amazed! Even my extraordinarily fussy people in my house love these!!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and spray a 12-cup muffin pan with oil.
Create two bowls, one for dry ingredients and one for wet.
Dry ingredients (whisk together):
1 1/4 cup Pamela’s Artisan Gluten Free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Wet Ingredients (whisk together):
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used avocado oil)
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon lemon oil (could probably substitute lemon zest)
Whisk everything together and then spoon into the muffin pans. Bake for ~20 minutes. Take out and let cool before you frost them.
This will take another 5-10 minutes but it is totally worth it. It hardens up and is a great complement to the moist cupcakes.
Whisk together in a bowl and then spoon/smear onto the cupcakes :
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Enjoy!! Recipe adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
GREAT JOB, EVERYBODY!!
The Yoga Tribe well exceeded its goal and raised over $1,300 for the Milton Residents Fund Holiday Gift Program. Helping our own right here in Milton and making the holidays just a little more merry and bright!!
I feel a little like Buddy the Elf…..YOU DID IT!!!!
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!
Many of our yoga poses stem from Hindu deities. The Hindu goddess Shiva avenged someone by creating the warrior Virabhadra. And so we practice warrior poses (named after the warrior, Virabhadrasana), not to honor acts of violence but to find a way inward, or introspection in our practice.
A yoga practice will normally have many warrior poses sprinkled in. They can be intense longer holds in the range of warrior poses (think lunges, moving and holding your body in opposite directions) or they can be sped through at a pace that requires precision and determination. In any case these warriors requires steadiness, strength, determination, and getting comfortable in your discomfort. They also require a response to that discomfort–they ask you to meet yourself with some grit, but also with some softness.
True warriors on the battlefield are keenly aware of the uncertainty of war. As yoga practitioners holding warrior poses we, too, understand the uncertainty of not just our practice, but also our life. “Life as you know it” can turn on a dime and we are all intimately familiar with the experience of loosing the footing of security and peace. So our mindfulness practice of appreciating the moment, maybe even luxuriating in the goodness or lightness of the moment, is critical not only on the yoga mat but out in the world.
Most of all, the practice of warriors gives us another way inward to understanding ourselves on “mind, body, and spirit” levels. As we move through the practice your mind may be racing and asking if you are doing something just right, your body is reminded of its strengths and limitations, and with any hope, on a spiritual level you are meeting yourself with kindness, acceptance, compassion and the friendliness you would offer any dear friend. It is as much a practice of getting to know yourself both on and off the mat.
Coming back to stillness. That is what it all about.
We unrolled our mats. For many of the people in the room it was the first time they had done so all summer, others had kept their practice up; different for everyone. Tall seat, eyes closed, tuning in to the inner self, the breath, being still. The summer with its beauty keeps us on the run, as we try to leverage the bounty of the season. And getting kids settled into school can feel like it’s as much a new start for us as it is them. So sitting quietly is a welcome respite from all the movement, planning, details of our lives. As we come out of doing and into being. Welcoming ourselves back home to ourselves, and to our mats.
Hurricane season is in full force. So many storms are creating fear, fleeing, devastation. So much chaos and energy. As I look at the radar images of the swirl of the storms I am reminded of the swirls of our minds. All the details and engagement in our lives can create our own mental swirl. Sprinkle in a little stress or anxiety and who knows what category storm you have!
So you sit, you breathe, and you quiet the winds of the mind. It’s the foundational element of your practice, both on and off the mat.
No wind. I walk like a sleuth out to the end of the dock and roll out my mat. I get myself settled into a sitting position and briefly close my eyes. Opening a moment later just to soak it all in. The beauty is breathtaking. Tall pines surround me at the edge the lake. It feels as if I have just sat down in a quiet, still cathedral. Giant inhale, even bigger exhale. Blessings being counted, feeling lucky to be here.
And so the day began, with my daily “dock yoga” as I call it. People often ask me what my personal practice is like, so I thought I would share a glimpse into my practice while on my respite in Maine.
Back to closed eyes, centered breathing. The water is so still that you can hear fish jump nearby and a loon calls to break the silence. Must be time to move on to some gentle warm ups. A little cat/cow, some lunging, twisting, longer held planks, and of course, downward dog. Right leg wrapping around left–is this even yoga? I think to myself–well it feels good and I’m finding areas that are stuck–and I float into a side plank. As my arm reaches high I feel like one with the trees, reaching tall, strong, yet bending, moving.
As I progress through the practice I am reminded of the days as a young child when I would visit my grandparents in the Bronx. We play hide & go seek with our cousins in their basement, hiding in cupboards, under tables, anywhere. On the mat I might suddenly find a spot–found ya–and hold it for longer, explore it, wiggle into something that feels like the perfect key to what is locked. It’s an untamed, not always symmetrically balanced, practice that is my own exploration, a hide & go seek for my body. And as my body is different every day, so is the practice.
In the quiet of the practice I find myself grieving the loss of my father. I see the loon coming closer and think, “Dad, is that you?” I feel tears trickle down my face. Wiping them off, I carry on, “come back the breath” I tell myself, and I gently nudge myself back. Moving through the emotions is part of the practice, so I embrace this as a sacred moment, a hide & go seek all its own.
After a few warriors of various types, I find myself in a wide-legged fold. The world is upside down. The lake is so calm that the reflection of the trees looks, from this angle, that it isn’t upside down at all. Which one is real and which is not? Another game to explore…
Down to the mat for some deep hip and core work. The intensity keeps me firmly planted in my body and I welcome the brief svasana I give myself.
Mind, body, spirit. The practice never ceases to deliver, and on some magical days on the dock, even more so.
I’m on vacation this week, enjoying some wonderful lakeside R&R in Maine. A beautiful spot not only for its physical beauty but its annual reminder to live more simply and in tune with nature.
I said good-bye to the folks in my yoga classes last week as I will not be teaching again until September. It’s bittersweet, as it is my passion to share the mind/body/spiritual elements of the practice. But this is my annual dive inward–practicing on a dock or a deck each day–just being, not doing a whole lot. However, I will especially miss teaching during eclipse week in late August–which is kind of a big deal–likely the last full eclipse of the sun in my lifetime. And I just cannot get Carly Simon’s lyrics from “You’re So Vain” out of my head when I write that (…then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun…).
I asked my classes last week in a “moon themed” class to imagine themselves, their shining gifts, their offering to this world, their pure radiance, as the light of the sun. So beautiful, bright and stunning. Now imagine the moon fully darkening that light as it would in an eclipse. Doesn’t feel that good, does it? And yet, this is our lives….we let so much get in the way of shining our brightest.
Maybe it is a lens–the lens of your life–that needs cleaning. Seeing things a bit differently may be what is necessary. Maybe it is a story that you’ve been holding onto, or something–anything–that isn’t serving you any longer. Time to let it go and shift perspective. Celebrate the eclipse by giving yourself permission to radiate to your fullest potential.
Remember, the actual eclipse is fleeting and the sun comes out the other side.
I was out running this past weekend. Okay, it was really part walk/part run. But I was running when I tripped on a lip at an intersection and went flying forward, landing pretty hard. I took me a minute to assess what was what. I seemed to be bleeding a lot from one of my knees and one hand, but was able to get to the side of the road and determine nothing was broken. I was mostly stunned and feeling sorry for myself. So I began walking home, when I bumped into a friend.
This friend was very sympathetic and said that she, too, had fallen while walking about a year ago. At the time she said to herself, “If I were doing yoga I wouldn’t have fallen, I would have had better balance,” adding, “but here you are, doing all this yoga, and you fell!” (was she justifying not doing yoga? unclear!) The encounter was brief and as I was in need of fresh water to clean up, I carried on toward home.
Throughout the day I reflected on the fall: pretty symmetrical, even distribution of weight, didn’t break anything; it could have been so much worse. But thinking about the comment from my friend just made me realize how important yoga is on every level. Maybe the practice has given me the strength and balance so that I didn’t fall worse than I did! I am sure that is true. But on a deeper level, maybe all the lessons from the practice will help me recover more quickly–because that is what the practice does–it allows you to right the ship and navigate to calmer waters more easily.
Is it the resilience that is required in balances? The strength built in warriors? The humor we employ when we fall out of a pose? The compassion we cultivate for ourselves and others? Or the lessons from the poses themselves: twists allowing us to be experiences opposites not unlike the joy and sorrow of life? backbends allowing us to become open-hearted yet with strong backbones, reminding us we can feel vulnerable yet be strong. I could go on and on.
The point is….we all tumble and fall sometimes. You might have an actual fall (which I sincerely hope that you do not!). Or the tumbling might be more subtle, falling on an emotional or spiritual level. We all have fallen this way. Just remember a yoga practice will help you recover and get back on course, no matter the bumps and bruises you take along the way.