My viewpoint

Interesting views on the practice of yoga.

Primal is all the craze!

It seems these days that primal is all the craze. If you’re in the loop you’ve read Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, or if you’ve ever picked up a weight you have probably heard of the Paleo trend. These are trends that are about getting back to simpler times, not needing high-tech shoes or equipment and not consuming processed foods. If it comes in a box don’t eat it. If your shoe’s came out of a box don’t wear them. Seems like boxes are bad. The idea is that 4 walls limit your thinking even all the way down into how your muscles think. By confining our feet we limit their strength and potential. This really isn’t news to a yogi. We have been going barefoot – all natural since yoga came into existence. There is nothing more primal then going barefoot. There are other things that we do in yoga that keep it primal like dog pose, camel pose (Ushtrasana), fish (Matsyasana), eagle (Garudasana), and duck pose (Karandavasana). Those are just a few of the animals we try to embody in the course of a good yoga practice. We don’t need anything except our bodies to do yoga, no weights, no prop’s, no mirror’s and definitely no shoes, so if you want primal this is the way go.

(Excerpt from Born to Run – “No wonder your feet are so sensitive,” Ted mused. “They’re self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms.”)

What else about going barefoot ties into that primal urge? In the Ashtanga opening chant we pay respect to the dust of the guru’s lotus feet. When you see pictures of the great indian mythological Gods you don’t see any of them tucked into lotus with a pair of Nike’s on. After Gandhi died they bronzed a pair of his sandals, symbolising all the great work he had done while he walked this earth. Feet are considered a representation of the journey our great teachers have taken, the idea the dirtier the feet, the more they have experienced. There are other cultures that embrace this foot thing in different ways. In japan you never wear shoes into a home. In India you never wear shoes into the sacred space inside a temple. It’s also consider offensive to have the bottoms of your feet face your guru. But here in America our feet pretty much live inside a pair of shoes and these shoes go everywhere. We traipse all over the place in shoes that can be dirty and grimy, but supposedly comfortable. But are they really?

Many people visit their doctors because they have foot or knee pain. Take it from me, I have seen my fair share of feet over the 13 years that I have been teaching yoga and we don’t exactly have pretty feet. Proof of this is that many women try to decorate and disguise their feet by painting their toes all sorts of colors. We will put just about anything on our feet. But yet it can be hard to get some people to embrace doing yoga barefoot. Our feet are crying to be set free. Your feet can send pain to the knee and possibly all the way up to the back. Our bodies first defense against the stress of being bipedal begins at the feet. So many people don’t have a healthy defense to these stresses because their feet have become weak and even deformed.

It’s time for people to go bare. To let their feet get tough and strong, to let the toes stay spread apart instead of being squashed together, and to let the arch of the foot be just that – an arch. I see bad foot mechanics every class I teach. I see people who can’t stand on one leg because their feet are so weak. We should be treating our health and fitness in the simplest way possible and quit complicating matters with machines, shoes, and gadgets. Let’s just get back to pushing and pulling, jumping and pressing, twisting and flipping and contradicting. For every movement we do, we want to do one of opposition. If we point, we should flex, if we collapse we should extend, if we stand, we should fall. Ashtanga yoga has all of this, and then some. We drop back into back bends, we jump forward to standing, we point our feet, extend our spines and twist just about everything we can, all in an hour and half…and all barefoot.

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The first series/yoga chikitsa alone has enough movements in it to make you realize that your feet aren’t well. This should make you stop and wonder. If your feet aren’t functioning optimally, then what effects are they having on your knee? Ankle? Back? My two greatest loves are running and yoga. The reason is… I need nothing to do either. I don’t need a gym, and I don’t need equipment. They both can be done from my home. I can step out my front door and go for a run, and I can bust out some yoga moves in the middle of my bedroom. They are both freeing to me because of this, which means they leave me feeling liberated. One of the goals of yoga is just that; to become a liberated soul- jivanmukta.

I believe one thing that can liberate you in life is when you eliminate excuses. There is nothing more freeing than not needing a lame excuse. We all know that 90% of excuses are lame. So one of the other beautiful reasons to fall in love with Ashtanga yoga is it’s a sequence designed for memorization. Once you have committed the sequence to memory you can do yoga anywhere, no excuses. I have done it on a beach, in a little cabin in the woods, in Honduras and a small island in the Atlantic just to name a few. Having no excuses is very liberating, I promise.

Yoga and running are not going to be comfortable but there-in lies the beauty. They aren’t supposed to be. It’s in the discomfort that you will experience your primal nature of being stronger than you thought you were. Discomfort and bare feet take you back to the root of your ancestors. They made the place you call home what it is. Their survival, and their hard work got you where you are. So every time you stand barefoot at the top of your yoga mat, you should feel plugged into to centuries of hard work and discomfort. And you should fear not just a little more of the same. Being comfortable never got anyone somewhere new, different or exciting. All the brave souls that didn’t have the choices you do, that had to go barefoot, that let their feet collect a little more dust, that had to lift one more bale of hay, that had to plough one more line in the field, that had to climb one more tree to harvest the coconuts. They gave you your freedom to stay liberated.

So out of respect to all souls past that laid the ground work for your comfort, let’s get a little uncomfortable. Let’s get a little more primal. Go barefoot. Spread your toes, pull up your arches and feel the sole of your foot tapping into souls of the past.

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(Excerpt from Born to Run – “Just look at the architecture,” Dr. Hartmann explained. Blue print your feet, and you’ll find a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries. Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. The beauty of any arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down the tighter it’s parts mesh. No stonemason worth his trowel would ever stick a support under an arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure. Buttressing the foot’s arch from all sides is high-tensile web of twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, twelve rubbery tendons and eighteen muscles, all stretching and flexing like an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.)

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

Unsaid

I recently inherited a parrot from my husband’s family. They have had this bird for over 40 years.  I have been working on bonding with him. During this process, what I have really been working on is communication without words. He does speak, but he probably doesn’t comprehend the use of his words, as he will often say “Hello” as I am leaving. But he has mastered the appropriate greeting for my return. He joins our dogs in barking to announce my arrival. I guess he figured since they do it, so should he. It’s very funny seeing your parrot bark. But than again I see people mis-use language all the time. I also see people mis-use inflection and mannerism with their words. So why is it we are so dependent on words instead of what they evoke? We use words to mask so much of what we really mean. This is why I love the stripped down simplicity of a mysore yoga practice. There are no words, at least none spoken, but there is a language. It’s a beautiful language filled with support, encouragement and understanding.

We have become too dependent on words. There is a big difference between just speaking words and actually communicating. Communicating takes listening. You won’t always hear in words what the person actually means. Just like my parrot can’t always tell me what he wants. I have to become a very good listener via body language, and the use of his feet and beak to really understand what he wants. If not, then I usually end up being the recipient of a harsh bite. This same thing happens in yoga sometimes. If you aren’t being an active listener to the teacher, or the warnings from your body then you may get bitten by the hard truth of injury.

I have taken classes over the years where the teacher offers just words; no inflection in their voice, no adjustments through their hands and no darshan either (which is a loving glance). I have found through the years of study with my teacher, Tim Miller, that during his mysore classes, he often  uses darshan as a tool, for encouragement. His hands on adjustments also offer communication. I know that when my teacher touches me firmly and with confidence, it means he has confidence in me –  that I am capable of going where he is trying to take me. It says to me loud and clear “You can do this.”  So what about inflection? I can tell you that my parrot knows how to use it, when he’s not getting the attention he wants, he will get louder and louder until he is noticed. Just the same, I can calm him down with a softer voice and a gentle touch. There is nothing worse to me then a monotone teacher. It sounds to me like they are bored, which I do believe some teachers are. They have lost their “Joie de vivre” for teaching. Pitch and tone can go a long way in expressing the joy there should be in a good practice.

I recently taught a class that seemed like they were all visual learners. It was as if 70% of the class had no ears, only eyes to guide them. Imagine how complicated life must be if they can only understand conversations by what they see and not by what they hear. Where has the art of listening gone? When did we become so dependent on sight. The problem with sight is it is filtered through our preconceived mind (samskaras). This is why  people  recount a story differently even though they all witnessed the same scene unfold. Sight is not reliable, but it is helpful. Even sound is not terribly reliable, because you can read between the lines. But your sense’s are reliable. In order to understand my pets and my pets to understand me, we have to sense each others needs. I have a house full of animals and none of them speak english, but they all speak patience, thank goodness. Because we humans are sometimes selfish in our interpretations of our animals needs. They are so patient with my ignorance of their world and their communication. They however comply to everything I ask, in english. They are good listeners.

Mysore yoga gives us a chance to become better listeners. We have the opportunity to listen to our breathing, thoughts, sensations and our dreams. The quiet of the practice allows room for patience. When in a classroom environment where the teacher is barking commands there is little room for patience. People often feel rushed in a led class, but not mysore. It’s a beautiful practice that has movement as it’s language. Not facial expression, not words, not inflection – just movement. It’s like a liquid conversation. I’d say it’s like a painter painting. The paint is going on the canvas, but it’s blending with other colors. During a mysore practice, our movement blends, each of our movements is like a brush stroke, each person a color. There’s a group effort in mysore style yoga even though no one is doing the same thing at any one time. It probably looks like chaos to an outsider. But for those of us practicing together it’s like a symphony. We each move a different way and experience different struggles. One instrument playing alone can make beautiful music but a symphony leaves an impression.

We need to bring the simplicity of a mysore practice into all of our practices. We need to be less dependent on what we hear and see, and more receptive to what we are feeling. A great musician feels what they are playing. The music that moves you the most did so because you felt it instead of just hearing it. It touched something inside of you. It’s no coincidence that the 4th chakra/the heart chakra is called “the unstruck sound”. This is a sound that you don’t hear with your ears. You feel this sound with your heart. That’s what we’re getting in touch with every time we do a mysore practice. The brain uses language, but the heart uses feelings.

I recently just finished reading a great book about the idea of what’s left unsaid.  Yoga isn’t about what’s said, it’s about what’s not said. Enough with language. Animals are hard to understand if you are expecting to hear words/language. Animals use movements to express moods and desires. My parrot drops his head when he wants petted, or he squats low and quickly flutters his wings when he wants me to come to him. My dog raises her bum but lowers her chest when she wants to play, my cat head butts me when she wants petted. When these things fail, then animals will use sound –  barks, squaks and meows, but first they trust their instincts and their instincts are to communicate with movement. Let’s try to not worry so much about what we are saying and more about what we are doing. There’s a great quote that keeps it simple “Actions speak louder than words.” Let’s take action, get on your mat and leave the words at the door. It’s just better to leave somethings unsaid.

Shhhhh, just listen. Ushtrasana, Camel pose.

Shhhhh, just listen.
Ushtrasana, Camel pose.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Staying a float

They say that if a rip current is pulling you out to sea, relax and let it pull you, then swim parallel to shore until it releases you and then you can swim in. This is counterintuitive advice but it is life saving. In most cases panic sets in and people who find themselves in this dire situation behave more like salmon and swim aggressively against the current exhausting themselves and putting themselves in greater danger. There are moments in life where we will feel like we are getting pulled out to sea, losing sight of the shore. We all need to find a way to stay afloat at different times in our lives, to stay on the surface of the disturbance and not get pulled under. This is a lesson in life worth learning, because there will always be things that pull at you this way and that. You can exhaust yourself fighting it, or you can let go and float. I see people all the time in yoga that practice like salmon, working hard and throwing themselves around the room. I feel as though people don’t watch enough nature shows, because if they did, they would realize that salmon die at the end of this journey. There is a better way to practice yoga and a better way to get through the rip currents of life.

Staying afloat in Urdhva Padmasana - upward lotus.

Staying afloat in Urdhva Padmasana – upward lotus.

Yoga is supposed to look effortless, not just for those that have done it for years but for every student beginner to advanced. Imagine if flying didn’t look effortless to a bird or if running didn’t look effortless to a cheetah. Yoga doesn’t have to look like a struggle, nor feel like one. It’s as simple as stop fighting. But don’t you hate when people take complicated things and make them sound so simple? Which almost seems like an insult for those that are struggling. I know first hand those people don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but in a lot of cases it is. You just need to get out of your own way.

We human beings are natural graspers. That should be an obvious truth because we have thumbs. All the grasping (Aparigraha) we do eventually becomes a pattern. It’s these patterns that we need to break. Those patterns are the rip current. Negative patterns pull us further away from the person we are capable of becoming. The shoreline symbolizing where we are at peace, with two feet firmly planted. What’s the first thing we do when we are knocked off our feet? We grasp, we reach out for anything to stop our fall. In the Ashtanga yoga invocation the chant speaks of these samaskaras (mental impressions/ patterns) and the halahala (poison) they can become. One of these patterns of grasping I find in yoga is this inability to drop our heads back physically, as well as mentally. In order to float you need to be able to just drop your head back. We don’t seem to trust our necks. It’s as if the neck symbolizes the connection from our bodies, to our minds. When energy doesn’t flow through the neck freely in becomes a holding pattern. I find it always helpful to take into consideration that we are mostly water. So why is it so hard to behave like it? Water can cut through stone. Given enough time and repetition the stone will yield. All the more reason and proof to make yoga a lifelong commitment. To give your body enough time to yield, you must repeat an action you wish to change.

The danger of a rip current lies in the fact that they can not be seen, but they can be felt. Not everything we do in yoga can be seen to the eye, but everything we do can be felt. I always say you need to approach all poses with a greater-than and lesser-than approach. Do I need more of this sensation or less? Yoga needs to be about the sensations that arise and our abilities to be sensitive and responsive to them. To not overreact, nor do too little, but to find the current of energy most productive that will carry you down the river of progress. To stay afloat in your yoga practice for years and years to come, it’s about adapting to where the body is on a daily basis. Not to how you wish it was, but to its current state. To stop fighting up-stream against what’s not and embrace what is. So many students over look the daily state of their practice because they are too busy looking at how they wish it was in the future. It’s sort of like wanting to have a baby but not wanting to be pregnant. Things take time. If students would remember to look at how far they’ve come, they might be able to see that this current they are fighting against might actually be moving them in a better direction. So maybe they should go with flow and just see where it takes them. Relax and realize that swimming upstream is only for the salmon. Just go where your practice takes you.

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A journey to India.

Not all journeys require a plane ticket. Some journeys are taken in the soul of a person. They never have to leave their current life to have this journey. It happens inside the life they are already living. This is my story with regards to India. I have never been and I don’t know if I’m going to get there. There is this feeling that I am missing out and that I am not as respected inside the yoga community, because I haven’t been to India. I’m not blaming anyone for these feelings, they are more than likely self implied feelings of inadequacy. But none the less, they are my feelings.

Many of the Ashtanga yogi’s I know have traveled to India, some even more than once. Most made the trek there to study with the late Pattabhi Jois, of Mysore.  I have always wanted to go, but have had numerous reasons not to. Some of those reasons are that I am quite fearful of flying, I have never had enough time and money to go for the prerequisite 1-3 month implied time frame, and I am incredibly sensitive to seeing the suffering of animals. Everything I have read and seen of India shows stray dogs and cats running in the streets with their ribs showing. Even some of the cows I have seen photos of seem to be suffering of starvation, even though cows are considered sacred in India. I don’t think I have the strength to see these things and not be broken to pieces by them. I became vegetarian instantaneously, here in the states, by seeing one semi-tractor trailer of chickens being transported for slaughter. My home currently has 3 cats, two dogs and two parrots living in it. And every evening I take care of 3 feral cats in my neighborhood, and this is America. If I go to India, who knows how many animals or children I would want to bring home. Because of these things, I have not journeyed to India but I have been taking a different kind of journey;  the journey of what to do with my feelings of inadequacy.

There seems to be a bit of a divide in the Ashtanga community; there are those that received Pattabhi Jois’s blessing to teach the system, and there are those that didn’t get that blessing before he passed. Just because I didn’t make the many trips necessary to receive this blessing does this make me any less dedicated or deserving than those that have? Am I missing out on some sort of spiritual epiphany? Do we have to leave our lives to find ourselves, or to gain permission? It seems that my dharma is to study here in the states, with my teacher, Tim Miller. Since I practice yoga I have had many spiritual epiphanies without having to go to India. Could India create more or different epiphanies? I’m sure it could, but life really is what we make it. I am taking a journey to India, it just looks different than most people’s. I’m making it a journey inward to the place inside myself where the desire to go to India exists.

Photo taken by Vatsa Shamana. Vatsa was a student of mine from Mysore, India. He took this picture on a recent trip home.

Photo taken by Vatsa Shamana. Vatsa was a student of mine from Mysore, India. He took this picture on a recent trip home.

How am I taking this journey? Well I am studying first and foremost with Tim Miller. He has taken over 18 treks to India, and he was given Pattabhi’s blessing. I have been reading about India and yoga for years now. I am seeking out the wisdom of others and I am doing the most important thing of any journey, which is the study of the self – svadhyaya.

I’m still struggling with that feeling I get when trying to find my place in the Ashtanga community. There is a sort of chronological order to things which I think should be considered, such as Pattabhi studied and taught for 80 years, Tim has studied and taught for over 33 years and I have studied and taught for over 13 years. Though I never experienced India first hand, I have tried to experience it through reading many wonderful books about India. For years now I have been listening to Tim tell stories of India and Pattabhi Jois. I continue to honor Ashtanga yoga as it has been taught from teacher to student; Pattabhi to Tim, and from Tim to me. That’s as direct a path I figured I could get without going straight to the source. It has been what has worked for me. I am proud of my dedication. I am proud of my unwavering belief that Ashtanga yoga is a great way to make my life better.

Through the years of studying the sutra’s I have learned a few things. A great bit of advice from the sutra’s comes from the niyama’s. The niyama’s are about how do I interact with myself. One of the ways to better understand that is self-study, svadhyaya. Svadhyaya has helped me look more closely at why I have felt inadeqaute. What this self-study has made me realize is that we all take different paths and there are many different mountains for us to climb. A very dear friend of mine has climbed Mount Everest. He speaks of the Northeast Ridge being one the harder climbs to the top. There are many faces of a mountain that you can climb to get to the top. I think staring down my own feelings of inadequacy has been like climbing that Northeast ridge. I have had to make peace with myself time and time again about feeling like I am looked down upon by other yogi’s for not making the journey to India.

I have also had to confront my feelings of jealousy to those that have found a way to make the trek to India. There is a sutra that reminds me how best to embrace others. If I do this, then I am at peace. Sutra 33, chapter 1 Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatah citta prasadanam – The mind becomes serene when it cultivates friendliness in the presence of happiness, compassion in the presence of unhappiness, joy in the presence of virtue, and equanimity in the presence of error. If my fellow ashtanga yogi’s are also letting the sutras guide them in life then it should be abundantly clear that they would not judge me based on whether or not I have been to India, and that they should really not judge me at all. So if they are not judging me, then how do I escape the feelings of “You’re not good enough”?

I escape these feelings by doing another practice. The times I have wanted to walk away because the road was getting rough are too numerous to count. But what tells me I am deserving of respect with or without a stamp on my passport, is that I haven’t walked away. That I haven’t given up, instead I have given in. I believe there is a big difference between giving up and giving in. Giving in means softening, to become more malleable, to adapt, to adopt new patterns and philosophies, to keep going inward a.k.a. svadhyaya! But giving up means you walk away. “When the road gets rough, the going get tough” and every practice I do when I’m tempted to walk away makes me tough, resilient and deserving of respect. The only real respect I need is self-respect. I respect myself greatly and I’ve gained most of that respect from not quitting. I know that I am authentic, honest and that I live yoga instead of just doing yoga. My yoga filters into everything I do and I didn’t need to go to India to get to this place. This place was already inside me. I just needed to journey inward. Every time I stand on mat and chant the invocation, I invoke Krishnamacahrya, Pattabhi, Tim, India and my own inner guru. I’m accumulating a little more dust on my lotus feet. The feet are the symbolism of the journey and so far I’d say that my journey has been pretty great right here in my own back yard.

Years ago when I was thinking about moving I asked my teacher Tim “Where should I go.” I said “I want to move somewhere where Ashtanga yoga is popular and booming.” and he said “Why don’t you go somewhere it’s not and bring it to life.” That’s what I have been trying to do for 8 years now in Charleston, SC. It has been a long, slow process, but right now I think we have a pretty darn great community, even if it is small. I appreciate each and every person that loves the practice as much as I do here in my small town some 7,000 miles away from India. The story goes that Krishamacharya daksha (payment) to his teacher was that he had to go out into the world and be a householder and teach yoga. I felt like Krishnamacharya when Tim said why don’t you take the road less traveled and bring Ashtanga yoga to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s what I’ll be doing today, tomorrow, and the day after that. It’s not easy, but if Krishnamacharya didn’t quit, Pattabhi didn’t quit, and Tim hasn’t quit, then neither will I. Even when it’s hard and I am feeling inadequate I just do what they have all done before me. Practice, Practice, Practice. As my teacher says “the only thing that removes doubt is experience.” I have that, 13 years strong. Today will be no different. “Ommmmmmm. Vande gurunam charanaravinde….

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Caution! Many distractions ahead!

People everyday hop into their 2,000 pound loaded weapon and drive it at 70 mph facing other 2,000 lb. weapons driving towards them at 70 mph with a small grassy space of approximately 15 feet between them. That requires a great deal of trust on each and everyone’s part. The preparation for this starts at age 15. At such a young age, and after only a few hours of study and practice they are unleashed on the world as acceptable drivers. It’s crazy how we are all so anxious to drive and explore the world thru these heavy machines that have the potential to become dangerous if not driven carefully. So to help us stay safe and limit the amount of damage such a large piece of machinery could inflict, the roads are riddled with all sorts of warnings to the dangers we face when exploring the world. There is the “Caution- slippery when wet” warning, the “curvy road ahead” warning, the “65 mph hour” warning, the slow down “school zone” warning, the caution “deer crossing” etc… If you have driven a car, you know this is just a small sampling of warnings available to us when behind the wheel. Even the cars we drive themselves have warnings. There are the brake light warnings, saying that “I’m slowing down”, the turn signal warnings, hazard light warnings signaling that “my car has broken down”, and the “Watch out! I’m backing up warning”. With so many warnings it’s amazing that we are so eager to drive and to commute in this chaos each and every day. Yet we can be so unwilling to listen to the many warnings that our body signals to us each and every day we venture out on our own two feet.

Yoga is a place where we become very good at interpreting all the unspoken warning signs that our body elicits. Here’s an example of a warning sign that the body might give: “Warning! Warning! You are carrying too much weight for the frame of your body”. What does this warning look like you might ask? Well it looks the same as a car carrying to much weight for it’s frame. It collapses, things buckle and the suspension looks shot. In humans it shows up as the classically buckled/knocked knee and flat foot. These people will make endless trips to the doctor pointing all the blame of this pain they are experiencing to their knees and none of the blame at themselves. I recently heard a great quote which said “be careful when you point your finger because there are still 3 pointing back at you.” If your knees are rubbing together when you walk it’s probably like driving around in a car with no shocks. I’d say that the cautionary sign this would equate to is “Caution! Falling rock!”. The sign I’m talking about warns you the earth has a possible tendency to collapse. The human frame when put under too much pressure also has the possibility to collapse.

Rocks Falling Symbol Sign

Our body warns us a lot like these signs do. The greater the risk the more warnings it sends us. Just like as the risk increases while driving they will warn us more frequently and intensely of the dangers approaching with bright colors like red’s and yellow’s, or by adding lights that blink, or even rumble strips. When we practice yoga we are being bombarded all the time with similar warnings’. Feelings that tell us to approach with caution, to slow down, to use our brakes, or to not ride to closely to the person in front of us. Sometimes when we practice yoga we are hot on the tail of the person in front of us. It’s as if we want to be better then them, faster than they are and we definitely want to get to the next pose first. Sometimes on our mats we never use our brakes. Instead we just jam our foot on the accelerator, even though the teacher reminds us that we have brakes available to us at all times. The external brake is Mula Bandha and the internal brake is humility. The teacher may pause class to discuss alignment and give cautionary warnings necessary for the next pose, and yet sometimes we choose not to listen and jump right into it with-out any guidance, because we must get there before anyone else. It’s like the people that see the speed limit is 65 mph but decide that they know best and that 80 mph is better. But is it safer?. We also know that to drive 80 mph makes us less fuel efficient. Why is efficiency so under-rated?

Efficiency doesn’t mean you work less, it means you work smarter. Efficiency is strongly associated with wisdom/knowledge. Yoga’s word for knowledge is vidya. Someone lacking it is experiencing avidya. Patanjali’s Yoga sutra 2.4 says – Avidya ksetram uttaresam prasupta tanu vicchinnodaranam translated – Ignorance is the root of all the causes of suffering, whether these are latent, feeble, intermittent or intense. Sutra 2.5 expounds by saying – Anityasuci duhkhanatmasu nitya suci sukhatmakhyatir avidya translated – Ignorance is confusion of the transitory with the eternal, the pure with the impure, pain with pleasure and the relative with that absolute. To work efficiently is what sutra 2.16 epitomizes – Heyam duhkham anagram – future suffering should be anticipated and avoided. That’s what all these warning signs when driving are trying to tell us. Avoid, or approach with caution the bridge that freezes before the road. Avoid, or approach with caution area’s of dense fog (not being able to see clearly should guide you to sutra 2.2 – Samadhi bhanvanarthah klesa tanukaranarthas-ca translated – The intent of yoga is to establish clear perception by removing the causes of suffering.) Avoid, or approach with caution, or at the very least, anticipate what lies ahead. These signs should allow you enough time to react accordingly and allow you to get to your destination safely. As sutra 2.26 says – Vivekakhyatir aviplava hanopayah – Discrimination is the method to end the confusion and bring clarity. If you can’t discriminate where the yellow line in the road is because it’s too foggy, rainy or snowy out, you just might end up in a ditch. When students approach asanas with-out caution they may experience this “falling in a ditch” by experiencing injury, jealousy or worse… narcissism. I heard this joke once that said “If you teach Ashtanga yoga you are narcissist, masasochist and sadist.” Good thing we have the sutras to keep us in line.

It’s important to listen to your teacher, they have traveled this road before. They should know it well and be able to point out to you all the hidden dangers (You should find out what your teachers credentials are). But even more important is to listen to your body. Listen when it says, slow down, approach with caution, turn on your brights to see better, or yield to oncoming ego’s. Become a responsive interpreter of your bodily sensations. Here’s a few of my interpretations; tightness means decelerate, dull pain means take a new route, pain means Stop! Now! Confusion means put on your hazards, ask questions and slow down. Fatigue means you should take the next exit and take a break (Balasana). Tension means take your foot off the accelerator. If you’re experiencing a bumpy ride, it means work with less effort. If your breath is spuddering, it means slow down, you are approaching a school zone. Remember to be a student and learn something new. Holding your breath during yoga is equivalent to stopping where there was only a yield sign. Falling out of poses means it’s time for a detour, you need a new approach. I could go on and on.

Left Winding Road Sign – Sharp Turn Sign

There will always be things that distract you. Why do you think the highway is littered with billboards? Because the mind is a fickle thing, easily tempted this way and that. Even though there are many roads that will lead you up the mountain, not all roads will get you there. If I walked across the United States, it would take me longer, but ultimately I would see so much more along the way and I could notice the details. Or I could drive at a high rate of speed and have it pass by my window as a blur. Take your time with your yoga. Listen to all the warnings. Each is a new detail about your body. Some practices will be 35 mph practices, while others will be 65 mph. As some roads can only be driven at 35 mph in order to be safe, so is true of your ever changing body and state of mind. It’s okay if someone seems ahead of you in yoga, maybe they had an earlier start. People have been ahead of you for centuries. You can not catch up to those that have a 10 year start over you. Let them carve the path that you and others can follow. Your teacher, and his teacher before him, and the one before that have cleared the way a bit by gathering the knowledge collected over centuries and sharing it with you. Trust the process, trust your teacher just as you trust all those people on the road. You trust everyday that they are driving with their eyes open. But just remember this is never blind trust. Always filter it first through your natural instincts. Be careful out there. Many obstacles lie ahead. It might be a bumpy road but “Practice and all is coming.”

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Thoughts rattling around up there.

Do you ever find yourself with a great thought but it’s incomplete? I find this happens to me a lot, so I write it down. I figure the writing down process is equivalent to planting a seed. The thought is contained on a piece of paper just like the seed is contained in the dirt. But just as the seed needs some light and water for it to do its thing, my ideas need my time and attention before they will flourish into something eloquently written. I have been collecting these incomplete thoughts for a while. They are mostly about yoga. Each one of these incomplete thoughts, I figure is a masterpiece similar to the Bhagavad Gita just waiting to come out. As if, I, Cathy a 41 year old yoga teacher has the wisdom of Krishna inside me. Well, I have been doing yoga for over 13 years and I have read many great books. I have also researched the heck out of my limitations and I have definitely embraced my own Dharma, so I figure it is possible. I do believe that this blogging adventure is my way of holding my feet to the fire, forcing me to open up this vault of incomplete thoughts and complete them once and for all. But what if they are only destined to be a thought bubble, like in cartoons?  Maybe I should start to incorporate some art into the great novel in my head, even if it is only stick figures. What’s so wrong with a thought bubble anyways? Snoopy and Woodstock have been entertaining us for years with their thoughts, packaged in cute little bubbles above their heads. So did I just compare the things in my head to Krishna and Snoopy at the same time? Yikes! I did.

We live in a society of instant gratification. Everything comes at us fast, except yoga poses. You know what I mean if you do yoga. We can google anything. Aren’t we forcing ourselves into this sort of thought bubble society? Twitter is a great example of a thought bubble, 200 characters or less. Some people’s thoughts that they are sharing seem to just be action statements like “I just ate an avocado”. I’m pretty sure my thought bubbles are more insightful than that. I think I’d like to die knowing that people are still quoting me. Isn’t the best way to do that is keep it short and sweet? I mean really…how many of us read Homers’ – The Odyssey? Or for that matter, the Mahabharata?  I know what your thinking, I should have at least read that one, being a yoga teacher and all. Seeing that the Bhagavad Gita is just a small portion of the Mahabharata, I better get on it. One day, when a yogi steps into his/her first yoga class and wonders just like I did “What the heck is this?”, maybe they will run off to the closest book store just like I did and pick up a book on yoga. Maybe it will be my book that they buy. But for today, I’m just going to share my thought bubbles with you.

My thought bubbles...

My thought bubbles…

Yoga is like shooting pool, first you have to line things up.

Your breath in yoga is like the big, bad wolf trying to blow the door of resistance down to get to the three little pigs. They represent mind, body and Self.

Breath is like a threaded needle stitching together the mind and the body.

When you practice yoga you need to be the witness, participant and the referee. Sometimes you need to cheer yourself on, other times you need to check yourself into the penalty box for bad behavior.

Distractions can be dangerous and harmful. If you are distracted while driving by a child, phone, or bad weather, it could lead to you missing your turn, or worse, an accident. If you are distracted while cooking you might forget an ingredient or put one in twice and ruin the whole recipe. Distractions are all around us; loud sounds, annoying sounds, bright lights, smells, etc. These distractions take your awareness away for a moment and it’s what happens in that moment. Every moment matters. Seconds are small, almost seeming insignificant. But what happens in those few seconds can last a lifetime. Yoga is an opportunity to practice staying in the moment, each and every one.

Find the space and room in your body, expand the joints, open your frame. Yoga is also about opening space in your mind, for more room, more love & acceptance, more patience, or for nothing at all. Your mind doesn’t need to be full and overflowing with thoughts all the time. Emptiness is good. We empty the trash, we empty our bladders, we empty our shoes, mailboxes, we empty a lot of things. The body also doesn’t always need to be full all the time, we can fast. We can go without. We can experience emptiness for a while & survive. We can let go of things.

Yoga is like a science lab. You are going to put things together and see what happens – it’s research, analyze, evaluate, assess and conclude and then repeat. No study is conclusive on one try.

Practice makes perfect. There is no “when” in that sentence. Just, practice makes perfect.

If you want to tip your yoga teacher then show him/her 20% gratuitous smile the whole class.

Thoughts are like the sheep that a cowboy is trying to corral. Just keep cutting off their movements, get them in the corral and then close the gate.

If you do not look BOTH ways before crossing the street, it could be very dangerous. Look in your yoga practice both ways. Contraction/relaxation, length/width, inhale/exhale, lightness/heaviness. Duality is always there. Look both ways.

Happiness is like chasing your own tail. It is always a part of you. It goes where you go. You don’t have to run in circles. You just have to be willing to look in the right direction to see it. Sometimes you just forget where to look to see that it is there.

Home is where the heart is. Take away the “h” at the beginning and the “e” at the end and just look at the middle, what are you left with? OM! There is no place like Om. There is no place like om. There is no place like Om. Maybe our real home is right there in the middle of our body, where the heart is.

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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.

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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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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 entrée, 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.

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