Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene joins the kula

So this weekend, the entire east coast endured Hurricane Irene. She was definitely a ferocious and spunky lil' thing, and New York (state, as well as just city) was thick in the mayhem of preparations for the worst. Definitely better to be over prepared, than under prepared, my mom used to say (Go mom).

I narrowly escaped by heading upstate to Heathen Hill Retreat center and farm, with 8 other valiant yoga devotees and those desiring a weekend out of the city. What a weekend we chose! Preparing up there as well for Irene to blast through included candlelit yoga, filling buckets of water in the bathrooms for when the power goes out, and making sure everyone had flashlights. We were kinda prepared for no power since there's no wi-fi on the premises, but alas, we survived.  Call me crazy, but I was loving the adventure and it sorta reminded me of camp. Camp with a hot tub, plenty of wine, and the coolest counselor (Susan "Lip" Orem, you win hands down), and all your favorite bunk mates.

I love going on retreat as a student; the escape from daily life, being a student of yoga for two classes a day, time to relax, really meditate, read...but as the teacher of a retreat, I love it in a different way. I'm 'on-call' (happily I must add) for stuff that arises when you willingly step outside of your comfort zone and agree to live for a limited time with relative strangers, usually with only one thing in common: a love of yoga. This common thread goes a long way, and usually becomes the key to what I've seen form as life-long friendships. Again and again, I see connections made on retreats that are so bonding, so real, filled with such laughter that even if they don't last, they open hearts and mind to such a degree that a revelation appears. That revelation over and over again is that life is good and we're supposed to enjoy it. Together. We forge the bonds of friendship through this yoga, and choose to walk it together for as long as we do. It's the teaching that I come back to again and again for myself, and one that puts a salve on old wounds in me about feeling alone, or being unworthy of connection with others. If anyone else gets that kind of salve, that kind of up-liftment or ease in their heart from being on a yoga retreat with me and making new friends, then I've done my job well.

Kula is a sanskrit word that translates to mean 'body', as in 'collection' or 'structure' and it refers to a particular kind of community where the connection runs a little deeper than just sangha, which translates simply to 'community'. Kula are those you are simpatico with, and with whom you share a common belief or value system. The meaning of kula has more to do with the liberty inherent to choose who you bond with to form a woven 'structure' of support. We choose who to bond with, who to trust, who to count as ally, and then conversely, who to be a strong structure for.  In my nearly 10 years of teaching, what's become most important to me is creating kula, as well as being in kula. To somehow be the connecting point for others to find each other is truly one of the greatest joys of my job.  Certification in 2005 felt like I took a vow to uphold particular principles of living, and one of them was to honor the Kula and what it stands for.  One principle of kula is that no one really gets kicked out. You're free to come into the community and play, offer your talents, gifts, quirks, wit, voice and opinion, just as free as you are to leave when it no longer serves you. 

We welcomed Irene into the kula this weekend, and she forged us together.

Friday, July 08, 2011

stepping into your future self

I remember around 6 or 7 years ago, back in the early days of what a bunch of us called 'Rajanaka Summer camp', I was in a funk. This was a deep funk so blinding I couldn't see at all the glory of our verdant surroundings or begin to hear the mystical and rich teachings from Douglas' lips to our ears. And this was like, day 1 of the retreat. It was a bad funk alright.  What transpired was a talk in the basement, surrounded by books and papers and sanskrit... and bikes. Lots and lots of bikes hanging from the ceiling, in this old rustic house, where my teacher would host these special retreats. So down to the basement he and I went, to have a talk.

It was in this conversation I kinda got yelled at. Well, that's definitely how I remember it. It had fatherly-parental tones, along with the warmth an old friend who cares about you enough to talk you out of something. And he did. He talked me out of my funk.  I went upstairs, sat for seminar, and then got up to help in the kitchen to do my seva.  I was fine. Calm, settled, felt connected to others again. As I was washing dishes my teacher came up to me at the sink and said "you're amazing, you know that? That was fast". And he walked away. In perfect Yoda form, he walked away.  I hadn't even realized how quickly I moved from one state to the next.

I struggle with my funks. They're hard to love, but they're an integral part of who I am.  Depression is something I've experienced my whole life. I'm an intense person with complexities like anyone else, but I know that when I go down, I go down.  Yoga has become my ultimate funk-fighter, and I don't just mean asana. I've got an arsenal of things I use to fight the funk, meditation being the most recent addition and panacea. Most of the time they work, and I'm getting way better at catching it before it goes way deep, and I've learned that all these aspects of yoga help me step into my future self.

That future self is simply that calm place when I'm past the funk, standing at the sink, serving myself to the world and the community out of love. That's me being who I am deeply, and truly. Its a fine place to be and one I'm quite comfortable in. Just as comfortable as the funky place.

The Brooklyn Museum is featuring a great exhibit now, called 'Vishnu: Hinduism's Blue-Skinned Savior" and its quite lovely. Vishnu is one of the great triad of deity that make up the foundation of Hindu thought and myth. As the one who keeps things in order, Vishnu manifests as ten different avatars when they are needed to create harmony in the world. He is us, when we need to make things right. 

Of the ten avatars the one I'm most intrigued by is Kalki, and the one I've heard least about. The others (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, and Buddha) we study in yoga text and mythic culture. Rama, Krishna and Buddha each have such great stories and meaning that they've become widely worshiped and singled out.  But Kalki, he's unique for he's the avatar of the future.

Kalki is known as the maha avatar, the great incarnation, whose arrival will heralded at the end of the Kali Yuga where we are now. It's basically the idea that he'll show up when the shit really hits the fan (as if it's not bad enough, sometimes I think), when the world is plunged into such darkness and confusion that only Vishnu manifesting as this form could bring balance again. The imagery of Kalki is equally fascinating, of a man looking large-and-in-charge, riding a white horse, carrying a flaming sword, bow and arrow, discus, and conch shell. Sorta reminds me of the classic mythic version of the White Knight coming to save the girl.

I interpret avatars of Vishnu not as descending manifestations of the Divine in the material world, but as ascending qualities of our own hearts and wisdom. Kalki then is the highest form of your own abilities to kick your demons to the side, once and for all. Since we are evolving beings we go through this time and time again. Face a demon, and vanquish it. Or not, and stay in the turmoil of the funk.
Can you talk yourself out of a funk? Not sure. I try, and often I do. What's helping me is remembering my future self is always present, as my present self. Kalki is living inside at all times, fully armed to cope with whatever travesties and difficulties arise.

Then there's also the voice of a good friend, willing to talk you out of it too. So grateful.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Vermont is so beautiful, regardless of rain, sun or snow. The trees hover so gracefully over the earth in this part of the world, like there's simply no rush to do anything but just be, which is what I was so excited to do this past week for Anusara's Grand Circle and Wanderlust.  Just. Be.

I love teaching yoga, but I also love being a student. A fully attentive, tell-me-what-to-do student of asana where I don't have to think about sequencing, themes, weaving, assisting, room lighting or temperature, or anything. I just simply get to be taught, guided, inspired, intrigued, challenged and absorbed fully into the teachings as they emerge through my body-breath connection. Glorious. 

So off I went, car load of yogis blasting Bruce Springsteen on satellite radio (heaven!!) for our 4+ day adventure. I dub these events "Anusara Love-Fests" cause they are exactly that - a chance to reconnect to the very essence of what surges through each of us as our sap: Love. That's all it is. That's what we all go for, and even lust after; its love love and more love.

So Anu-Lust (credit to the ever witty Aimee B for that one) began with a 3 hour practice with
John Friend, subsequent classes each morning, and additional classes each afternoon with a variety of great certified teachers, many I've been on the path with for nearly 10 years. We gathered this year at a special time as well, to celebrate the suns path in the sky and its peak at the Solstice. Yes, there was clearly magnetic power in the air and we were gathering to it, through John, the music (Todd Boston among others), the teachings, and each other. 

What clears each and every time I gather with John and the kula is my darshan, or vision. It shifts to become less skewed, and more clear. This always informs my practice as a spiritual one, as I'm able to see through the top layer of the world into its essence with greater ease. Its like an experience you get when you come out of a great practice or deep meditation and your mind has become rearranged to such a degree that whatever was there a short time prior pulling you, nagging at you, worrying you, is gone. What clears is then the experience you receive as darshan, a vision or view of the Divine. It's always there you see, it's never not been there for you to see, only now, after practice it opens. What swells inside from this opening is exactly what we lust after, the undeniable experience of our hearts expanding with a feeling of love, gratitude, ease, and joy.

John has mastered his ability to be a magic wand for this experience to happen - he's not magic per se, but he's become quite the expert in becoming a lightening rod for the shakti. He channels it, and he doesn't bring it to us, he brings us up to it.  Every person in the room rearranges in an energetic way to such a degree that it is so palpable. Then you look over to the person next to you, behind you, in front of you and they look a little more defined, yet softer.  Blood and circulation flow, breath is clear, anticipation and excitement partner with a subtle sense of everything-is-okay. The shakti rises. If we were to define this shakti with one word, one quality, it would be Love. The default in the absence of all other emotions or qualities that could define an experience of being opened and having dust cleared off your eyes, we could simply say Love rises.

And that's what I feel today. Home, with my kitties, the faces in class this morning were a bit more vivid, the light in their eyes more defined, the trees look extra green. I feel love.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

embodying Lara Croft

The streets were super crowded when I got out at Rock Center, and I hadn't been to the middle of the island in quite a while. I'd forgotten the magical array of people, sights, and sounds that attract so many from around the world to this great city. Including the yogis last weekend to the Yoga Journal Conference. The conference is a yoga party reunion for many, and a weekend crash course in all things yoga and yoga related. Then there's the yoga 'stuff' - The Marketplace. I have a history in retail, so I'm attracted to the gathering of stuff for sale and display. The first thing you were greeted with in this years Marketplace was a free lululemon photoshoot. That's right! You too can be a yoga model! It was quite awesome though, and supplied all that infectious lululemon spirit.

My favorite booth is always my favorite booth, and I am sure every time to visit. I go for darshan.  It's a sanskrit word that means 'vision of the Divine', and I pay homage to the 330 million with darshan at the murti booth with Manoj. Manoj mans the booth and has been a steadfast figure in the Anusara community for many years, and he brings this incredible selection of Hindu murtis (statues) on tour with John several times a year. They're really amazing. Some are upwards of 3' tall, some fit in the palm of your hand, and he's got every size in between. Some of these versions of deity are rarely seen here in the US, and having gone to India in 2008 and visited a murti maker, Manoj truly does have some of the most unique offerings I've seen here. They're not cheap mind you, but importing from India isn't cheap.

I did make a new purchase this time - a meditating Hanuman. Exquisite. Sublime. His eyes half open in meditative state while he sits under a bodhi tree and his tail, which is none other than his shakti or creative readiness, is wrapped around his mace sitting by his side. He's ready to leap into action at any moment, yet sits quiet, with only Love in his heart, and that is in the image of Ram. He's really exquisite, and came to life for me 2 or 3 years ago when I first laid eyes on him. So I brought him home.

Manoj also had a gorgeous vision of Durga. She's the goddess known as "difficult going" or "the one who can redeem in situations of utmost distress" (Wikipedia on that one).  Upon seeing the one Durga he had this time I realized she is another of my ishta devata's (your favorite deity). Then I heard Manoj tell a likely buyer of Durga's tale. She is a svatantrya goddess with 8 arms (sometimes 10), born from the will of the other gods and goddesses when they needed help in destroying an asura (demon) wreaking havoc on the three worlds. Each of the gods endowed Durga with one of their weapons; Hanuman gave her his mace, Shiva gave his trident, Ganapati his noose, Indra a thunderbolt, and so on. She's loaded, with none other than the very thing each of these gods do best. Lucky girl.  But the best part of the story to me was what Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance and beauty, gave Durga. Lakshmi gave Durga her face. Her stunningly beautiful and content presence would then be the first thing the demon encountered. I envisioned her then like Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. Hot, and armed.  Lara Croft is a mythological character herself, known for not just being hot and athletic, but willing to research the darkest and most ancient tombs and ruins. Yup, that's Durga.

Embodying Durga or any deity means you meditate on them, and contemplate their energy. Deity worship is simply like understanding different aspects of the human condition, as they are archetypes of emotion. Durga is who you need when you're challenged deeply by something , and need to conjure up your hidden abilities. Each of the god's gifted weapons represent these kind of hidden aspects of our own abilities, and they are as close as your own fingertips.

She's a svatantrya goddess which translates to mean "freely existing", like, its always there on its own. Her charm as Lakshmi, which is always freely existing, is just as freely existing in each of us.  We can't just charm our problems away of course, but we can remember we're more equipped to deal with them then we think. We become Lara Croft, and jump into the darkness with the tools to deal.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

in teg ri ty

in.teg.ri.ty:  [in-teg-ri-tee] 

adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
This word has come up a lot in the NY yoga world lately.  Not sure if it's having such a popular come back in other states or communities, but it's like, the word of the year here.  It's a good thing to be thinking about, and a lot of us perhaps take for granted the meaning and implications of the what it means to have integrity.  
In basic yogic principles we first see this taught as the Yamas and Niyamas, the ethical principles of living a yogic life written in discourse by Patanjali, some few thousands of years ago.   These are seen as the 'abc's' of yoga; do these first, and in order, and you'll be on the pathway to and more likely to reach samadhi, or enlightenment.  I remember my teacher  saying that these are like the laws of adulthood, and by the time you reach actually becoming a practicing yogi, you better have those things in order.  
I love this second definition of 'integrity' above, grabbed right off 
The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished 
This is what we always call in anusara, purnata, or 'full'.  Its like saying your worth as a great being is assumed. We start this way, and we will end this way.  The question of yoga is  are you upholding yourself to it by living it.
I was totally called out recently for not living up to my word.  Although it was a hard conversation to have, everyone came out unscathed, there was no blood shed, not even any tears.  Maybe that's a sign of maturity on my part and the other person's, and though scary it was doable and necessary.  I learned.  Immediately from that conversation, I learned. I learned that its my responsibility if I don't understand instructions or duties, to ask for clarity.  I learned to simply follow through and take all commitments as serious as I do the most important one's in my life.  Just to name a few.

What I appreciated most from that difficult conversation was the woman speaking to me had what I would call integrity; both in her reasons for speaking to me, and how she spoke to me.  It was just flat out appropriate.  She used what I have recently discovered comes from Sufi folklore called "The Gates of Speech", and it goes like this:

An old Sufi tradition advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates. At the first gate, we ask ourselves, "Are these words true?" If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; "Are they necessary?" At the third gate we ask; "Are they beneficial?" and at the fourth gate, we ask, "Are they kind?" If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.
I first learned the Gates of Speech in TT with Amy nearly 10 years ago, and I do my best to uphold these principles.  They've been quite useful in teaching me the hardest one, which is speaking kindly.  It means to speak kindly inside as well as outside, to yourself and to others and about others.  In my terrible habit of self depreciating thoughts, I wasn't following the Gates of Speech, and also had a habit of shit-talking others. Yuck. Its been really cool to keep this practice going, and empowering to see I can change.  I'm waaaaay more careful now with my matrika.

But the Gates are also a plea against gossip, of all kinds, especially under "are these words necessary?".  Like, do you really need to be talking about that? With her/him?  Even if they are true, and you're speaking kindly.  You still have to pass through the 4th Gate, "is it beneficial?".  Well, is it?

On the other hand, lets say you have a friend in your community, you've shared a room with them here and there at yoga events and car rides, some intimate discussions about past loves, even deep old wounds, alongside laughter, support and general "you go!"-ness.   Do you tell him or her some difficult news that you know will benefit them, you know it's true, yet the challenge is to find the right time, and the right words so it comes out kind?  This is sometimes where we can fall off the integrity train by not saying anything. Let it slide into "It's not my responsibility".  Well, why isn't it?  We're activists for so many other things in life, so why not be an activist for helping someone else stand firm in their integrity?

I'm loving the 2nd definition of integrity from above, and I'll state it again:
The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished 

No matter what, each one of us begins this way and ends this way.  Mistakes will be made, apologies and forgiveness can be found, lessons can be learned, and wounds can be healed.  Its etched into our moral code, which is really our dna. The yoga is, do you create it and adhere to keeping yourself and those around you etched in it too?  Can you step into the first definition of integrity by remembering the second? To me, the second definition is the true meaning, the first listed definition is how to do it. We all deserve it.  The deeper implications live inside kula's definition: 'herd of cows', 'assemblage', 'flock'... it means community.  We're in this together and can and should have each others' back to uphold the integrity of the flock. In Anusara we define it sweetly as 'the community of the heart' and 'the company you choose to keep'.  To keep good company means to be good company.  Living with honesty connected to your own and others inherent worth will make you speak in the right place at the right time to the right people. 
Do you want to hang out with yourself?  That's a good question to ask.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

holding the midline

I have another confession to make.  Aside from not having been a regular meditator,  I have a hard time holding my ground for extended periods of time, and I find it to be such a pain in the ass.   Emotionally and spiritually,  I loose ground, forget easily my Greatness, just like everyone else.  While it's the whole concealment-and-revelation game, or hide and seek, that Consciousness in its perfection likes to play with us, it is a pain in the ass to feel awful on those days.  I've also blamed it on hormones, too much coffee, on New York living, on winter - the reality of those things certainly contributing, and I’ve done all of that.   Others sometimes just label me ‘moody’, or ‘vata’, (love me anyway?).  It is an example though of one of the challenges of finding your ‘core’, and that’s staying in it. 

I love my practice of yoga and what it brings to my daily life, but the real practice is staying in it longer than just being on the mat.  We all struggle with this.  Paul, my meditation teacher, always describes meditation in this way:  It’s not just about the quality of the meditation itself, but the quality of your awareness after and between meditations.  Can you hold the awareness of the nectar you find in meditation, rest in it,  and let it flavor your daily life ‘off the mat’ ?  That’s the real yoga.

I think that’s the biggest difference between the living Masters and us. What they have is the ability to hold center all the time.  Not even just most of the time, but  somewhere between most and all.  That’s a lot of the time.  They’re human we know, and experience all the emotions any human could, but the difference is whether or not they are soft like ghee and let it pass through, or strong like a diamond when needed and press it away.  And even then, the teachings they offer, no matter what tradition, kinda say the same thing.  The center, or core, is a place of paradoxical absorption that is transparent and fluid, yet reliably solid as a diamond.

In Anusara® yoga, one of the ways we teach students to find this part of their core is by hugging the midline.   Muscular energy to the midline is the principle action we teach, and John Friend (the founder of Anusara) describes it as where you find “Diamond core strength”.  The shushumna nadi is the central channel of the 72,000 energetic and vibrational lines of energy that run through the entire body, and this central channel is said to hold the strongest vibrational charge of who you are.   It’s both solid and reliable, the center that never wavers; yet smooth, you can see through it, allows clarity of vision and fluid thought.   I find it, all the time!  Then loose it, all the time.  Ah, back to the cushion, back to the mat.

Inversion timings are how I help build physical consistency to the core.  I’ll time 1 minute each of handstand and pincha (forearm stand) against the wall, and 5 minute headstand in the middle of the room.  I aspire to 3 minutes each of hand and forearm stand, and 10 minutes of headstand (I've done 7).  Regardless of how I do each time I practice, I manage to connect to that reliable center while being soft at the same time.  Challenging to hold, but when I do, I feel that same sense of calm confidence post meditation. 

The on going practice of meditation, twice daily, creates a consistency of my awareness that I never had before.  It’s been quite amazing to palpably feel a sense of calm and quiet throughout the day when I’ve done my meditation.  It’s like everything looks different, my senses take the world with a softness.  Truth be told, the subways are also more annoying and feel extra loud since my senses are so attuned, but hey, I plug my ears and deal. 

Truth also be told that I’m not trying to be like one of the living Masters.  I don’t have to be in my center all of the time.  I think the quality of my life’s experiences, both what comes in, how I deal, and what I contribute to life may improve though if I stay in center more of the time than I do, which is what inspired me to find a meditation teacher.  It’s working, and I’m sticking with it.  That’s me holding onto my core.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Happy Everything! We’re all basking in the post-eclipse and post-solstice darkness, and this year I’m finally okay with.  I usually fight this time of year, resist having to be inside so much and get super restless and bored.  What’s different for me this year is that I meditate.  I am finally unafraid of the steady darkness inside myself, and have discovered I kinda like it in there.

I know as a certified teacher I’m supposed to have a regular meditation practice, but to be honest, up until a year ago I didn’t.

I never really had a teacher show me how to do it, and talk about what really happens when you meditate, and include the entire spectrum of  possibilities.  Like some days you really will be thinking about what’s for dinner, or replaying that conversation in your head, or wondering if the timer is about to go off.  Other days it’s a glorious light show, a trip to end all trips when my awareness skims along the surface only briefly, then dips deep to adjust itself and align to the core of my consciousness, where it truly rests.  Yes, that happens too.

In February, I complete a year long course with Kashmir Shaivite and Sanskrit scholar Paul Muller-Ortega called Blue Throat Yoga which has transformed the core of my asana practice to share the seat with meditation.  It is a practice that my teacher calls ‘adult spirituality’, and it’s mine to create as I please.  This past year has been dedicated to creating and sustaining a practice he also calls ‘stambha’, sanskrit for “central pillar of support” in the form of a regular sit-down twice daily.  He has taught me that through this regularity of practice, I can more actually have an experience of my core.  My core being the stambha itself, or central pillar that is my consciousness.  And the funny thing is that once you get there, it almost has no characteristics, no particular qualities, and it is almost outside of time and place.  Yet even through the various ways and days of experiencing it, you kinda want to keep going back there.

I have been adding more meditation to my classes as well, and students are grateful for the chance to really sit with themselves, even if it’s difficult.  The ultimate vortex is deep inside, made up entirely of every cell, tissue, muscle, bone, thought, word, tone, touch, and breath.  Yet the way to really touch it or have an experience of it is to rest all those active forms of it, to feel it simply pulsate.

In my practice of Anusara Yoga, we start with the assumption that everything in the world is an embodiment of Supreme Consciousness, which at it’s core, is pulsating with love and joy.  Everything we are and do is made up of that, so when you meditate, you’re plugging into the highest flow of Consciousness that is the core of all things.  The theory is that we’re hard-wired in this way, so you tap into the mother board when you sit and give yourself time inside.  That is the core power that drives every part of who you are, what you do, and what you say.  It governs your thoughts, words, actions, and perceptions.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama offers this: “Be sure to spend at least 30 minutes alone every day, to examine yourself, and figure out what you want.”

That sounds way more powerful than strong abs.