Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tis the season........

"Tis the season to be jolly...... fa la la la la lalalala......" Are you feeling jolly?  Me neither..... Who wrote that song and what the hell were they thinking?  When did Christmas go from being the season to be jolly to the season for stress, anxiety and depression?  Am I alone here?  I don't think so. 

Finding time for sadhana (spiritual practice) is already hard enough. Add in Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking, entertaining and spiritual practice gets pushed further down the "to do" list.  Or does it?  What brings you more joy, standing in line at the mall to buy the gift that will eventually be returned anyway or sadhana?  What makes you feel jolly, dragging boxes of Christmas decorations out of the attic or flowing through a few sun salutation? 

Am I the only one who wonders why we go through so much trouble for something that lasts 1 day? Why don't we put as much effort into our sadhana when the effects of the practice will have a much longer lasting positive effects?  We will go to the ends of the earth to get our children the "must have" toy of the year so that they will be happy for an hour. Why don't we go to the ends of the earth to teach our children the importance of daily spiritual practice that will make them happy for a lifetime?

I've been contemplating discipline and dedication lately.  I'm reading the yoga sutras and one of the sutras talks about how in order to progress in meditation the practice needs to be done sincerely, systematically and with sustained enthusiasm for a LONG period of time.  I think sometimes we modern day yogis and yoginis skip over that part.   We practice our yoga (the whole yoga not just asana) until it gets too hard or we get too busy. Our dedication to the practice is challenged during the holiday season.  We can use this challenge to practice dedication.  After all, the more we practice the stronger our relationship to dedication and discipline becomes.

Do you remember that public service announcement where they show you the egg and then they crack the egg into a hot frying pan?  "This is your brain..... And this is your brain on drugs"  remember that?  Well here's a challenge for you.  You already know what happens to your brain during the holidays normally.  Why not experiment with a daily spiritual practice during this holiday season and see what happens to your brain on yoga?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a scrooge or anything.  I enjoy a beautifully decorated house and the smiles on my children's faces when they open their gifts from Santa as much as the next guy.  The difference is that I'm choosing to keep things in perspective.  At least that's my intention.   By all means, if fussing with tangled Christmas lights and fighting crowds in the stores makes you want to sing fa la la la lalalalala..... go for it.  As for me..... I'll be singing Om Namah Shivaya on my yoga mat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lights, camera, ACTION!

With all these random people getting their own reality TV show I started thinking that maybe I should have my own reality show.  I can see it now......... it would be a show about my life as a yogi.  It would have drama, and chaos and humor and disappointment.... Hell!  I could be famous! I even have a theme song picked out!

I've heard my theme song about 100 times before but last week-end in the middle of teaching a yoga class I realized that it is the perfect theme song for my life.  It's called Surrender by Gaura Vani. 

"The road behind me is littered with the ruins, decisions made in fear"  When we are honest with ourselves we know that we sometimes take the easy road because we're afraid of the unknown.  We choose not to put ourselves out there because we're afraid of failure. We're afraid to express our love for fear of rejection.  We choose not to take chances because we are afraid of what other people will think.  When I'm honest with myself I know that I have even made some decisions based on my fear of success.  I know, weird right? But it's true.  My fear is that my success would mean that someone else would fail.  My fear is that someone else might not like me if I'm more successful then them. The TV show could be about how I learn to uncover my fears and make better decisions using my yoga practice.

"Don't be afraid the Lord so sweetly said, and depending on his word, I will surrender" That's it in a nut shell isn't it?  We depend on the Lord.  Easier said than done.  Wow! there could be a 100 episodes dealing just with this topic.   Yoga certainly has helped me in those times when I am completely at the end of my rope.  I have so often found myself sitting in front of my alter literally giving over my troubles to the Divine Mother because I simply could not carry them any longer.  In those moments of total surrender I have found peace.

"My habitual desire to control, I now abandon. And from my schemes so carefully conceived, I release everyone."  I love this line.  At least I know I'm not alone in my desire to control everything and everyone.  A lovely lady this week-end shared that her teacher told her she is not the general contractor of the universe. I giggled when she said it beause I thought...."how silly, of course she's not. That's my job".  I am not alone and neither are you but just imagine how wonderful the universe would be if we were all free from our desire to control.  If we were able to turn our hard hat over to the Divine, maybe just maybe we could enjoy life.

"My playing God is over.  Now I surrender, surrender, surrender."  One of the most shocking discoveries I made about myself on this yoga journey was my own arrogance.  How arrogant I was being when I felt that I knew better than God the way things should be.  Isn't that what I'm saying when I wish things to be different than what they are?  Yes.... "My playing God is over..... I surrender"  Even when I didn't see it right away, in the end, I realize that God really did know better than me how things should be.

"I pray to be a bow, upon my life, affix an arrow, a dazzling weapon of Your will."  I'm reminded, when I hear this line, of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  The prayer is framed on my alter and it begins:  "Make me an instrument of thy peace."  What better way to live our lives than with the knowledge that we are instruments of God? When we offer ourselves in service of God how will our decisions change? Will our decisions still be made in fear?

Okay, enough daydreaming about my life as a realty TV star.  I will surrender my desire to be famous
(for now).

(da da da .......)  This is not only the choirs of the song but also an important teaching in the Upanishad.  It's what the thunder said.... check out chapter V, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Friday, November 11, 2011

By the light of the moon.....

It's the end of a long busy week.  I'm tired and just want to put on my sweats and curl up on the sofa with a cup of chai and a book.  Instead, I put on my yoga pants and head to this month's advanced yoga teacher training class. 

It's Friday night so traffic is awful and I'm feeling guilty because I won't be home all week-end.  I was feeling guilty that I haven't cleaned my floors in weeks.  I was reminded of that during this morning's yoga practice.  As I pressed back into down-dog instead of feeling blissful I was noticing just how dirty my floors are and how much dust is hiding under the sofa!!  Okay, so I do the rest of the practice with my eyes closed and pretend that the yoga sutras don't specifically say that you should practice on a clean floor.

My mind is racing from one thought to the other.  From the dirty floors to the book I'm working on, to the phone call I got today, on and on and on.......

I arrive in Manayunk on Friday night and I actually find a parking spot, horray!  The racing thoughts continue as I walk to yoga land.  I realize that it's colder than I thought and I mentally kick myself for not dressing warmer.  But when I  walk into the studio it's so warm and inviting both literally and figuratively. 

The alter is set up for a puja (ritual worship).  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE doing puja.  I love the rituals even though the Upanishads warn us that it's not all about the rituals.  We each took part in the puja which was so lovely.   One of the things I love most about the practice of yoga is that during the rituals we are participating and not just watching.  It's the experience of yoga that is most powerful. 

Before the puja SD lead us in a vata pacifying practice.  The practice was slow, the holds were long, and the effect was heating and calming.  We flowed through 12 sun salutations.  It felt so good to move after sitting at my desk all day.   I loved the slow fluid nature of the practice.  Although I have to admit that during the first few poses I felt myself itching to move more but it didn't take very long before I was flowing with my breath.  As my breath grew deeper, I grew calmer.  I was conscious of the heat in my body and it felt good.  I was conscious of the support of the earth beneath my feet and it was comforting.  I was conscious of SD's soft, gentle voice and it was soothing.  It was hard getting up after savasana. I wanted to stay there forever wrapped in the warmth and comfort of the space and the practice.

By the light of full moon I walked back to my car.  I was tired but feeling content and peaceful.  I was conscious that the racing thoughts were missing. I was conscious of an overwhelming feeling that the Divine Mother was smiling tonight and reassuring me that I am exactly where I'm meant to be at this point in my life.

 I'm tired, my floors are still dirty and I'm still feeling a little guilty for being away from my family all week-end.  But I feel content that things are unfolding in my life exactly the way they are suppose to.  I am conscious that my life is being guided  by the Divine Mother.  Tonight, my heart is filled with gratitude, contentment and peace.  The power of the practice never fails to amaze me.

Jai Ma!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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

Svadhyaya -- "Self-study. Spiritual self-education. Contemplation and application of the scriptures or sacred texts of our chosen path"

I obviously have a lesson to learn that I'm not learning because I keep encountering the same situation over and over again.  During a recent Bhagavad Gita study the teacher reminded us that if we don't learn the lessons, we'll be doomed to re-live the challenges again and again.   With this in mind, I've decided to do a little Svadhyaya.  Now the challenge is what the heck am I suppose to learn here??

The challenge for me lately is dealing with people who have a huge ego.  These people are practically wearing a neon sign that is blinking "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!"   I find myself so frustrated by this type of behavior.  I want to tell these folks that the object of the game is to transcend the ego NOT FEED IT!

But I must remind myself:

*  Non-judgement
*  Compassion
*  Seeing God in everyone (yes, even the people I want to smack!)
*  These challenges are opportunities to learn something about myself

So I pause, I practice SD's little exercise of mirroring..... My first reaction is always "This is a ridiculous exercise!  I don't act like that!!!"   Maybe that's the point.  Maybe that's why it bothers me so much.

No!  I'm not saying I want to wear a blinking neon sign but it would be nice to have the guts to wear one if I wanted to!  But maybe, just maybe, what I envy is their self-confidence and their ablility to get the attention and validation that they need.  Maybe, just maybe, I see a little of myself in the person behind the sign. 

Maybe, just maybe, they wear the neon sign to hide the fact that they are insecure about themselves.  Underneath the neon sign are they hiding who they really are for fear of not being accepted? Don't I worry about not being accepted?  Underneath the neon sign do they feel insignificant? Don't I feel insignificant at times? Underneath the neon sign are they afraid that no-one will notice them? Didn't I write a post about feeling invisible? Underneath the neon sign do they feel alone? Don't I feel like I'm out in left field sometimes?

From this new perspective, I no longer want to smack these people.  From this new perspective, I feel compassion.  I recognize the person hiding behind the neon sign and I see myself.  (don't tell SD, but I have to admit this mirroring exercise isn't as ridiculous as I first thought!)

Mirror, mirror on the wall........ Wouldn't it be so much easier if we had a magic mirror to tell us what to do with this new found information?  Well, if you've watched any Disney movies with magic mirrors you know that they don't actually give you a straight answer. (much like our dear yoga teachers and gurus) There's always a riddle to figure out. 

I'm going to spare you the riddles and just tell you what I think the message is here:

*  I shouldn't smack people because if they are just like me they might smack me back!
*  Never judge a person by what they are presenting on the outside.  Take the time to get to know the person behind the neon sign. (Then decide if they deserve a smack -- Just kidding)
*  Everyone needs to be validated but some need it more than others.
*  Maybe we are not so different after all.

The more we learn about ourselves through the practice of svadhyaya, the less scary it is to look in the mirror.
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Observations from the mat

Someone told me recently that I wasn't practicing what I'm preaching.  Someone told me recently that I'm not a real yogi because I get angry.  Someone told me recently that all this yoga business is non-sense.
Once again the question is posed.  What does it mean to be a yogi?  I've asked myself this question a million times.  It doesn't take much to start the viscous cycle of self-doubt to swirl.

Observation #1:  The cycle may start but it ends much quicker.  I am a yogi.  What makes me a yogi is that I can feel what I feel without having to stifle the feelings.  I recognize that although my emotions are valid and real, they are only temporary.  When I allow myself to feel what I feel (even if it's anger or jealously or whatever......) I feel it and then let it go that makes me a yogi.

Observation #2:  My body needs to move.  I am a yogi.  I feel the compression in my lower back after a long day of sitting at a desk.  I notice the release in my lower back during forward fold.  I notice the effects of what I eat on my body.  I notice that the state of my mind effects the state of my body.  When I have mental tension, I have physical tension.  I change my mind, I change my body.  The fact that I am aware makes me a yogi.

Observation #3:  I no longer feel the need to defend myself.  I am a yogi.  It's okay if people don't understand what that means.  It's okay if you don't understand why I have to get up at 5am.  It's okay if you don't understand why I choose not to eat meat.   It's okay if you don't understand why I can spend hours talking about yoga philosophy but can't seem to have a normal conservation.  I accept that you don't understand me and that I don't understand you.  The fact that I don't feel the need to fix that makes me a yogi.

Observation #4:  There's a lid for every pot.  I am a yogi.  Even though I don't agree or particularly like the "new age" yoga babble it doesn't mean I'm not a real yogi.  Just because I think yoga babble is cheesy doesn't mean I'm not a yogi.  Just because I don't like certain popular yoga practices doesn't make me any less a yogi.  Noticing and accepting my likes and dislikes without judgement of myself or others is what makes me a yogi.

Observation #5:  My intuition never steers me wrong. I am a yogi.  When my intuition is telling me that I need to avoid a particular person or practice that doesn't make me less of a yogi.  It means that I am aware and honoring my inner guru.  As Yogis we are encouraged to love everyone, yes.  But if I'm walking down the street and I'm feeling uncomfortable about the guy walking behind me...... You can bet your ass I'm going to pay attention to that gut feeling..... That doesn't make me any less a yogi.  I acknowledge that some people are clearly not aware of their own Divinity and may want to cause me harm.  I honor and trust my intuition at all times that makes me a yogi.

Observation #6:  Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a circus act.  I am a yogi.  I read something that called modern yoga  "yoga flavored exercise".  I don't buy into this idea that to be considered a real yogi you must be able to do all these crazy physical contortions with your body.  Just because a person can do amazingly difficult yoga postures doesn't make him a better yogi.  I practice loving my body for what it can do without judging it for what it can't do..... My body was able to give birth to 3 perfect, healthy children, how can I feel anything less than respect. That makes me a yogi.

Observation #7:  When I find myself in a difficult situation I pause and ask the Divine for guidance.  I am a yogi.  I've said this before and I'll say it again.  Things are not always as they seem.  I am aware of the movement of energy. Sometimes there is a sort of "under-current" that I am feeling which is telling a different story than the one my ego is telling.  When my mind is clear and calm I can sense the guidance from the Divine.  Trusting what I'm feeling even if it doesn't make sense on the surface..... Makes me a yogi.

Observation #8:  If it's been a few days since I've been to the mat.....I feel the difference mentally and physically.   I am a yogi.   There's no doubt about it, I make better choices when my practice is consistent and strong. When I feel myself being a slacker, it just takes one practice to remind me what makes me a yogi is getting back to the mat.

I am a yogi but I am also human.  I forget, then I remember.  I fall off the wagon, I climb back on.  I have a judgemental thought, I recognize it as judgemental and I let it go.  I don't want to be defined by my mistakes but rather how I learn from the mistakes and how I practice living my life. 

What makes me a yogi?  The fact that even though I am not perfect (sorry SD.... not everything is perfect) and even though I don't see perfection in everything all the time..... I still get up each day with the intention of doing the next right thing.  What makes me a yogi?  The fact that even when I want to stay in bed with the covers over my head, I get up and do sadhana.  What makes me a yogi?  I can love more easily (not perfect but practicing) I can forgive more easily (not perfect but practicing)  Yoga is a practice.  It's a way of life.  We/I am not perfect but as long as we are practicing, we are yogis. 

Om Namah Shivaya!!