reflections on 2010 and ruminations on the future

My oh my, what a blessed year 2010 was…no apologies, no regrets, and always moving on.

I started out in South India at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, flew to Kolkata where Kali Ma knocked me down, traveled to Bhubaneswar to meet the 64 Yoginis, and then spent 9 days at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Hardiwar where I jumped into the Ganges on Mahashivratri and met a swami of the highest order.

After India I flew to Africa and spent a night in Nairobi, Kenya after crisscrossing the Persian Gulf to spend hours in Qatar AND Dubai due to flight problems, flew to Zanzibar to spend five days on the beach, then flew to Arusha, Tanzania where I introduced yin yoga to 20 or so Arusha yogins and the two zebras that waltzed into the retreat on Saturday morning. Yoga teaching doesn’t get any better than that.

After the retreat I went to the bottom of Ngorongoro Crater and as I watched a herd of wildebeast and zebra, hearing only my breath and the wind and their grunts, I experienced such a visceral feeling of oneness with all things that it rendered any words I had ever read about that primal recognition almost meaningless.

Of course one does not have to travel thousands of miles for that realization — I feel the same way sitting in my garden and watching the butterflies and honeybees. Or upon opening an acorn and seeing an oak forest in miniature and feeling that time has stopped — Tzimtzum which means Divine Contraction. It is the belief that if God is infinite, He would have to draw in and make a void into which creation can come, whether it’s in my yard or the bottom of a prehistoric crater in Africa.

I don’t know why but this year brought a closing in rather than expansion, but not a closing in in a negative way. My yoga practice definitely changed after my trip. I gave up all my classes except my private ones and I was amazed at how content I became because of it.

What was foretold to me had come to pass: I died in India when I jumped into the Ganges and was reborn at the bottom of that crater.

And all that was just the beginning of my year.

The words that describe my yoga teaching this year are “less is more” and “quality over quantity.” I no longer teach at studios and have no desire to ever teach regularly at studios again except for the occasional workshop. The students who come to my house are sincere and dedicated and are hungry for more and more meditation. We’ve developed quite the sangha yet they know I must go to India to refuel. “You will always be my teacher,” one student told me on our last night before my upcoming trip.

The women at the domestic violence shelter where I teach have inspired me to take a special training in teaching yoga to trauma survivors. Those battered women who are also my teachers have also inspired me to embark on a new journey into graduate school and a Masters in Transpersonal Psychology. One night after teaching I had another epiphany after speaking with a woman, again so visceral that I saw my life’s path laid out before me – there will be no turning back.

The year has shown me how asana is such a small part of the practice. It’s only the appetizer to the feast. Yoga blogs where the only thing written about is mastering this pose or that pose are incredibly boring to me. Yoga has become a cult of the body in America. I think, what are they going to write about when they can no longer do that sick arm balance or inversion, what will they have left? Get real.

The yoga blogosphere in 2010 burned up with the heated discussion about Tara Stiles and her book and the “who owns yoga?” debate.

Although I also jumped into the debate I became bored with those discussions, too. The turning point came when a post was published in a yoga-ish online journal that seemingly pitted me against Tara Stiles, my yoga vs. her yoga. While the writer thought it was complimentary, I felt blindsided and betrayed. The writer did not feel it necessary to ask my permission or even to ask my opinion before he wrote about me.

Needless to say the writer felt Kali’s wrath and the post was pulled, but the incident left an extremely bad and bitter taste in my mouth that made me rethink my time in the yoga blogosphere. The best thing that came out of the situation was the support shown me by certain yoga bloggers, one especially, who also felt the writer’s actions were unconscionable.

The question of what is “real yoga” also arose in different venues. I have always said that this is my real yoga and one of my students also used the phrase. I will say again that I really don’t care what your yoga is, I know what mine is, but one thing that I am convinced of is that if something isn’t changing for you off the mat or off the cushion (and how many yoga practitioners also have a dedicated meditation practice?), then it’s not yoga.

And no apologies to those who hate the phrase “real yoga.” I’m tired of that judgment, too. It’s almost a reverse snobbism. Anyone who criticized or questioned the yoga status quo was called a “hater” or “judgmental” in the yoga blogosphere. Many discussions served to separate rather than gather the online yoga community. I grew tired and it drained me and further convinced me to stay away from yoga blogs.

Yes, I am sensitive about the topic of “real yoga.” Over the five years of writing this blog I’ve caught flak about being so outspoken and that has made me misunderstood at best and unpopular at worst. I’ve been described as being passionate in my defense of yoga in the face of commercialism, exploitation, and misunderstanding. If the body cult of modern Americanized yoga is right, then I’d rather be wrong.

I’m not everyone’s cup of chai and I’ve always been an outsider, and frankly, because of decisions I’ve made, I’ve never been happier with teaching. Quality over quantity. I don’t want to teach a dozen classes a week to those who do not see yoga as a wisdom teaching on self-transformation, as something beyond the cult of the body. There are other teachers who do that but I’m not one of them and that’s just fine. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. That’s my yoga and yours is yours.

So as I plan my fifth trip to India (I’m leaving in two days), I wonder what 2011 and beyond might hold. What can top the Maha Kumbh Mela and Ngorongoro Crater? My gut tells me that this will be last trip for a few years as I work on a masters degree. I was told that this will be my last trip as a student, that when I return I will bring India something instead. We shall see.

Maybe I am drawn to India because she has her own strong personality, just like me. She shows you incredible aspects of yourself while at the same time showing you impossible suffering. Nothing is hidden, suffering and death are on the street every day. You have to face it and if you go to India for spiritual bliss, you will be challenged beyond your imagination. If you accept the challenge, if you don’t run in fear, your life is changed forever.

Sounds like yoga.

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yoga and the evolutionary process

No, not yoga and evolution.  Yoga and YOUR evolution.  Change.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my student said in class the other night, about what she thinks “real yoga” is.

It was her belief that mainstream yoga caters to this culture rather than trying to change this culture.

To this student “real yoga” is about change on the micro- and macro- level.  Or as I’ve heard Desikachar say, anything else is acrobatics.

I know the phrase “real yoga” irks some people.  People don’t like to hear that phrase used, considering it judgmental or arrogant.  They say that all yoga is good yoga and so what if someone does a 60 minute yoga DVD to get a slim, sexy body.  And contrary to popular beliefs about this Krazy Old Yogini, I agree to a point: so what.  The way yoga is advertised is a separate and entirely different issue.

Because as a wise reader told me recently, reality means that not everyone sings like Cecilia Bartoli or plays violin like Jascha Heifetz.  So why can’t we accept that there is talent involved in yoga and meditative arts also?  The democratization of everything (democratization being another word for mainstream) makes us think everyone should benefit equally from martial arts, yoga, or tea ceremony, but that simply is not true.

Many say that the more esoteric benefits of yoga will eventually come to those who practice for purely physical reasons.  I’ve never believed that because that assumes that everyone is on the same path, running at the same pace, equally.  That’s not true in a marathon and that’s not true on the yogic path.  There is also a little thing called karma.

There are plenty of people in yoga classes who practice for purely physical reasons and become stronger and more flexible, but they are still unhappy and depressed or full of fear. Some will be that way the rest of their lives, in varying degrees; others, not.  There are those who will run from teacher to teacher, from one ‘ism to another, and still die with their most intense fear buried deep within their hearts.  There are others who have suffered horribly in their lives, studying with one teacher or even none, but through their internal work will fly on wings of joy on their dying day.

Life. Change. Stages of evolution. Karma.

The reader who wrote to me believes that it is only natural that some will not connect with the esoteric levels of yoga and will remain happy with a basic understanding of yoga, the basic level being purely physical.  A lucky few on the yoga path will know enlightenment. Most will be stuck somewhere in between.  This has to do with talent, but also with what the Chinese call yuanfen.

So even a basic understanding of yoga and attaining purely physical benefits are better than none at all, but I have my own standards of what constitutes “real yoga.”  And just as there is nothing wrong with someone doing yoga for purely physical benefits, there is nothing wrong with my standards either.

As I’ve come to believe over the years, students get the teachers they need at the time, teachers get the students they deserve at the time.  Think about that.

One of my standards is that yoga is about physical and emotional healing.  Another standard is that yoga is about accelerating our personal evolution.  I’ve told my students many times that if something isn’t changing for you off the mat, then it’s not yoga.  If your path is only the length and width of your yoga mat, that’s not much of a path.  That’s my standard.  And someone can choose to accept that or not because frankly, in the end, I don’t care.  It’s your own personal evolution.  Or should I say revolution?

In his book A Life Worth Breathing Max Strom writes:

“Hatha yoga is a profound evolutionary system that will benefit everyone who has the passion to change his or her troubled existence into an extraordinary life. It has changed my life forever, and every day I see it transform more and more people into happier, healthier, and more empowered beings….

 

Imagine two people practicing side by side. One is still and struggling in a posture, barely able to open his hips, but he is not letting it bother him. Instead, he feels calm in this difficult moment, centered in deep breathing.

 

Then there is the second person next to him, able to wrap his legs around his neck, but breathing erratically, thinking negative thoughts. Whose practice is better? Flexibility is not the aim; it is a side effect….

 

If you find joy and you are living a meaningful life, then you are becoming good at yoga….

 

Remember, the goal is not to tie ourselves in knots — we’re already tied in knots. The aim is to untie the knots in our heart. The aim is to unite with the intimate, loving, and peaceful power of the universe and fully awaken into the highest level of human consciousness.”
(Max Strom, pp. 122-125)

A spiritual adept once told me that it is not my job as a yoga teacher to change people. They have to change themselves.

I can only give you a road map — you have to drive the car yourself.

life is a vinyasa

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

The forever changing images that I see in the mirror each morning remind me of the first of Buddha’s Five Remembrances. Today this soul’s present incarnation has been on this planet for over 50 years.

My photographs are also constant reminders of my mortality. Every birthday reminds me that I now have less time ahead of me than I have behind me. That knowledge makes each day more precious than the last. I will not die an unlived life.

“eat mangoes naked
lick the juice off your arms
discover your own goodness
smile when you feel like it
be delicious
be rare eccentric original
smile when you feel like it
paint your soul”
—SARK

What happened to the 16 year old? What happened to the 20 year old? They are still here but the package has changed, the ribbons are torn and frayed and the wrapping paper yellowed and weakened in spots.

I see these old photos and am reminded that I almost died at my own hand when I was 16. I never thought I would live to be at the party where my friend grabbed me with gusto around the waist. I could have left this earth a long time ago in more ways than one. I tried my damnedest for years to do just that. But I am still here, those girls are still around somewhere inside my head.

Those photos are also a reminder of the me I lost but found again once I got back on the yoga path. Life is a circle.


“The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.”

The photos bring home the truth of the Five Remembrances and the truth of impermanence and they remind me to THINK. Birthdays are contemplations on what I would like to plant in this final season of my life.

What will it be?

What do I plan to do with this one wild and precious life?

2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

Every day I wake up with pain. My freaky femurs that Paul Grilley uses as examples of extreme internal hip rotation are beginning to ache. My hair is thinning and I can see my scalp. My eyes have the beginnings of cataracts. But I thank the Universe for my physical yoga practice because without it I probably could barely move.

I thank the Universe for my yoga and meditation practice that allows me to know the truth of Buddha’s Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the dharma, of the true nature of reality that nothing is permanent, that each moment is constantly changing. Asana practice offers a great window into impermanence because our practice changes every time we step on the mat, from day to day, moment to moment. Is your practice changing as you change? And if not, why not? Get real.

3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

These remembrances are the hardest lessons to learn. Thoughts of death of those near and dear to us and of our own death strike the most fear in our hearts. It is said that our only fear is the fear of death, all our other fears arise from that primal one.

We know things change but we put so much effort and energy into trying to live life as if that were not so. This is what Patanjali wrote about in chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutra-s: he described the qualities necessary to change the mind effectively and gradually from a state of distraction to one of attention, one of the qualities being avidya which is literally “not seeing.” This willful denial of reality, this willful not seeing the truth of impermanence perpetuates our suffering and misery. We so want things to never change – our hair, our skin, our supple spines, the people in our lives – that clinging to things that are by their very nature impermanent causes our suffering.

The suffering of change is what gives us the most gut wrenching pain in our lives. It is not our physical pain, but the pain of pain.

But when this truth of reality sunk deep into my bones it was liberation. I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness, I am only responsible for my own. No one is responsible for my happiness, I am only responsible for my own.

It’s a law of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We are energy bodies, filled with chi, prana, Life Force, whatever you want to call it. This body is merely the vessel that will eventually crack open and fall apart like an old terracotta pot. But the essence of me will live on. What is born dies but what is never born can never die. We truly are billion year old carbon.

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Like everyone else, my life is composed of losses and gains. My losses have been due to neglect, poor judgment, ego, recklessness, selfishness. My gains have been through hard work, grit, determination, and intuition. Other gains have simply come through the blessings of the Universe. Karma. I’ve been graced with a fortunate birth despite going through things back in the day that would have killed a weaker person. I should never have become this old. The cards were stacked against me. Or were they? I truly am a survivor.

The Five Remembrances keep me awake to the human condition. My spirituality has brought me closer to Spirit, have helped open a heart that was closed for so long, and has taught me to have gratitude for whatever comes my way. My dharma wheel is turning and it tells me to embrace the inevitability of life’s changes.

Life is a constant series of movements that change from one form to another — just like asanas. I have reached a deep sentient awareness that nothing is truly lost in the end. We meet who we are meant to meet in this life and people come and go and return again in a constant dance and flow — like a vinyasa. We meet ourselves and each other over and over again in this spanda until we find our way home.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

from sadhus to zebras, part 1

Shiva was certainly testing me as I made my way to India this time, and as I later found out, also as I made my way to Africa. It literally took 80 hours for my feet to hit the ground in Chennai.

Due to plane problems, instead of flying American to Brussels, then Jet Airways (an Indian airline that partners with American) to Chennai, I was put on the direct flight from Chicago to Delhi. Seventeen hours later I landed in cold, smoggy, polluted Delhi and spent the next 14 hours in the airport because of more airline problems — nothing was flying out of Delhi because of the fog/smog.

I left Wednesday night and I was still sitting in Delhi on Friday morning. They finally put us on the plane to Chennai and then we sat. And sat. And sat. For about four hours. I finally made it to Chennai around 3 p.m. Friday afternoon instead of 12:05 a.m. Friday morning as originally scheduled. But at least I made it, bags and all. It could have been worse.

I spent 6 weeks in India, flying from south India to Kolkata in the northeast, taking a train to the state of Orissa (get out your map), flying back to Delhi for a few days before taking the train to Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas for the Kumbh Mela (where I would be living in an ashram right now if I did not have to teach in Africa), training it back to Delhi, then flying to Qatar. Or so I thought.

I crossed the Persian Gulf twice in one day. I was in two Middle Eastern countries on two Middle Eastern airlines in one day. Not by choice I assure you. Shiva was testing me yet again.

I was supposed to leave Delhi for Nairobi at 4 am. Ah, yes….that lovely Delhi airport again where I now know the international AND the domestic terminals intimately. For some reason the Qatar flight did not leave on time and by the time we got to Doha, the Nairobi flight had closed its doors.

Thank goodness I had decided to upgrade to business class (solely for the extra baggage allowance — you really think I was not going to buy anything in India?!?) because if I had been in economy and insisted that they get me to Nairobi by any means necessary THAT DAY, Qatar Air would not have treated me as well as they did.

OK, forget that. I completely lost it when they said the Nairobi flight had closed its doors. Had I not had the airline hassles I experienced getting to Delhi six weeks previously, I probably would not have lost it like I did. As my meltdown was being recorded (I found out later there was a camera behind the desk), Qatar personnel got me on an Emirates flight to Dubai and Dubai to Nairobi. Same day. Allah be praised.

Instead of arriving at the Nairobi hotel at around 2 p.m. as I had originally planned, I arrived at the hotel around 9 p.m., just in time to take a hot bath, sleep, and leave less than 12 hours later for a flight to Zanzibar. The room cost me $190 for less than 12 hours. I should have slept at the Nairobi airport, at least they have free wi-fi.

But I had my bags. They weren’t flying over the Persian Gulf somewhere. It could have been worse.

I spent 5 nights off the grid in Zanzibar….

…where I showed some children some asanas one day and they were damn good.

I watched these kids play with pull toy “cars” made out of plastic bottles, using the caps as wheels. They were happy and laughing. I thought about what children their ages back home play with and what they throw away. The garbage of an American child is the toy of a child in Africa or India.

There is nothing on this beach except for a small hotels. No phones. No TVs. No internet. No restaurants to speak of, at least not the type that westerners are used to. Nothing.

Right before I arrived, Zanzibar had just gotten electrical service again after three months. In fact, in the middle of the late afternoon and late at night, the hotel shut off the electricity.

Every day I watched these kids play with plastic bottles or driftwood or using any type of ball as a soccer ball. They were supposed to be in school but they weren’t. The local school was supposed to have electricity, but it didn’t.

The filmmaker Rick Ray was staying at my hotel and we had dinner one night. He had been in Rwanda filming some survivors of the Rwandan genocide, bearing witness to their stories. He told me the story of a young woman who had been a girl the day her people were put inside a church and massacred. He told me that blood is still on the walls and skulls are still on the floor as a memorial. He told me that it is almost impossible to wrap the mind around stories that are so horrific.

She survived for three days by hiding underneath the bodies of her parents. She escaped, hiding from the murderers who were still killing and raping her village, and she made her way to a swamp where she found her sister. They lived in the swamp for three months surviving on algae and anything else that was edible, finally making their way to a refugee camp.

Ray told me that she told him she forgave the people who changed her life forever. She will never forget, but she forgave. She is happy because what other choice is there? I thought about a question that I heard the Dalai Lama once ask: in a country that has everything compared to many, if not most, parts of the world, why are so many Americans unhappy? He did not understand this. Neither do I. Not when I’ve seen children in India and Africa play with garbage — and laugh while they are playing with it.

When I was in Arusha I saw them bringing the Rwandans back to jail after their day in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The tribunal has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The United Nations car sped through traffic and my friend told me that the trials have been going on for almost 15 years.

Rick Ray told me that the Rwandans who took part in the genocide are put in front of their village and the people can choose to forgive them for their atrocities.

Sometimes the people who have nothing, have everything.


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handbook for life, 2010

Lots of good advice here, but my three favorites are nos. 21, 33, and 37.

HEALTH:
1. Drink plenty of water.

2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like beggar.

3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is
manufactured in plants.

4. Live with the 3 E’s — Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.

5. Make time to meditate.

7. Read more books than you did in 2009.

8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.

9. Sleep for 7 hours.

10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

PERSONALITY:
11. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is about.

12. Don’t have negative thoughts or things you cannot control.
Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

13. Don’t over do. Keep your limits.

14. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

15. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.

16. Dream more while you are awake.

17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

18. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.

19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.

20. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.

21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.

23. Smile and laugh more.

24. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

SOCIETY:
25. Call your family often.

26. Each day give something good to others.

27. Forgive everyone for everything.

28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6.

29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.

30. What other people think of you is none of your business.

31. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will.
Stay in touch.

LIFE:
32. Do the right thing!

33. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

34. God heals everything.

35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

37. The best is yet to come.

38. When you awake alive in the morning, be thankful for it.

39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Many thanks and much metta to my teacher, Bhante Sujatha.

“In the traditional greeting of yoga, ‘With great respect and love we honor your heart as your Inner Teacher. May the harmony of yoga manifest within and without’”.
– Mukunda Stiles


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just when you think you’ve had enough….


…someone says something nice.

The longer I teach, the more I read about the corporatization of American yoga, the more I was thinking that I should quit teaching group classes and just concentrate on my own practice (which is very free-form but that’s another post), find my own yoga tribe and disappear somewhere…

then someone tells me how I changed their life.

I was going to drive into Chicago this morning to take a class at the studio where I trained. I live 45 miles straight west of Chicago and on a good day it might take me 75 minutes in the morning — a bad day would be 2 hours. It was 7:30 am and I was leaving for a 10 AM class. So I get into my car, leave the garage, turn on the radio, and heard about how bad traffic was all over Chicagoland this morning. The traffic announcer said that three lanes were down on the expressway I take and it was a parking lot. I pulled back into my garage.

Since I was dressed for yoga I decided to go to another studio to a friend’s class, she teaches “Tantra Yoga” in the style of Rod Stryker. I got there and set up and a woman came over and said “Hi, Linda. How are you?” I don’t get to this studio on a regular basis so I don’t know the students and I was surprised someone knew my name. I said hi, fine thanks, how are you?, and she said, “I remember your class. It changed me.”

Now my brain is working overtime…OK….she looks a little familiar….where….how….huh?

I said, “I’m sorry I don’t remember you…where did you take my class?” She mentioned the studio where I used to teach, two years ago. She told me that I taught my yin-yang yoga class (actually a workshop) and that I did a chakra meditation afterward.

She said that she had barely done yoga before walking into my workshop. She said that the chakra meditation had “blown” her apart. I can’t even remember what I did because I never, ever remember what I do from class to class — I channel yoga. Seriously. She motioned from her crown to her root and said “everything opened up. I was like, ‘wow’.” Her eyes glowed from the memory and she gave me a big smile.

I thought, but did not tell her, that I did nothing, she did it all. I merely gave her a road map.

I stood there, stunned. Many of you think I am Ms. Yoga Snark, but I’m here to tell you, I have self-esteem issues as a yoga teacher. Even though I study at one of the most prestigious yoga schools in the world, I still think I am not good enough. I think that I am nowhere near worthy enough to teach globally next year, that I do not deserve the opportunities that are coming my way.

When she finished her story I told her how grateful I was to hear her compliments. She said, “it was because of you and your class that I decided to do teacher training” (which she is currently doing.) I stood there amazed. One class and a woman whom I never saw again. Until today.

Never underestimate the power of yoga. And I will never underestimate myself again.

There was a reason I did not make it into Chicago this morning. I needed to be reminded that I am worthy.

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remember to live

The deaths of two people I never met inspired this post.

Yesterday a man and his dog were killed by a drunk driver one block away from my house. Not even one block away. I wasn’t home when it happened but I am sure I would have heard the crash and the neighbors’ screams and the police because this is a very quiet neighborhood. The truth is that it could have just as easily been me because I also walk in the morning on the street where he was killed. Yesterday morning I did not.

A 57 year old man was walking his dog around 6:30 AM. A drunk driver was speeding, left the road, struck mailboxes, and then hit the man and his dog. He then went back on the street and hit an SUV, pushing it into a front yard. He got out and tried to run away. He was charged with aggravated driving under the influence, reckless homicide, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, driving on a revoked license, and failure to give information or aid.

Today my husband attended the wake of the husband of one of his employees. The man was undergoing chemotherapy after a cancer operation and after leaving the hospital after his treatment, he was walking across the parking lot to his car and literally dropped dead. He was 41 years old. My husband stood in line for 90 minutes at the funeral home because there were so many people waiting to pay their respects.

Incidents such as these always make me question how people live their lives. I always tell my husband to live each day as if it will be his last. I try to follow my own advice and after being on this yogic and spiritual path for quite some time, the little things just don’t bother me anymore. The clothes get folded when they get folded, the dishes get done when they get done. Sometimes even the bigger things just don’t phase me anymore.

People come to my classes totally stressed about one thing or the other and sometimes I throw the question out there: how would you live if you knew you only had one more hour to live? What good does all that attachment to the past and fear of the future do for you now? If you knew you only had one more hour to live I guarantee you that you would start cherishing each moment and each breath. I challenge you: visualize it, really feel it in your bones — what would it be like to know you will be dead at the end of an hour?

Contemplating death is an important aspect of Buddhism, yet fear of death is a major fear for most people. It is said that all our fears in life stem from our fear of death. Buddha said that death is certain but the time of death is uncertain. When we allow this reality to become conscious, it jolts us awake to life’s juiciness and heightens our awareness of the beauty and uniqueness of everything.

So why can’t you live as if you were dying? Our delusion is that we live as if we will never die.

It’s a physics fact that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. As a Buddhist I believe that it follows from that fact that what is never born can never die. I heard the Dalai Lama say that “what is never born can never die” in a teaching on dependent origination.

My body will die, but what makes me me will never die — my life energy, my prana, my chi, my soul, my spirit, or whatever you want to call it, will continue on. Fully realizing that was liberation. I no longer fear death or dying. That realization helps me to truly enjoy life, every living, breathing present moment, the good AND the bad. I am as equally grateful for the bad as I am for the good.

It has made me fear-less.

How will you remember to live?


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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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I have heard these words inside me

The narrator of the Gateways of Light video says that we are coming to some type of major defining moment in our history and “those people who are meant to unfold through this are unfolding and are doing it pretty rapidly.”

Words similar to those above were said to me about 15 years ago when I got back on this yogic and spiritual path. The first time I talked with a spiritual adept she stopped and looked me in the eyes. She said that the world as we know it will seem to split into two camps, and that those who have been working on their inner life will ascend while the others…well, it will take them a bit longer, so maybe not in their present lifetimes. Then she said, “and you will be part of this ascension on a global level, part of the new paradigm.” At the time I said nothing and took it with a grain of salt, merely nodding my head. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.

I’ve had more than few conversations like that in 15 years, and things that were told to me have come to fruition, slowly but surely. Even before India was a thought in my mind a vedic astrologer told me that I would experience “divine grace” around 2010. At the time I did not even know what divine grace meant so I shrugged it off.

But I will be at the Kumbh Mela next year, the “great festival of the pot of nectar of immortality”, on an auspicious day and I’ve known in my bones for a long time that something will happen to me. I can’t say what, but something is calling me there like nothing else has ever done. I can’t explain it so I just let it be. I surrender. I have felt the shakti in certain temples in South India and have broken down. I surrendered. I’ve even thought that maybe I will die in India, and if so, all things happen for a reason. At least I will be on the Ganges and my body can be burned.

The narrator speaks of the disconnectedness of this world and I have seen this more and more in even long time yoga students, their disconnection from their bodies, the fear of closing their eyes. Students I’ve been teaching for over 5 years are suddenly like beginners again and they have no explanation. It is as if they have become afraid to feel.

I truly believe that all the turmoil that is happening in the world today is meant to be — the economy, the layoffs, the environment. This Kali Yuga is a cycle. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can begin the climb back up. Sometimes you have to lose everything in order to wake up.

My time on the cushion now brings me much more satisfaction than asana ever did. Sure I feel good physically after asana practice, but it’s always a dance between forms and formlessness. As Gary Kraftsow said, “…yoga isn’t about getting to know the postures. It’s about getting to know yourself.” In the past month I have a felt a new spaciousness inside me that was not there before and I know that what I do now will culminate on February 12, 2010. I know this in my bones as well as I know my name.

All I can do is surrender.


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yoga in the real world


When I told a well-known and well-respected yogi who shall remain nameless that sometimes I teach in places where there are no props, she said with a sniff, “I don’t teach in THOSE places anymore.”

Well, now.  Maybe one of these days I will have permanently traded up my yoga teaching venues sans any dysfunctional yoga studio owners of course.  But in the meantime I look upon my teaching experiences with great affection because I learn from all of them.

This morning I was teaching my private class in my house and the security system’s alarm started screaming.  There had been a thunderstorm with a huge lightening flash over my house (talk about raising the kundalini) and shortly thereafter the alarm went off. And when I say screaming, I mean the sound feels like a drill going through my ears into the middle of my brain.  My students looked at me with that WTF look and I ran downstairs and tried to shut it off.  No luck.  Still screaming.  I went back up to my home yoga shala and told them not to worry, no one is breaking in and nothing is on fire.  Then it stopped. Then it started again.  By this time all I could was laugh.

I ran back downstairs and called the security company.  They told me that the power must have gone out momentarily or there was a power surge and the system was rebooting itself.  As I talked to the security company the message on the control box showed everything back to normal.  I could stop grinding my teeth.  I told the security person that the alarm had gone off while I was teaching a yoga class.  She thought that was hilarious.

Good thing I practice mindfulness meditation: “screaming alarm feels like this…”

Yesterday afternoon I taught to 20 musicians of a symphony orchestra in the massive basement of their auditorium.  As they sat in stillness before savasana I heard massive doors open.  I watched a janitor come in pulling a massive industrial size garbage can behind him on a platform with wheels that obviously needed massive amounts of of oil.  I saw the janitor and smiled, thinking back when I used to teach regularly in THOSE places.

Two other people walked in and opened the doors of a massive closet, the size of a room. The storage closet was lined with shelves of liquor bottles and the man and the woman rolled out two bars which I’m sure were for the audience for last night’s performance.  By this time the students were in savasana.   After class I told them that this was the first time anybody set up a bar in back of the room while I was teaching.

Years ago I taught for a park district.  I taught in their community center in a large a multi-purpose room with a stage.  Saturday morning class, all the women up in downward facing dog — “BREATHE, WATCH YOUR BREATH….”  In walk two uniformed policemen.  I was the only one who saw them because everyone had their butts in the air, eyes closed. “Everyone come down into child’s pose…hello, officers….”  Twenty heads jerk up.

“We’re just here to get the lectern,”, i.e., the one that was up on the stage.

“That’s nice, officers. I thought you were here to strip-search us.”

The men in blue laughed as they hustled the lectern across the stage, down the stage steps, across my teaching space, and into the room next door, the door slamming behind them.  Of course.  Door slamming.

Yoga teacher trainings don’t teach you how to handle these things.

Do you want to hear about teaching next to bagpipe practice and above a dog obedience class?  Fortunately these two things did not occur at the same time.

There is no sound on earth worse than bagpipe PRACTICE, not even a screaming burglar alarm.

A day in the life of a yoga teacher.

Oh, yeah. I’ve paid my dues.