Make the choice to “Feed your Good Wolf”

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Happy New Year. The last month or so, I had found myself not in my best head. I had been having a bit of writers block but also felt the weight on my shoulders of not writing as it is often therapeutic for me.  A few days ago, I read a short Indian tale that helped me realize my own battle and allowed me to move back to a positive place. As soon as I read it, I knew it was meant to be my inspiration for this week.

ONE EVENING, AN ELDERLY CHEROKEE BRAVE TOLD HIS GRANDSON ABOUT A BATTLE THAT GOES ON INSIDE PEOPLE.

HE SAID “MY SON, THE BATTLE IS BETWEEN TWO ‘WOLVES’ INSIDE US ALL. ONE IS EVIL. IT IS ANGER, ENVY, JEALOUSY, SORROW, REGRET, GREED, ARROGANCE, SELF-PITY, GUILT, RESENTMENT, INFERIORITY, LIES, FALSE PRIDE, SUPERIORITY, AND EGO.

THE OTHER IS GOOD. IT IS JOY, PEACE, LOVE, HOPE, SERENITY, HUMILITY, KINDNESS, BENEVOLENCE, EMPATHY, GENEROSITY, TRUTH, COMPASSION AND FAITH.”

THE GRANDSON THOUGH ABOUT IT FOR A MINUTE AND THEN ASKED HIS GRANDFATHER: “WHICH WOLF WINS?…”

THE OLD CHEROKEE SIMPLY REPLIED,”THE ONE THAT YOU FEED”

I read this story to each of my classes this past week, and as we began to warm the body with Suynamaska A and B, I reminded them to ask themselves which “Wolf” they were feeding.

As we flowed through our poses, we realized that the mat is a very powerful place to practice feeding the “Good Wolf”.  Many of the “Evil Wolf” qualities can show themselves in our yoga practice. Feeling Envious of someone’s pose or body is an example. Inferiority (harsh judgment of ourselves) is another and Ego is potentially the most powerful. Ego on the mat can bring us past our edge physically to injury and create judgment in the mind. So, we practiced making the choice to feed our “Good Wolf” by being Kind and Generous with ourselves which leads us closer to our Truth.

Even as we explored more advanced poses such as Eka Pada Koundinyasana (pictured above) I reminded the students to “feed their Good Wolf” by finding Joy in the trying and Compassion for themselves along the journey. By feeding the “Good Wolf” within the safe space of our yoga mat, we become better able to do it off the mat.

Whether on the mat or off the mat both of these “Wolves” live inside us. However, we get to CHOOSE which one we nurture; which one we “Feed”. What I have found over the past few weeks is that the “Evil Wolf” is sneaky… there does not need to be some huge negative event or moment in your life to draw out the “Evil Wolf”. A series of small frustrations or annoyances can strengthen it quickly. What I have also learned however is that the “Good Wolf” is tough and resilient and even if it is not fully nourished for a time, it can become stronger and overpower the “Evil Wolf” as soon as it is fed again.

We wound down the practice and the students transitioned into their rest. As they came out of Savasana, we sat together in quiet meditation for a last moment together. I asked them to pledge to themselves in this new year to feed their “Good Wolf”; to allow it to be strong and nourished as it will guide them on their journey towards their dreams. I also thanked them for sharing their “Good Wolf” energy with me as that energy was just one more way I could feed my own. Wishing peace and love to all in 2016. Namaste.

 

Use 5 simple steps and make the decision to be Happy

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It doesn’t happen often but once in a while I am inspired by something I read on Facebook. I read a post written by a nursing home employee who was checking in a 92 year old woman who had recently lost her husband and before that, most of her sight. This employee is recounting the experience of bringing this woman to her new room after she had waited several hours to be checked in. As she walked the woman to her room she began to describe what the woman would find once she came to her room. This woman said that she loved her room already even though she hadn’t seen it yet because she had already decided to love it. “It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice.” She then went on to explain “Each day is a gift and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in filling my memory bank. I am still depositing.” Then she gave this employee her five simple rules to be happy. 1. Free your Heart from Hatred. 2. Free your Mind from Worries. 3. Live Simply 4. Give More. 5. Expect Less.

With those 5 simple rules to guide our practice we began to flow on our mats. As we moved through our opening Sun Salutations, we began to free the heart from hatred (judgment of ourselves and others) and the mind from worry (surrendering the clutter). As we worked deeper using Vashistasana A (side plank) and Vashistasana B (Fallen Triangle) there was a feeling of release in the room, a letting go of negative energy (complexity) and from there the opportunity to find clarity, space and simplicity. We set our full intention to our practice as we explored Bakasana and Eka Pada Bakasana (1 knee to upper arm, the other leg straight) but let go of the expectations to achieve them.

What we begin on the mat can continue off. So much about this story inspired me but the rules for happiness are how I try to live my life. Ironically, I had the chance to put them to use last weekend as I happened to be at a party where my best friend from high school (who I had had a falling out with 20 years ago) also was. I made the decision to be happy, to free myself from any anger I felt at how I had been mistreated so many years ago. I let go of the worry in my head as I walked up to her, gave her a hug and told her how nice it was to see her. I surrendered the potential complexity of the situation and just let it be simple. I gave her the chance to make amends which she graciously did even though I wasn’t expecting her to. Simple but powerful rules that I am grateful to live by.

Back on the mat, we began to slow down and transition into Savasana. I reminded my students, this is where the work truly begins; the choice to be happy starts and ends in the mind. As we sat for our final moments together in meditation, I repeated the rules and reminded them of the wisdom of that special 92 year old woman. I wished for us all that we continue to deposit happy memories into our bank until the day we leave this earth and that we make the choice each day to be happy. I repeated the rules once more for them and for myself.  1. Free your heart from Hatred. 2. Free your mind from worries. 3. Live Simply 4. Give More. 5. Expect Less. Be Happy. Namaste. 

 

Release your Heaviness and Connect to your Light

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Last week I had lunch with an old friend. We worked together about 20 years ago and as we were reminiscing and catching up, she mentioned she had also seen another old colleague on her NY visit. I was reminded of the compassion I had felt for this colleague so long ago when we all worked together. I remember thinking that she was someone who was looking for the outside world to make her happy inside; she hadn’t connected to her internal light. I was sad to hear that the situation seemed very much the same today, 20 years later. This information served as a reminder that inside each of us lives the power we need to make ourselves happy. It’s called Sukha Shakti; translated as radical happiness.

On our mats this week I asked my students to use their Yoga practice to connect to the energy and light that lives inside each of them. It takes space in the mind to connect to our Sukha Shakti; that is what Yoga can offer.

As we began our Asana practice,  I asked my students to remember their true practice; to feel and connect to their Sukha Shakti and not to worry so much about the physical poses but rather the energy building within them.  Sun Salutations began the work of waking up this radical energy.

As we flowed from high lunge into balancing and then explored Bakasana, I reminded the students not to “get in their own way” in their minds but instead to feel their Shakti–their happiness– that lives inside them all the time. On the mat and off we can be harsh critics of ourselves. This creates heaviness and can dampen our internal light. We can convince ourselves we can’t do something and the more we practice releasing that pattern of thought on the mat, the more adept we are to do the same off the mat.

Shakti becomes stronger as burdens and heaviness begin to release. As we  surrender tension and heaviness, we open the channels for energy to flow and find a deeper connection to our light. I visualize Shakti to be our internal Sun. It is always there, sometimes the sun is harder to see…covered by clouds or stormy weather and sometimes it shines bright. Unlike the cosmic sun, with our own internal one; we can control the weather.

We played with inversions at the wall to find a deeper opening in the shoulders. Some explored forearm stand and others handstand but it wasn’t about the pose. Again I tasked them with connecting to their lightness and what better way to move energy than to be upside down.

From there we moved to ankle to knee pose and pigeon to find space in the hips. We used props to explore a deep heart opening in Urvdha Dhanurasana (upward bow pose) as a way to begin to shine this energy outward and then we slowed down and came into our final rest.

As the students lay still in Savsana, I began to think again about this woman who seems to have “gotten in her own way”. I still feel compassion for her and wish I could send some of my Shakti her way. Even more than that,  I hope she can find a practice that gives her the chance to connect to the happiness that is already inside her.

As we sat in final meditation, we found a moment of gratitude; Gratitude for our practice on the mat, Gratitude for the opportunity to bring the practice off the mat and Gratitude for the Sukha Shakti within all of us. Namaste.

 

 

Change patterns today to effect your journey tomorrow

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Last week I had lunch with my recently retired Aunt. We were catching up and talking about my daughter starting Middle School. My Aunt began to recount her (not so fond) memories of her own Middle School experience; a time of social awkwardness and angst that many of us experienced. We then went on to discuss what she was up to; she was starting classes at a community college and she was having trouble connecting with the other students…many of whom are around her age and life stage. She mentioned feeling anxious and socially awkward and we joked about the parallels to Middle School. She then told me, she wasn’t giving up. She was going to work through this to create the life she wanted, even at 76.

The conversation inspired me to think about Samskaras (habitual thoughts) and the process of self-awareness as the first step towards changing negative patterns that can occur. The inspiration was this: Our journey is ongoing and with self-awareness, positive change can always happen.

Our past thoughts and actions leave impressions (Samskaras—habits) stored in our subconscious memory. They are like grooves or ruts in our unconscious mind, which manifest as our mental habits and tendencies. They can be both positive and negative. In fact, we all have supportive habits that we perform. Yoga teaches that our past actions and thoughts have created the template out of which we have the opportunity to grow and evolve, right here…right now.

As we began practice, I asked my students to be observers on their mats; to begin to create awareness around their personal Samskaras both on their mat and off. As we flowed through a challenging practice there were many poses that were the same as a typical practice but we transitioned into them in different ways–to explore breaking from our habits, to be true observers of the mind and the body.

Just as on the mat we can create repetitive stress injuries from bad habits in our bodies, off the mat we can repeat cycles of thoughts and actions that sometimes do not help us on our path. The first step is awareness, and from there comes change. This concept of repetitive thoughts and actions setting up patterns ties in to several principles of Karma. As we continued our Asana practice, I shared three of those principles.

Principle 4: The Sacred Principle of Growth: Wherever you go, there you are. For us to grow in spirit, it is we who must change and not the people, places, or things around us. The only given we have in our lives is ourselves. That is the only factor we have control over. When we change who and what we are within our heart, our life changes too.

Principle 9: The Sacred Principle of Here and Now: Looking back to examine what was, prevents us from being totally in the Here and Now. Old thoughts, old patterns of behavior, old dreams….prevent us from having new ones

Principle 10: The Sacred Principle of Change: History repeats itself until we learn the lessons that we need to change our path.

As practice began to slow and the students prepared themselves for their final rest I asked them once again to observe any habitual thoughts in Savasana; to continue the awareness. I also asked them to connect to the sacred principles of Karma and to use them to continue on the path of awareness and change. I reminded them that what we need to alter our journey lives inside us. And as I watched them surrender into stillness,  I was again inspired by my Aunt and her journey. It was a reminder that with the Continual Process of Self-Awareness, Amazing Change can Happen. Namaste.

 

Learn who are you becoming on and off your mat

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“Yoga poses are not about the postures. They are about who you are becoming as you learn them” I read this quote last week and it was powerful. It reminded me of an interesting process that usually happens as we explore our yoga journey. Often we are drawn to Yoga for the physical benefits but as we get deeper into the practice we begin to care less about the physical poses and more about what that time and movement on our mats lets us connect with deep within ourselves. As we flow on our mats, we become grateful for the opportunity to get in touch with who we are becoming in our hearts and spirits as well as our bodies.

So, last week I asked my students to let their practice not be “all about the postures” but rather about connecting with who they are and who they are becoming as they do them.

We began with Bridge pose and I asked the students to ground down through their feet and let their hearts lift to the sky. From there we explored a modified vinyasa for our transitions which can be hard for the “hard core” in us but served as a reminder it isn’t “about the postures”.  We went from hands and knees, to knees, chest and chin on the mat, then pressed up to cat pose and back to DD several times to surrender the Chaturanga for a while.

Later in the practice as we entered Pigeon pose I explained that this pose is a good example of our practice  because the changes in Pigeon pose happen largely in the mind.  We have days where we have a bit more space but for the most part there is not very far to “go” to conquer Pigeon. That being said, usually when we are new to Yoga, Pigeon can be pretty excruciating simply because there are very few other types of activity that stretch the Piriformis and deep lateral rotators of the hip. Through time and practice, most of us come to like Pigeon in some form. Usually this process….this acceptance and appreciation…. comes from the mind; it is a chance to reflect on who we are becoming as we enter this pose as a comparison to who we were the first time.

We used Bakasana (pictured above) to practice this in a different way.  I asked my students to think about who they were becoming and not about the posture. As we engaged our bandhas and pressed down through the hands, finding strength, length and lightness I asked them to think not about “achieving” Bakasana  but instead about being okay with where they are in the pose and more importantly who they are.

Throughout the week I thought about my continual evolution as a Yoga Teacher; what I have and continue to “become”.  I realized that among other things, I have become the type of teacher that finds a lot of joy in watching my students “do their own thing”. When I see a student feeling free enough and connected enough in that moment to do something different…to not worry about getting into the correct shape, it makes me feel happy with what they are becoming.

As we slowed the practice and came back to Bridge pose once again,  I reminded my students once again to ground down through the feet and lift their hearts to the sky and  I wished for all of us to BECOME that off the mat as well; to find grounding and stability yet feel free enough to let our hearts soar towards the sky. Namaste.

Opposing forces can create a perfect balance

 

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This week I was cleaning out some papers and I stumbled across a contract that I had my daughter sign a month ago when she got her cell phone. It had a list of the rules and you could imagine what those are but one of the rules of the contract was to never send a text or email in anger. As I re read the contract before I filed it away, that rule stuck with me. We were basically asking her to step back and look at all sides of the situation before responding. It seemed to me perhaps a rule that each of us should follow for ourselves.

This concept inspired me and I realized that this idea can apply on the mat and off. In taking a step back and gaining perspective what we gain is the opportunity to find balance. Patanjali speaks of this in Sutra 33. “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of.” He asks us to invite the opposite (positive) thought in an effort to negate the negative thought, to create balance in our mind. The same is true in our asana practice, we use opposing forces to create stability and strength in our bodies.

As we flowed through our Sun Salutations we used Plank Pose as a reminder of opposing forces at work. There is a strengthening required of both the superficial and deep core muscles, hip flexors are working to keep the thighs up opposing gravity and the quadriceps are working to prevent the knees from buckling towards the floor. Plank is a true stabilization pose and because of that it is very strengthening as well.

The same holds true in the mind. When we feel stable and balanced we are mentally and spiritually stronger to handle whatever energy comes our way and when we are able to counteract negative thoughts with opposing positive ones we create clarity, confidence and stability within ourselves.

Back on the mat, we stretched the muscles of the shoulder girdle and chest with Eagle arms and Gomukasana arms in Warrior 1 and then as we slowed down the practice we used Purvottonasana (version pictured above) to complement all of our Plank exploration. Purvottanasana is the perfect counter pose to plank. It stretches the muscles that are strengthening in plank and strengthens the opposing muscles.

From there they moved into Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined bound ankle) and then into Savasana. As they settled on their backs for Savasana, I asked them to release the oppositional forces in the body and surrender to gravity; feeling the lightness and heaviness that comes with that at the same time. From there the practice becomes about  mind; gaining perspective by using opposing thoughts to create balance there as well; When we counter the negative with a positive we give ourselves the GIFT and the STRENGTH that Balance provides, both On and Off the mat. Namaste.

 

 

 

See Goodness all around you by seeing it in yourself

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It’s been a while since I have written. It feels good to be back. Last week I arrived home from the trip of a lifetime; an African Safari. My family and I got to see all kinds of creatures and we developed such an appreciation for the wonderment of nature. Each animal has unique characteristics that help them survive in their own special ways. We humans have those as well. We have the power to be resourceful, to control the mind and to create happiness for ourselves.

There were many inspirational moments on the trip but on the last day, there was a moment that stuck with me. It is a strange feeling when you say goodbye to someone who you have spent 10 hours a day with for a while but you know you will likely never see again.  As I was standing on an airstrip in the middle of the Serengeti about to board a small plane to begin our journey home, I hugged our driver Emmanuel goodbye. At that moment he said “Do you know why you saw so much on your Safari? Because good people see good things.” I told him that he was speaking about Karma, a principle that I live my life by and thanked him for his compliment. As I boarded the plane and waved goodbye through the window I realized that the wisdom he imparted on me spanned way beyond our African Safari. And so 36 hours later as I stood in front of my class to teach, it was my inspiration.

As we began to warm up the core with supine Eagle pose, drawing elbows and knees together, I asked my students to connect to the goodness inside of themselves. What we find in ourselves and channel outward is what we receive back. “Good people see good things”.  As I told them my story, I reminded them that the more goodness we find in ourselves, the more goodness we have the chance to find in others. We used our Sun Salutes to build heat (Tapas) in the body to begin to bring the positive energy up to the surface. As we worked into bound Parsvokonasana and then bound Trikonasana, I offered the reminder that being good to ourselves was the priority, not getting into the bind. If we focused on all the goodness that was there for us on the mat, we would see it off the mat as well.

In life, we often encounter people who seem angry, unkind or unhappy. Because they are not connecting to their personal goodness, they are struggling to see the goodness in others. It was just like Safari in some ways, the times we were riding around with no expectations, just an appreciation for the beauty and goodness of the land we were in; that’s when the magic happened… a Cheetah mom and her cubs running alongside our Jeep or  4 young Lions climbing a tree (who knew they could climb) or 30 Elephants showing up to the watering hole right at our hotel. It is moments like that which remind us that the goodness of life is undeniable and putting out that goodness brings it right back.

As we worked through Ustrasana (Camel pose) and Pigeon and from there transitioned into Savasana, I watched as everyone settled into stillness on their mats. I asked them to begin to channel their goodness outward, to think of a person in their lives that needed to receive goodness in order to see it for themselves. Even though I was feeling a bit discombobulated, not yet fully adjusted back to the time zone and the pace of life, I felt a calmness in my heart. I could feel the goodness in my students radiating out and I was very grateful to receive it.  “Good people see good things” so I knew that by sending out all of that goodness, they were going to See So Much.  Namaste.