Release your Heaviness and Connect to your Light



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



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


“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



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


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.

Be open to the beginners mind and find your joy


This past week concluded my 9 month anatomy program. In our last class we were asked to share the most valuable things we each had learned. I cannot fully remember exactly what I said at my turn, but I began to think more about it in the days following. One of the most valuable things I learned was to have a fresh perspective in my own practice and as a teacher…breath and movement together make yoga even if it’s not a pose in a book; it is listening and learning with a beginners mind; an open mind that allows us to grow.

I asked my students to approach practice with a beginners mind this week; to draw upon a positive memory of a first time they experienced something. As we entered into our first Downward Dog on the mat, I reminded students to think about it as if it were their first ever…what could they do to make that pose feel good…and then do it….not to worry about what it looks like. To practice this way on the mat can be a gift because you can strip away expectations for yourself (i.g. to be the best in the class, to get the heels to the floor). Downward Dog can represent a new perspective…a chance to look at your feet in a different way, to turn the world upside down. Even though I encouraged them to have a beginners mind, the practice itself was challenging. Slow moving from High Lunge to Warrior 3 and then Standing Split staying very focused the entire time. We opened the shoulders with deep binds in both Uttitha and Pavritta (revolved) Parsvokanasana and stretched the IT band and hamstrings with Revolved Triangle and Standing Splits.

Pigeon was the pose I used to truly represent the beginners mind. We built up to it using a slow progression; using various piriformis stretches and then moving into a “z sit” position before finding our full pigeon pose; taking it slowly as if it were our first time working towards that deep stretch. All of that prep work along with our open hamstrings and shoulders allowed us to explore Pavritta Surya Yantrasana (Compass pose–pictured above)

Off the mat we can aspire for a beginners mind as well, to find the extraordinary in the everyday miracles in our lives, to practice having a new perspective, the freedom to go outside the box (or the pose on the mat). Sometimes when we know what is coming next we miss what is happening now. To give ourselves the gift to appreciate something as if it is new allows for so much joy along the journey. Nothing helps me to experience that more than being a parent. Getting to see your children experience things (whether “ordinary” or “extraordinary”) for the first time and feel the excitement they have, the willingness to openly accept and live in the moment….that is the beginners mind at its very best.

As we moved into Savasana, the practice changed a bit. The beginners mind in Savasana is often one of angst and impatience. And as we grow in our yoga practice we discover an appreciation for the quietness of mind that can happen once the body is still. Just as our Asana practice this week was physically advanced yet we used our beginners mind, the process of letting go of judgment and expectation, cultivating acceptance and being present in the moment in Savasana is an advanced practice; however each time it  happens it is just as special as the first time. It is through that practice on and off the mat that we find the Joy. Namaste

Learn Lisa’s Lessons



It’s interesting how the universe works. It offers us perspective at just the right time if we are open to receiving it. Memorial Day Weekend I was feeling the passage of time. We went to Florida for a visit. It has been 7 years since we lived there and I felt….old. My inner voice was loud and negative. On the last day of our trip I was working hard to quiet that inner critic and I had a realization. It was 5 years to that very day that I had lost my friend Lisa. Lisa taught me many lessons in a very short time. And 5 years later, the universe reminded me of those lessons once again.

She taught me what a true privilege it is to get older, to experience the passage of time, to watch your children grow up. During her 6 month cancer fight she told me most of all that she was fighting for the privilege of getting laugh lines from years of joy with her children, wrinkles that come from a well lived life and even sun spots from endless hours on the beach (Lisa loved the beach).

She also taught me to truly listen to my body. Lisa had experienced abdominal pain for at least a year before she was diagnosed. She took Advil and Tums and very good care of her two beautiful children and her husband. She didn’t listen to what her body was telling her. Because she gave so much to all those around her she didn’t have much left for herself; she didn’t make herself a priority. We have the opportunity; the gift to care for ourselves. And when we do that, we are that much better for all the people we love in our lives. It is a selfishness that makes us more selfless.

So, as we began on our mats this week I asked my students to share in the wisdom of Lisa’s lessons. To find gratitude in the time that passes, to truly enjoy the moments along the way and to listen and nurture the body and the mind. We began in Supta Baddha Konasana (laying on our backs with feet together and knees out to the side) with one hand on the belly and one on the heart. We warmed up the abdominals and moved into Sun Salutations and let the flow and the breath begin to quiet the inner critic. We flowed, twisted and balanced on our mats to cultivate focus and cleanse the body of unhealthy energy; to practice listening and nurturing our bodies and our minds. We backed off when we needed and explored revolved Parsvokonasana into Eka Pada Koundinyasana (arm balance) only when we felt ready.

The practice of Yoga truly lives off the mat. Finding the perspective to be grateful for the opportunity to age, to experience stages of life and to be comfortable in our own skin comes from a gratitude and understanding that what we are given each day is a gift, not a guarantee. It is easy for our inner critic to be loud and critical. With perspective and gratitude we can quiet the critic and enjoy the journey.

Back in the room, we slowed into our final seated postures and transitioned into Savasana. As I felt the energy become quiet, I brought myself back to the moment in the picture above; Practicing  Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana on that rock, on a beautiful beach with the waves crashing behind me, I was practicing so much more. I was practicing gratitude for the opportunity to be there in that moment as I had been many times before and for having known and learned from such a special person. I was practicing nurturing the body and the mind by listening and quieting my inner critic. I was practicing Lisa’s lessons.  I feel incredible gratitude for the lessons she taught and for being reminded of them just when I needed them. Namaste.