Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do you see what's right in front of you?

I'm completely amazed at how the universe provides us with exactly what we need all the time and yet we still keep looking.

My last post was my lament about the absence of a spiritual community.  Last week I was fortunate enough to spend each morning in the most supportive, nurturing community - Shiva Das' morning yoga retreat. The support is there - We need only to open to it.  When we get lost in our own thoughts we don't see what's right in front of us. 

Last week I reached out to a yoga teacher and invited her to come to my home to offer one of her workshops.  I was so happy that she agreed. Just a couple of days later I see her at a kirtan.   I introduce her to a friend. This friend was telling me earlier that day that she was looking for a children's yoga teacher training program. Wouldn't you know, the yoga teacher I introduced her to offers that training. 

I have been chatting with another student in SD's Tuesday evening class for months.  I had no idea that she founded a program for children's yoga!  Another connection is made.   Really? No spiritual community?  What the heck was I thinking? Of course there is.  I just wasn't seeing what is right in front of me.

For the last 10 days or so I have been feeling like I'm on fire from the inside out.  I know the weather has been warm and humid but the internal heat is turned up to high.  I think I'm too young for hot flashes but that's what I'm feeling. I feel like I'm going to spontaneously combust!   Yesterday morning I did my Gayatri mantra sadhana and the glass votive holder on my alter exploded!  So weird. What the heck was that about? Was that the Universe shouting -- "Pay Attention!"?

The support that I need is always there for me.  Why don't I recognize it?  The connection is always there but I'm not hearing the whispers.  Why?   I've been so self absorbed in my own thoughts and in the drama of my life that I haven't paid enough attention to those around me.   That's the first thing.  The other reason? I don't trust enough.  Instead of noticing what's right in front of me I'm daydreaming about what I think the spiritual community should look like. 

In my daydream the spiritual community is supporting me and taking care of me.  But, the whispers from the Divine are telling me that it's my duty to support others.   It's my duty to be a guide for others.  I'm hearing my friend, Jon's words "It ain't all about you, hon".   That's right.  It ain't all about me. 

The first time I received darshan from Amma I had the realization that it wasn't for me, that darshan, it was for my husband.  I had this overwhelming feeling that I had fulfilled my obligation by bringing him to her.  I also felt that way when I brought my daughter, after a bad car accident, to the Miraculous Medal Shrine.  As I knelt there in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother I again had that overwhelming feeling that I had fulfilled my obligation.  I had brought my daughter to the feet of the Blessed Mother. 

I know that this is my dharma - I am to be the support for other.  I am to guide others to the Divine.  In turn, the Divine will support me and the spiritual community that I'm longing for will be there when I need the support.    It's so clear.  In the words of my dear teacher,  "I know I know but sometimes I forget.  When I remember, then I know".   Today I know - What I'm searching for is right there - in the lotus of my heart.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The importance of Sangha

Years ago I used to go to weight watcher meetings.  They were sort of like a support group for people struggling with food issues.  Much like an AA meeting.  It wasn't required to stay for the meetings. You could just go and do the weigh in and leave.  The general consensus was that when you stayed for the meeting you always ended up doing better that week.  I remember once the leader saying that she become a leader because she knew that it was the only way that she'd be able to keep her weight under control.  She needed that constant support.

I've discovered that the same holds true for sadhana (daily spiritual practice).  When I have the support of a sangha (community) I tend to do better.  Whether it's participating in a study group, taking a class, or meditating with a teacher, when the reinforcement is there it fuels the inner fire.  That's just the way it is.  I've been reading an interesting magazine called Hinduism Today.  There was an article about the importance of a spiritual community.  I know I'm not alone in feeling the need for a strong spiritual community. 

I've been doing a lot of reading lately.  Reading scriptures is an important part of sadhana.   The problem is that most of what I'm reading brings up lots of questions and without a teacher/group  to discuss these ideas and concepts with I feel like something is missing.  When you're diving deeply into spiritual practice there's no doubt that the support of others is important.  Surrounding yourself with a community of like minded individuals who are also on the their own spiritual journey is where you'll find the support you need.

That's the challenge - of course! You didn't really think that there wasn't a challenge did you?

Here we are........  Most of us are holderholders living in America.   We need to work, raise a family, run a household, take care of our parents, our spouses, our pets.  Finding time for daily spiritual practice alone is difficult.  If I don't do sadhana before 6:15am each morning it just doesn't happen.  Still the longing for a spiritual community is there.  The need for the support is there. 

I'm blessed to have wonderful teachers in my life but I need to remind myself that they too have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill outside of being my teacher.   They too have their own sadhana to do. I remind myself that in my heart they are my teachers but the reality is that they are also individuals on their own spiritual journey. 

So what's a yogini to do?  We all agree that we need support on this path and spending time on a regular basis with a guru is not really an option for most of us.  Where doesn't that leave us? The back cover of the Hinduism Today magazine seems to offer a solution to this very problem.  "Sadhana support goes Mobile"  - that's right,  Sadhana support goes Mobile.  Who needs a guru when you have an "app" for that.  All you need is a iPad or iPhone (I honestly don't know the difference).   Really?  Will the app. answer your questions?  Will the app encourage you to practice when you're feeling depressed?  Will the app get to know you and offer advice based on your individual karma? --- I don't think so. 

I was really hoping that by the time I got to this point in the post that I would have some advice but honestly today  I feel a bit lost.  If only there were as many sanghas as there are weight watcher meetings!  Until then, I will continue my sadhana, I will continue to attend study groups, yoga classes, and meditate with others whenever the opportunity presents itself.  I will continue to read and learn and perhaps the scriptures are right,  when I reach that state of enlightenment all will be known. 

The lesson here is patience and acceptance.  I feel truly blessed to have the privilege to teach yoga as it helps me stay firmly on this path.  The other lesson I'm struggling to learn right now is how to stand on my own two feet and trusting the inner guru.  I'm thinking now of an invocation I heard from one of my teachers

"With great love and respect
I honor my heart.
My own inner teacher"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jakey goes to school........

Somewhere along the way on this yogic path we learn that the challenges we face are opportunities for growth. We know that each difficult person we meet has crossed our path to teach us valuable lessons. The dilemma I'm facing this week is how do I explain these concepts to my 7 year old son. Can I teach these lessons or does he have to learn them in his own time, in his own way?

With his back-pack filled with brand new copybooks and freshly sharpened number 2 pencils I sent my baby off to the first day of second grade. He did remarkably well last year so I didn't expect any trouble this year. He no sooner steps foot off the bus the first day and he tells me he's not going back. He hates 2nd grade. His teacher is mean and she scares him. Okay, I have to admit that my first reaction was that he just needs to adjust after spending the whole summer home with his father.
He's gone to nurse's office 2 out of the 5 days he's been in school. Each day he's gotten more and more upset. The "mother bear" reflex kicks in with a vengeance and I want him to be moved out of that classroom immediately. I'm not interested in hearing about the school policy and the proper protocol. I want my baby out of there now! (for a moment I forget I'm a yogini following the yogic path and I'm just a mom protecting her son). 3:00pm can not come fast enough. I just wanted to go home and hug my baby. The hours were torture knowing that he is sitting in school scared and upset and there isn't anything I can do about it.

I haven't even met the teacher yet and she's already made it to my list of people I want to smack.
** yogic note: ahimsa (non-harming) applies to words, deeds, and thoughts ** I'm racking up more karmic debt today but I can't help myself. 

Wow! I think I need to take a moment and consider what lesson is being presented to me.  Where do I begin?  Maybe with the fact that I can't always react from emotion or maybe that sometimes I need to give others the benefit of the doubt (maybe Mrs. 2nd grade teacher is a perfectly nice lady)  How about let go of the need to control things when there are others who are better equipped (Maybe Mrs. Principal knows the best way to handle this situation)? Maybe trust my instinct? (Maybe he does just need to adjust to being away from us)

Of course, I don't want to see my baby upset.  I wish I could put him in my heart and keep him safe forever but the reality is that I can't do that.  He will need to learn to deal with scary people.  Just like the rest of us, he will need to figure out how to look past the meanness of people to see God in everyone.  In the book, Autobiography of a yogi, Yogananda tells a story about a little deer that he prayed to God to save his life.  God granted Yogananda's wish then in a dream the little deer comes to him and explains that by keeping him alive Yogananda is holding the deer back from evolving. 

Hum.... Another parenting lesson? If  I insist that Jake be moved out of that classroom am I holding him back from evolving as a student?  How will he learn to deal with challenges at school if I step in and remove the opportunity to grow?  Regardless of whether he's just missing us or if the teacher really is mean,  he must learn to adjust.  That's something I can do.  Help him to adjust.  I will need to give him some tools to help him adjust.

OMG! I am turning into an old Italian woman...... the thought just came to me.....  I'll pin a miraculous metal on his undershirt so that the Blessed Mother will be next to heart to comfort him.  Old lady or not, it certainly won't hurt.  (Unless the pin comes undone - LOL). 

Even though I started this blog thinking that the lesson in this was a lesson for Jake, I'm ending this blog knowing that ultimately, it was another lesson for me.  Maybe I'll pin the miraculous metal on my bra and keep the Blessed Mother close to my heart too. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I feel compelled to tell you about a teacher I meet several years ago.  Her name was Betheyla.  The problem lies in the fact that I don't know anything about her.  Even still, I feel like I need to tell you about her and my experience with her. 

In March of 2007 I found myself in a workshop called Ayru-Yoga which was taught by Betheyla.  I was a brand new yoga teacher with no formal training but a strong desire to learn anything and everything I could about yoga.   I have no idea how I ended up in that class but in hindsight I'd have to say that it was the work of the Divine that brought me there that day.

At the time the material was definitely over my head but I loved every minute of the workshop.  I didn't actually have a conversation with her but at one point Betheyla was lining us up based on our Ayurvedic constitution.  From the most vata to the most kapha.  She put her hand on my arm and looked directly into my eyes.  I can't say that I ever remember anyone looking at me that way before.  It felt like she was looking into my soul.  It was a bit unnerving.  The only think she said to me was "Oh boy! you've got a lot of pitta".  That statement didn't mean much to me at the time but what stuck with me were her eyes.

It was this experience that ignited the fire for me.  I wanted to learn more.  Shortly after the workshop I enrolled in the 200 hour yoga teacher training at Yoga on Main.  It was during the training that Betheyla passed away.    

The more I learned about Ayurveda the more what I learned in that workshop made sense to me.  I was beginning to understand the connection between yoga and Ayurveda.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.  Again, through the blessing of the Divine I was fortunate enough to be able to take the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training at Yoga on Main.  The program was based on Bethelya's teachings.

I  thought of her often as I began to apply the knowledge that I was receiving.  Then one night this past January I had a dream about her.  The dream was so vivid that even now all these months later I can remember every detail.   I woke up with the strangest feeling.  Since then,there have been several instances where I felt her presence.  

What I can't seem to figure out is why this woman who I don't know, and have never even spoke to would have such a strong presence in my life.  There is no logical explanation for the experiences that I've had so I'm going to try to let go of the need to figure it out.  I'm just going to open up to the guidance I feel and trust that whatever the reason and from wherever it's coming from,  I'm definitely being guided and I have to trust it.

Today I was introduced to someone on the street.  The woman looks at me and says "Oh, I know you.  You and I took a class together with Betheyla".   This morning as I lead a vata-reducing  yoga practice I had been thinking about Betheyla.

In the end, we never know the impact we have on those we interact with therefore, live your life in a way that you will be remembered positively long after you leave your body.  Oh, when you meet someone - be present, pay attention because you may have just met the person who will forever change the course of your life. 

"As you move through your day, make choices so that when you close your eyes at the end of the day you will be able to say this was a day worth living" - David Simon

** If you have a story to share about Betheyla I'd love to hear it. **

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This too shall pass

Have you ever felt like you're wearing a heavy, wet, wool blanket over your shoulders? You know that feeling of just over-all heaviness. Yeah, me too. Everywhere you turn everyone has a sad story to tell. People are all experiencing major shifts and changes in their lives. Yesterday I got an email newsletter from an Astrologer who writes articles about the "forecast" for the world in general. Perhaps it was the mood I was in at the time I read the newsletter but I honestly had a strong desire to slap that guy! Luckily for him I'm practicing ahimsa (non-harming) Do we really need a reminder about how terrible the state of our world is right now? I don't think so. Besides, isn't he projecting into the future and not living in the present? Isn't the idea to learn to live in the present moment?

When I began noticing the heaviness in myself I decided to take the emotions out of it and apply what I've learned about Ayurveda. I've learned to recognize the kapha (constitution made up of water and earth) signs in my body and my state of mind and I know what I need to do to help reduce this "heaviness" I'm experiencing. First thing to remember is that it's only temporary. The circumstances of our lives are only temporary.
Ayurveda says "Like increases like and opposites cure" - What do you think happens if you dwell on all the problems you have? What do you think happens if you sit around with others and talk about the terrible state of our economy? What do you think happens when you read and obsess over the "predictions" of some astrologer? -- You are increasing the depression, increasing the sense of alarm and dread.  It increases the feeling of hopelessness.

So let's think about the opposite. What's the opposite of heavy?...... Light! So let's lighten up a bit folks. It's not the end of the world. Let's lighten up about our own circumstances. Don't obsess - trust me I know how difficult that is - but just try to deal with what's right in front of you. Chances are what's right in front of you in this moment is manageable. A great way to lighten up is to have some fun. Good old fashion fun. Here's a few things I like to do to have some fun:

* Take your kids to a park and swing on the swings. If you don't have kids - borrow some - the parents will appreciate it. Watch what the kids do and you do the same. Kids know how to have fun.

* Go roller skating - Adult skate every Tues. morning at the Roller Palace on the Roosevelt Blvd.  Trust me - you have to stay in the moment while your on wheels or you'll end up on your ass.

* Take a yoga class ( that's obvious )

* Clean out your closets or junk drawers - Okay that may not sound like much fun but it helps to clear the clutter in your mind when you clear the clutter out of your space.

* Sing - kirtan (devotional chanting) is recommended to reduce kapha - If you have some aversion to chanting the names of God - just turn the radio up and sing your heart out.

What's not going to help is looking for someone else to remove that heavy wool blanket for you. It's not going to happen. The only way to get rid of the blanket of heaviness is to take it off yourself. How? -- Come on now, don't tell me you don't know what I'm going to say --- Sadhana --- that's the key that we're all looking for. There's no magic potion, no magic tricks. There's no "healer" that's going to magically solve all your problems. You create your own magic through your daily spiritual practice.  The magic word? Your mantra.

I'll leave you with a challenge. For one whole day, every time you hear or think a negative thought immediately think of what the opposite of that would be. Just for fun. You don't have to do anything else. Just think of what the opposite would be. I'd love to hear from you if you decide to take the challenge.
Om Namah Shivaya!