Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Comedy Lila - Act #2

Have you ever  been in a yoga class where you wondered if you could sneak out without anyone noticing?
If you have, did you sneak out or did you stay and why?

This morning I didn't have a lot of time but felt like I needed a yoga class.  I decided to try a new class close to my home.  The instructor begins her class with what I would consider an intention.  She says that we should try to look for the good in everything.  She said something to the effect that even when there's a new student in the class rather than seeing all the things he/she can't do we should  find something good - like "I like her shirt". 

She takes requests from the students.  (there were 6 regulars and me)  Handstand, someone suggests.  Great idea she says, we'll do inversions!  Oh God ....... this must be act 2 of  the comedy lila (Divine play) called my life.

The class begins immediately with standing poses and it's not long before I realize that this is going to be acrobatic yoga.   Okay, so  I am stuck in the corner with no escape so I have to suck it up.  I'm trying to find something good in each pose.  Just imagine, I'm in downward facing dog with my heels against a wall.  She is pushing on my upper back with her feet and she's insisting that I walk my feet up the wall into a handstand.  --- yeah...... I couldn't find anything good in that one.   

The thought "Holy Hell, when is this class going to be over" came to mind more than once. However, in an effort to find something good, I've come up with some things I learned that I can apply to my own teaching.

1.  When teaching challenging asanas (yoga poses) never insist that a student do the pose - be prepared to
     offer a modification.
2.  Students adjusting each other is not really a good idea.
3.  Counter-posing is a must
4.  When having students demonstrate "advanced" postures in front of the class it creates a sense                  
      of competition amongst students which has no place in the context of a yoga class.
5.  In order for a student to have an internal experience there needs to be some amount of silence in class.
6.  Always honor the tradition of hatha yoga being a means to get us prepared for meditation.
6.  Most importantly, if the above are ignored, make sure everyone signs a liability waiver and increase
     the limits of the insurance policy!

I knew almost immediately that I was not honoring my body but my ego took over and I stayed.   The result?
Physically:  pain, Mentally: agitation and lots of negative self-talk.  

I acknowledge that this style of yoga is quite popular but I've never really fit in with the popular crowd so why should yoga be any different?  

Saturday, May 29, 2010

God has quite a sense of humor!

Today's lila (Divine play) is a comedy that began at 5am.  Center stage....... Me!  Have you ever had one of those days where everything that could go wrong, goes wrong?  Yeah.... It used to frustrate me to the point of tears.  Now, I try to practice acceptance. 

My sadhana this past week as been difficult.  This morning was no different.  With my mind and heart racing I finally give up trying to meditate.  I'm teaching for Shiva Das this morning so I figure I'd get to the studio a little earlier and perhaps I'll have a little time for meditation before class. 

Rememeber the saying "Man plans and God laughs?"  Once I finally find my other flip flop, I get into my car. I didn't even make it out of the driveway. Check engine light is on and it feels like the car is going to fall apart!  (in the words of Frank Barrone - Everyone loves Raymond) HOLY CRAP!  -- I remind myself - acceptance and gratitude are my bhavanas this week -- okay, I'm not taking my car, I accept that.  I'm taking Mike's car, I'm grateful that there is another car available for me. 

My favorite parking spot by the church is available - Thank God!  I get to the studio, I breath a sigh of relief.... Aaahhh......  No time for meditation..... Students begin to arrive.  Happy, smiling faces for which I again feel grateful.   As the students are resting in Savasana I think "that certainly wasn't the class I planned in my head" here again, I practice acceptance, acknowledging  that there is a power higher than me at work in my life. 

I planned, what I hoped would be a great adventure with the kids today.  Yesterday, my son was excited about our adventure.  Today, he'd rather swim.  I plan..... God laughs......  I accept and feel grateful.  Okay,
maybe today is not the day for an adventure.  Perhaps today is for staying home, sitting  by the pool and being thankful for my beautiful, healthy children.

This lila is turning out to be better than I expected.  Can't wait til act 2!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The heat is on!

"Our biological existence is a dance of the three doshas of vata, pitta, and kapha.  Life is a multi-colored tapestry of their movement in various plays of balance and imbalance, coming together and going apart.  These three powers color and determine our conditions of growth and aging, health and disease." - Yoga and Ayurveda, David Frawley

**Disclaimer - once again I remind the readers of this blog that I am in no way an expert **

Each of us have some portion of each of these doshas.  Our constitution is determined at birth but it fluctuates and become imbalanced at times.  Here's a quick over-view of each dosha.

Vata                                                  Pitta                                          
ether &  air                                  fire &  water                                 
"that which moves things"         "that which digests things"       
space, light, cold, dry                oily, hot, penetrating                  
                                   Kapha
                                water, & water
                            "that which holds things together"
                             cold, wet, heavy, dull
* Heal thyself - Ed Zadlo, D.Ay

Have you noticed that when the temperature outside rises so does your internal temperature?  Perhaps that explains why I've been feeling so cranky and why so many others around me are so cranky.  Pitta seems to be high for a lot of people.  How do we keep pitta under control as we approach the hot summer months?
What are the signs that you may be experiencing excess pitta? 

Some signs of pitta being high are:  Quick to anger, critical (that's how it manifests for me), intense,  over-heated easily.

Here's some things we can do to help:  Try to stay cool, especially your head, balance activity with adequate amount of rest, practice breathing deeply, making your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation.  When practicing hatha yoga remember to soften and release in the asanas (postures) rather than pushing or forcing.  Focus on releasing and surrendering in each asana.  Avoid spices or oily foods.  Avoid critical thinking ( I know that's easier said than done but try)  When you have a critical thought - acknowledge that you may be experiencing excess pitta and at the very least, refrain from acting on that critical thought.

Try chanting "OM"  - Om = expansion which is good to counter-balance the constricting effects of too much pitta.

It's okay to relax and let go.  The world will not collapse if we relax and let go.  In the words of my dear friend, Jon, it's not your job to hold up the world.  So let go.  Relax.  As I type these words I'm aware that  I've been clinching my jaw so much that I've got a headache.  My shoulders are up around my ears and I think I've been holding my breath for most of the day.

If you're experiencing these things too, take a moment, right now and open your mouth as wide as you can, stick out your tongue, move your jaw side to side.  Relax your shoulders down and away from your ears. Now take a deep breath in....... Open your mouth and release the breath....... Aaaahhhhh..... I'm feeling better already.  What about you? 

Please feel free to share your tips or suggestions for keeping your cool when the temperature is up.

I was worried a little about offering suggestions since I'm not an expert but then I saw a bumper sticker that said:   "Noah's ark was built by amateurs .  The Titanic was built by professionals"  LOL!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For my lovely daughter, Amanda.....

Frustration! That's what I'm feeling.  Frustration that I can't find the words to verbally express myself freely.
Is it possible that some things can't be expressed in words?  Words are so limited.  For example, the word love.  Those of you who know me know that I love Doritos.  In my opinion that are the most perfect snack.
I also use this same word, love, to express how I feel about my children.  Obviously, my love for my children is not exactly the same love I feel for Doritos yet it's the same word we use.   I feel like there must be a better word but I can't figure out what that is.

In yoga terms, this difficulty I have with verbal expression is probably caused by a major blockage in my
Vishudhi chakra (throat chakra).   I actually feel a physical lump in my throat.  Whenever I feel like I want to say something I almost immediately feel a constriction in my throat.  I've been exploring this for quite some time.   Although, yoga has helped me a great deal, it has also created some internal conflict for me.  One of them being when my internal emotions/feelings are, shall we say, not very yogic in nature.  If we are getting in touch with our feelings and emotions and learning to trust them  shouldn't we be able to express them freely?  If so, what if these emotions are not loving and sweet and blissful? Does that make us a bad person?   

There is a lot of yoga babble that goes on about love.  Yogis are always talking about how they love everyone and how wonderful and blissful they always are.  I can't believe that these folks always feel love for everyone they encounter.  Are they really feeling love or are they ignoring their true feelings in an effort to be more yogic?

If yoga teaches me to connect with and trust my intuition, this inner wisdom and yet I'm suppose to love everyone all the time, there is sometimes a conflict. 

What if I don't love everyone I encounter?  What if my intuition is telling me that someone is not a good person.  I know I'm suppose to see the Divine in everyone but let's face it, there are people in this world who are not good people.  That's not a judgement that's really a fact.  How do I reconcile my intuition with the idea of loving everyone and seeing the good in everyone. 

As yogis,  we try to see these challenging people as teachers crossing our path as a means to teach us something about ourselves.  Okay, I've wrapped my mind around this concept but maybe the lesson is to trust your intuition and run the other way.   Is that possible? 

Do I have to love everyone in order to be a yogi?  I believe it was Neem Karoli Baba (an Indian Saint and Guru) who said "You can kick someone out of your home but not out of your heart".   Does that mean that it's okay to not like someone and not want to be around them as long as you are not causing them harm in your thoughts, words, or deeds?  I think it does.

 Perhaps that's the answer.  Even when we don't love someone we still need to act towards them in a manner that doesn't cause them any harm by our thoughts, words, or deeds.  In a way, that's loving them... isn't it? 

As for the cause of the blockage in my Vishudhi chakra, I have some theories about that but that will have to be another post.  For now, I'll work on trying to clear the blockage by practicing the dreaded shoulder stand more often and other asanas (yoga postures) that open the throat area and chest.  Chanting is also recommended for the throat chakra.  I'm thinking now of fish pose - It's a heart opening pose and also stretches the throat.  Supported fish pose is even more lovely.  Try it.  Lay on your back with the rolled up blanket or bolster under your chest so that the bottom of your should blades are at the edge of blanket. Raise your arms over your heard and rest them on the floor.  Breath into your heart and into your throat. Try to relax and soften with each exhale.  Remember that not all emotions and feelings need to be verbally expressed.  It's okay to acknowledge them and let them go.  Release any negativity with each exhalation.

Maybe yoga folks are referring to love in the way I refer to loving Doritos but I can assure you, when I say I love someone - I'm referring to a different love. A love that I can't seem to find a word that can adequately describes it.  I suppose I'm destined to be re-born a few more times because for now, I am trusting my intuition...... Call it judgement, call it discrimination.....As I continue to pray to Amma, the Divine Mother to help me to recognize the Divine in everyone and help me to learn how to love everyone.  I am inspired by her example of unconditional love.....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Important reminders......

I took a yoga workshop today with my pal, YogaLu.   YogaLu and I car pooled for most of the 5 months of our teacher training.   One thing is for sure, when Lu is in charge, I don't have to worry about anything. She always has everything under control.  I love that!

Anyway, this workshop on sequencing a yoga class was pretty basic.  Teacher Training material really but I'm glad I went.  It was nice to have a refresher.  The instructor was very likable.  I was expecting to learn some creative new sequences that I could take back to my classes.  Unfortunately, I didn't.  What I did take away were some really important reminders. 

1. That it's impossible to please everyone - therefore, all  I can do is teach from my heart.  The students who
    like my teaching style will find their way to my class.  Those who are looking for something else will find
    other classes and that's okay.

2.  It's extremely important to hold the space with compassion and empathy for each student without taking
     in their energy.

3.  My own physical limitations can be valuable tools for me to learn modifications and adjustments that I can
     offer to my students.  These limitations also help the students relate to me and not feel intimidated. 

4.  In the words of my friend, Jon - It ain't about all about me -  the student's experience is more important
     than my plan.  Have a plan but be ready to scrap it.

5.  Ultimately, I need to realize that I am only a channel.  It is my responsibility as a teacher to guide the
     students to their own intuition, their own inner guidance.  I need to get out of the way of their experience.

Interestingly, on the front wall of the studio, there was what looked like a dry erase board.  On this board were written Patanjali's eight fold path.   Including each of the Yama and Niyamas.  I loved that! The Yamas and Niyamas are the very foundation of a yoga lifestyle.

Yamas (social ethics):  Non-violence
                                   Truth
                                   Non-stealing
                                   Appropriate use of one's vital energy
                                   Non-possessiveness
Niyamas (personal ethics):
                                   Purity, cleanliness
                                   Contentment
                                   Practice causing change, "heat"
                                   Self-study
                                   Devotion, surrender to a higher force

Even if you're not a yogi, these are important principals to observe.

All in all, I enjoyed the class and it made me realize how much I loved being in that environment of learning.  The other thing I like about the studio was that the "reception" area was full of books!  (my other passion besides yoga).  I bought a book called the study guide to the Classical Yoga Lifestyle.  I like that it has little exercises at the end of each section which I will be sure to share with you.

Speaking of learning,  If you are interested in diving a little deeper into the practices of yoga, consider yoga teacher training at YOGA ON MAIN.  Beginning in July, they will be offering a 100 hour Ayurveda Certification program with Ed Zadlo,  September - a 200 hour yoga teacher training program with Shiva Das
and a 500 hour advanced teacher training program.  I can tell you from personal experience that these programs are life changing!!   http://www.yogaonmain.com/

Friday, May 21, 2010

Jai Ma!

Yesterday, on my way home from work I get a call from my mother, "The  BVM carnival is tonight"
(I hate carnivals) but I say "Okay, I'll bring the kids".  After a quick dinner and homework, my two
younger children and I go to my mother's house.  My aunt and cousin and most of my nieces and nephews
are waiting.  We pile everyone into the car.  "I hate carnivals" I say.  My mother replies "When you're a mother you have to suffer a little for your kids"   What??  Really? 

Being a mother is the most wonderful and the hardest job in the world.  When you are holding your beautiful new baby in your arms you imagine your life being like living in "Candyland".  You're not going to make the mistakes you perceive your mother made.  You're going to do everything right and your child is going to  be
perfect, and she will love you as much as you love her. 

The problem with this idea is that it's a BIG FAT EXPECTATION!  I think by now we all know what happens when we have such expectations.   The truth is that my mother is right,  sometimes you suffer a little when you are a mother.   Sometimes it's because your child is sick, maybe she's mentally ill and won't let you help her - you struggle with your instinct as a mother to want to help her and the helplessness you feel when she won't let you.  Sometimes it's the harsh "I hate you!"  when your child doesn't get his/her way.   You know that you shouldn't take it personal.  Someone once told me that if your child doesn't hate you during the teenage years then you're not doing a good job.  Still those words hurt.

When you love these children so much that you would die for them and they tell you that they hate you - you suffer a little.  It's easier not the take it personal when they are 2 or 3 yrs old.  It gets harder when they are teenagers because we expect them to know better.  We expect them to know how much that hurts us.   (Although, I'm finding that the teen years are just the terrible twos all over again)

We are, once again, presented with the opportunity to practice letting go of our expectations.  Accepting our children right where they are in this moment.  Loving them - unconditionally and practicing balance. As our children grow we need to find the right balance between guiding them and allowing them to live their lives.

A teacher once told me that the Hindu goddess, Durga is a fierce warrior who will protect you and fight for you until you are strong enough to fight along side of her.   Sounds like a mother to me.  We are fierce warriors, aren't we? - protecting our children and fighting for them.  The challenge is recognizing when they are strong enough to fight along side of you. 

Like the woman at the carnival yesterday who lost her 3 year old daughter, we will suffer a little, but ultimately, we will experience a love so powerful that it's like nothing I can describe.  The joys are so great, just ask the woman about joy when her little girl was found.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are you up for a challenge?

When I bought my first house I was so excited.  I set out one spring morning to clear the tiny front yard for planting.  For weeks I cleared out weeds and tended to the seeds I had planted.  My elderly neighbor was
a expert gardener.  Her front yard was so beautiful.  I, on the other hand, was 19 years old and didn't know a damn thing.  So imagine my excitement when I saw the first signs of growth!!  I carefully tended my first little flower.  I watered it, weeded around it, checked on it every day.   One day, my elderly neighbor was working in her garden as I lovely tended to my flower.  "How much longer are you going to let that weed grow before you pull it out?"  Gasp!  Weed..... no, no,  it's not a weed.  It's a flower.  I planted the seeds here!  LOL.  I can laugh now but I could not believe then, that she watched me tend to this "flower" for weeks before she told me it was a weed. 

"That which you put your attention on grows stronger in your life" - That goes for the weeds too.  Whenever we plant the seed of  negativity you will grow more negativity.

I challenge you today to shift your awareness from the "weeds" to the flowers you have planted the seeds for during your yoga practice. 

As you move through your day today, look for the flowers in each experience.  Even during times of challenge there are flowers all around.  You just need to look for them.  Maybe it's the smile of  the stranger who held the door open for you.   The sweet smell of honeysuckles as you walk into the office.

Try this little exercise:  Before you go to bed take just a few minutes to write down 5 things you're grateful for that day.  Do this for 1 week.  I'd love to hear from you about this experience.  Give it a try and let's meet back here in one week and share all the wonderful things we have to be grateful for. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Could Dr. Seuss have been a yogi??

Most days, on my way to and from work I see a man riding his bicycle.  On the handle bars of his bike he has a stuffed Spider Man doll.  On the back, sits a milk crate holding a baby doll, dressed in pink.  I can't help but wonder what his story is.  Why does he have those dolls tied to his bike? Where is he headed to as I'm headed to work?  What is going on in his mind?

I giggle to myself as I remember the Dr. Seuss book that I read a million times to my kids,  "And To Think that I saw it Mulberry Street".   In the book a little boy imagines all these wonderful things he'll see while he's walking home from school. As the boy rushed home he thinks "For I had a story that no one could beat! and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street".  The boy's father quite calmly says " Just draw up your stool and tell me the sights on the way home from school.."  The father knows that Marco is "telling outlandish tales and turning minnows into whales" but he listens to the boy's story with the awareness that the story is colored by the boy's imagination.

Similarly, we too "turn minnows into whales" at times in our minds.   I've personally had the experience of watching my mind take a little seed (thought) and tossing it around  until I had created an entire drama!! When our minds are allowed to run wild, wow! you never know what could happen.  Luckily, I had some sense of awareness that what I was experiencing was not "real"  it was colored by my past impressions and the current state of my emotions at the time.  At least this time, I did not identify with the drama I had created in my mind as I had so often before. I recognized that it was a story much like Marco's story of how a simple horse and wagon was turned into the most marvelous things in his mind.

Here's where the practice of  Svadhyaya - self-reflection can be helpful.  Honestly, I prefer to use self-reflection when I'm thinking about how far I've come and how much I've learned but real progress is made when we practice Svadhyaya to see just what samskaras still remain (samskara - our tendencies; judgemental-ness  in my case).

As we practice Svadhyaya we can recognize if  the "story" we are telling ourselves and others, for that matter, is the truth.  I'm not referring here to truth as in not telling a lie but truth as in reality.  More importantly we need not identify ourselves with the "story" of us. Our circumstances do not define who we are.  We are Divine beings having a human experience.   The most difficult part of Svadhyaya, for me, has been not judging myself when I realize that I've gotten caught up in the mind stuff. I notice those judgemental thoughts as they arise more easily now. I can see them for what they are..... mind stuff.  Now all I need to do is remember to let them go. 

Tonight as I was teaching a yoga class I was reminding the students and myself  that when we let go of  the things that no longer serve us, we make room in our consciousness and in our heart for the things that nurture and support us.   When we let go of  the stories we tell ourselves, we allow room in our minds for peace.  When we let go of our judgements of others and ourselves we allow room for acceptance. 

"I swung 'round the corner and dashed through the gate, I ran up the steps and I felt simply Great! For I had a story that no one could beat! and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street!" -  What are the stories you're telling yourself?  Are they minnows or whales? If you let go of those stories what will you be making room for?  As Marco's dad tells him "Keep your eyelids up and see what you can see".  Practice Svadhyaya and see what you can see.

I'll never know why that man has a Spider man doll tied to his handle bars but I'm sure there's a whale of a story behind it.......

Friday, May 14, 2010

Happiness.......

Happiness is defined as : a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy.

Seems pretty straight forward to me.  Take a minute here, close your eyes, try to remember a time when you felt content, love, satisfied.   Did any of those moments that came to mind have anything to do with gaining material stuff?  How about, gaining money?  Ummm.... probably not.  

When I closed my eyes and thought about times when I felt content, love, or satisfied, what came to mind were moments spent with my family and close friends.  Moments when I was totally engaged in doing something that I love. 

A friend recently reminded me that happiness is different for everyone.  That may be true but, in my humble opinion, there are some basic things that make all of us happy.  Love, security, close relationships, contentment.  We all know that don't we?  We know that when we are doing something we love we're happy. 

Can you feel happy when you are dealing with a difficult, stressful situation?  How do you maintain a sense of happiness  during those times of challenge?   If we take a look into our yoga tool box, I bet we could find some tools to help us.

Yoga has taught me that during difficult situations, I can still feel happiness.  For me, happiness = contentment.  I feel content in the knowledge that the situation that I am facing is only temporary.  My situation, however difficult, does not define who I am.   Remember? We are not our bodies, We are not our minds....... In the same way,  we are not our emotions.....

Happiness, just like all our other emotions, begins in our minds.  We can change our minds therefore, we can choose to change our emotions.  Imagine that you are having a really lousy day.  Maybe you're thinking that happiness is just an illusion. Like trying to touch the horizon, what can you do?  Step back from those emotions for a second.  Observe them.  Now shift your focus to how you're breathing.  Begin to take a few slow, deep, yogic breathes.  Now from this place of observation see that you're not those emotions.  You are okay.  It's difficult to step back from our emotions especially when we are facing serious adversity.  I struggle with stepping back from my emotions every day.  However, each time we do, even if we don't succeed, we are strengthening our resolve.  It's important to try this exercise of stepping back from your emotions as often as possible so that during times when our emotions are running high we can use this yogic tool more easily.

Happiness is a choice.  Right now, and in every now moment, you are choosing.  How does your choice feel? 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

mirror, mirror, on the wall.......

Let me ask you a question.  Be honest. Do you ever feel like throwing a temper tantrum when you don't get your way? --- Well, you are about to get a glimpse of my mental temper tantrum. Sometimes when I see a child having a tantrum I envy their freedom of expression.  Admit it, wouldn't it feel good to stomp your feet and yell at the top of your lungs when you don't get your way?  Don't you ever feel like just saying exactly what you think without feeling like you have to censor yourself for fear that others will think badly of you?

I want things my way for once!! Tonight I expressed my opinion about something hoping the other person would agree but, of course, he didn't.  This has been a recurring theme in my life, disappointment.  You would think that since I've been carrying it around on my shoulders for so long that I'd be used to it by now.  Well, I'm not.   Feeling disappointed sucks. Especially when it's over something that really doesn't matter anyway. So what,  I didn't get my way.  I don't have to participate if I don't want to so what's the big deal?  Why do I still feel like stomping my feet and yelling?

As my teacher tells me so often, whenever someone or something is challenging us, particularly if it's repeatedly, we need to mirror that challenge back to ourselves.  What is it about ourselves that we need to work on?   (I love my teacher but honestly, sometimes I want to smack him when he says that).  Here's where, if I were a kid, I'd say "No way!"  "Why does it always have to be a reflection on me?"  Isn't it possible that it's everyone else's fault that I'm always disappointed?  If only people would agree to do things my way then I wouldn't be disappointed!  Wow! looking  into that mirror it's not always pretty. 

After much self examination with regard to  this recurring theme of disappointment, I have learned many things.   The biggest is that I need to let go of expectations.  I need to practice accepting things for what they are.   SD once told me that feeling disappointed is a choice. I struggle with that one but I'm sure he's right - (even if he's not right about disagreeing with me on other things).

The other thing I learned is that disappointment, just like temper tantrums is only temporary.   It is a blessing that I am now aware of this tendency towards disappointment. Just by simply being aware of it I can let it go faster.  

Oh..... Gayatri mantra sadhana continues.....  Haven't had anything significant to report except that I find myself remembering to go back to the mantra throughout the day when I'm noticing a lot of mental chatter keeping me from focusing.   I recently heard someone chanting the Gayatri mantra.  It disturbed me to hear it pronounced incorrectly.  That night on my way home, I felt compelled to chant it as I drove home.  It's definitely with me.  It's become sort of like my security blanket.  Whenever I feel "out of sorts" I go back to it. It's comforting.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More discoveries about myself

I think my love of traditions and rituals is just my control issues in disguise!  Let's see if you agree by the time you finish reading this blog.

I remember being probably 9 or 10 years old and sitting on my pink huffy bike in the back driveway of our house.  My mother and aunt sitting around our blue wading pool that is filled with tomatoes!  My most favorite tradition; which is very much filled with ritual, is making jars of fresh tomato sauce and roasting peppers for the winter.   I remember that day, sitting on my bike (which I never really learned how to ride) thinking that all was right with the world because the most important people in my life were all gathered there that day. 
Washing the tomatoes, smelling them to make sure they weren't spoiled, cutting them in half......
The process of making sauce and roasting the peppers has to be done exactly right or you risk spoiling the entire batch.   That's where the ritual comes in.  From boiling the jars and lids to turning the filled jars upside down and covering them with that orange table cloth so that they cool slowly.  Each step must be done exactly right. 

I love rituals of all kinds. I love watching the priest in church performing mass.  Have you ever really watched. Notice how the alter boy brings him the water and bowl so that he can wash his hands. Notice the white towel always draped over the arm of the alter server? Notice how he holds his hands up (resembling a mudra perhaps?) as he prays? 

How about the rituals performed by our beloved yoga teacher.  Lighting the candles, selecting the music, setting the intention, weaving together a beautiful asana sequence for us.

My sadhana is filled with ritual.  Lighting a candle, saying a prayer, doing my practice.  Each step must be done exactly right.   Of the four major yogic paths, I found myself drawn to the bhakti path (devotional path) mostly because it's filled with rituals.  Of course, me being who I am, I need to know the right way to perform these rituals therefore, Raja yoga (scientific path - the 8 steps) is also very important and has rituals of its own.

Are you seeing a pattern here?  - I really am a control freak. I never thought of myself as having control issues but looks like I do.  The thing is, I don't necessarily need to be the one in control - I just need SOMEONE to be in control. 

Of course, the concept of control is just an illusion.  Like this blog for example, my intention was to talk about performing some sort of ritual to help release un-expressed emotions that we may be holding on to
that are no longer serving us.   Well, I guess that will have to be another blog.

The thing I need to remember is that SOMEONE is always in control. -- God. I think that maybe when I start trusting more I will be able to let go more.  We can turn our troubles over to God when they become too much for us to bare.  Turning control over to the Divine might feel freeing.  Wouldn't it be nice to hand over the reins to someone else for a while so that we could rest our weary minds?   I'm going to make a conscious effort to try that.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Death as teacher

Today was my aunt's funeral.
If there was any doubt about the fact that we are not our bodies before, the doubt is gone.

My mom and my zia were standing there saying how great see looked. How she looks the same, like she's
sleeping. I'm sorry I didn't see any signs of Aunt Vera at all. It was obvious to me that Aunt Vera
was gone and all that was left was the container.

I was also struck by the passages that were read by the grandchildren and the priest. There were so many
similarities to the yoga texts I've been reading. 

Anyway.... We are not our bodies.... We are not our minds..... So what are we?? 

Katha Upanishad:  "Hidden in the heart of every creature exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest. They go beyond sorrow who extinguish their self-will and behold the glory of the Self through the grace of the Lord of Love"

Yogini one minute - Dog catcher the next!

Yesterday morning, with the smell of incense from my alter still in the air and sound of the Gayatri mantra still swirling around in my head I'm getting ready for the day ahead.  I go out to the backyard to bring the dog in and notice, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, that someone (we don't know who, another Nicholson family mystery) had left the gate open and yes.... Pumpkin is on the loose!

One minute I'm a yogini meditating on my cushion and the next I'm a dog catcher!  My how quickly things change! 

So there I am,  I'm dressed for work and trampling through my neighbors swampy yards with chicken nuggets in one hand and the leash in the other. My son following behind crying because he's afraid something bad is going to happen to his dog. 

I hear him before I actually see him.  He's a beagle so just imagine his howls as he gets his sights on a neighborhood cat!  The cat gives him a good whack and runs up the tree.  I'm thinking I got him now because as long as that cat stays in that tree he's not going to move! I step closer to the tree and find myself
knee deep in mud!!  Are you kidding me??  Where did the bliss of my morning sadhana go??

Anyway,  the cat ran off and Pumpkin followed.  This was going to be a long day!!

I'm trying to accept the fact that every challenge has a lesson to be learned, therefore, I'm contemplating what the lesson was yesterday?  (Aside from pad locking the gate)

Here's what I've come up with.  At first glance I thought "This damn dog ruined the blissful feeling I got from my practice!  It's impossible to find peace when you have a bad dog!!" -- That's not it.  

The lesson was about impermanence.  Everything changes therefore no need to identify with your situation.
One minute you are sitting blissfully in meditation and the next chasing your crazy dog.  Just the same, one minute you're experiencing some frustration or anger - the next minute you are sitting blissfully in meditation. 
Everything changes, all the time.  It's easy to remember that when some situation takes you out of a good mood.  The trick is remembering that when you're in a negative mood that it too won't last. 

We are not our minds......  We are not our emotions....... Don't identify yourself with them...... 
You are not a yogini sitting in meditation nor are you a dog catcher.  You are the Atman.  That's that part of you that is connected to the Divine.  That's the part that never changes.  That's the part that's always blissful.
It's always there for us.  We just need to recognize that when we are in a negative state of mind.  Use your mantra to connect to the Divine -- where it's always blissful.  That state of peace is always available to us. We know the way.

Don't worry, Pumpkin is home safe and sound -- until the next time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I have a question.......

I really thought that everything I ever wanted to know could be found in between the covers of a book.
Holy Hell was I wrong!!  I spent years and God only knows how much money buying book that promised
to solve all my problems. 

With each new situation I found myself struggling with I turned to a book for the answers.  There must be an expert somewhere who could answer my questions, I just have to find him/her.  When I was pregnant with my first child I read every baby book and baby magazine I could get my hands on.  Nothing I read prepared me for the experience of being a mother.  Remember Dr. Brazelton?  He was my favorite expert.  He became my parenting guru.  Well, for those of you with children, you know how well that worked out.

Some of my friends in the yoga teacher training used to tease me because I always had questions for the teachers.  Sometimes I'd get an answer, sometimes not so I'd turn to my training manual.  I'm sure the answers are there somewhere.  Okay, maybe in one of the books on our recommended reading list.  Sometimes I'd find the answers,  sometimes not.  I continue to search for the "Dr. Brazelton" of yoga. "I need a real guru" I tell my yoga friends.  Someone who can answer all my questions.  They remind me, as my teachers have many times before, some answers can only be found within.

This past week, a new baby was born to a fellow yoga teacher and my aunt passed away.  When I look at that beautiful new baby I'm filled with questions, what samskaras has she carried with her from her previous lives?  Where will her magic carpet take her? What's going on in her mind as she sleeps peacefully?

As I watched my aunt sleeping, and anxiously waiting  for her to take her next breath, I am filled with questions.  What will happen next? Where will her magic carpet take her?  What is going on in her mind as she sleeps?

Looking at a baby we think of all the possibilities, all the potential for great things that lay ahead.  When we are witnessing someone passing we again think of all the possibilities that lay ahead and the potential for another great journey.  Or do we?  Being raised in an Italian Catholic family I raised to believe that once you die you go to heaven where you'll be reunited with your loved ones that passed before you.  But yoga teaches us about reincarnation, about being reborn again and again until we have learned the lessons we were meant to learn.  Which is true?  Who really knows for sure?  You see....... The questions continue. 

If you can't find the answers in the covers of a book where's a yogi to look?  Can you guess?  That's right!
in our yoga tool box.  When your mind is exhausting you with questions like mine often is, go to your meditation cushion.  Try articulating your question mentally.  Do your sadhana.  Don't contemplate the question.  Remember when the thought comes -- repeat your mantra.  Do your meditation.  After meditation, journal.  Don't think, just put the pen to the paper and see what happens..... Sometimes the question will be answered, somethings it won't.  Just be willing to accept the answers when they come -- even if it's not what you want to hear.

Give it a try.  Feel free to share your thoughts.