good news Friday — yoga scholarships!

meditation hall, Spirit Rock

Many of you know that I was in the first Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. The 18 month program ran from 2007 to 2009. It consisted of three 10 day retreats held for the most part in silence.  There are readings, homework, and telephone conferences in between the retreats.  There is a core group of yoga and Buddhadharma teachers such as Anne Cushman, Phillip Moffit, Mark Coleman, Anna Douglas, Janice Gates, and Chip Hartranft. There were different guest teachers at each retreat such as Judith Lasater, Tias Little, Stephen Cope, and Sarah Powers, among others.

It was the first training that spoke to my entire being as a yoga practitioner and Buddhist.  My only regret was that Jack Kornfield was not a larger part of the program because I love his books and teachings. I can sit and listen to him for hours.

Now there is fabulous news!  From Spirit Rock’s website:


“Two yoga teachers will get full tuition scholarship to 18-month MYMT Program

Yoga teachers working with disadvantaged or under-served populations—for example, in prisons, homeless shelters, hospitals, or inner city schools—offer life-changing skills to their at-risk students. But they often struggle with stress, burnout and financial challenges. Now, through a new scholarship program at Spirit Rock funded by a grant from the Yoga Dana Foundation (YDF), two such teachers will have the opportunity to nourish their own yoga and meditation practice—and bring the benefits of mindfulness training back to the communities they serve.”

The above link gives all the information you need on the application process.  The scholarships will provide full tuition and room and board for the 18-month Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training beginning in January 2011.  I can’t tell you what an awesome opportunity this is to attend a training at one of the premier dharma centers in North America.  I was honored and blessed to have taken part in the inaugural program.  And the food is fantastic!

The teaching population to whom these scholarships are geared toward is one after my own heart.  My work with domestic violence survivors is pure joy.  They are my teachers and they have inspired me to pursue a Masters in Transpersonal Psychology.

Sometimes the path rises up to meet you and after my yoga therapy training in India next year, I want to somehow combine all my yoga/yoga therapy training with the degree so as to truly bring yoga to the people.

Don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity, but you need to apply by October 25.

Good luck!

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random musings: life, connections, India

I read Why India? this morning and left a comment for Braja. I told her that she was preaching to the choir (and thank you, Braja, for posting that awesome pic that I liberated — that little pic says it all for me!)

Why India indeed? Braja wrote about it — I listened to a deep, inexplicable stirring inside me and I went, alone. I was 51 and had never been overseas anywhere in my life. I told my husband (who for an entire year before I went was very negative and not supportive of my decision whatsoever) that nothing and no one will stop me because the feeling I had was so intense. That sense of urgency is called samvega and if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand. You just have to feel it and know it in your core. And when you feel it, there is no turning back.

It was my karma. The minute I set my foot on Indian soil at 2 am outside the Chennai airport and walked into a sea of brown faces I knew I had come home. It was primal, visceral, certainly a past life thing, and there has not been a single day since 2005, not one, that I do not think of Ma India. That’s me in the photo, upon first seeing the temple in Gangaikondacholapuram. I stood there amazed. The shakti was palpable.

Now I am planning my fourth trip for January 2010 and I’ll be moving out of my comfort zone of South India. My friend and I decided to visit Kolkata. We’ll be there for about 8 days before moving on to Delhi and then taking the train to Haridwar — where the Ganga spills out of the Himalayas — for the Maha Kumbh Mela. Yup, us and about 50 million of our closest friends. We will be there on a most auspicious day, Mahashivaratri, Shiva’s day, and I will be there when he dances. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but for about the last two years I have felt in my bones (just like I knew I was going to India) that something will happen for me there. A few weeks ago a spiritual adept confirmed my intuition, and if it happens, it happens. I won’t say what she said, you will have to wait until I get back. If I come back. My students and my friends know there is always that chance.

So I’ve been very pensive these few days. The details of my African yoga retreat are being finalized, and since finishing my latest training I can now fully concentrate on my India trip. The line from a Grateful Dead song keeps going through my head, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Indeed.

Yesterday as I walked to the Chicago yoga studio where I trained I thought about how nervous I was on the first day of training, a mere 7 years ago. Now I am planning my fourth trip to India, I’m leading a yoga retreat in Africa in February, and I might be teaching in Australia next May. I’ve created my own holistic healing modality, a combination of my Phoenix Rising training and yoga therapy teachings from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, and firmly grounded in insight meditation and mindfulness practice. And yes, I’m trademarking the name, I’m going to play the American yoga game at least in that respect. Seven years. “They” say we go through major changes every seven years.

And those connections we make. I’ve always said that I feel more connected to the global yoga community via this blog than I do to yoga people in my own backyard. For one thing I’ve received more support from people who I’ve never met than from people who know me here. Funny how that works. People like Kevin who paid my deposit to the ashram I was going to study at but then changed my mind (yes, he got his money back from the shady swami.) We’ve never met but he paid a deposit. That’s trust.

People like Nadine who calls me one of her “yoga mothers.” We’ve never met but we both attended KYM at different times so we have the same yoga sensibility (and we both love love love Mark Whitwell.) Nadine hooked me up with the woman who can make my Australia teaching possible. But me, a “yoga mother”? I cried when I read that because I am only a mother to cats. Most people I know would never think of me as mother material, in fact, they’d snort and laugh and roll their eyes at the thought. But what they don’t know about me….it’s their own avidya.

And of course dear Svasti. We are both survivors and connected in that way. She said, “I have this theory about the little blog world here…that it’s made up of similarly disaffected people, who get it because that’s also been their experience.”

Yeah, I get it. Connections. There are others and I hope you know who you are.

None of this is lost on me. Life is ebb and flow. Some of us have some pretty heavy karma to burn through in this life. There are no accidents and all things happen for a reason even if we don’t know the reason at the time. The realizations I’ve had in these last seven years, well, let’s just say that if I died tomorrow (and I am very comfortable meditating upon my own death), I would be happy. Very happy. And grateful.

It’s all so connected, it’s all so real to me: yoga is life.

What’s so hard to understand?

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my brother from a different mother

While I was at my final retreat for the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock in California, YogaDawg sent me this video saying “this one’s for you, couldn’t help but think about ya….”

Thanks, Y Dawg, I LOVED IT!

I also received another blog award from Grace over at Graceful Yoga, a lovely and gentle yoga blog — she lists her favorite yoga blogs so check them out. Thanks for the blog love, Grace!

As for my final retreat, I will write about it soon. I will say that the retreat and the entire training was amazing. It truly was a groundbreaking training in the western yoga world. It was a never before offered training that combined Buddhism and yoga, the twins separated at birth, so to speak. If you think Buddhism can be separated from hatha yoga, think again.

There were 88 retreatants from around the world, but my “dharma buddy” and I were the only two yoga teachers from Illinois (there were only four teachers from Midwest America.) Out of all the yoga studios in Chicagoland, both of us came from the same studio in Chicago. We think that says a lot.

Enjoy the video and dance to the music — I will give you a little preview about my Spirit Rock retreat post….we ended the retreat (after a solemn graduation ceremony) with a yoga rave dance….Shiva Rea doesn’t have anything on the Spirit Rockers, believe me.

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shhhhh…..


Sindhu of Flower Girl’s Rural India commented on my sense of my new found spaciousness. She said that she felt the same:

“I practice Silence “Mouna”

My dad used to practice this for a Mandala period, when he would be on complete silence….I am refraining from responding unless otherwise required. I have reduced responding nearly 70% to 75%. (I’m very talkative)

It has given me real inner peace.”

In 9 days I leave for Spirit Rock Meditation Center to do the last retreat of my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training. While we can talk a bit during the yoga training, the rest of the time we are in silence. I can’t tell you how much I love that. But when I tell people that I’ve been on more than few silent retreats, even yoga teachers say, “no way could I do that.”

Those sentiments lead me to thinking about speech in general, but particularly the first principle of ethical conduct in Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path which is RIGHT OR WISE SPEECH.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. I’m not a big talker to begin with, especially around people I don’t know, and that makes people uncomfortable.

We had to read Phillip Moffitt’s book Dancing With Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering for this retreat (and I highly recommend this book.) When I read the chapter on Right Speech I kept nodding my head:

“The practice of right speech is built around meeting three conditions simultaneously:

Say only what is true and useful and timely. If any one of these criteria isn’t met, then silence is the wise form of speech. This is such a simple formula and easy to recall even in moments of strong emotion, but it is very hard to execute even under the best conditions, because the grasping mind corrupts speech faster than it does action….

You may not realize the aggressive nature of your speech until you try to make it a mindfulness practice….

Applying the filter of saying only what is useful is even harder. We live in a culture where ‘speaking your truth’ is promoted as a form of empowerment and good communication. Yet this is not the case if your words don’t provide useful information or better understanding….

Practicing right speech includes actively refraining from giving unsolicited opinions or stating your view when it serves no purpose….You also don’t use the truth as a weapon for making yourself look better in comparison to another, or to put others in their place…don’t use speech to satisfy your ego.

Right speech involves listening from the heart…you give full attention to the words of others and listen without judging, preparing a response, or comparing….

You may utilize right speech with others, but have violent, unsettling or crippling interior speech.”
(DWL, pp.233-236)

I am the first to admit that my mouth has gotten me into trouble over these many years. Not that I say malicious or hateful things to people, but I am outspoken and am guilty of giving unsolicited advice (especially about yoga.) But the longer I am on this Path, I am much more mindful of things I say. Believe me, I try, and intention and motivation are everything. I think before I open my mouth and if it serves no useful purpose then I usually keep my mouth shut (my friends might disagree with that but they can also keep their mouths shut…;)).

I also pay close attention to when I listen with an open heart. I notice whether I am fully present when someone is speaking to me. I notice whether my Ego is telling me “I wish they’d shut up….hey, I have to get some rice milk on the way home…I have to call….” I think you get the idea. I have heard the Dalai Lama admit that in meetings even he thinks “this is boring. I’m hungry. I want some tea.” True story.

Now with the internet and things like blogs and Facebook, it’s this Buddhist’s opinion that Right or Wise Speech is even more important. Right Speech also refers to the written word.

As bloggers many of us have dealt with trolls on our blogs, people who write nasty comments or argue with everything you write or insult your other readers. Useless.

As for emails I’m sure there is not one person reading this who has not regretted firing off a nasty response to someone and it’s come back to bite them in their yoga butt. I am very familiar with that one. I wrote an unflattering email about someone and sent it to the person I was writing about instead of to the person I had intended to send it — definitely the epitome of mindLESSness, not mindfulness. But I had the guts to own up to it and called the woman to apologize. I knew that this yoga teacher had said some untrue and nasty things about me before I wrote my email but two wrongs don’t make a right.

As for blogs, online newspapers, and Facebook and MySpace, we all know the things that are said publicly on those websites. Accusations, misrepresentations, insults, oneupsmanship, always having to get in the last word, you name it. We can agree to disagree but it’s good to remember to “say only what is true and useful and timely.” As I told my husband four years ago when he was not supportive of my going to India the first time, “if you have nothing positive to say then don’t say anything at all.”

One of my students told me about her 9 year old niece who she said was out of control ADD. She said that ever since the girl was born there has never been a moment of silence in her brother’s house, that a radio or TV is always playing, ever since this girl was one day old. I thought that supported Jon Kabat-Zinn’s belief in his book Coming To Our Senses that it is not the ADD child who is dysfunctional, the entire family is dysfunctional — we are an ADD nation. Think of all the people you see and know who are always texting, talking on a cell phone, or listening to their IPods non-stop. The thought of never being still or silent boggles my mind. We all know people who talk just for the sake of talking and end up saying nothing.

I am far from perfect and it will probably take me another lifetime or two to get over my penchant for sarcasm. I can certainly be the queen of yoga snark. I will always speak my truth but I’m definitely more mindful of what I say and how I say things. Intention and motivation are everything and each moment of mindfulness and awareness is a step closer to awakening. As Sarah Powers said in the last workshop I did with her, her favorite teachers are the ones who are also human as they teach and try to live the dharma. I am certainly human.

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dana, gratitude, and love offerings accepted


As a practicing Buddhist, I’m all about dana (pronounced “donna”) — “unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.” that is how I make payment at Spirit Rock Meditation Center for my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training.

in my last post, bindifry made some very pithy comments about students showing gratitude to their teachers, and I agree 150% with her:

“part of the yoga path is gratitude. it is very important to express that to your teacher.

something most yoga students do not understand. often we are left quite empty. many students never even say “thank you” after a class. it’s sad, really.

I study with an amazing Aussie teacher. part of her teaching is a gratitude circle at the end of the cycle. everyone sits in a circle and must show gratitude to the teacher.

and when you receive shakti from your guru, the respectable thing to do is kneel before him and touch his feet. it’s dharma.”

“I just find it quite alarming how many students, rather than saying “thank you” instead say things like “why didn’t i get more adjustments? i paid my money just like everyone else”

sorry, but yoga teachers are also human beings…people need to be educated about etiquette. other cultures do not have this issue at all, as teachers are considered the highest form of professions.”

“yoga teachers are people like the students and that for students to say “thanks” goes a long way, even though i have learned to live without the gratitude. students don’t tell their teachers thanks or even acknowledge them as their teachers far too often. they do not know that gratitude, like santosha, is part of yoga.

“everyone sits in a circle and must show gratitude to the teacher” — how many of you can honestly say you would feel comfortable doing that? I know that many Americans have a hard time wrapping their mind around the idea of their yoga teacher being their “guru”, but that’s Ego, pure and simple. and fear. “guru” is Sanskrit for teacher, someone who has “great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and uses it to guide others.” nothing more, nothing less.

I believe that lack of gratitude or lack of acknowledgment is definitely an American/Western thing. it’s not that way in India. this American yoga teacher has no problem whatsoever touching the feet of my teacher, an Indian from Chennai who was an original trustee of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, when he comes to teach in Chicago. I wrote about my own feelings about being a good student here.

so it gets my thong in a knot when I write about pay for yoga teachers and I’m told to “be content” or have “santosha”, just accept what is given or not given to you. I DO have santosha, in fact, I feel I am blessed to be able to teach yoga. but like bindifry says, yoga teachers are also human. think about that.

I am blessed to be teaching now at a studio where if two students show up, they thank me for being there, for driving 45 minutes and spending my time with them. this is in stark contrast to the studio where I used to teach where the upper middle-class women had a huge sense of entitlement.

support your local yoga teacher and show her or him some love. that’s all I’m saying.

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the retreat, part 2: Yoga Dawg goes legit!

I have finally found some time to write a a bit about my second 10 day retreat for my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. You can read about the first retreat in October, 2007 here.

We had the same teachers from last year except for Stephen Cope from Kripalu. I missed him because I love his style. In his place was Chip Hartranft who wrote The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary which is the version of the Sutras we are using for this training. In his book Chip skillfully shows how the buddha-dharma can not be separated from Patanjali’s yoga philosophy.

My interview with a yoga teacher was with Chip and I loved his style as much as I loved Stephen Cope’s. Chip is sweet and down-to-earth and the real deal in my opinion. We were both sorry that our 15 minute talk seemed to end so quickly. I look forward to seeing him next year as he will be one of the teachers leading asana practice, along with Jill Satterfield.

The guest yoga teachers for this retreat were my teacher, Sarah Powers, and Judith Lasater. It was good to see Sarah as she is my teacher for yin yoga together with Paul Grilley when they come to Chicago. We did a yin and yang practice with Sarah and restorative yoga with Judith Lasater. I will say that after spending two days with Judith and her style of yoga, I wanted to leave the retreat — more on Judith’s classes in my next post.

Anne Cushman, who wrote Enlightenment for Idiots (see my sidebar), is one of the coordinators of this training and she led us in classes and also gave a talk on yoga. Although it was a mostly silent retreat, I thanked her for sending me her book and she told me she was going to quote YogaDawg in her talk — so that’s how YogaDawg became legit, his book quoted at a yoga and meditation training. I was amused when I saw students furiously writing down his words about yoga students, and I wondered whether they realized it’s yoga satire….after all, Lindia is YogaDawg’s evil yogini sister, bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha (that was supposed to be an evil laugh.)

Anne opened her discussion by posing the question: how does asana practice help mindfulness practice? she said because everything — meditation, pranayama, Patanjali’s and the Buddha’s words — are used in the service of waking up. she said that yoga was never supposed to be for anything other than awakening and seeing the world clearly as it is. that is enlightenment.

in the retreat asana practice cultivates a deeper exploration of our emotions, mind states, and body and breath. we use our asana practice to explore our relief from suffering, to bring us ease, and to explore the Four Noble Truths in relationship to our practice and therefore our life. yoga is life — Krishnamacharya knew this when he said “breath is central to yoga because it is central to life and yoga is about life.” practice is life and our life is the practice. yoga has the toolbox to bring us blissful states but the problem comes when we think that’s the only thing yoga can do, i.e., when we use yoga as a quick fix. what do we do when there is no quick fix? what are the larger principles we can bring to our asana practice?

Anne named four things:

1. bring the quality of metta (loving-kindness) or self-compassion to your practice. she said that sometimes metta was more important than mindfulness because we are judgmental about our practice. we forget that we are already complete and as yogins we have too much internal criticism about our practice. when we practice self-compassion our mindfulness will flourish naturally.

2. remember to use asana practice AS IT IS; know the difference between goal and intention. be present and develop a new relationship with WHAT IS. be willing to be present in your practice and transformation will occur. use your asana practice as a counterpose to the culture at large where we are pressured to constantly and continually become “better” because it is never good enough to be just as we are.

3. don’t use your asana practice as a way to support your conditioning — use it to counterbalance and transform your conditioning. Anne gave the example of Type A personalities always doing the same type of practice which supports their conditioning instead of transforming them into a less agitated Type B. if you live your life in constant agitation, don’t do a practice that will agitate you even more. be flexible with your practice, not dogmatic. As Jack Kornfield writes in A Path With Heart, mental flexibility is one of the marks of spiritual maturity. embrace the yin along with the yang.

4. most importantly, use your asana practice as a means to get in touch with impermanence. our bodies are changing every day even though we act like they aren’t. all of us will die yet we live as if we won’t. use your asana practice to recognize the changes in your body while at the same time celebrating it and appreciating it.

Anne reminded us that our asana practice is a constant dance between form and formlessness. as yogins we devote ourselves to the study of form and to being healthy, but at the same time we must realize that the forms we turn our bodies into are impermanent, one asana flows into another, as do the seasons of our lives. embrace the two truths of form and formlessness at the same time and always remember that it’s just a pose.

This second retreat was a mixed bag for me, good, bad, and indifferent, yet I experienced some epiphanies. I used to tell my students that a wise-ass Buddhist once said, life sucks, but suffering is optional. I now realize that life is suffering, pain is optional — big difference, think about it.

During a meditation practice on forgiveness, I finally forgave the alcoholic yoga studio owner, I no longer feel the rage. actually, the forgiveness was ultimately for me, not her. I forgave her for myself, to relieve MY pain over being betrayed. self-compassion is a wonderful thing.

the entire trip was a lesson on impermanence. before the retreat I spent five days with a friend exploring the Big Sur area. as it turned out, we cheated death by a few days because when we left, Big Sur went up in flames. the restaurant and the store that we went to and the Tassjara area, all were engulfed in wildfires that are still being fought.

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I WILL be back

As I said on my sister blog, I’m taking a summer hiatus, just like your favorite TV show. and as I said here, I wanted to make myself healthier, and I’m getting there.

insofar as physically healthier, I’ve cut out (mostly! sometimes I still cheat a little) wheat and dairy. and I’m taking thyroid meds twice a day now so my energy has returned. I’ve concentrated more on my own yoga practice instead of thinking about my classes, thinking about what I’m going to teach. frankly, when I teach, I channel asanas, hard to describe I know, but that’s me. of course a teacher still has to think about how they will run a class, but if you don’t feed yourself first with your yoga, how can you feed your students?

my back issue that I’ve been dealing with since last October is being resolved through the work of an awesome chiropractor I found who is not your typical bone-cracker. I’ve never been down with the whole chiropractic idea of someone cracking your neck and everything will be fine. my chiropractor deals with the soft tissue first, so my back right now is about 60-70% better after 5 visits.

and in two weeks I leave for Spirit Rock Meditation Center for the second retreat of my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training. I can’t wait because it is such a fabulous program and I feel blessed for being a part of it. talk about being fed. we got an email that Judith Lasater will do two days of teaching on restorative yoga. she is only one of the great teachers that I will experience. so you know I will have to blog about that.

however, before I get to Spirit Rock, I’m spending about 4 days with my California gal pal. she’s picking me up at the airport and we’re immediately hitting an Indian restaurant for breakfast and to pick up food for our sojourn in the Carmel valley. she got us a room with a kitchenette in a funky little motel that is Sideways style. she has scheduled us for massages at Esalen and we’re hitting the hot springs at Tassajara and we’re going here for some cool shopping. all along the way, we’ll do a little wine tasting, a little art viewing, and talk a lot about Ma India since my friend will be making her 8th trip in the fall.

last but not least, I’m planning my 4th trip to India and I’m putting my intentions out into the universe that it will be a 6 month trip. it’s part of my unending, soulful need to migrate home to Ma India (thanks for those words, sistah sita!) I returned from my last trip sicker than an Indian street dog, but as soon as I started to regain my strength I was dreaming those India dreams again.

the first month will be spent studying yoga therapy at an ashram outside of Mumbai, then after that….I blow with the wind. whatever happens, happens. I’m a woman of a certain age and I try to live my life by asking myself, “if not now, when?” the trip will culminate in the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar in 2010. me, and 40 million of my closest friends all caught up in the power of shakti.

life is good. in the meantime, enjoy the buddha cat.

peace out.

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