Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Establishing home base.

I wanted to title this post "The ways yoga has saved my life" but I thought that sounded a bit dramatic. Although I do feel like it did just that.... Saved my life. I shutter to think what I would be like had I not discovered yoga.

Remember when you were a kid and you used to play tag? Whoever was "it" would chase the others who were running around trying to avoid getting tagged (touched by the person who was it).   The first thing you would do before you start  is decide who was "it" and establish where home base would be. This is the spot you could go to if you had to tie your sneakers or needed to catch your breath.  You could not be tagged while on home base.  The yoga mat is my home base. It's where I go when I need to catch my breath.

Each time I choose to go  to home base I feel grateful for the reprieve.  I feel grateful for making the right choice.  Who knew that such a simply practice of moving my body with the rhythm of my breath could have such a powerful effect?  Who knew that feeling the support of Mother earth under my feet could have such a grounding, calming effect?  Who knew that taking the time to catch my breath would help me remember gratitude? Who knew?  I knew.  I knew because I have felt the powerful effects of  the practice on a regular basis.

It doesn't matter that the world feels like it's spinning out of control around us. It doesn't matter that the ground beneath us is shifting.  Just like in the game of tag, the others are still running and the chaser is still chasing.  The world is still spinning but we have the choice to go to home base and catch our breath

Without yoga as my home base, I shutter to think how I would ever get through the game of life.  What more can I say? Except maybe....  Do you know where your home base is?  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yoga Sutras Challenge Day #7: Santosha

Yoga Sutras Challenge Day #7: Santosha ~ Contentment

Definition of CONTENTMENT:
1: the quality or state of being contented :  feeling or showing satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation.

Interesting definition, feeling satisfaction with one's possessions? That doesn't sound like yoga. Or does it? At first glance is sounds like it's suggesting that we need possessions in order to be content.  But it says feeling satisfaction with ONE'S possessions.  Be satisfied with what we already HAVE and not be grasping always for more. 

Feeling satisfaction for one's status, Doing your work or service for the benefit of others; in service to the Divine, and not being attached to the fruits of your labor.  This one seems to be challenging me at the moment.  My ego is hard at work trying to keep me from santosha, contentment.  My 40th birthday was this past Friday and all day I kept thinking......"I really thought that by the time I was 40 years old that I would be much better off."   After all, I work really hard.  I give a 100% at everything I do.  Shouldn't I have some recognition for how hard I work?  Feeling satisfaction for one's situation..... Well, to be honest, I am not satisfied with my situation.  So how do I find contentment in it? 

As I step back from these thoughts I can see the ego at play here and I remind myself  that I need to find satisfaction in the work itself.  The fruits of the labor, the status, must be offered up to God.  Status doesn't mean much in the end.  When it's time to leave this body your "status" doesn't matter.  How you lived your life is what matters.

Besides being my 40th birthday, it was also the 10th anniversary of my initiation in Transcendental meditation.  I haven't learned "yogic flying" yet or how to read minds but after 10 years of practice I can still my crazy monkey mind a little easier these days. 

I remember those first weeks after I started a regular meditation practice.  I thought I had been given the magic key to happiness and contentment.  I thought it was going to shield me from troubles.  I thought meditation was going to solve all my problems.  I was going to magically transform into this blissful, divine being..... always in a perfect state of peace. 

Well, I don't have to tell you, THAT didn't happen.   What did happen was that I  now have the tools to face the troubles and solve the problems with a bit more grace and a bit more clarity of mind.  When the challenges come,  I know that they are only temporary. 

When life feels like it's spinning out of control, when I'm completely dis-satisfied with everything, I know what I need to do to find contentment.    I pause.   I breath.  I do yoga/meditate.  I feel gratitude for the many blessings, including the blessing of sadhana.  I find contentment. 

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”

- Tagore

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Got sraddhaa? Got Faith?

Unless you've been living under a rock or in Yoga-land, you already know the turmoil our world is in.   Everywhere you look, everyone you talk to there is some drama. The words that come to my mind are upheaval, chaotic, unsettling - just to name a few.  Changes are unavoidable (believe me, I've tried)

Some days it's too scary to even get out of bed because God only knows what's waiting for us when we do. Don't dare turn on the T.V. news!  The newspapers are only good for lining the bottom of your pet's crate.  In yoga class we hear all these fluffy, idealist things about everything being perfect and how all problems are solved with love.  It all sounds so lovely and then you leave the class and the world comes rushing at you.

Yesterday, a client was crying about the current state of her life. Her story was sad but not unlike my own or anyone else's I've heard.  I hear myself telling her "We just have to have faith the things will get better".  She's lost faith she replied.  LOST FAITH!!  That's an scarier thought to me.  Faith, most days, is all we have.  Faith that even though WE don't know the reason for all this upheaval, there must be a grand plan that we just don't understand.

It reminds me about a story I read in the Kundalini yoga book called "The 8 Human Talents".   The story (para-phrased of course) is about a dog and his human.  The human loves taking the dog for long walks, they play ball in the park, they go on hikes.   The dog is happy and he loves his human!  One day the dog injurys his leg.  The worried human takes him to the vet who instructs her that the only way for the leg to heal is to make sure to avoid any strenuous activity.  Only a short walk for the dog to do his business and then rest for 6 weeks.

Suddenly the human isn't taking the dog with her anymore.  No more walks, no more playing ball in the park.  The dog is sad.  He doesn't understand why his human doesn't love him anymore.  He doesn't know that the reason for this "betrayal" is because the human DOES love him and knows that it's ultimately what's best for the dog's future. 

I think of this story often when I start to feel "betrayed" by God.  I don't know the reason for the challenges,  but I have FAITH that whatever I'm going through ultimately, is what's best for my future.  Somehow it makes things a little more bareable when I remember that there is a higher power at work.  I tell myself this is only temporary.  I have faith that since everything always changes. Even the seemingly negative stuff will change too.   Everything is temporary -- the good AND the bad.  Change is unavoidable! -- Thank God!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yoga Sutras Challenge Day#6 - Sauca (Cleanliness)

I should mention here that there are actually 10 yamas and 10 niyamas but for whatever reason most books only mention 5 of each.  I'm doing the same since I don't really know what the others are and can't really speak to them.  I'll do a little research and then post them another time for your consideration. 

Today we begin the niyamas: "personal disciplines" -  Day#6 of the Yoga Sutra challenge.

"Sauca -- Cleanliness. Not only external cleanliness of the body, but attending to internal cleanliness such as avoiding the impurities of anger and egoism. Moderation in diet"

External cleanliness of the body goes without saying.  Do we really need a sacred text to tell us that?? I hope not.  Avoiding the impurities of anger and egoism.... Now THERE is a challenge.  Honestly, I don't know how to avoid anger because I feel like it's not something I can control.  It controls me.   I can't figure out the difference between avoiding and suppressing. I guess it's my ego that tells me that I should not let go of anger.   (I know that I will eventually have to let go of anger!!) But I'm holding on so tight.   I know this, yet I can't figure out how to let go.  The ego tells me letting go of the anger means that my feelings don't matter. That doesn't make any sense and yet - I can't let go.

I know that anger manifests in the physical body as tension and heat.   Maybe addressing the manifestation of anger in the body will help to release the mental and emotional anger.  I don't know..... it's worth a try.  Perhaps we should spend a few extra days focusing on Sauca.  I know I need to. 

I could use some advice with this one.   What do you do when you feel angry?  How to do release the anger?

It's funny that today we're talking about anger since this morning I woke up and headed to my corner for sadhana (spiritual practice) only to find that it is once again, occupied by 2 sleeping children.  This did make me angry.  Instead of using that as an excuse not to practice, I'll take my practice outside to the back deck.  It's a cool, beautiful morning.  The coolness maybe will help with the heat of anger.  

Oh.... let me just say one thing about moderation of diet. Pay attention to how you feel in your body after you eat. Notice the difference after you eat something healthy like a juicy, sweet peach. Then notice how you feel after you something like, french fries. Just observe. The simple act of observing how you feel AFTER you eat will help you make better choices about WHAT you eat.  Believe me it works... try it.

Om Namah Shivaya! Om Namah Shivaya! Om Namah Shivaya! 
Om Namah Shivaya! Om Namah Shivaya! Om Namah Shivaya!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Yoga Sutras challenge: Day#5: Aparigraha

We are half way through our Yoga Sutras challenge: Day#5:  Aparigraha - non-possessiveness or non-greed.   Hummm.... What can say about Aparigraha? 

One of my pet peeves is when people refer to others as "my wife, my husband, my kids, my this or my that....."  It makes me nuts.  It makes me feel like the other person is a possession instead of an individual. 
I'm reading a book right now called "The Help".  It's about how the help, as in the maids in the South, were treated by the white families they worked for.  It's rather shocking when I read about the fact that people actually believed that it was okay for other human beings to be considered their property!!  This is an extreme example but in subtle ways some people still consider their loved ones as their possession.  Pay attention today to how many times you refer to someone as MY this or MY that. 

Non-greed is about not taking more than you need.  Have you seen the new TLC program called "Extreme Couponing"?  I watched this woman buy 70+ bottles of mustard because with the coupon they were free.  The best part was the poor husband saying "But honey, I don't even like mustard".   Not taking more than you need - who the hell needs 70+ bottles of mustard??

My day job is as an insurance agent.  We have some clients who are pretty well off financially. They purchases properties cash when they already have 2 or 3 homes and have more cars than any one family needs.  It just seems so wasteful to me when I see people collecting material possessions that they don't need.  It's even more disturbing to me when there are children in this world who are starving.  How can there be such a huge gap?  How can one person be able to purchase a $500,000. house and pay cash  when across town there is a child who is picking through the trash can in the school yard looking for food because he hasn't eaten in 2 days!!  When you are blessed to have more than you need - give it to someone who needs it.  The more you have the more you should give to others but even if you only have a little - you should still give a little.

 Look around you.... what have you accumulated that you don't really need?  Have you considered giving it to someone else who needs it?  Before you know it, it will be winter. I'm sure you have an old coat in your closet that you don't use.  Many of us are fortunate enough to have more than one.  Why not give one or two away this winter to someone who needs it. 

Taking more than you need also refers to things like not wasting our natural resources. My son, Jake, told me the other day that he wants to do the dishes from now on. I'm, apparently, not doing them the right way. He instructed me to fill the sink with soapy water, turn off the facet and wash the dishes and then rinse them off quickly so that I don't waste water. (He also taught me the right way to brush my teeth without wasting water). Looks like Jake is practicing Aparigraha.

So, the challenge of the day: 
    *take inventory of your possessions and give some away to
      other who need it
    *Don't take more than you need
    *Conserve our natural resources

Remember the prayer of St. Francis?  It is in giving that we receive.  The one thing that we all have to give is LOVE.  Funny thing about LOVE, the more you give the more you receive.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yoga Sutras challenge - Day#4 - Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya. I've been hesitating to post about this yama as I don't want to offend anyone or cause any "feathers to be ruffled".  Let me begin with a disclaimer:  This post is for informational purposes only!  I am not suggestion anything.  As my teacher says "All we can ever do is follow our own inner guidance".  That goes without saying with this particular yama.

Okay, here we are at day#4 of our challenge.  Brahmacharya is translated as "Right use of sexual energy".
Another translation of the yoga sutras called it: non-excess and still another referred to Bramhacharya as personal restraint.   (Don't worry, this will not be an X-rate post)

I suppose I should start by giving you a definition of Ojas from David Frawley's book: Yoga and Ayurveda
"Ojas-primal vigor: the subtle energy of water as the stored up vital reserve, the basis for physical and mental endurance; the internalized essence of digested food, water, air, impressions and thought.  On an inner level, it is responsible for nourishing and grounding the development of all higher faculties"

The goal is to increase Ojas.  We do this by taking in healthy, pure food, water, air and impressions and through our meditation practice.  The more intense our sadhana (spiritual practice) the more Ojas we build. The more Ojas, the more endurance we have for deeper, more intense sadhana.  It is believed that Ojas is released during sex.  Therefore, you are depleting your "primal vigor". 

Let me pause here for a moment and remind you that I am not suggesting in anyway that you have to abstain from sex in order to be a yogi.  What I would suggest is that you make conscious choices.  During times of intense sadhana consider refraining from sexual activity.   The idea is that you increase Ojas through the intense practices and you retain that energy rather than depleting it when you refrain from sexual activity.

Since most of us householders would have a difficult time convincing our non-yogi spouses of the benefits of practicing Brahmacharya I would suggest that you consider the translation of "personal restraint".   Think about all the ways in which we expend our energy unnecessarily and consider ways in which you can reserve your energy.  Perhaps that might be by choosing to rest instead of staying out late.  Maybe it's by choosing to remain quiet instead of engaging in unnecessary talk. 

Imagine for a minute that you are planning to climb a mountain.  You need to prepare before hand. You'll make sure you make good choices about what and how much you eat and drink, you'll make sure that you prepare physically by exercising and strengthening your muscles and you'll want to get a good night's rest so that you will have the endurance to complete your climb.  It's the same with spiritual practice.  To build endurance for the long trek towards enlightenment you need to retain your energy.  

Think of Ojas as Gold (have you seen the price of gold these days??)  You'll want to spend it wisely.  If you keep spending without putting some in the bank you'll eventually end up being over-drawn.   I have way more to say about this topic but I'll spare you. Besides, I think you get the idea.  Comments welcome.

SpongeBob's yoga lesson

Anyone recognize this guy?  For those of you who don't have children, that's Plankton.  He's one of the characters on the cartoon SpongeBob.  For years he's been trying to steal the secret crabby patty recipe.  He believes that with the secret recipe he'll be able to control the world.  (insert crazy Plankton laugh here)

One day, there I was, just minding my own business.  Watching my crazy monkey mind when suddenly, the thought of Plankton comes to mind.  HOLY HELL!!!  That's me.  Just like Planton, all I want is to control the world.  At least my world.  I want everything to be exactly the way I want them to be.  If only I can get my hands on the secret recipe!!

My inner control freak is being challenged right now to the extreme.  I can't even control my own mind and my own emotions.  How the heck do I think I can control what someone else thinks or feels?  That's so ridiculous and yet that's what  I do.  I want to orchestrate the world around me.  I'm sure you know how well that goes.

Let me take a minute to tell you about a couple of the other characters on this show in case you have been living in yoga-land without a t.v.   The main character is SpongeBob.  Yes, he is a sponge with arms and legs and a crazy laugh.  He is the epitome of a yoga attitude.  He is always happy and cheerful and no matter how mean and cranky Squigward or Mr. Crabs are, Spongebob goes about his business of having fun and working hard.  He is totally oblivious of the mean things that the others say or do to him.

Me, on the other hand, I'm Plankton.  Plankton has tried and tried a million different ways to control the world.  Even when he knows it's pointless he still devises another plan.  Even when his current plan is crumbing around him, he is already hatching up another plan. 

Don't get me wrong,  I'm not plotting to rule the world - that would be silly -  I'm just trying to control MY world.  I just want things MY way. That's not so much to ask is it?  Why can't people think the way I think?  Why can't people do and say the things I need them to do or say?  Why don't people see that I'm right??  (Did you hear that?  The evil Planton laugh?)

As I was consoling my daughter (who is a bigger control freak than me) I tell her "you can't control how other people behave.  All you can control is your own reaction to their behavior".   Hummm.......

All I can control is myself? (not very well usually).  Maybe the secret recipe is to learn how to control myself.  Learn how to control the fluctuations in the thoughts waves of the mind.   That's it! That's the secret recipe to controlling my inner world!! 

Now, let's hatch our plan. Oh, wait......that's not a secret.  We all know that the way to still the fluctuation in the thought waves of the mind is through the practice of yoga/meditation.   Maybe I need to put a photo of SpongeBob on my alter.   At the end of each episode, Plankton is sad and SpongeBob is still happy and cheerful, going about the business of his life.  Oblivious of the negativity around him.

Do I want to be like poor sad Plankton or happy, cheerful, oblivious SpongeBob?  Is SpongeBob practicing yoga in his Pineapple under the sea?  That's the million dollar question of the day.