Posts Tagged With: OM

It’s a good day for a parade!

If I move left, you move left, and if you move right, I move right. If the group moves up we all go with it. We bob and weave, we ebb and flow, we juke and jive, we move together in all directions and pretty much in unison. There is a great comfort in this uniformity. It provides a certain degree of mental safety. There’s a sense of stability because we are all doing the same thing. It’s nice to know the people surrounding me made the same decision I did today –  do your practice. That you packed your yoga bag just as I did this morning to ensure there wouldn’t, couldn’t be any cop-out. That you are breathing, the way I am breathing, that you will struggle as I will struggle, that you will surrender as I will surrender. Not all of these things will happen at the exact same time, but they are bound to happen over the course of our time together, and this provides me great comfort.

Ashtanga yoga does it right. Uniting like-minded people in a room for an hour and half helps us see our similarities instead of our differences. Our community will be built. Our tribe is being formed. You’ve heard the proverb,  “It takes a village.” this is my village. This creation of commonality could be the cure for what divides us and creates war.

I often say to my students “that you have at least one thing in common with everyone one in this room today, and that is –  you wanted to do your practice.” You all woke up with the same plan – “Must practice yoga!” Go beyond that and see that you have even more in common with your classmates. There may be several of you that are mothers, there may be some of you that are runners, some of you raised by a single parent, some with fear of heights, some with a love of classical music, some that enjoy the same beer and some that have fur-children. If we were to stop everyone at the door and survey each person we could probably lump you together  in a bunch of different ways. If we could make you realize all the things you have in common, it would help you feel connected to something that doesn’t have limits. This infinite possibility of connection is bigger than we realize. The potential that comes out of working together way out weighs the struggle you feel when working against each other.

In life, we have many circles. Little communities that make us feel part of something bigger. But why is it that we aren’t feeling more united? We feel that technology is separating us more and more, but everyday I see people uniting in their yoga practice. Especially if its ashtanga yoga, and even more so if its second series that they are practicing. Almost everyone needs help with Supta Vajrasana. I love that we are there for each other  with this pose and that there is a forced eye to eye contact that happens on that last exhale up out of Little Thunderbolt. Yoga has a word for all this uniting we experience in and amongst our yoga friends – sangha. No matter the word, sangha, tribe, school, or parade it means the same thing – stick together.

Nature has been on to this little hidden secret for years. Fish stick together in a school, lions stick together in a pride, when crows stick together it’s called a murder, when giraffes stick together it’s called a tower, and when elephants stick together it’s called a parade. This should make us realize that we are stronger as a pack, than we are as individuals. I know I feel this way when I practice yoga with my tribe.  Animals realize they are safer in numbers, and ashtangi’s do too.

See yoga’s big goal, or its climax to speak of, is oneness. This union with just one thing and this one thing is powerful enough to make us feel complete, whole, connected, whatever you want to call it. Pattbhi Jois often said “Looking…only God seeing.” It’s cool if it’s not “God” for you, but it is a union to something.  When we do our OM we resonate with this one universal sound, and we realize everything vibrates together at some level. Everything and everyone is connected at some level. Recently my sister-in law realized she had met my husband about 15 years before I met him. She was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC with her family and my  husband flew her and her sister on a parasail ride up and down the coast. She even has a picture to prove this chance meeting. We say it’s a small world, but is it really? I have several more stories of this kind of chance meeting, as I am sure you do too. It’s time that we realize we are all connected.

I took a workshop years ago with Shiva Rae, it was her trademark trance dance workshop. She had us do this thing that I was positive was never going to work. She had us move around a small yoga room, spinning in circles with our arms out for 10 mins. During that 10 minutes she said ” just keep moving by looking for the open spot and you won’t bump into each other.” You know what?  It worked! What if practicing yoga could be that simple “Just look for the open spot, and move there.” Just like looking for a parking spot at the grocery store. Find the opening, right? Because that’s where the light shines in.

IMG_3328-1041725558-LIf all of us show up on our mats and look for the opening where the light shines in there is bound to be a radiance equal to that of the sun, where for a moment you find yourself completely entranced with the people surrounding you.  That you find yourself in a trance dance with your school of yogi’s – flowing on the same current, the same vibration, going in the same direction and moving as one. That at least once during the practice maybe more, you will feel like one brilliant light, you will sound like one giant lung, and you will feel like a school, or a pride, or a flock. If it’s a really good day you might feel like a parade.


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

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.

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

The largest land animal has a lot to teach us.

I have always had a thing for elephants, yet I have never met one personally. Sadly, I worry I never will, but that’s for another time. I have read many books about elephants, where they are the lead character. One of my favorites is Modoc, by Ralph Hefler. I shall share a list with you at the end of this of all the great many elephant stories I have read for all the elephant fanatics like myself. Once I started practicing yoga, I found it comforting that in the mythology of yoga there is a character named Ganesha. Ganesha is an elephant headed figure considered to be very sacred amongst yoga practitioners. Which, for me, was a good thing because it made picking my  Ishta Devata very easy.

Ganesha Statue.

What is an Ishta Devata, you might ask? It’s something that you resonate with. But by definition it is a “cherished divinity”. It might be an energy that you devote your practice to (Bhakti yoga), or it could be described as a force that makes you calm and steadfastness in your direction. It could be a feeling that you do not doubt. I have never doubted that an elephant head God-like figure wouldn’t be a good match for me. I find elephants to be exquisite in their beauty, impressive in their grace (even though appearing outwardly clumsy). They show great empathy in their family network and they exemplify what a support system should look like. They seem to embody the ability to grieve and they are pregnant for 22 months. So they must be amazingly strong, wouldn’t you say? In the mythological symbolism of the Great Ganesha, he is considered the deity of choosing for removing all obstacles. He is a great archetype to honor at the beginning of all new endeavors to help assure that your path will be obstacle free.

However, I prefer to think of Ganesha as a source of strength that I can go to, to overcome my obstacles. I do not like the notion of removing obstacles because I strongly believe it is the obstacles I have met and overcome that have shaped me into the resilient person I am today. Obstacles require creative thinking. Obstacles make our travels less linear and more meandering. It’s the terrain of life that gives our journey shape, the up’s and down’s, in’s and out’s, and the back and forth. To share with you a truth about linear travel, I can tell you this: I live where it is very flat and many roads tend to be very straight. Nothing feels more exhilarating then when I get into the mountains a few hours away. The curving, climbing, wrapping, and descending shapes of the road and the scenery that goes along with it always takes my breath away. Roads like that seem to bring out my adventurous spirit.

If all my obstacles were removed wouldn’t that make my journey easy and uneventful? If the troubles that lie ahead were taken away for the sake of my comfort, what would I appreciate? It’s usually in the uncomfortable places that I find myself most alive and even willing to be daring. Being comfortable sets up the likelihood that I might become dull (styana). Dullness isn’t exactly a label I’d like to wear. I don’t know about you.

I align myself with Ganesha when standing face to face with an obstacle. I take strength from this Divinity because Elephants embody so much of what I need. What’s one of the first things you might need when facing a obstacle?  Family, friends, right?  Elephants live in great family structures that are very loving, supportive and even adoptive at times of loss. They set up a system of what’s called allomothers, whose job it is to look after the young calf and help it along. I need people around me, that support me, and help me along when I’m facing an obstacle. Don’t you?

What else do Elephants have that might inspire me during times of challenge? They have thick skin, hence the name Pachyderm. This thick skin is why they have no true predators,except for humans.:-[  The only time you will see an elephant down is from illness, age or humans. When I am confronted with difficulties, it is no time to become thin-skinned. It’s time to toughen up.

Of course, one of the most apparent traits of  strength comes from the fact that they are sturdy creatures, not easily knocked down. Matter of fact, they seldom lie down at all. They need almost 22 hours a day to feed themselves to keep up their energy for their 600 mile migration during the dry season. There is no time for the weary. They can travel many miles on their four sturdy legs. Elephants have to constantly stay on the move for food and water, for the sake of survival. When I’m facing a challenge its necessary to keep moving forward. It’s time to keep up my energy with things like yoga, a good diet, and people around me that will encourage me. Staying in one place creates stagnation – movement is the answer.

Now their most charming physical attribute is of course their trunk. How could I possibly see inspiration from their trunks? Their trunk is a great representation of strength and flexibility. Their trunks are sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass or strong enough to break the branches off a tree. Like sutra 46 chapter 2 says “Sthira sukham asanam” You should be at ease and steady in your asanas. Learning to be strong and flexible is about becoming balanced between opposites (dwandwa)? Their trunks can be very delicate because it has over 150,000 separate muscles fascicles, it is also highly innervated making it extremely sensitive. It is said, in the yoga tradition, that the human body has over 72,000 nadi’s (or little rivers, energy pathways) that act as our information highway. In order to keep our nadi’s functioning well we need to become aware of bad energy in our body which would create an energetic traffic jam of sorts. We need to stay sensitive when facing obstacles and yoga is great way to do that.

Then of course there is their form of communication. They communicate mostly at a pitch that we humans can not hear. Even they aren’t really hearing it. They are FEELing it. Their feet are designed in such a way that they are able to feel vibrations traveling miles to them through the ground. The sensitivity that they have in their feet and trunk allows them to communicate miles apart and at times reunite a family group that had gotten separated. This communication allows them to survive some pretty challenging conditions. But the most amazing thing about this type of communication is that it requires great sensitivity. It requires that they feel information instead of seeing it, or hearing it. The human species is far to dependent on sight and sound. So much so, that we love to hear the sound of ourselves speaking and to see ourselves in a mirror. Instead we should  trust what we feel. Our gut instinct can be a great resource in time of difficulty. It’s this sensitivity that will allow our decision-making through difficult times to be less reactive and more responsive. Sensitivity can be refined when practicing an OM. Try to feel it, instead of hear it.

Sutra 30 Chapter 1 describes everything that an elephant is not. “Vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitatvani citta viksepah te antarayah.” Translated – The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusions about one’s self, lack of perseverance and instability. Sri Swami Satchidananda interpreted this sutra as such ” Remember, yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions are purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand and express our own capacities. We all have the strength but we don’t seem to know it. We seem to need to be challenged and tested in order to understand our own capacities. In fact, that is the natural law. If a river flows easily, the water in the river does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength in the form of tremendous power.

I look to elephants, all shapes and sizes, fact and fiction to guide me through my obstacles and to overcome difficulties. I go to Ganesha for strength and wisdom. I am reminded by the great elephants that we are here to help each other along, like  elephants do in their herds. Horton from Dr. Seuss said “A person is a person, no matter how small.” We are all trying to get over different obstacles, at different times, and of course from different places. Let’s just remember “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100%.”  – Dr. Seuss. We could all use a trunk to hold on to, sturdy legs to stand on, thick skin to cope, sensitivity we trust, and a family to count on. Let’s be inspired by Elephants and remember to pay homage to Ganesha.

Om Gum Ganapati Namaha! 

Great Elephant Reads:

Modoc by Ralph Helfer

To the Elephant Graveyard by Tarquin Hall

The Astonishing Elephant by Shana Alexander

The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

The Cowboy and his Elephant by Malcolm Mac Pherson

The Inconvenient Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

Hannah’s Dream by Daine Hammond

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

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