Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Monday, June 27, 2011

Another adventure on the path to enlightenment.......

How am I ever going to reach a state of enlightenment when I can't even get the heel of my foot to reach the place where the sun don't shine???  This is the pressing question of the day. 

Let me set the scene for you.  I'm awake at 4:30am (against my will but awake none the less).  The candle on the alter softly lights the room.  In the stillness of the early morning I offer a prayer.  Okay, now zoom in on the crazy yogini on the purple mat.......

I've got the book  "Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha" open to page on the Maha Mudra (stretched leg pose).  I am struggling, unsuccessfully, for half hour to get the heel of my  "left foot to press firmly into the perineum or vulva, the location point of mooladhara chakra".   I'm grumbling about the inferiority of my legs.  Surely, it's their fault I'll never reach enlightenment!  How can I when my legs are obviously too short for Maha Mudra!!! 

I give up in frustration.  I think to myself that this mudra along with Khechari Mudra (rolling the tip of your tongue backwards and up as far as you can) are designed to distract yogis.  I have a mental picture of the ancient rishis sitting around the camp fire laughing their ass off at us future yogis spending precious time trying to do these crazy things when we should be in meditation.  

This little episode was a gentle reminder from the universe not to take myself so seriously.  So what that I can't press my foot into the vulva!  When I teach yoga I offer students modifications or alternatives if they are struggling with a posture.  When I was done having a temper tantrum I gave myself a modification that I would offer a student. 

I  practice Janu Sirshasana (head to knee pose) my left foot presses into my right thigh rather than the perineum and I engage Moola Bandha (perineum contraction).  I can't tell you if the effect is the same but I can tell you if the idea behind the Maha Mudra is to encourage the upward movement of energy then the modification works. 

Remembering to treat myself with the same kindness and respect that I try to treat others with is another valuable lesson from this mornings practice.

Ancient rishis, you've had the last laugh today but just wait till tomorrow.  I'll show you!! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ssshhh! I'm trying to watch the show.

I often wonder why anyone watches tv when there's so much entertainment going on right in our own minds. Sometimes it's a drama playing, sometimes a comedy. Either way, there's always something playing. It's reality tv at it's best.

I find myself stepping into a state of witness consciousness more easily and more often lately.  Being in that state of the witness is when you can step back from the thoughts and watch them. Noticing that you are not the thoughts. Who is it that thinks the thoughts? Who's witnessing the thinking?

So many questions......Today I'm wondering why I think the things I think and why can't I stop the wild, crazy thoughts. I admit that at times I rather enjoy the drama that plays in my mind I find myself attached to the drama but I know that it's only a drama. And like all reality tv shows, 99.9% of it isn't real.

What makes the mind think? In meditation we focus on bringing our attention into the third eye and the crown chakra.  Is this movement of energy to the head the reason why my thoughts are so crazy wild lately? As we focus on the third eye (the seat of intuition and some even say psychic ability) how do we know if what we are witnessing is inner vision or just a trick of the mind?? Is it a vision of some moment in the future or simply a fantasy to distract us?

As I watched the drama playing out in my mind this morning I found myself getting sucked into the drama rather than simply witnessing it. I felt my physical body beginning to react to the drama. My emotions even got involved. Wow! What a show, it was in 4D!!

Then I remembered that what was important was the practice. Doing the work and having no attachment to the result. I shifted my focus back to my breath, back to the mantra. It is the nature of the mind to think. There's no use trying to fight it. The practice is to always remember to step back to the place of witnessing the thoughts without identifying with them. From that place you can maintain a sense of calm awareness even when the thoughts get scary.  Remembering that we are not the thoughts.

The more we practice witness consciousness, the more easily we can get there. Then, when we find ourselves in a challenging situation we are experts at stepping back into that state of calm awareness and not identifying with the challenges. The challenges do not define who we are. We are not our challenges.   This is the first step in the practice of meditation - stepping back from the thoughts.

Speaking of reality tv, have you seen the show "My strange addiction"? Holy Hell!!  when I saw the woman who was addicted to eating cleanser I thought maybe my addiction to cupcakes and cosmopolitans isn't so bad after all.

Actually, I wonder if in those moments of craving something we know isn't good for us, if the practice of stepping back into witness consciousness would help us step back from the craving?? Who knows, maybe if we watch the thought patterns that trigger the craving maybe we can make better choices.
Let's experiment with this. Give it a try, start watching your thoughts.  It's really quite entertaining. You may never go back to watching tv again!  Feel free to share your observations of this practice if you decide to join the experiment.

~Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti........

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yoga at your own risk

As with anything in life, practicing yoga has some risks.  If you push too hard into a posture you risk injuring yourself.   You know your back is feeling tight but when the teacher suggests bow pose you go
for it.  The result?  Back pain.  These risks are 100% preventable.  Afterwards we realize that it was the ego or maybe even absentmindedness that motivated us to push rather than back-off.   But there are other risks when practicing yoga that no-one really talks about.
The practice takes us into places within ourselves that maybe we don't ordinarily allow ourselves to go.  Some of these deep, dark corners of our minds are scary places.  There's the risk of getting mugged by our old habits and old thought patterns.  Is re-lapsing into old habits preventable?

Perhaps the biggest risk of the yoga practice is the risk to our heart.  A lot of the work done on the mat is about opening our heart.  The yoga teachings clearly tell us to be in our hearts and move from our hearts.  This practice of opening the heart leaves us vulnerable.   We know the benefits are great and so we begin to tentatively open the heart.  It's scary but we do it.  Unfortunately, sometimes that means we get hurt. 

Over the years many of us build pretty solid walls around our hearts to protect it.  After all, it's a very sensitive thing and it needs protection.  (Doesn't it?)  With the wall safely in place we can withstand the harshness of life.  We don't feel the lightening bolts that are aimed straight at our hearts.  When the yoga practice begins to dismantle the protective walls our hearts are exposed and we feel vulnerable.  Without the wall there's no protection against the harshness of life, against the lightening bolts.  What now?  The thought of this is scary and makes me ask why?  Why would I want to dismantle the protective wall?  Why would I want to open my heart?  We most definitely feel more when we do the work of opening our hearts. The harshness that surrounds us feels more harsh.  There are risks to feeling more. 

The risk of feeling your feelings is that you have to figure out what to do with them after you've felt them.  How do you prevent those old coping mechanisms from mugging you?  If you do find yourself falling back into old patterns how do you break the cycle?  How do you protect your heart while at the same time keeping it open? Unlike the risk in the physical practice of yoga, I'm not sure that the risk in the emotional practice of yoga is preventable.  My guess, though, is that we apply the same advice to both practices. With the physical practice we listen to our body.  With the internal practice, we listen to our heart.  

There are also risks to NOT opening the heart.  The down side of that protective wall is that it not only keeps the hurt out but it also keeps the love out.   When we avoid feeling our feelings we are preventing ourselves from feeling love and joy.  Do we want to prevent that too?  I don't.  I want to feel love and joy so I have to take the risk that maybe sometimes a little pain will get in too.  It's a hazard of this game we call Life. 

 As I do in the asana practice I realize that what motivates me to build the wall around my heart is the ego and sometimes even absentmindedness.  And, that my friend, is preventable.   My advice? When you are moving into the deep, dark corners of the mind - take a flashlight or in yoga words - the mantra.  Where there is light there can be no darkness.  Right?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My vacation to yoga-land!

Flipping through my class notes from my 500hr yoga teacher training course I came across this note:

Tantras - how to do practices
Purifying practice - heat/burn off -negativity
Nurturing practice - feeds us - nourishes
need a balance of each

It's my need for balance that prompted me to take this week off from work to participate in the morning yoga retreat at Yoga on Main.  Although I try to do sadhana (spiritual practice) every day some days I feel like I want to spend more time on the mat but life gets in the way.  This week my intention is to give myself the time without any restrictions to focus on sadhana. 

This morning's practice was about purifying - we generated a lot of heat.  When I got home I wanted to sit for meditation but I also wanted to be outside enjoying the sunshine.  On the drive home from the studio I was mentally debating, should I meditate first and then do a little gardening or should I garden first and then meditate?  Since I spend most days sitting in a cubical without any windows I didn't want to miss the opportunity to spend some time soaking in the sunshine.  The solution?  I meditated outside.

It was a bit more challenging at first but it wasn't long before I was riding the wave into meditation.
I'm not sure how much time passed but the first thought coming out of meditation was "Damn that guy, Patanjali really knew what he was talking about!"  LOL!   Just to clarify, Patanjali is the guy who supposedly wrote down in a very systematic way the instructions of yoga known as the Yoga Sutras. 

Anyway,  Patanjali gives us the steps, one by one, to reach a state of samadhi - this is the highest state of meditation when we merge with cosmic consciousness.   Some people skip right to step #3 - asana (yoga postures) and stay there.  Some people skip right to step #7 - meditation and wonder why they can't meditate.  "I can't meditate, I can't quiet my mind"  Is what I hear whenever I suggest meditation.  

My pitta mind needs step by step instructions so I follow Patanjali's instructions:

1.  Yamas - Social ethics: truthfulness, non-harming, self-restraint, non-stealing, non-possessiveness
2.  Niyamas - Moral ethics: austerities, purity, contentment, self-study, surrender to the Divine
3.  Asana - physical postures
4.  Pranayama - breath control
5.  Pratyahara - withdrawl of the senses (turning the senses inward)
6.  Dharana - concentration
7.  Dhyana - meditation
8.  Samadhi - Absolute bliss

Today's practice incorporated all these steps which made meditation effortless.  When you plant a garden you first need to prepare the soil.  That's what we do when we practice according to the 8 fold path, we prepare the soil for meditation to happen. 

Step #1&2: I try my best to honor the yamas and niyamas in my life.  (well, I strive to at least)
Step #3: SD took us through a beautiful, purifying asana practice
Step #4: Alternate nostril breathing - to balance out the effect of the strong physical practice
Step #5: I close my eyes and turn my senses inward
Step #6: Mantra
Step #7: Meditation happened - effortlessly.
Step #8:  I realize what a genius Patanjali was/is! 

It doesn't get more balanced then this.  The purifying effects of asana and pranayma and the nurturing
effects of meditation equal a perfectly balanced practice every time.

Although getting up at 4:30am to practice yoga and meditate all day may not be everyone's idea of a fabulous vacation but for me - it's absolute bliss!!  To book your visit to yoga-land check out our
new web-site:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tis the season......

I've been reading this fabulous book called the 3 Season Diet by Dr. Douillard. It's Ayurveda (the science of life) made easy for the western student. I would highly recommend it.

Ok, infomercial is over......

I never thought much about eating with the seasons, it was just something I did. I love cooking for my family and friends and even just random people. The food that I eat changes with the seasons simply because certain foods just taste better when they are in season. For many of us, changing the foods we eat based on season seems very natural but have you thought about changing your asana practice for the season?

As the temperatures go up I notice that my dog, Pumpkin, lays on the floor instead of the sofa.  I guess even animals change their patterns with the season. I think animals are closer to enlightenment than we humans!

I've been thinking a lot about this as I prepare for my classes. I show up to teach a class and I'm looking at the students red faced and sweaty before class even starts. Maybe they rode their bike to class or walked and their breathing is a bit heavy. Do I want to offer a strong, dynamic practice? Probably not.

Remember: Like increases like and opposites cure.

Taking my cues from Pumpkin, maybe we spend a little more time in the opening poses doing seated postures. Forward folds with a little longer hold feels right. I like balancing the heating effects of sun salutation with the cooling effect of moon salutation. To include pranayama into the practice - shitali (cooling breath) while moving in and out of bow pose. Have you tried Ardha-Chandrasana (half-moon pose). Since it's a moon pose and the moon is considered more cooling - it's a great option for keeping with the theme of a cooling practice. If you've been to my class you know that I LOVE, LOVE props - May I recommend that you try  Ardha-Chandrasana against a wall?

For those of us with a lot of fire/heat in our personality (pitta) we tend to push ourselves and others. We tend to be doers. Pitta people are always "doing" so letting go and relaxing is a challenge. I find that using props with pitta folks lets them let go a little easier. One of the lovely ladies in my class says that using a block under her low back in bridge pose helps her to BE in the pose and not have to "make it happen". In other words - helps her back off a little of the effort she normally applies in being in the pose.

What about your meditation practice? We know that mantras have different effects so what about changing the mantra that you use? Maybe using a mantra honoring the moon like:
                                                          Om Som Somaya Swaha.

I'll keep working on my lesson plans for cooling yoga practices. When you're done eating your tomato and basil salad come join me for a cooling yoga practice. I'd love your feed-back!

** I know I haven't explained what the poses are and how to practice them. You'll just have to come to class if want to see what the practice looks like.. :-) Besides, you need to feel the effects not just read about it!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Adventures of a spiritual seeker continues.......

So I show up to hear a talk being given by an enlightened being. Sure I'm skeptical but I'm eager to hear what he has to say.  My journal is open and my pen is ready. Bring on the secrets to enlightenment!! It didn't take long before I closed the journal. I wouldn't be learning any ancient yogic secrets from this guy but don't log off just yet.

I did learn some important things this week-end. The first of which is that since I'm always looking for a guru who will impart some secret wisdom I sometimes miss the real teachers who are offering me not so secret wisdom every day.   This is the most important one - I think. 

I learn just as much from the students who come to my class as I do from my teachers.   From them I learn humility.  I used to show up to teach a class thinking that I was going to "teach" them something but I quickly learned they are the real teachers.   I learn about joy and wonder from seeing the world through my son's eyes.  I learn patience and tolerance and compassion from those people in my life who challenge me.  I learn the real meaning of the word yogi when I witness the kindness and generosity of my teacher.  I may not have a guru sitting in lotus posture spoon feeding me ancient wisdom but I certainly have lots of teachers and lots of opportunity to practice the yogic wisdom I study.  For this I am eternally grateful!

Here's a little snap shot of some other not so secret wisdom I'd like to share with you:

* Do good; Be good -- everything else will take care of itself
* Meditate - it's that simply. Whatever the question,
  the answer is meditate and all will be known.
* The gate to get into heaven is small - you won't get in if your head is too big
   - in other words, transcend the ego!!
* If you are going to talk - say something to inspire people not make them feel hopeless.
* Ultimately, what we need more than a guru is TRUST. Trust in a higher power.
* What you do does matter - so again: Do good, Be Good.
* If someone proclaims to be enlightened - he/she probably isn't.
* Nothing resonates with me more than the teachings of the Upanishads.  I much prefer the Isha Upanishad:  "All this is full, All that is full,  From fullness, fullness comes. When fullness is taken from fullness, fullness still remains"  instead of the statement given by this so called enlightened being that creation comes from a void.  Fullness vs void?   I vote for fullness.  When I think of the Divine I think of infinite love, not a void.  I might be wrong but my heart is too full of love to believe God is a void. 

In the end, I come back to what I already know. Everything I seek is not outside of myself.  All my questions will be answered - when I still the fluctuations in the thought waves of my mind through sadhana, spiritual practice. In the stillness, I will look in the lotus of my heart and all will be revealed to me.

Now does anyone know the secret to more patience??