Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I was inspired this morning while I practiced to write down the sequence as it unfolded organically. Afterwards I looked at the sequence to find the common thread. What was the bhavana that revealed itself through this practice?  I put it aside and continued my sadhana.  During meditation the mantra that was repeating itself in my mind was Om Gum Ganapatayi Namaha.  The mantra to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles.  The bhavana? -- Trust.

When the check engine light goes on in your car you take your car to a mechanic.   The mechanic gets under the hood, tightens a few screws, charges you $500. and you're on your way.  We get into our car and trust that the mechanic has fixed the problem.  Eknath Easwaran tells us to trust in God as much as we trust in the mechanic who fixes our car.  That's not so much to ask right?

Some people are lucky enough to have some knowledge about fixing cars.  Maybe you can change the oil or give it a little tune up but when the problem is beyond the scope of your ability you turn to the professional for help.  In the same way, when the challenges and difficulties of your life are beyond the scope of what you can handle on your own, turn to the professional - God.   In complete surrender, lay your troubles at the feet of the Divine and trust.

Taking the time to get to mat is like driving your car to the mechanic.  Once you're there on the mat, trust.  Trust in yourself, trust in your body and above all else, trust in the Divine.

With complete trust I surrendered to the practice and what I found was that the asanas that I was  practicing  this morning were focused on the 1st and 2nd chakras (energy centers).  The 1st chakra - Muladhara - root.  It sits in the base of the spine and helps us to trust in nature and in life.  It helps us to know that we will be taken care of.  The 2nd chakra  is Svadhistana - flow.  This chakra sits in the pelvis / reproductive area. It gives us the ability to trust in ourselves and in others.

Once again I'm reminded that although I call myself a yoga teacher what I really am is a channel for the Divine.
It's only through my yoga sadhana that I can hear and feel the message that I am meant to share with others that I encounter along the way.  Listen up folks.... The message from  God today is trust in him.

I hope to share this morning's sequence in class this week.  Come join me and see what the Divine message is that you receive on the mat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah

"Tell me a story about Krishna!" says the beautiful little girl I met last night.  Luckily for me her dad, who was there for a  kirtan (devotional chanting) at Yoga on Main, answered her request.   He told a little story while her mother danced, acting out the story for us.   It was captivating!  It was a beautiful performance.

The story goes something like this.  There was a thousand headed snake that lived in a river.  He wanted the river all for himself so in an effort to keep others away he filled it with venom.   All the little cow-herders and the  cows they lovingly tended to drank from the river and fell ill.  Little Krishna, who was also a cow-herder saw  his friends and their cows near death and he leaped into the river to fight this evil snake.  He, of course, defeats the snake and  dances on his heads.  Each time the snake rears one of his heads, Krishna gives it a little stomp to put the snake in his place.   The storyteller explains that the snake symbolizes our ego and Krishna is one aspect of the Divine.  Whenever we let our ego rise Krishna will dance on our head to put our ego back in it's place.  I certainly have felt the dance of Krishna stomping my ego back in it's place.

I've had the experience of watching my mood oscillate based on my external circumstances.  I noticed my ego rise when someone has given me a compliment and then just as easily noticed myself getting depressed  by someone else's negative comments.  In both situations, it's my ego that is rearing it's head.  It's the ego that makes us puff out our chest with pride and it's the ego that tells us we aren't good enough. 

The awareness of this oscillation reminds me of  Patanjali's definition of yoga:  Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah, stilling the fluctuations in one's consciousness.   It's those fluctuations that prevent us from experiencing peace of mind.  One minute we are Krishna dancing on the head of the evil snake and the next minute we're the snake.

The fact of the matter is that there will always be circumstances that make us feel like we're a bottle in the ocean being toss around by the waves that are effected by the winds.  That's why yoga/meditation is so important.  It's in those moments of meditation that we find equanimity.   It's when we still the fluctuations that we see the dance of Krishna.   We see that everything in our lives, good and bad are the hand of the Divine in our lives. 

Sometimes we'll be the gopis dancing and singing with Krishna and sometimes we'll be the snake.  Either way, the presence of the Divine is always in our life.   When we become aware that we are being toss around, from here to there and back again by the external situations of our lives, we come to the yoga mat.
We use our practice to still our minds.  It's there on the mat that we find our way back to equanimity.   In that state of equanimity we once again find our true nature which is divine. 

I can't remember the little girl's name but it means, the lotus flower that blooms in the moonlight.  That's one of the many stories she told me last night.  There were lots of fluctuations in the time I spend with the little lotus flower  but when the music and chanting began, even she settled down a bit.  


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sthira and sukha

T.K.V. Desikarchar, in his book The heart of yoga, describes sthira and sukha as "the steady alertness and the lightness and comfort of being".    This has been my bhavana this week.  I wasn't sure how it would play out in my teaching or my life.  I set the intention and then opened up to the flow of grace. 

This delicate balance between the effort of sthira with the comfort of sukha is sort of like walking a tight rope while juggling coconuts.  Well, maybe that's an exaggeration but at least that's what it feels like sometimes.
The various students that I've encountered this week have confirmed for me that I'm not alone in this walk on the tight rope.

As I was signing people in for class at each of the four classes this week I heard students talking about their struggles to find balance in their lives.   One student talked about how drained she felt from teaching yoga full-time.  Another was feeling depleted from working at a full time job and trying to build her business as a body worker.  Even when the students didn't express their struggle to find balance I witnessed it during their practice. During dinner last night a family member said that he found it so hard to unwind on vacation that by the time he did finally unwind the vacation was over.

Through the practice of Svadhyaya or self-study, we learn to recognize when we are out of balance.
Once we notice the imbalance we can open our yoga tool box and I can assure you that you'll find exactly the right thing to bring you back into balance. 

The general theme I heard this week was too much effort (sthira).  People are working too much, trying to do too many things.  The result is a feeling of depletion and exhaustion.  What's needed to bring these folks back into balance is suka, comfort, lightness of being.  What does that look like you ask?  Well, it looks like resting, nourishing and nurturing yourself.  It's simply being still and breathing deeply.  Restoring our energy is just as important as the effort we apply in our daily lives.  Without it, we will never have enough energy to keep going.  Give yourself permission to relax, in doing so you give others around you permission to relax as well.  My friend Jon says "It's not your job to hold up the world, hon."

I'd like to share a few things that I have found to be restorative and nourishing for me.  I'd love to hear what suka looks like for you. 

* Do some restorative yoga poses. Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) for example
* Take a walk in the woods or a park
* Read
* My favorite - take an Inner Fire Yoga class!

I'm always so amazed at the synchronicity of life.  Do you see the flow of grace?  I set the intention of practicing sthira and sukha and universe provided me with these wonderful students to show me what that looks like.   Teaching yoga is such a blessing! I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for yoga  and for the many lessons it has taught me.

Remember in order to love and serve we must restore and nourish ourselves so that we will be strong enough to do our part in holding up the world.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Living yoga

I spent most of the day sitting in a cubical in front of a computer.  The only light coming from the fluorescent lights over head and the only air coming from the air conditioner.  My desk is piled high with papers even though we boast about being a "paper-less" office.  After 8 hours my fingers are stiff from being on the computer and my neck hurts from being on the phone. I'll need to remember to do a little chair yoga while I'm on hold.

Upon returning home I'm greeted with "Mom, I'm hungry.  What's for dinner" while my little one cries "I'm so bored.  Can you do something with me."   My head is still reeling from all the work that I wasn't able to get done but I have to put that aside for now and focus on dinner.  Deep breathing is in order while I try to shift gears from work to home.  After a quick dinner, it's time to entertain Jake.

I needed to get  the vegetable garden cleaned up after the bad storms we had earlier in the week but Jake has no interest.  That's boring he tells me.  "Okay, I guess I'll do it myself.  Can you grab those stakes for me?"  Oh.... now I got his attention.   A chance to swing around huge tomato stakes takes working in the garden from boring to exciting!  I work in the garden while he pretends to be a ninja or something.  Eventually he joins me in the garden.  We search for the ripe tomatoes in the huge jungle mess.
 Yes!  we have some ripe ones.  We pick a few.  We have tons of string beans.  We gather a bunch for tomorrow's dinner.  We already roasted some peppers yesterday for dinner.   There is nothing better than eating from your very own yard!

Together we put in some more stakes (leaving just one for my little ninja to play with).  He cuts the twine for me to tie up the fallen tomato plants.  "I love the smell of the tomato plants, mom" Jake says in his robot helper voice.   "Me too, robot helper!" I close my eyes and savor the moment.  Being persent.

The work day far my mind, I look into my little boy's dirty face as he eats the lemon tomato he picked from the garden and my heart is filled with joy.  Freshly roasted peppers, lovely plump tomatoes, the smile on my baby's dirty face...... Aaahhh!   Summer! 

Whether you're buried under a mountain of paperwork at your desk or picking veggies in your garden if you breath deeply, practice one-pointed concentration, and savor each moment of your life, you are living yoga.

Tell me, how do you live yoga??

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Can you hear the whispers of the Divine?

We had the pleasure of having live music during yoga class tonight. We chanted a beautiful chant to the Divine Mother in the form of Amma.  "Unconditional presence, acceptance and love"........ these were words that were used to describe Amma.  "These are things all mothers try to offer."    Afterwards, Shiva Das
said that the world needs the energy of the Divine Mother right now.   I was so struck by his words and how true that statement felt to me.  

No-one is a stranger to challenge it seems.  More now than ever before.  Everyone I talk to is dealing with some challenge or difficulty in their life.  I feel helpless to try to alleviate their suffering.  How can I love and serve others?  What can I do?  I don't really know what I can do to help someone who has lost a loved one or  someone dealing with a serious illness, a broken heart.  How do I  comfort someone who is dealing with financial difficulties?   I look to Amma for guidance.  She provides "unconditional presence, acceptance and love".  

Unconditional presence - Sometimes we don't need to actually do anything other than be there for someone who needs to talk or cry.   Hold the space for them without trying to fix anything.

Acceptance - Accepting the things we cannot change.  Accepting people for who they are and where they are.  Accepting that loss is a natural process of life.  Be it the loss of a loved one, a break-up, the loss of financial security.  When we accept our circumstances, we let go of the struggle and the desire that things could be any different than what they are.   Accepting life's challenges with grace, always knowing that the Divine Mother is there supporting us.  Our circumstances do not define who we are as human beings.  The circumstances change but our true nature, which is love, never changes.

Love - Recognizing that everyone needs love.   I remember a line from one of the Dali Lama's books where he talks about how everyone from the maid who cleans the hotel to the owner of the hotel and everyone in between all have the same basic human desires.  One of them was to be loved.  

When I was in Amma's embrace, she was whispering "my daughter, my daughter" into my ear.  She loves everyone as if we were her children.   This is how we can love and serve others who are suffering.  Treat that person as if he or she were your own child.  What would you do if it were your child who was facing some great challenge or difficulty?  You would provide unconditional presence, acceptance,  and above all you would love them.  Don't forget that even when it's you who are suffering you can still love and serve others.   Remembering that we are all one so when we love and serve others, we are loving and serving ourselves.

What struck me most tonight was that it felt like Amma's message for me was being delivered through the beautiful chant and through Shiva Das' words.  Who knew that I would get such a profound message in a yoga class......  I knew.  That's what keeps bringing me back to the mat.  When our minds are still we can clearly hear the messages.  Yoga and meditation is the way we connect with the Divine.  Are you connected?  Are you open to hear the message?  What is the Divine Mother telling you?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Oh! the things we think!"

The other day I got an email from someone.  The subject line was "Amazing woman's day".  When I read that my first thought was "why would he send that email to me? what do I know about being an amazing woman?"   Holy Hell! Where did that come from??   Where do these negative beliefs we have about ourselves originate?

There is a tendency for us to look to blame someone else, our parents, our environment.  People have spend millions of dollars and many years on a psychiatrist sofa trying to figure it why we think the things we do about ourselves.   Does it really matter why or when it started?  How do we know that these beliefs aren't karma carried with us from previous births?  Again, Does it really matter?

Practicing yoga and meditation has made me more aware of the quality of my thoughts.  I'm more conscious when the thoughts go against the  principle of  ahimsa (non-harming).  It's rather shocking how harsh we are towards ourselves, or at least I am.   I don't think I would have said to someone else "what  do you know about being an amazing woman?"  Yet the thought came so easily towards myself.    What do we do once we become aware of the negative thought patterns?

Eknath Eawaran says in one of his meditation talks, if a Wild West program comes on the television you don't have to sit there and watch it.  You need only turn the channel.    I'm ready to turn the channel.  How do I do that?  Where's the remote?  (The techniques are many but I will only speak to those that I have personally practiced.)

In my humble opinion, the mantra is the remote control for our mind.  A program comes on, you click the remote, another program comes, you click the remote, on and on.  In the same way,  a thoughts comes, you repeat the mantra, a thought comes, you repeat the mantra, on and on.  Eventually, the mind settles down a bit and you can rest in a state of calm.  For a long time you may need to go back to the mantra many times during a 30 minute meditation.  After some time of regular practice you may only need to go back to the mantra 30 times, then 20 times, then only 5 times.   It's reassuring to me to know that I always have the remote control available to me.  The beauty of this remote control, the mantra, is that you can't lose it.  It's always with you. 

I could spend hours debating with myself about  whether or not I could be considered an amazing woman but that would only be "mental chewing gum"  (as Ed would say).  Therefore, just as I do in meditation, I will let the thoughts come, without judgement  as I bring my awareness gently back to the mantra. 

Hari Om!

*Side note:  Some of you may be wondering how to choose a mantra.  If so, please feel free to contact me by email or in person and I will do my best to direct you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The adventures of a yoga snob continues........

I so badly wanted to love this yoga class tonight.  The teacher used to teach at another studio and was actually my first experience with vinyasa.  I really liked her.  She offered a challenging practice.  The thing was that she was so sweet about it that you didn't know how hard you worked until the next day when you tried to get out of the bed!

Anyway, when I found out where she was teaching I wanted to take her class.  What stopped me was the studio itself.  It's a bit intimidating for a not so typical yogini.  It's very much a fitness center.  But tonight, with my family having fun at the shore I found myself with a couple of hour to kill before they returned.  I checked the schedule and found that this teacher was teaching a class.

The reception area is totally intimidating.  The teacher comes to the desk as I'm signing in and she recognizes me.  (That's impressive since I haven't taken one of her classes in 5 years!)  She's still sweet and very welcoming.  The yoga room was also very welcoming.  Beautiful real hardwood floors.  The walls were painted a pretty yellow.  Oh, can I tell you about the bolsters?   The fabric was gorgeous!

The practice itself was okay.  It wasn't at all what I remembered her class to be.  Did she change her teaching style to accommodate the students at this studio or have I changed as a student?  Who really knows for sure.  The yoga sutras tell us that memory is not the most accurate means of knowing or maybe it's a little of both.  Afterall, change is the only constant right?

I suppose it's my pitta nature that makes me cringe when I hear sanskrit being mis-pronounced or when verbal instructions don't make any sense.  Saying fluffy yoga babble during class also makes me crazy.   Is it my pitta nature or am I a yoga snob?  Again, maybe it's a little of both.

Damn!  I didn't love the class.  I didn't leave with the same feeling as an SD yoga class.  I didn't feel the pull towards meditation after the class which almost always happens after an Inner Fire Yoga class.   What is it about an Inner Fire Yoga class that makes the practice a moving meditation?  I could tell you but until you experience it for yourself you won't really understand.  It's like trying to explain to someone the taste of a mango.  You don't really know what the mango tastes like until you bite into it.

I'm going to be more conscious of my verbal instructions.  I don't think I use fluffy yoga babble but I'll pay more attention to what I say while I'm teaching.  I have to say that I still like the teacher.  She has a very sweet presence.  Even though she offered really challenging asanas like crow, and wheel she wasn't  forceful or pushy like the last random class I took.  She offered the pose and allowed the student to decide what's best for them.  I appreciated that.

I really wanted to love this class tonight.  But with an expectation like that, the poor woman didn't stand a chance! When am I ever going to learn to let go of expectations!!! 

I really need to work on letting go..... Om Namah Shivaya!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Amma Experience

Yesterday, I shared the Amma experience with my daughter, Tayler.  I was totally surprised that my 14 year old daughter said yes she would like to come with me.  A small group of us had planned to make the trip to New York city.  As the date got closer, the group got smaller.  I now feel like that was the Grace of the Divine at work.

By the time we arrived at the Manhatten Center all the chairs up front for the newcomers were taken.  We ended up having to sit in the balcony.  (BTW, the view is better from there) "Amma will be arriving shortly" someone announced.  I see that the devotees are preparing for her arrival.  Flowers in hand and camera in position.   I felt Amma's presence before I saw her.  "That was a strange feeling" I thought to myself.  Was that just my imagination or my excitement to see her?  Who knows.

I'd like to say that the meditation at the beginning of the program was good but unfortunately, the man behind me didn't know how to put his cell phone on vibrate so it rang several times and then his fumbling around with it just made it worse.  Om Namah Shivaya....... He was trying to turn it off, poor guy....

As Amma began giving darshan (hugging people), Tayler and I wandered around looking at the vendors.  As people from the chairs up front started receiving darshan, the seats opened up and Tayler and I moved to the front of the hall to be closer to Amma.  Watching her, for me, is just as powerful an experience as actually being hugged by her.  Words cannot experience what I was witnessing.  Her face so full of love,  it feels like you are witnessing an intimate moment between mother and child.  

Finally, after 4 hours, with our tokens in hand we make our way to the back of the line.  we patiently move from seat to seat until we find ourselves kneeling in front of Amma.   She embraces Tayler first and then I find myself in her arms.  I know you're not suppose to hug her but my arms naturally went around her waist. 
It happens so fast but the embrace felt like it was so long.  The smell of roses I remember and I remember how all the noise of the swami's chanting and music, all the noise of the people bustle around us seemed to disappear and all I could hear was Amma whispering in my ear.   Just as I was feeling like I was melting into the experience, somone yanked me away. 

I stumble, I can't see because my glasses were in my bag.  I can't find my bag to get my glasses because I can't see.   My heart is racing, I'm feeling myself starting to panic.  I can't see, I don't know where Tayler is.
I scramble around on the floor, I find my bag and pull out my glasses.  I still can't find Tayler.  I'm thinking she's probably so disoriented from the darshan and she doesn't have her glasses either!  OMG!  She finds me.  Keep in mind that this entire drama last about 60 seconds but again it felt so long.

I would have liked to sit on the floor beside Amma for a little while but I think the experience was a bit overwhelming for Tayler. We walked outside, ate some lunch.  Then went back to the balcony seats to watch Amma and to wait for our travel companion.   How happy I was to share this experience with my daughter!  I don't really know what she was thinking or feeling but I know I was happy to spend time with her.  I am so grateful that she is so open minded and easygoing. 

I have to say that the Amma experience was even more blissful since I had Tayler by my side!!
Om Namah Shivaya!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Time flies when you're having fun!

"How could you possibly talk about yoga for 6 hours?!" That's what my husband wanted to know when I got home from a visit with my teacher.  I hadn't realized how much time went by.  I got a little glimpse of what Yogananda was talking about in the Autobiography of a Yogi when he talks about sitting at the foot of his master until dawn.  I could have stayed there forever.

For several months now my teacher, Ed Zadlo, has been opening his home to anyone interested in studying the Upanishads.  Each month a handful of serious yoga students show up with our translation of the Upanishads in hand ready to dive into this ancient yogic text.  Sometimes, we never even open the book, other times, we read the entire Upanishad and discuss it in depth.  Either way, I always leave feeling enriched by the experience. 

It's more than just sitting around "talking about yoga".  It's about being in the presence of like minded individuals discussing a subject that we feel so passionately about that keeps me going back each month.  It's about supporting one another on this spiritual journey.   My beloved teacher has devoted his life to the study of yoga and I, for one, feel privileged and honored to call him my teacher.  Who better to teach us how to live our yoga than someone who has been living yoga for 40 years?

Yesterday, we begin reading the Chhandogya Upanishad (It's my favorite one BTW)

"As by knowing one tool of iron, dear one, we come to know all things made out of iron, that they differ only in name and form, while the stuff of which all are made is iron -
So through that spiritual wisdom, dear one, we come to know that all of life is one".

All of life is one.  Imagine that....   Even the people in our lives who we decide we don't like, they too are one with us.  The same prana (life force) that sustains us also sustains them.   The same Divine that resides in the lotus of our hearts is the same Divine that is residing in the lotus of their heart.  Even if they don't know it.

The light bulb went on for me last night.  Ed was talking about our personalities being masks that we wear.
We wear different masks for different situations. With our mother we wear the mask of a child, when we are with our teacher we wear the mask of a student, when at work we wear the mask of an employee.  The masks may change but our true nature behind the mask is that part of us that never changes. 

 These masks are required in order for us to live this human experience.  The "person" behind the mask is our true nature.  It's the "person" behind the mask that is the aspect of the Divine that dwells within us that we call  Atman.   I realized what my friend Jon has been trying to tell me.  

When I decide that I don't like someone, what I'm really disliking is the mask that the person is wearing.  When I acknowledge that their true nature, behind the mask is the same as my true nature when I take off the mask, it's impossible  dislike anyone.   We are all one when the masks come off.  All of life is one.  Is that  what SD is talking about when he talks about loving everyone?  It's about loving the aspect of the Divine that dwells inside each of us even if we don't necessarily love the mask?  --- I think I get it now. 

I'm going to make a conscious effort to try and see the person beyond the mask.  Maybe that's what the concept of mirroring is all about.  I will connect with my true nature, Atman (through the practice of meditation) and then look for it within others. In this way,  I can practice loving everyone.

Even though I spent 6 hours with my teacher I still drove home thinking about all the things I wanted to ask him about but didn't get the opportunity to ask.......   Yoga has so much to teach us that we can spend an entire lifetime talking about yoga and still only scratch the surface.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hari Om!

Have you taken a deep, conscious breath today?  If you aren't sure, take a few deep, yogic breaths now............ Okay, now we can talk.

 I could have used a reminder myself today.  By the time I left the office this afternoon I felt like I had spent the day in a pressure cooker.   It wasn't until I stepped outside and noticed the cool breeze and the warm sun that I realized just how tense I was.  I get into my car and roll down the windows.  Turn up the volume on the CD player.  I sing along to the ancient mantras set to modern upbeat music.  (David Newman was playing today)

Driving home, I daydream about how nice it would be to have the time to meditate outside before dinner.   But that's not in the cards for me, at least not at this point in my life. There's always so much to do and never
enough time to just be still.  There's always someone who needs something from me.   As I make dinner, I silently repeat mantras, and  breath deeply. Preparing dinner is my sadhana (spiritual practice) tonight.

I read a story once which I will paraphrase for you here:   Once upon a time there was a yogi who would spend all of his days singing to Lord Krishna.  One day Krishna appears to him and the yogi says I must be your most devoted disciple.  Krishna tells him no, actually it's a guy in the next village over.  Of course, the yogi gets insulted and he asks Krishna "what makes that guy more devoted than me".  Krishna takes the yogi to the next village and they silently watch this householder go about his day.  He wakes early and offers a quick prayer to Krishna before  preparing breakfast for his family and then he spends the day laboring at work, then returning home to prepare dinner for his family and get the children to bed, then he did household chores. (I can't remember  but  I think his wife died).  After a very long and difficult day the householder fell into his bed and offered another quick prayer to Krishna before falling asleep.

What?! That guy is your favorite devotee! How can that be?! He only spend a total of 10 minutes of his day in worship.  I spend  my entire day writing you songs and singing your praises!!

The moral of the story was that the yogi used his devotional singing as a way to get out of doing any work.  He also sang just as much to hear his own voice as he did in praise to the Divine.  The householder, on the other hand, remembered Krishna even as he did his duty of taking care of his family and responsibilities.  His final thoughts after his exhausting day were thoughts of the Divine. 

I forget sometimes that even though I don't have as much time as I would like for a formal sadhana, I can make everything I do a sadhana.   Even the work I do at my job can be done as a sadhana.  What makes ordinary work a spiritual practice??  Intention.  The intention is to do what you do in service to the Divine.

Make everything you do a sadhana.  Breath and prayer are the release valves on the pressure cooker.  Breath and pray and offer everything you do up to God.