Monthly Archives: February 2013

SURPRISE!

13 years of practicing Ashtanga yoga, whew! Is that a good thing? Is it worth celebrating? Absolutely. How did I celebrate it? Well the same as I do everyday, by unrolling my mat and doing another practice. No cake with candles, no party hat’s, no invited guest… just me, myself and I. But wait… if I have done thirteen years of yoga is there any “I” left? Yep. I haven’t transcended the ego yet. But do I really want to? No, it’s what gets me on my mat. It’s what gives me the courage that a weaker ego might back away from. I still believe my potential is limitless. I still believe, even though 13 years older, that I can do more than I could at 28. So that’s what makes this worth celebrating.

I was told by my teacher years ago that I should always remember my first experience with yoga and always remember my first teacher. What I have learned from that advice is it will keep you humble. As you practice, you automatically improve. That is only if you practice consistently. As the late, great Pattabhi Jois would say “Practice, practice, practice…all is coming.” With so much improvement it’s possible you can lose sight of the place you started. It’s kind of like that Oscar winning moment for an actor where they thank their high school drama teacher. Where we start, is our anchor. We are aiming for buoyancy in yoga. Our ego more than anything else needs to stay tied down, or it can carry you away. It’s a lot like those buoys in a harbor that are markers to tell the ship where the channel lies.

Me & Tim, Yoga on high, Columbus, Ohio - 2005.

Me & Tim, Yoga on high, Columbus, Ohio – 2005.

People in your life can be great buoy markers. People that have inspired you. People that keep you on the right path. Kind of the like the bumpers in a pin ball game, keeping the ball in play. Hopefully the company you keep are people who keep you on the right track and also keep you humble and grounded. This is why one of my buoys is my teacher Tim Miller. He knows just the right dose of guidance to provide each dedicated student, and he is not over indulgent in handing out compliments. You have to earn his respect and you might not even know when you get it. But he did this one thing that led me to believe I had earned his respect. He remembered my name, time and time again, even if it had been a year since I last saw him. It’s no easy task, I am sure, to remember his students names. He travels all over the world teaching workshops. And he still teaches a full-time schedule at his own studio. But yet every year, I head back to study with him, he remembers my name, where I’m from and even what some of my problem asana’s are. This has always inspired me and I try to emulate him. (www.ashtangayogacenter.com)

Some of my other buoys are my dedicated students that show up again and again and that live some pretty crazy, busy lives. Yet they unfurl their mats day in and out. These are the students that bring good vibes into the space. These are the students that want to grow, that don’t accept “no” from their bodies, or minds for that matter. The ones that lay down a path of hard work that ultimately gets them to their yoga aspirations.

Me & my grandfather -  1983.

Me & my grandfather – 1983.

My grandfather was another great buoy, even though he is no longer of this world. His example inspired me. He never complained, yet he probably had things to complain about. He had an 8th grade education, held down two jobs and raised 4 daughters, half his life by himself, as his wife died young. He built his own house with his own hands and lived in it for 60+ years. He tended an acre land for a garden to feed himself and his family. He lived through the depression and appreciated everything in his life. He always dressed impeccably, darned a hole in his sock and polished his shoes. He made me once sit at the dinner table until I finished my dinner and I learned to appreciate what I had been given.

Georgia Marathon, 2010

Georgia Marathon, 2010

My mother is also one of my bumpers that keeps me on the right track. She gives so generously to others. She is always, sewing, cross stitching, knitting, baking something for someone. Things made from her love of these hobbies, as well as the enjoyment it ultimately brings the recipient. She, like her father, cooked 98% of all meals we ever ate as a family. No microwave, no frozen entrĂ©e, food that is fresh and healthy. My mom always made me go to school. I ended up graduating with perfect attendance through all 14 years of education. My parents didn’t let me walk away from commitments. My Dad believes in seeing things through and that hard work and persistence pays off. They are why I have finished 4 marathons, and only missed a handful of yoga practices through 13 years. I was raised by a hard-working family. Hard work doesn’t scare me. If anything, it motivates me because the reward at the end, I do believe, is greater. Hard work will always reward you with self-esteem. You can not lose from hard work, you can only gain.

These are the people I celebrate every time my yoga anniversary comes around. Maybe I should bake them a cake, put on a party hat, and invite them over to celebrate my anniversary. But since some of my buoys can’t be where I am, and vice versa, I just hold them in my heart for the whole month of February. Is it a coincidence that yoga came into my life the month of february? The month of love, the month that celebrates the heart? I think not. I love yoga! I fell in love my very first class, and more and more each day. Even the bad days. This is the month for me to be thankful for the people who gave me what is necessary to take the long road, and not look for the short cut. Have you ever thought who you’d like to have over to dinner to say thanks to? Have you ever thought about what you would say to them? Is “thanks” enough? Does it encompass what you feel? I recently read a great anonymous quote that said ” You haven’t really lived until you have done something for someone who can not repay you.” These people I cannot repay, at least not in dollars. But I can repay them in respect and admiration. I can also repay them in behavior by carrying on some of the great morals and ethics they taught me and being an example to others.

I’m looking forward to celebrating this anniversary every February. I am very thankful to the one person I had a dinner conversation with 13 years ago that said to me the same thing I have said to many people since…”Yoga is not what you think. It’s not just stretching, just give it I try. I think you’ll be surprised.” He was right. It’s not what you think, it’s so much more than we can even imagine. 13 years in, it’s still surprising me.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musical Energy

Spotlight – Leagues
Do I make it look easy – Sara Jackson Holman
Bright Smile – Josh Ritter
Hey Ho – The Lumineers
Turn it around – Lucius
Shut eye – Stealing Sheep
Cellophane – Sara Jackson Holman
Joy to the Baby – Josh Ritter
Don’t just sit there – Lucius
Karma debt – The Mynabirds
Gun shy – Grizzly Bear
The Curse – Josh Ritter
Into the blue – Sara Jackson Holman
Rachel & Cali – Damien Jurado
Anabel – Horse in the Sea
Go home – Lucius
Honey, let me sing you a song – Matt Hires
The long haul – No
I order the sun – Horse in the Sea
Freight train – Sara Jackson Holman
Song for Zula – Phosphorescent
Love and Feeling – Chet Faker
Come by fire – Sara Jackson Holman

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The Yoga Assembly

I remember how exciting assemblies used to be. All that Rah! Rah! Rah! stuff. When I was growing up, my school would have assemblies for the big rivalry match of all our school’s major sports. They were usually on a Friday and we would be released from class early so that we could attend. The requirements were to wear our school colors and bring your team spirit. The marching band and the cheerleaders would guide us through the school motto and school song. There would be speeches, positive affirmations and some group chanting of the school motto. This doesn’t sound that different from a  gathering at an Ashtanga yoga studio. But instead of using the word assembly, yoga calls this a satsang. By the end of a good old fashion school spirit assembly and a modern-day yoga class you have achieved the same goal, which is to have a group of people resonating the same idea – team spirit, or “We are all in this together!”

I’m lucky that I have the opportunity to teach yoga on Friday evenings and that the people I get to teach are some of the most dedicated people I know. I always joke with them by saying I love my friday peeps way better the monday people, even though a lot of the time they are the same people. The friday crowd has passed on all other possible friday night invites, so they can get their yoga groove on. I mean, it is Friday evening after all, right? The class starts at 5:30 which seems to align with the assembly idea. They have to release themselves from work a little early so that they can assemble with their yoga satsang. We have so much fun in this class. By the end we feel united in the belief that yoga is a great way to start the weekend and a great way to let go of the past week. This group of people seem to support each other like no other.

Second series at The Practice Space, March  2008.

Second series at The Practice Space, March 2008.

I’m sure we could look at the word assembly and see it synonymous with congregation, or a collective. That whenever you gather a large group of people together hopefully the undertone is that you realize you have something in common. Which naturally raises the energy vibration of such a gathering. I have taken many trainings with my teacher Tim Miller over the years. People come to his trainings from all over the world. I have practiced alongside people from Sweden, Japan and Australia, as well as Florida, New York and Oklahoma. By the end of these two-week trainings I’ve made many friends, comrades in the journey of ashtanga yoga. One idea unites us all. Once in the yoga room practicing together, we become like one gigantic lung, one breathing vessel. Creating prana for all of us to share. Prana is called the life force so when people make the joke, “Let the force be with you.”, it’s actually a true statement. In a mysore practice with 30+ other ashtangi’s, no-one is talking, there is only breathing and movement. Yet it feels like we are having a conversation. This must be the language of love. Our love for ashtanga yoga, is our unspoken language. No one is talking, everyone in the room is working hard, but yet there doesn’t seem to be a shred of animosity or jealousy, even though the skill level in ashtanga yoga can vary greatly. There just seems to be harmony. This is the same thing the football coach, track coach and school principal were trying to get us to embody at that school assembly. We are better united, then we are divided. We can get further when the company we keep has a unified philosophy.

There is another interesting element to this type of gathering that I recently stumbled upon. I was picked to serve on a criminal jury trial. The experience was rather sad and depressing but ended up providing me many new insights. One of those was this: strip people of all their identifiers like suits, degrees, jewelry and coiffed appearance, and you realize that you can always find you have something in common with each other. As I was at the  gym where I teach most of my yoga, a few weeks after the trial I noticed the prosecuting attorney, as well as the judges clerk, working out at the gym. What I realized was this… the gym is a great place to join people together even though in our outside responsibilities we are very different. As I saw the prosecuting attorney exercising in her plain white tee and black pants, I realized in this environment, we have no labels. We are all just congregating for our better health. In a yoga room there are no mothers, brothers, housekeepers, landscapers, lawyers, rich, poor, infertile, adopted, fashionable, smoker, alcoholic, and so on and so forth. It’s as if the playing field were leveled back to the most basic truth. Which is we are all human and we mostly all have the same parts. That without labels and identifying responsibilities we are equal.

If your teacher is a good teacher, he or she has learned to teach a great class, no matter the reason that each student is there. They shouldn’t teach a better class to a lawyer, than to a housekeeper. You don’t favor the tall over the short and you don’t draw attention to the mother, over the motherless. We are a satsang; a community of people who ultimately  agree that yoga is good for us. Which is why each person wakes up in the morning and packs their bag with yoga clothes and a mental commitment to get it done, whether they struggle or float gracefully thru the sequence, whether they can do headstand (sirsasana), or sit in lotus (padmasana), whether they can stay the whole hour and a half, or just an hour. Take off the make-up, the fancy or ragged clothes, jewelry, pull back the highlighted or dull hair into a ponytail, with your beach towel or your yogi toes, no phones, no degrees, for the most part no apparent differences, and no openly different opinions (no doubt the opinions and labels vary widely). These things aren’t necessary to practice, you never need to know them. All you know is the person to the left of you wanted to do yoga today. The person doing backbends behind you, wanted to do yoga today. The person taking early savasana, wanted to do yoga today. So yoga has done it’s job, it has united us, yoked us together. It has assembled us, in more ways than one. We have congregated under the same roof, under the same sun, and under the same belief that yoga is good for us. Wether practicing in Japan, Portland or a tiny town in Boardman, Ohio, yoga works. If you have ever wanted to be apart of something that has no prerequisite, this is it. You can be a Democrat, Republican, Buddhist, Episcopalian, third child of eight, high school drop-out or cancer survivor. All accepted and invited, no questions asked. Really. The only underlying question is “Are you willing?” Because when you are “We are all in this together.”  We are all the same.

So, atha yoganusanam. Samastitihi!

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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