Monthly Archives: March 2013

Start monkeying around.

There were days of recess in my childhood, where the teacher would send us outside for 50 minutes to run off some of our steam. There used to be gym class 5 days a week for 50 minutes. Today, these things are being taken out of the school systems. Which is no surprise, because most adults took running and playing out of their lives as soon as they graduated, moving onto their more serious side of life. Leaving behind childish behavior and good old fashion exertion. I remember the playground of my childhood having a merry-go-round, swing sets, monkey bars, tether ball, parallel bars, slide and so much more. I remember as a kid even making use of the poles that held up the swing set, for play and goofing off. Every square inch of that playground was occupied. If you were lucky you even had these things in your backyard. We also made great use of the backyard with games like tag, wiffle ball and kickball. I remember having skinned knees and dirty feet. I spent my days outside tiring myself out with play. I remember getting called inside only once it was dark. Then we grow up and no longer fit on the jungle gym bars. We work tucked in little cubicles, for far too long. This is why I love yoga. Because yoga keeps me doing things that I did when I was a kid. My limbs are moving but it feels like my brain is resting. Today, that is what yoga feels like, play for my heart and rest for my mind.

Me and a friend on her jungle gym, circa 1981.

Me and a friend on her jungle gym, circa 1981.

I’m going to make a big statement here, but I think the secret for saving humanity lies in our playing. Throwing up our arms, spinning in circles, leaping through the air and raising our heart rate not out of anger, but out of pure exhilaration from play. We are living in a world of obesity and confined spaces, electronic obsession and overly-stimulated brains. We need to get back to the idea that a middle of the day break might do us some good. That blowing off some of our steam through physical exercise might prevent us from blowing our top, because of stress and anger. That in order to be able to focus and do a better job a little whimsy in the day might help us keep grounded and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

I think yoga is recess for adults and the human body is now our playground. No swing set’s necessary. All you need is a little time and the notion to try and move your body in ways that do not resemble any of the forms your body is in all the other hours of the day. To do a backbend or to criss cross your legs like you used to for duck, duck, goose. In yoga, we try to do all sorts of interesting shapes just like trying on different pants. Not all shapes we do in yoga are going to feel right, but if you stretch and wiggle just like you do trying on pants, in just the right way, you’ll find the give and take that is always available in your body, just like it’s available in most fabrics.

Back in the days of my childhood there wasn’t ADHD medicine being dispensed. However there was this one expression being dispensed from mothers and my mom used it a lot…”GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!” or another good one was ” If you have that much energy then go cut the grass (summer stand-by) or shovel the driveway.” (winter stand-by) That crazy energy was not allowed in the house, unless of course, it was a rainy day, then we were sent into the basement or the garage to dance, rollerskate and make artwork. Hyperactivity was a part of childhood, but we just focused all that energy on the art of play.

Since our lifestyle does change a bit as we get older, maybe going outside can’t always be the answer. Lucky for us  there are now yoga studios in every town across America. If yoga is not your thing, then step into a cross-fit garage. Why might I say garage instead of gym? Because crossfit has caught on that you don’t need anything fancy for the art of play. That all you need is space and willingness. Yoga studios, gyms and crossfit facilities are supplying the space and the people to guide you. All you have to do is show up and embrace being young at heart, at any age. Allowing inspiration to come from the effort of trying things you have never done before. To dare to hang upside down or see how high you can jump or to bust out a few moves that look like breakdancing. What is break dancing anyways? Well, to me it’s breaking all the rules of what dancing should look like.

Come on to your yoga mat and see what I see. That upward facing dog resembles “the worm”. That jumping through your arms to seated in yoga resembles swinging. That dropping back in to a backbend feels like throwing your head back on the swing when you’re up real high. That bhujabhidasana and kurmasana remind me of the game leap-frog. That during yoga practice, the attempt of keeping your mind focused reminds me of a game of dodge ball. You’re trying to avoid getting hit by the myriad of distracting thoughts out there. That the game of tag you played as a kid, had it right all along. Tag! You’re it! To realize YOU ARE IT? To stop waiting for someone else to do great things in the world. That person is YOU, YOU’RE IT. That pushing each other higher on the swing set is what we are all here to do. To help raise each other up to our highest potential. Playing on jungle gym bars reminds me to hang in there, but to also hang loose when necessary, like trying to hang our feet over our head in vrschikasana (scorpion).

Hang loose, or at least try.

Hang loose, or at least try.

The ways we play can vary from surfing, to biking, to swimming, to yoga but no matter what you do make sure it feels like play and not like work. We have enough of that. Make sure that after years of doing it, you haven’t lost sight of its main purpose, to keep you young, to keep you flexible and not just physically. Our bodies might quit growing, but our hearts never do. Our skin might change, but our smile doesn’t. Our hair might grey, but our attitude shouldn’t. Our appearance might change but our laugh never does.

Monkeying around in Roatan, Honduras.

Monkeying around in Roatan, Honduras.

The playground of life is open 24/7, 365. There are no rules that say on thursday at 5:00 it closes. Or that only kids are welcome. No playground has a sign that says “Parents… keep out.” But there should be one that says parents “Quit standing there and start monkeying around”. If yoga’s not your thing, then I suggest you go back to a playground and try to play on every piece of equipment until you figure out what your thing is. No more excuses. This could be the thing that saves your life. Let’s resuscitate your child like mind. When you are ready, ask someone to push you higher, let your head hang back and trust the process of PLAY. If you need a little help just try to embody the Great Hanuman.

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

Spring Playlist

Something Good Can Work (The Twelves Remix) 4:09 Two Door Cinema Club
Feel the Love 4:28 Cut Copy
Wonderful Life (Arthur Baker Remix Kitsuné Edit) 5:05 Hurts Kitsuné Maison Compilation 9
Sun 3:08 Two Door Cinema Club
Left Alone (feat. Chet Faker) 3:31 Flume
Dreamin’ 3:12 Feldberg
Bow Beat 3:10 Tom Helsen
Just for Now 3:57 Cloud Control
You & Me 3:52 Feldberg
Mo Ba Nin (radio edit) 4:18 Flip Kowlier
Love Me Tomorrow 3:35 Feldberg
I Am (Tom Helsen Presents Barbara Dex) 3:26 Tom Helsen
Just Breathe 3:35 Pearl Jam
Next Summer 3:46 Choir of Young Believers
Hey You Hang On 5:48 Brookville
Survival 4:03 The Colorful Quiet
Endless Spring 3:00 Houses
Afraid to Fall 4:02 Brookville
Please 2:41 Tom Helsen
Who We Are 2:39 Dewey Decibel System
Three Little Birds 3:04 Bob Marley
Is This the End 3:48 Zee Avi e
With or Without You 4:51 2CELLOS
Hollow Drum 2:56 Laura Welsh

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Pain has left the building.

We use a scale when trying to have people describe pain to us. On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the worst pain you have experienced and 1 the least. Right? You are all familiar with this? It seems to be that human beings are in pain a good portion of their life. Just spend a little time watching T.V. commercials or flip through a magazine, advertisements abound for the latest pain remedy. Or read the reports on people being addicted to pain pills that they so easily got from their doctor. Are we really just falling apart at the seams? Are we really abusing our bodies that much? That depends on how you define abuse. I think it’s abusive to sit around all day in barely lit rooms with your longest walk being to the kitchen to refill your Mountain Dew that you are using to wash down your cholesterol medicine. Then the heartburn pill you’ll take later because you did nothing to aid your body in the process of digestion just after you finished off a box of Captain Crunch. This is the worst kind of abuse. Running a marathon hurts, I know this first hand. It hurts during and for about two days after. You can lose toenails, during your training and tragically men can have their nipples rub raw if they don’t wear the right clothing during the 26.2 miles. But this is not abusing the body, this is raising the bar. Dare I say, it raises the pain threshold.

Should I be so bold as to talk about pain? Aren’t there yogi’s out there telling you to avoid pain? Isn’t your doctor prescribing things for it? Well maybe if we all worked a little on raising our pain threshold, we wouldn’t be a society addicted to anything other than raising the bar on our expectations for life, instead of settling for this belief that the human body is a place of suffering. But don’t worry, there’s a pill for that.

I know pain first hand, and not just from running 4 marathons. I ruptured L5/S1 about 5 years ago. By the time I finally went to the doctor for it, he said to me “I am not sure how you drove yourself here and your walking around, this is a pretty bad rupture.” It was excruciating for about 3 weeks. I didn’t sleep much at all, or for that matter sit still. As there wasn’t a single comfortable position for my body. But I was pretty damn determined to not be cut open. I never even took any steroid shots which is another popular form of treatment. I was going to, if I could stand it, wait this pain out, and I did. With a year of no running and a slow steady creep back into my yoga practice, with the appropriate backward bending, back strengthening plan. I am as good as new. Probably better because I learned a lot about myself, anatomy and the way to get it right. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as easy I am making it sound. I cried a lot, I was angry a lot and I had setbacks through out. Ultimately I never took anything more than Advil, breathing and exercise to heal.

I remember back in my first year of yoga my teacher saying “yoga raises our threshold to pain.” I remember thinking, “well that sounds strange and what would be the benefit?”. I remember the asana it came up in relation to, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasna – half bound lotus forward fold. When I came to yoga I had been running for about 14 years, so I was pretty limited in range of motion. So when I would try to put my foot in the proper place it would inevitably feel like it was cutting my quadriceps muscle in two. That skinny, knife-like boney edge of my foot not tucking high enough up on my thigh would cause me to wince in pain. Shouldn’t we bail if there’s pain? No, not if it’s something that you can breathe through. Most discomforts can be dealt with this way. If you can stay in the place of dis-ease and experience change, then do. YES, there is pain you need to move away from, but not all pain should be avoided.

Trikonasana - triangle posture.

Trikonasana – triangle posture.

I’ve heard yoga teachers say if there’s pain you’re doing the pose wrong, what if it means you’re finally doing it right? If someone told you you were going to be comfortable while doing yoga they were wrong. It’s about being uncomfortable and dealing with it. I have seen countless triangle asanas, and I guarantee you, until I come up behind them and fix them, they aren’t feeling anything except the effort of holding themselves up, no discomfort, no change, no enlightenment. We need to shine a light of awareness on areas of our body that have become dull, detached and not put to good use in a while.

We use the word pain too freely in society. For most instances it’s just discomfort that can usually be lumped into the “This too shall pass.” category. There is a great expression “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Ahhhhhh, that to me is the most truthful statement there is about pain. Being able to handle discomfort and pain better makes us less reactive and hopefully more responsive. It lengthens our fuse. It’s good to have a long fuse before you blow up. If we all had longer fuses the world would be more peaceful. It wouldn’t be filled with so much vengeance. The more I am uncomfortable in yoga, the more comfortable I am becoming in life. The more I raise the bar of what I am willing to tolerate, the more opportunities it’s giving me to grow. I want to go to the grave with a worn out body. One that lived each day being surprised by what I was really capable of.

It is possible to get injured doing anything physical with our bodies or emotional with our hearts. Each of these injuries leaves a little scar behind that creates a pathway in the neurosis of our mind. Yoga, by moving us towards our pain helps change this pathway and wipe out the residue of that experience. There comes a moment in yoga, and it’s a golden one with each and every pose you are struggling with that you will be able to say “Pain has just left the building.” It’s never a coincidence to me that the word exercise and exorcism are so similar. Because exercise does release some of our demons of fear, pain and weakness, leaving us feeling pretty cleansed of the things that were holding us down. Give it a try, come to your mat, find the edge where you question “what the heck am I doing?” again and again and just see what happens. Don’t fear what you haven’t even experienced yet. Only fear missing the opportunity to grow.

Never fear what might come out of you. ROAR!!!

Never fear what might come out of you. ROAR!!!

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Ripe for the pickin’.

Do you remember your graduation from pre-school? Do you remember all the excitement about starting out the next year at a new school? Each year working your way up to the eventual end – graduation from college. Is it that there is an eventual end that keeps us on track? Is it knowing that at some point we will be given the reward of a title that allows us to keep our nose to the grindstone? What if there were no-end? If there were no diplomas, would you still work as hard as you do and for as long? Is it possible you would work even harder for less – less acknowledgement, less status, less pay? It seems as the human species goes, we do well with things that are going to end but we do terribly with things that have no end. If I told you that you only needed to do backbends 50 more times before you could spring right up out of it to standing, would you be willing to do 50 more? What if I told you it was going to take 100 more backbends, or 500 more? Would you still be as willing to do them? What if I told you all you were ever going to get out of yoga is a better night’s sleep? Would you do it, would you stick with it? I find the hardest part about yoga for some people is the endless effort that is needed without knowing what the results will be.

The most difficult sutra for a yogi says “Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah” – Practice without attachment to a particular result. But if we are putting forth effort, aren’t we aiming for a particular result? Well, how do we practice with out attachment? We must practice patience. I do believe you will ultimately get any result you strive for with enough due diligence. In the same way that you eventually do get to enjoy a nice glass of wine. But keep in mind that wine was first a grape, or even further back a seedling. The process of making a good glass of wine takes a while. If you just consider alone the fact that it takes about 3 years to make a productive grape vine. Let’s not forget about all the TLC that is needed in that three year process to keep that vine healthy, pest free, frost free, drought tolerable, etc. Add to that how the soil had to be cultivated before the germinated seeds could be planted. Then of course, there is the harvesting, smashing, fermenting, bottling etc. It takes from 1 year to 5 years to make a bottle of wine, the extreme being 20 years with reds. If people were only willing to put that much time into their yoga practice. Just think of the limitless potential you could experience by allowing yourself time to mature into a yogi.

Patience. If you try Padmasana before it's time you might risk injury.

Patience. If you try Padmasana before it’s time you might risk injury.

A three year yoga practice could be like growing your deep roots and vines before you are ready to produce a mature fruit ripe for the picking. During that 3 year period processing what you’ve learned. Then you might be ready to be picked, pruned and overall cleansed of the fruit that might be weighing you down and that can be turned into something better. But even then, you might need to sit and contemplate your next phase of yoga, just like wine sits in the fermenting process. You must discard the waste before you can take on a new form – going from your solid state to a liquid state of being. In yoga, we are trying to become more fluid, to become sweeter, to become better with age. Each of us has the potential to add to this world something unique, something that comes from a good exploration process. If we walk away from yoga before the process has had time to really set in, we would be missing out on all the colorfulness that yoga brings to so many. With enough yoga we do become a lot like a red wine. Where it’s hard to get the stain of yoga out of our hearts, just like it is hard to get the stain of red wine out of carpet. Yoga leaves an impression, and a strong one at that, when practiced for years, not months.

Wine doesn’t make it to your lips without having a heritage. Most vineyards are centuries old. The craft being passed down from one generation to the next. The craft being refined with each year by experimentation. From when to pick the grapes, to what to add to the soil, to how the climate produced a specific result. When you are part of Ashtanga yoga, you become a part of that heritage. Yogis before you have experimented. They have refined the craft of Ashtanga yoga. You automatically get an umbilical cord to India. Just like wines have a particular flavor when they come from a particular region, you automatically step into a family tree with the great, great grandfather figures of Ashtanga yoga – Ramamohan Brahmachari, Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Tim Miller. As each year of your practice goes by, you are becoming a bigger limb on this old, amazing family tree we call Ashtanga yoga. You are fertilizing the soil for the next crop of yogis.

So give yourself time. Don’t be in such a hurry. Be still. Stand in the sun. Receive from the earth what it has to offer. Be gentle when you prune back what you no longer need. Squish out all the flavor that yoga is giving you, and be willing to share it with others. Don’t hold back and don’t be shy to have your own unique flavor. Yoga makes us ripe for the picking. You just never know when you will be picked in life and for what cause. You might get picked to be a mother, you might get picked to be a cancer survivor, or you could get picked to be a civil servant, or picked to write a great novel. Whatever it is you get picked for, yoga will make you humble, sweet, patient, generous and RIPE.

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Get happy playlist

Let It Go 3:17 The Neighbourhood
Sweater Weather 4:00 The Neighbourhood
Rhthm & Soul (Middle Version) 3:33 Spoon
Willow Pattern 4:15 Dolores O’Riordan
Patience 5:45 Nas & Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
Seconds 2:52 Ghost Loft
Look Alive 3:31 Wait. Think. Fast.
Golden 3:46 Brookville
Trying To Put Your Heart Back Together 2:39 Slow Runner
Way Beyond 3:33 Morcheeba
Sweet 4:04 Dave Matthews Band
Always Waiting 4:31 Michael Kiwanuka
Beat of the Drum 6:09 Morcheeba
With the Notes In My Ears 2:40 Peter Broderick
Thistle & Weeds 4:50 Mumford & Sons
People Help the People 4:17 Birdy
Gained the World (feat. Manda) 2:55 Morcheeba
Bronte 3:19 Gotye
Wonderwall 4:09 Ryan Adams
Aloha Ke Akua (Piano Version) 10:42 Nahko
Home Again 3:33 Michael Kiwanuka 6

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Shine a light Playlist

Harder Than You Think 4:10 Public Enemy
Stompa 3:42 Serena Ryder
Shine a Light (Flight Facilities Remix) 5:15 The C90s
Anything Could Happen 4:46 Ellie Goulding
Emma (Bachelors of Science & M3 Dub) 6:01 Dirty Vegas
Lovesick (Instrumental Version) 3:16 Lindstrøm & Christabelle
Deep Forest Green 3:59 Husky Rescue
Mushaboom (Mocky Remix) 5:01 Feist
Fast Lane (Black Grass Refix) 4:17 Husky Rescue
Whispering Wind 6:03 Moby
Explosions 4:04 Ellie Goulding
Amnesia 6:37 Dead Can Dance
New Light of Tomorrow 4:53 Husky Rescue
Joy 3:14 Ellie Goulding
Summer Sun 3:52 Chris Coco
Mogadishu Blues 2:54 Hans Zimmer
Dead In the Water 4:44 Ellie Goulding
Blueberry Tree, Pt. 1 2:36 Husky Rescue
It’s Gonna Be OK 4:46 Anders Osborne
Humility and Love 6:21 Christopher Young

Categories: For the beginner | Leave a comment

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