Nourish yourself so you can Serve Others

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I recently read an article written by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. In this article Tim explains  how he tries to hold himself to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?” This quote inspired Tim to come forward and share with the world that he is gay.

In the article he talks about how he has benefited from the sacrifice of others and if sharing this personal information about himself can inspire or comfort others, then it is worth the trade-off of the privacy that he values so deeply. I was touched by the entire article but the last line stuck with me and became my inspiration for last weeks classes. “We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.”

On the mat last week I offered Tim’s message to my students; and asked them to perhaps dedicate their practice to connecting with their own “brick”.  As we began on our backs, warming up the spine and the core I reminded them to nourish and serve themselves on their mats. Yoga is a selfish practice; it is all about the person in their moment, not about anyone else. Once we nourish and replenish ourselves, then we can turn our energy outward and serve others. First we work from the inside both Physically through the Asana on the mat, and then Spiritually through the Breath and Meditation and from there we have all we need to connect to our “Brick” and contribute to the building of the Sunlit Path.

As our flow intensified it was almost like a dance, bringing the collective energy together in the room. We moved from Plank into Fallen Triangle (pictured above) and then into flipped Downward Dog and by doing so several times, heated and nourished the body. From there, we twisted to wring out the spine and release tension stored there, creating the space that is needed inside in order to give outward. Balancing was next; and with our focus on the intention of  Paving the Sunlit Path Together, we explored Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana (Standing hand to toe pose) and then Warrior 3 into Half Moon to cultivate more lightness.

Off the mat we get to choose how we want to live our lives; if we have the capacity to serve others once we nourish ourselves. I connected deeply to the Tim Cook’s description of a sunlit path being created one brick at a time by all of us. Seemingly small acts can build bricks because kind acts inspires more kindness in the giver and receiver. It is a ripple effect; it builds the path. I found myself again explaining the message of Tim Cook’s article, this time to my daughter just last night, and I was again inspired. We all have an obligation and even more importantly, the opportunity…the gift of giving to others.

On our mats the pace began to slow; transitioning into hip opening and gentle back-bending and then ultimately into Savasana. As they rested, I asked my students to visualize the sunlit path, the bricks being laid down one by one and then again to ask themselves “What is my brick?”

I took a moment to ask myself the same question, What is my brick? How am I of service to others? I felt Gratitude in the answers that came and gratitude for the gift that I have been given to teach and grow with this practice both on my mat and in my life.  It allows me to find the space I need within myself, to then Serve others. I also felt deep Gratitude to Tim Cook for having the courage to ask himself powerful questions, to hold himself to high standards and for reminding us all that we have the power both individually and as a collective  to “Pave the Sunlit Path Toward Justice Together, Brick by Brick”. Namaste.

 

Find Gratitude for the chance to be a student and a teacher both on the mat and off

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The inspiration for my classes last week unfolded gradually in 4 different ways. It all started as I was studying for my latest Anatomy quiz  and my daughter observed excitedly that I was both a teacher AND a student. I thought about that for a moment and I responded back that, in fact, each of us is a Teacher and a Student. I explained to her what I meant and I think she understood in a 10 yr old kind of way.

A couple of days later, I had the pleasure of taking a class with Dana Flynn, owner of Laughing Lotus in NYC, and as I settled down on my mat I was introduced to the student next to me. I asked her if she was a teacher and she looked at me almost forlornly and said that she was just an avid student….and again I had the chance to share my inspiration for the week… I reminded her that we are ALL Students and Teachers . As Dana began to speak, she inspired me further. She reminded us that the more we practice, the more we uncover our true self; that Yoga has the power to bring us closer to who we truly are and allow us to become students of ourselves.

From class, I headed to my Anatomy lecture, where again I found myself as a student. I learned information about the movement of the pelvis that I had never known before. At first, it scared me as it brings into question some of the thousand year old practices that we Yoga Teachers live by, but then I was able to find acceptance at the new perspective and gratitude for the reminder and the opportunity to be a student and the teacher on and off my mat.

On our mats last week, I asked my students to spend time in their practice in order to become deeper students of their own Bodies and their own hearts. As we started in Childs pose and moved to Cat/Cows we began to mobilize the hips by lifting the leg and drawing it forward and back and out to the side. Then we moved through our Sun Salutations and as we began to twist in Revolved Trikonasana, I reminded everyone to be their own teacher on the mat and to be a student of their bodies. If that meant letting the hips travel with the spine into their twist, I invited them to explore that. From there we moved into Revolved Half Moon and I offered the same reminder, be your own teacher and student on the mat today, listen to what your body is teaching you.

As we crafted half and full Hanumanasana and built towards Visvamitrasana (pictured above) I again asked my students to remember their task, their practice that day…to be their own teacher and the student of their bodies; to find joy in what they were discovering and allow confusion to lead to knowledge and ultimately, inner truth. When we are students, we have to keep the mind open to accept the information without judgement. We have the luxury of not being expected to know it all. So, whatever their body was teaching them, I asked them to accept that knowledge without judgement, to experience and learn and enjoy the journey.

Just as they were asking questions of their bodies on the mat, I asked them to take that learning off the mat; to explore habitual behavior that may not be serving them in their lives; to ask questions as a Student of Life…. even if the answers are unknown. And to also remind themselves of the Teacher they are. We all have something to offer; to teach….that is why we are here.

As they began to move into deep back bending with the promise of Savasana, I felt the breath begin to release. Then as they settled into Corpse Pose, I again became aware of my own journey; Of what a gift it is to be a Student and a Teacher both on my mat and off and the incredible Gratitude I feel. Gratitude for all my Teachers on the mat and in my life and Gratitude to all my amazing students who allow me to be their Teacher, and who are my Teachers as well. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

Cherish the everyday miracles all around you

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Over the last 10 years on my journey as a Yoga Teacher, I have continued to become more fascinated with what the body can do. I read and study bodies on my own but I always want to know more. So, for the first time in many many years, I am studying again. I am reading Kiniesology books, attending weekly 3 hour lectures, taking quizzes and I am excited about it. Last week in Anatomy class we studied the skeletal structure of the feet; how they are perfectly structured with three arches that distribute the weight of our entire bodies for our entire lives. That is truly miraculous. Nature discovered millions of years ago what it took Man thousands of years to discover; the power of the arch in architectural design; how it allows for distribution of weight evenly so beautiful structures can be created without needing support columns.

As I began to craft my message last week, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how miraculous the design of the feet actually are . I remembered a quote I had seen from Albert Einstein “There are two ways to live your life. One way is as though nothing is a miracle. The other way is as though everything is” Appreciating the everyday miracles that happen each day around us, in our bodies, on our mats and in our worlds as well; that was my inspiration for classes last week.

So, as practice began, I shared this inspiration with my students. I asked them to take a moment as they held the soles of their feet in Baddha Konasana to connect to the miracle that is the largest arch of the foot.  As we flowed through our Sun Salutes, we focused on connecting to not just the largest (medial) arch but one of the smaller ones as well, the (lateral) arch on the pinky toe side of the foot. I reminded them to be aware of the feet and to press through all four points on them. We used Vashistasana (side plank) to connect deeper to the outer edge of the foot and Virasana to connect to the top of the foot; where the third arch (that creates the half dome shape of the foot) resides.

As we balanced in Tree pose, I asked them to appreciate the everyday miracle that was occurring; one perfectly designed foot was equally distributing the weight of the entire body.  Then we practiced Bakasana (crow pose) which asks us to not use the feet at all. This served as reminder of how much we would miss them if we didn’t have them. As we explored handstand, we practiced not just lifting mindfully into it,  but how to move out of the pose in a mindful way, in a way that truly protects all of the 26 bones in each foot. The 52 bones in those two structures take us where we want to go, both on our mats and off…truly miraculous.

Just like we very rarely focus on our feet off the mat (perhaps only when we think about what we are putting on them), there are many other everyday miracles that we may not connect with; things that just work, just fall into place each day; that we tend to take for granted  until they stop working. So, as I reveled in the miracle of the feet last week, I also challenged myself to find some everyday miracles off the mat. I realized that I needed to be grateful for the days my son wakes up, dresses himself and heads downstairs excited for school, instead of just frustrated on the days he doesn’t. I also connected to the miracle of the incredible pinkish orange that the leaves on my favorite tree are turning in front of my eyes. These are the everyday miracles that we could all just miss…..or not. We get to choose. “There are two ways to live your life. One way is as though nothing is a miracle. The other way is as though everything is”

As I taught my classes last week, I found myself more connected to the miracles happening on the yoga mats around me. I saw muscles lengthening and strengthening and backs and hips finding flexibility. I saw feet opening and hearts opening too. I felt connections to the everyday miracles happening all around us. By reminding others to cherish their everyday miracles on and off their mats, I was REMINDED of mine as well. HOW MIRACULOUS.  Namaste.

 

 

 

Unattach and Be Free

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Last week, we had our town vote. The next morning, as I was removing some of the posters that had been hung up around town, I began to feel lighter.  With that behind me, I started to think about my message for the week and it became very clear to me. Non-Attachment. See, the bond had passed which was great, but it was a close vote. And one of the reasons it was close was because the waters had become clouded with confusing and conflicting information. I had a choice to make, do I cultivate negative attachment to those “cloudy” messages or do I free myself of all of it and let it go.

I looked at Patanjali’s Sutras to remind myself of his explanation of Non-Attachment. Non-Attachment is to free the mind of clutter or perhaps “cloudy” messages, so it is possible to instead find focus in what is happening in the moment. Vairagya, which means Non-Attachment literally translates as “colorless”. Each desire brings its own color to the mind. When the color comes to the mind, a distraction in the mind occurs and there is not space for peace and focus. A restless mind cannot have a steady practice.

So I asked my classes last week to connect to Non-Attachment both on the mat and off.   To start, they were to think about a pose that they have become attached to on their mats, either one they always needed or wanted to do or one that seemed to elude them. Once they identified that, I asked them to make their practice about surrendering that attachment. Then I also asked them to identify something off the mat that they were “attached” to that was not serving them, perhaps an event or emotion or past experience that they would be happier and lighter to release attachment from.

These classes were an opportunity for me to share my past attachment on my mat as well, a pose that I had struggled with and wished for when I first became a yoga teacher. It was Mayurasana (Peacock pose, pictured above). I shared with them that the pose only found me once I surrendered my attachment to mastering it. It is funny how the universe works. Sometimes the things we covet and wish for so much, allude us until we can surrender the need for them.

After warming up with Sun Salutes we began to build up to our peak pose, Mayurasana.  We connected to the core and pelvic floor (bandhas) through abdominal warm up, Bakasana and Malasana squats. We discovered our opportunity for balancing using Uttita Hasta Padangustasana and Warrior Three and we stretched and prepared the wrists by moving the hands in all different directions in our Standing Splits and forward bends.

And then it was time. Time to break apart Mayurasana and try it step by step. I reminded my students that this process, this slow building up, actually wasn’t about achieving Mayurasana …but rather the practice of surrendering the need to achieve it, to create a non-attachment to the end result and allow us to appreciate the journey to get there.

Off the mat, in my case, once I was able to surrender the end result of our town vote…both the good and the not as good parts of it….I was able to appreciate the journey of it all. I felt empowered, happy and light knowing that my intentions were true and that I was able to work with people that I truly respected. The end became less important as I remembered the journey to get there. So, of course just as I was happy the vote went the way I wanted, so were the few students who achieved Mayurasana last week for the first time.  However, I reminded them that perhaps Mayurasana found them as it had me, because we weren’t coveting it. When we judge ourselves harshly or have envy in our hearts, our true needs are not fulfilled. Once we let go of attachments, we then have clarity and space for enlightenment to come, and maybe that ever elusive pose as well.

As Savasana came and  I watched my students begin to move their practice off the mat by connecting to the opportunity to non-attach to what was not serving them in their lives, I found the opportunity to do the same. The practice of Non-Attachment is just that, a practice, the more we explore it, the freer we become. In addition, it is a journey…one I am grateful to be on. Namaste.

 

Be Grateful

gratitude Last week, I was riding the commuter train from my home to NYC. I was reading emails and my mind began to wander to what my inspiration for the week was going to be. It hadn’t come to me yet and I was teaching the next three days. Just as I began to go over my week in my mind, looking for a glimmer of inspiration, I lifted my head from looking at my phone to instead gaze out the window.

I am fortunate to live right near the Hudson River and the train runs along it so I usually sit on the River side of the train to enjoy the view.  But this day, for no clear reason, as the train was pretty empty; I sat on the other side of the train car. At the exact moment I looked up and out the window, in my direct view was a billboard that just said 1 word, GRATITUDE. Sometimes, I have to look deeply for my message but not this week. It was right there in front of me.

On my way home, I sat on that same side of the train so I could snap a picture of this inspirational billboard. I kept wondering why it was there. There was no logo, it didn’t appear to be selling a thing…just the word GRATITUDE. So, I did what any Yogi would do, I googled “GRATITUDE billboard Bronx NY” and I got my answer. This billboard was the work of  a New York Artist named Peter Tunney. He had noticed many unused billboards around NY and decided that he wanted to create inspirational messages to help balance out all of the negative messages we are receiving every day through various media channels. So, he approached owners of unsold billboards and asked if he could display his messages. On that train ride, that day, that message was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you Peter Tunney

So, on our mats we practiced the simple inspirational message of gratitude last week. Very basic, very focused and very positive.  As we began our practice in Savasana as we often do, I asked my students to connect with the Gratitude of just being on their mats that day and as we wrapped the arms and legs into Eagle pose on our backs to begin the abdominal warm up I asked them to be grateful that their elbows bend, regardless of how much.

From there we moved into our Sun Salutes. Suynamaskara A and B are always times for me to connect to Gratitude;  Gratitude for what is already available but also Gratitude for what will become available as the body warms and loosens. We used Eagle arms quite a bit in our practice, first reclined then later in Warrior and then the full Eagle Pose in our balancing series. Whenever I am teaching a Gratitude message, I like to come back to a pose several times throughout the practice because it allows us to cultivate Gratitude for a little more space or a little more focus or a little more breath/movement connection…there is so much to be grateful for.

As we again went deeper using bound Parsvokonasana with a transition to bound lizard, I asked my students to notice the difference from one side to the next. See, we can always find fault with one side…this is my tight side etc., but I asked them instead to find Gratitude for the more open side. It’s a simple change in perspective..focusing on what is available, instead of what is not.

The key to all of this off the mat is finding Gratitude not just in the big things but in the small gifts as well;  like sitting on the other side of the train that day so as to see Peter Tunney’s beautiful message, or the little things our bodies offer us each day.

In the last two weeks, I have learned of two different women who had fallen in ways that could happen to any of us. In each of these cases, tragically, they had broken their necks and are paralyzed. One moment all was normal and the next everything changed…forever. As I tied this back to our simple message of Gratitude to my students, I asked them to be grateful for whatever their bodies could do. Be grateful for the bind on one side even if it wasn’t available on the other, be grateful to be able to stand tall in Tadasana (mountain pose) and to lengthen in Downward Dog.  And to also be grateful for the everyday inspiration that is sometimes subtle and sometimes calling to you on a Billboard.

Moving into Savasana, slowly and mindfully I asked them to begin to move that Gratitude off the mat. Be grateful for the little things and the big things, the everyday things and the AHA moments. just BE GRATEFUL. Namaste.

Make the Choice for Conscious Action

 

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I went to my daughter’s back to school night a couple of weeks ago. Her school is very focused on character education and one of the tenants mentioned caught my attention. It was a question, When is inaction, action? I spent a bit of time pondering this concept and its different interpretations both on the mat and off. There are a couple ways to interpret this and use it on the mat and they are both powerful.

Last week I had a complicated task for my students. I asked them to really listen to their bodies. Sometimes on our mats, we hold poses for quite a while. The instructor dictates how many breathes and we allow ourselves to be led in that fashion. However, by not releasing when we need to…inaction, we could be creating a negative action; not listening to the body. Forcing, holding or going past our edge, can result in injury…an action that we would not want.

As we began to warm up the core on our backs and transitioned slowly into our opening Sun Salutes, I reminded my students of this powerful concept.  I asked the students to work at the pace that was right for them, to make deliberate actions both in their bodies and minds. We added reverse Vinyasas in between each sequence as a way to practice this concept further. When we come out of our comfort zone, move in a way that is different, it sometimes becomes easier to listen to the body; to not just do what we always do even if it doesn’t serve us.

I offered Childs pose several times during this practice as an invitation to experience how conscious inaction could create a positive action. When we rest, we revitalize and create a positive action through inaction. Pigeon worked in much the same way. As we settled deeply into Pigeon pose I asked the students to breathe intentionally and through that breath to focus the mind and channel energy into their hips. From the outside this could look like inaction…stillness….. but there was so much action happening. Tightness and stress was being released and lightness and space was being found…an incredible action from “inaction”.

Off the mat, this question has a different answer. At my daughter’s school they are working to empower kids to stand up for what they believe in and to feel accountable if they witness hurtful behavior and do not take any action. I have been working with this concept in my own life as well recently as I have been part of a  group of people who are trying to inspire and motivate a town to turn up to the polls tomorrow to vote.

By not voting…inaction…. one may be creating a negative action. I have written and talked about this concept in my off-the-mat life several times. I call it the “those people” concept. Sometimes we have the tendency by our inaction, to leave decisions in “those other people who might know better’s”  hands. By not taking action or making a choice we are empowering others to decide for us. Sometimes that inaction works out just fine, but we have to remember that regardless; through that choice to not act (inaction), an action is happening…and it may not be the one that best serves us.

As we slowed down in Bridge Pose and then spinal twisting on our backs, I asked my students to start to transition what we had practiced on the mat into an off-the-mat application. We had explored this concept two different ways on our mats; Firstly, how NOT listening to the body by coming out or modifying (inaction) could cause a negative action (injury) and Secondly, how what may appear as inaction (childs pose or pigeon pose) can actually create a very positive action.

Off the mat, there is only one interpretation. So as they settled into the final rest…perhaps the ultimate display of inaction…..I asked them to use the time for action. To dedicate those few moments to creating a positive action off the mat. As they wiggled their fingers and toes and rolled to their right sides in preparation for our final seated moment together, I felt an active calmness in the room. I felt a wave of gratitude for how fortunate we all are to have the opportunity to Consciously Choose Our Actions Both ON and OFF the MAT. Namaste

 

Positive Energy can Change the World

 

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This past Sept 11th snuck up on me. When I turned on the news that morning, I wasn’t prepared.  I was watching the coverage from ground zero as my 10 year old daughter was getting ready for school and she looked over at me just as a tear rolled down my face. She asked me why I was crying and I told her honestly that this day, 13 years ago was the day when everything changed, when we no longer felt invincible in this country anymore. There was a fear that came to all of us that day that has never left.

Then later that same day, I had the pleasure of attending a training with Seane Corn. Seane talked a lot about energy, how real and palpable it is and how collective energy can be channeled and felt. Fear is a real emotion and when we feel fear, that is what we are sending out into the world for other people to experience. Cultivating a collective energy of love and peace, (not fear) and sending THAT out into the universe is a service we can all provide as human beings in contributing to the greater good.The collective energy of grief can be felt on days like 9/11. When we do something to make the situation better in some way, it is a chance to make peace with the hopelessness and the helplessness. Seane calls this prayer and I tend to agree.

Clearly I had a lot to inspire me  as I crafted my class for 9/11. I knew I wanted to explore the hips, where some of our deepest fear and emotions live. I asked my students to practice creating this collective positive loving energy on their mats and direct it to a person or a situation that touched them near or far away. As we began to breathe in unison through Suynamaskaras A and B, the unity of energy began to be palpable in the room. I felt the students begin to let go of some of their fear, fear of failure, fear of taking a break and even some fears they may have been grappling with off the mat. We went deep into the shoulders with binding and Gomukasana arms to help us release the fear we could have been storing there, with the hope that with space, comes love and the continual building of this powerful collective energy.

As we moved deeper into the practice and stripped away the pretense and fear, the mood in the room lightened. The positive energy continued to be strong and we started to laugh, to be light. Once we had released the grief and the fear, we could find happiness, joy and love (both on our mats and off) for ourselves and for the world around us. We went deeper into binds and arm balanced from there and then came into deeper hip openers. In Pigeon and then Gomukasana, I asked the students to connect to what they were feeling in their bodies and what emotions came up for them. To accept what is there, not to judge it. To let it go if it wasn’t serving them and create positive energy in it’s place. Back bending and more hip opening on their backs cultivated a reconnection to the earth.

As the students moved into Savasana, the air felt heavy, it had a sound almost….a buzzing, and as I walked around the room adjusting everyone, I could feel the energy coming off their bodies and I knew we had achieved our intention.

On a day of grief for all of us, we acknowledged it, we let it go and we cultivated a collective energy of love and peace and sent that out into the world. Seane says she doesn’t know if this collective positive energy can change the world. What she does know is  how damaging negative energy is and can be.

On Sept 11th of all days, in a yoga studio less than 20 miles from ground zero, I became convinced that positive energy can in fact change the world. I  believe that we can be of service to ourselves, our communities and our world when we create this collective positive energy, in our yoga practice and in our lives. We have the power. Namaste.