Tag Archives: Sarah Powers

the dharma of doo-doo

It always does my heart good when I hear a student talk about how yoga has helped them in their life. Most of the realizations I’ve heard are more about the non-physical than the physical, things on a deeper level than achieving an arm balance or handstand. I sit back and say to myself (or sometimes out loud), yes, they get it, someone has been paying attention!

I’ve always said that yoga is about life so what better teaching than a pile of dog doo-doo in the middle of a bike path.

A few weeks ago I had told my students that at Will Kabat-Zinn’s retreat he had talked about how one little thought can create our reality in a second. For example, we’re walking down the street and we pass someone, we assign the word “creepy”, and our mind instantly creates an entire story about that person, we create an entire world around that person. Will said, “you never know what someone else’s story is.” In other words, just as the Buddha taught, be on the lookout as to how your thoughts create your reality.

Then on Saturday morning during the yin part of our practice I read excerpts from Sarah Powers’ chapter in Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind: Writings on the Connections Between Yoga & Buddhism.

Sarah wrote about how embroiled she became in her emotions as she laid in bed bathed in sweat from the heat. She said she became “utterly intolerant of my experience and before I knew it, I was defiantly standing, almost expecting I would encounter an enemy lurking.” Sarah said that as she simply watched her intense emotions she became aware of how her angst effortlessly slipped away and how she began to feel calm and present. She was astonished at how a strong emotion can decompose as she mindfully turned her attention inward to her direct experience in the moment. Her next moment was no less fiery, but her inner attitude had shifted. Her experience of the sweltering heat had changed simply because her attention had shifted from resistance to mindful observation.

As my students were in sphinx post one of them told the story of how she was walking her favorite path and she experienced what Sarah experienced: the shift from rage to mindful observation of her fiery emotions:

“On my first lap I just missed stepping in some dog poop in the middle of the paved walking path that circled my neighborhood park. I was enraged that someone would let their dog defecate on the walkway without cleaning it up and assumed it came from the large dog being walked by a woman I had just passed going in the opposite direction a few minutes earlier. I spent the rest of my first lap feeling irritated and blaming this woman for not cleaning up after her dog.

When I got to that same spot during my second lap, I still felt irritated and decided dogs should not be allowed in the park.

On my third lap I began to wonder whether or not the poop had perhaps been there for several hours, which would then exonerate the dog currently in the park as well as his owner. My irritation began to dissipate.

On the fourth lap I realized I had no way of knowing if it was this woman’s dog that had made the mess, so I really couldn’t blame her. I didn’t think anymore about it as I finished the lap.

On the fifth lap, I reminded myself there was poop on the walk but it no longer upset me. An oncoming jogger and I smiled at each other was we both sidestepped the mess.”

After my student told her story I clapped and thanked her for sharing this marvelous teaching. “You get it!,” I told her, “You’ve no idea how this does my heart good, thank you for listening all these years!” I asked if she felt these emotions in her body — Buddha’s First Foundation of Mindfulness. Yes, she said. I told her that ultimately on the fifth lap she experienced Buddha’s Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, mindfulness of the dharma, i.e., the nature of reality which is impermanence — all things change. Her feelings of rage at the dog poop in the middle of the bike path during the first lap had changed to feelings of neutrality by the fifth lap. My student’s thoughts on first seeing the dog poop and then a woman and her dog had created her reality and her own suffering. If we are paying attention we notice how all things are temporary. That’s awakening, and it comes slowly but surely.

I said, “See how our thoughts create our reality? You created your own suffering all because of a pile in the middle of the path.” I asked whether she would have noticed these subtle shifts of consciousness if this had happened before she started a yoga and mindfulness practice. Her answer was no.

Yoga is Life. All things are a training. Even a hot steaming mess in the middle of your Path.

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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thanks given

to….

Suddha Weixler. . .for showing me what it means to be a true yogi

Srivatsa Ramaswami. . .for showing me what pure yoga is and inspiring me to go to India

Paul Grilley. . .for showing me that yoga truly is “all in the bones”

Sarah Powers. . .for confirming for me what I have always intuited

My students. . .for their support along this Path

Buddha. . .for the Dharma and for showing me the way out of suffering

OM MANI PEDME HUM

women helping women

I have recently learned about the organization Women for Women International. Women for Women International “provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.” It is a Four Star Charity as rated by Charity Navigator. From their website:

“From Victim to Survivor…to Active Citizen

Women for Women International mobilizes women to change their lives by bringing a holistic approach to addressing the unique needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments.

We begin by working with women who may have lost everything in conflict and often have nowhere else to turn. Participation in our one-year program launches women on a journey from victim to survivor to active citizen. We identify services to support graduates of the program as they continue to strive for greater social, economic and political participation in their communities.

As each woman engages in a multi-phase process of recovery and rehabilitation, she opens a window of opportunity presented by the end of conflict to help improve the rights, freedoms and status of women in her country. As women who go through our program assume leadership positions in their villages, actively participate in the reconstruction of their communities, build civil society, start businesses, train other women and serve as role models, they become active citizens who can help to establish lasting peace and stability.

Women begin in our Sponsorship Program where direct financial aid from a sponsor helps them deal with the immediate effects of war and conflict such as lack of food, water, medicine and other necessities. Exchanging letters with sponsors provides women with an emotional lifeline and a chance to tell their stories —maybe for the first time. As their situations begin to stabilize, women in our program begin building a foundation for their lives as survivors.

While continuing to receive sponsorship support, women embark on the next leg of the journey and participate in the Renewing Women’s Life Skills Program that provides them with rights awareness, leadership education and vocational and technical skills training. Women build upon existing skills and learn new ones in order to regain their strength, stability and stature on the path to becoming active citizens.

Women for Women International believes that establishing a means to earn a sustainable living is critical to being fully active in the life of a family, community and country. To help women transform their new skills into financial independence and sustainability, we offer job skills trainings to strengthen women’s existing skills and to introduce new skills in traditional and non-traditional fields so women can access future employment opportunities.

Building on the skills training program, we offer comprehensive business services designed to help women start and manage their own micro-enterprises. We give them access to capital and operate microcredit programs in Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina with an overall repayment rate of 98 percent. We give women access to markets by facilitating product sales through outside retailers and our online Virtual Bazaar. We provide expertise such as product design, production assistance and business development workshops. We also help women form micro-enterprises such as production facilities and cooperative stores to sell the goods women produce.”

Helping the women of a country helps the children. Saving a woman saves everyone.

I learned about Women for Women International through my teacher, Sarah Powers. She and two other yoginis have started Metta Journeys and their inaugural trip to Rwanda will benefit Women for Women International.

I already sponsor a Sri Lankan girl through my Theravadan teacher’s organization, but when I return from India in January I will sign up to sponsor an Iraqi woman through Women for Women International. I encourage every woman who reads this blog who is outraged by the war in Iraq, and every woman blogger who has written about their outrage, to sign up to sponsor an Iraqi woman. I would also encourage you to pass along the WFWI link to all interested parties. Sisterhood is powerful, ladies.

Listen to Alice Walker’s powerful and moving words in the video and check out WFWI’s website. It is another example of thinking globally, believing in the collective human consciousness, and seva.

peace
shanti
salaam aleikum
so shall it be

no attachment, no aversion

What would happen to pain if we did not label it as such? What would happen if we turned to face our obstacles instead of pushing them away?

I teach vinyasa flow and yin yoga. Yin yoga is a style that is still unfamiliar to many yoga students. It doesn’t make you sweat and you don’t feel like you’ve gotten a “workout” — “you mean you’re not moving? you’re just on the floor? no way can I do pigeon for 10 minutes, are you kidding?!?”

I believe that if you have strictly a “yang” practice like astanga or vinyasa, you are only giving yourself half the gift of yoga.

Because of my training with Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers and my own personal yoga and meditation practices, I feel that a yin/yang yoga practice offers a complete practice not only on the physical level, but more importantly on the psychic level. Working on these deeper levels is what leads to our personal transformation, and the changes we make in our soft tissue have a profound influence on the emotional, mental, and energetic levels. My own yoga practice deepened when I moved away from an alignment-based, precision-obsessed practice.

A quiet yin practice reveals our subtle body. We move from the gross muscular level into our bones, into the connective tissue deep within us. Many yoga students don’t practice in a way that invites stillness because many times the contemplative aspects of yoga are ignored in western yoga classes. How many of you sit in stillness for 10-15 minutes DURING a vinyasa class, i.e., at the end of class, not AFTER the class, only as an option? My study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India showed me how different yoga is there compared to the fitness classes labeled as yoga here.

In my training with Sarah earlier this year she said that “yoga is a process of fully inhabiting ourselves — body, heart, and mind.” Sarah believes that as a society we are so fixated on our bodies looking and performing a certain way that we neglect the spirit body. She said that Ken Wilber calls this “bodyism”, and I see it all the time in vinyasa classes.

There is nothing wrong in trying to perfect an arm balance or headstand, nothing at all. But if the only thing behind it is Ego, then it is only a performance. Non-attachment, non-Ego, is accepting yourself just the way you are in that present moment when your legs smash the wall and you crash down from a very shaky headstand — and smiling about it instead of swearing. I ask my students, “what is going to ultimately transform you? holding an arm balance for five minutes or sitting in stillness for five minutes?”

The stillness of yin yoga allows us to observe the rising and passing away of physical and emotional sensations. All of our life experiences reside in our body, and the emotional afflictions we all carry affects the body and hardens us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Yin yoga is not just about cultivating physical flexibility, but our inner flexibility as well. Sarah believes that we can never truly soften if we do not investigate these sensations and turn toward our pain and discomfort, instead of running from them. This process is similar to vipassana meditation — watching, arising, abiding, passing away.

Sarah’s teacher training included a workshop called “Working with Emotional Obstacles Along the Path.” She suggests that we explore our personal responses to our sensations, and instead of pushing them away, confront them, because if we do not, our obstacles continue to live in our bodies. Sarah recommends a five step process:

* Recognition — Identify what is disturbing you the most. Emotional pain, illness, addiction, self-hate?

* Acceptance — Acknowledge the issue and explore how and where it lives inside you. Does it have a shape, color, size, temperature, texture?

* Impartiality — Let go of defining the issue as right or wrong. Let go of assumptions and just observe.

* Personification — Imagine this issue as a living being in front of you. Notice its gender, color, size, etc. Ask It what It needs of You, and if this need is met, how does that make You feel?

* Compassion — Give yourself permission to have this need as you begin to open to the expansiveness and clarity of your newfound Awareness.

Yoga, done with mindfulness, allows us to come home to ourselves.

TADA DRASTUH SVARUPE VASTHANAM
(Yoga Sutra-s 1.3)
“Then, the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent.”

“In the state of Yoga, the different preconceptions and products of the imagination that can prevent or distort understanding are controlled, reduced, or eliminated. The tendency to be closed to fresh comprehension or the inability to comprehend are overcome.” (Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, TKV Desikachar)

food for thought

Willing to experience aloneness, I discover connection everywhere.
Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior who lives within.
Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the Universe.
Surrendering to emptiness, I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me.
Each condition I welcome transforms me,
and becomes itself transformed into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so; who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is pure delight.
To honor its form, true devotion.

Jennifer Wellwood

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sarah Powers read this poem at the end of her yin yoga teacher training last month. A student asked Sarah who her teachers were and Jennifer Wellwood was one whom she mentioned. This poem is from Ms. Wellwood’s self-published book. I love it.

Read. Think. Embrace.

a holding pattern

WOO! It’s been a while since I’ve posted my musings and rants and it’s time to get off my lazy yoga butt (the “yoga butt” I’m supposed to get by doing yoga ONLY 20 MINUTES PER DAY! according to some fitness magazines), but just want to let my yoga peeps know that I have a plethora of posts percolating in this old mind….

like finishing up my stories from my March 2006 trip to India, telling you about my plans for India for December and January 2008, my 10 day silent vipassana retreat that I took at the end of December (the story of which might make you cry or smile), and my recent training with Sarah Powers at the Chicago Yoga Center. All these stories are swirling in my mind like the skirt of a Rajasthani dancer…but all in due time, kiddos…

I will be posting about my three days next week with HH the Dalai Lama in Madison, Wisconsin…three days of teachings and a public address. If being with the Dalai Lama wasn’t enough, I’ll be meeting a fellow moderator from the website IndiaMike who is flying in from New York for His Holiness’ teachings. The fab thing about the internet is that it brings us new friendships, and I have made a few along the cyberpath. So it will be very cool to finally put a face to the user name…from our backstage conversations at IndiaMike it already appears that we are twins seperated at birth!

namaste!