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Focus Wrap Up: The Eight Limbs – Yama April 10, 2011

It was 10:38am on Sunday, April 3rd when I started writing this wrap up, and the New Moon hung invisibly above.

In that Sunday’s classes we wrapped up our March focus on the 1st of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Yama, or, abstinence. I extended the March focus through April 3rd so the New Moon – at the height of its energy of surrender, letting go and dissolving – could reinforce our liberation from what we might refrain from in our attitudes, our actions, our lives.

During the past month, our classes bravely began a journey of self-examination by way of yoga’s 1st limb.  For me, such exploration of patterns and beliefs is a process.  I have grown to understand that I might not be transformed within the period of one class, one month or perhaps one lifetime!  Each time I step onto the path, I am simply opening a door – maybe even just a little crack – to look inside with curiosity and compassion.  Still, this is deep work, and I try to balance intensity with restoration – during my personal efforts and our classes.

In his commentary about Yama (and Limb #2 – Niyama, or observance) in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda says: “These points are for whole-time, dedicated Yogis; and so, for them, Patanjali allows no excuses.  For people who aren’t that one-pointed toward the Yogic goal, these vows can be modified according to their position in life.”  So rather than introducing the Sutras’ list of five yogic abstinences (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-greed), I invited students to cultivate their own, personal Yama.  Toward the end of the month, we considered the official Yama from Patanjali’s ancient guidance.

Along with students, I cultivated my own personal Yama based on my “position in life.”  And the position I’ve been playing for most of my life is…

DEFENSE.

Last week, I squarely faced the huge deficit this role has hollowed out of my heart, soul and life.  Ugh.

What happened?

A number of things.  I’ll skip the long story about childhood and other traumas leading to the necessity for self-defense.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I am devoted to looking backward in order to move forward with health.  You might also remember that just last summer I was blind-sided by a serious betrayal that erased all my trust in humans.  My heart was on lock down.  In my yoga practice, with professional counsel and through other spiritual practices, I started to open back up.  More recently, during the Off the Mat Into the World leadership intensive in early March, I revisited my bruised little heart and noticed that it did not feel so safe after all.  It was still in defense mode.  Again, I re-committed to the process of looking inside, taking action, sparking transformation.

But the biggest eye-opener happened last week.

I went through a breast cancer scare after a doctor’s examination.  Thankfully, at the radiologist appointment a few days later, I found out that I do not have cancer.  During those in-between days of fearful anticipation, however, I contacted family and spent a lot of time with friends for support.  Knowing me as well as she does, one friend reached out her arms and said, “Put your hands in mine.”  I did.

Then she told me, with resolve in her voice, firmness in her stance and steadiness in her eyes,  “You are going to be OK.  And you will not be alone.”

I felt my entire body seize up in defense mode.  My stiffened hands could not hold on.  My eyes could barely meet hers.  When I did look her in the eye it was through a hard plate of glass.  I could hear her words but not feel the sentiment in my heart.  I wanted to believe her but could not.  I could not trust for fear of being betrayed again.  I could not accept her love.

What’s the big deal?

If I don’t allow myself to accept love, I will never feel loved.  That’s it in a nutshell.  I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of how humans need to share love; how vulnerability is essential to trust-building; how risk-taking might be the only way to true intimacy.  The fact is, if I don’t take action to continually and consistently address, transform and heal the core wounds of my heart, I will continually and consistently struggle with every relationship in my life – at work, in family, with friends and otherwise.

Realizing this last week, I set a deep intention that will bring purpose to my Eight-Limb work in the coming months.  A Sankalpa.  My own personal Yama:

I aim to abstain from fear-based responses to life’s invitations for connecting, trusting and loving.  I will liberate my icy-cold, walled-up, scared little Anahata Chakra through heart-opening Asana, heart-expanding Pranayama and Bhakti-influenced practices.

Some wounds are hard to heal.  But for the sake of Ahimsa (non-harming – the 1st Yama from the Sutras), I am going to non-harm myself by taking the risk of being vulnerable.  No holds barred, I am rolling my shoulders back, breathing deeply and chanting my heart out. I am abstaining and refraining from, letting go of, dissolving, and surrendering fear.  Damn-it.

Why abstain?

As mentioned in the Intro to this month’s focus, I want to offer my best self in service to the world.  That is what Samadhi (yoga’s 8th Limb) means to me – an interconnectedness that dissolves separation, invites love, cultivates trust.  So in the end, I don’t want to heal my heart so I feel better – although I’m sure that will be a benefit!  In the end, I want to liberate my heart so I can serve others with authenticity, strength and sustainability.

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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I Know in My Heart… February 24, 2010

Let’s wrap up our January/February class focus of HEART.  We’ve physically exercised the heart-areas of the body and conceptually explored the heart chakra. Through anatomical focus on the neck, collar-bone, ribs and shoulder blades, we’ve felt the physical relationships among body parts.  Through concepts such as “the heart’s desire,” “following the heart,” and “love,” we’ve embraced what lies deep within our souls.  For more details, ideas and experiences regarding this Bi-Monthly Focus, please see my other January and February posts.

This week, as we wax toward a full moon on February 28th – and the final class of our HEART focus – I invite students to ponder passions, purpose and partnerships by affirming what they know in their hearts.

As the moon grows, so can our heart’s wisdom.  This fourth chakra is our first energy center of conscious decision making, beyond karmic destiny.  So below is a meditation adapted from one of my fave teaching resources, Body and Soul Magazine.  Through this simple exercise of finishing a motivational sentence, we can address any questions, crossroads or confusions in our lives.  We’ll be practicing a brief version of this meditation in classes this week, culminating under Sunday’s full moon.

I hope to see you!  Heart-felt thanks to all for our rich and fulfilling January and February classes.

OM Shanti.

MEDITATION ON THE WISDOM OF THE HEART

(instructions for this meditation are archived on the Tips-n-Tools page)

Center

  • Begin by thinking of a crossroad, decision, confusion or question in your current life.  Without criticism or judgment, simply reflect on the situation.
  • Settle into a meditative position – whatever seated pose is comfortable for you.
  • Close the eyes.  Witness the breath as it is at the moment; notice the state of the mind; and observe the qualities of the body.  No need to change a thing – simple witness, notice, observe.
  • Begin to shape the breath into deep, three-part inhale and exhale.  Inhale into the belly, ribs, then collar-bone.  Exhale from the collar-bone, ribs, then belly.  Breath only through the nostrils.
  • Allow the mind to rest on the breath.  You might listen to the sound of the breath, or mentally follow the path of the breath, or note how the body moves with the breath.
  • Become aware of the growing ease in the body as you continue this deep, three-part breathing.
  • Continuing the breathing, as you fill the ribs, expand them forward, sideways and backward, filling the lungs like a big barrel of air.  Allow your exhales to become longer than the inhales, seeping slowly out of the nose, thoroughly emptying of air.

Enhance Heart Chakra Awareness

  • Maintaining focus on the ribs and lungs, deepen the awareness into the heart chakra.  Imagine the heart chakra expanding forward, sideways and backward – as well as above and below the body.
  • Once you sense the expansion of the heart, bring to mind your crossroad, decision, confusion or question.  Let the mind rest neutrally on the situation.

Explore Your Wisdom

  • On your next inhale, silently begin the sentence, “I know in my heart…”
  • On the exhale – without extra thought or over-analyzing – finish the sentence with your natural, immediate response, silently or aloud.
  • Depending on your situation, some examples might be, “I know in my heart…I am in love.”  Or, “I know in my heart…this career is no longer right for me.”  And perhaps, “I know in my heart…I am afraid to try new things.”
  • Remain focused on the heart center and continue the deep, three-part breathing.  With each inhale, repeat, “I know in my heart…”  And with each long, slow, thorough exhale, finish the sentence.
  • Repeat the process 10 times.  You might find the same statement arising; you might state a different response each time.

Close and Journal

  • After your 10th repetition, return to normal breathing.  Allow the mind to return to neutral, perhaps resting on the natural flow of your breath.
  • Slowly open the eyes.  Jot down whatever you remember about your exercise – including how your breath, mind and body felt; how some of your sentences ended; and any additional thoughts.
  • Consider this wisdom as you address your situation in the coming days…
 

Consider Love February 21, 2010

Filed under: Anahata,Chakra,heart,love,Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 11:23 pm
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Love is not a feeling; it’s an ability. – Marty to Dan in “Dan in Real Life”

Am I able to love?

More importantly – am I able to post a blog about love in a timely fashion?  Hehe.  I intended to write about love on Valentine’s Day, before teaching my evening yoga class last Sunday, February 14th.  So, I’m a week late.  Still, I’ve spent this week pondering love – in classes, in meditation, with my new boyfriend, in counsel with my gal pals.  And it’s come to this:

Consider love.  All forms of love.  Love for people, love for activities such as work or service, love for interests such as hobbies or practices, love for material things, love for self.  And perhaps, love for something beyond all of these forms.

If I think about these many manifestations of love, then without a doubt, I know that I am able.  What comes to mind? My love for my nephew Dustin, for teaching yoga, for watching baseball, for great chocolate, for my imperfect humanness, for nature.  That’s a lot of love.  And it all comes from the same place; its core is the same.  The impulse of devotion, ease of acceptance, excitement for passions, softness of compassion, vibration of connection.

It’s all love; it all comes from the heart.  Qualities of the Heart Chakra (aka Anahata) include devotion, passion, yearning and fulfillment.  So as I teach the final weeks of our Bi-Monthly Focus, I am inviting students to “exercise” the heart by allowing each movement, breath, meditation and intention to be filled with love – whether they are focusing on people, activities, interests, things, self or a higher power.  Or all of this.

And indeed, I believe we will see that love is our inherent ability.

Thanks so much, EVERYONE (students, teachers, friends, spirits, and on and on and on) for making January and February an amazing exercise of the heart.  I dream up these Bi-Monthly Focus ideas for my students, supposedly; this time around, I received so many gifts and so much transformation from our practice together.  I am so grateful.

OM Shanti.

 

My Heart’s Desire February 10, 2010

“Sunrise in the sky of the heart is the most blessed sight.”  Swami Nityananda

In this second half of our Bi-Monthly Focus of HEART, we’re shifting from an anatomical awareness of the neck, collar-bone, shoulder and rib area (see “Let Your Heart Bloom Open” for fine-tuning tips) to a more psychological or conceptual exploration of the heart chakra.

“Anahata” is our fourth chakra and the first of our “higher” energy centers. Not that the three lower chakras are in any way “bad” – simply, they govern bodily and material issues; Anahata is considered a balancing point between these basic functions and the spirit and intellect of chakras five through seven.  Its color is green; its element is air; its symbol is a 12-petaled lotus; and its qualities include love, passion and devotion.  The heart’s seed mantra is “yaum.”  (Yum!)  “Kalpavriksha” is the divine Wish-Fulfilling Tree that resides in the heart chakra and represents the manifestation of Sankalpa (resolute intentions or deep yearnings).  To “follow our heart” means planting seeds or making decisions while dwelling under Kalpavriksha.

In our February classes, we are focusing on the “heart’s desire.” I’m inviting students to revisit the symbolic bulbs they planted in Autumn 2009 during our Diwali celebration (see “Diwali Intentions”); the seeds they planted for 2010 in our New Year’s Eve workshop; the goals they set in Caroline Weaver’s January workshop; or even their simple, day-to-day intentions.  Throughout our classes, we are using Pranayama, Mantra, Mudra and visualization – for a taste, see the Meditation on the Heart’s Desire, below.

So what is my heart’s desire? Well let’s see…

Yesterday I was reading a blog by former Past Tense Yoga Studio (www.pasttensestudio.com) student Abby, who recently moved to Nicaragua.  Her intention is to spend one year deepening her passion for music, songwriting and guitar through an “Eat, Pray, Love”-style journey.  When she described this plan to her friends, some remarked, “OK – so you’re taking a year off.”

“It’s not a year off,” she protested, “It’s a year ON.”

When I read these words, I felt my heart flutter.  The idea of a year ON vibrated high in my chest – the same place I feel anxiety.  But this wasn’t anxiety, it was excitement.  As if something was saying, “Turn it ON, Holly.”  Not that I’m going to pick up and move anywhere.  I think the fluttering is a reminder of intentions that started brewing during last Autumn’s Jewish High Holy Days and Diwali.  I feel it’s high time to consult the Kalpavriksha and started to follow my heart more proactively.

And there’s nothing like a Mondo Beyondo list to trigger the process.

In her January e-blast, DC studio owner Debra Perlson-Mishalove invited readers to trash traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of celebrating their most “juicy and outrageous” wishes. The Mondo Beyondo list, she wrote, “is the list where no boundaries are considered – including lack of funds, time or energy.  This is the list that comes from the quiet stirrings in your heart…”  By the way, one dream on Debra’s own list gave birth to her successful Flow Yoga Center!  (www.flowyogacenter.com)

To uncover my Mondo Beyondo yearnings I followed Debra’s suggestions, including: journaling about obstacles, fears, security, purpose; meditating on my deepest desires; rewriting the limiting, negative, false stories I tell myself; and using my yoga practice as a mirror into my life.  Wow.  I’ll spare you the details – just trust that I unearthed some humbling facts about how I get stuck, play it safe and limit myself.

Thankfully, one of Debra’s nudges motivated prompt action.  “How can I make my life more juicy or get out of this rut?”  I resolved to explore my self-imposed boundaries, attend Level 2 yoga classes, take action to get a great job and more.  These explorations sparked my very own Mondo Beyondo list.  Here’s an abbreviated version:

Holly’s Mondo Beyondo List from January 2010

  • I will give birth to a yoga-based nonprofit to decrease violence in families and among youth.
  • I will soon work a full-time job where I am useful and of service; a job which contributes to financial independence.
  • I will hike all over Ireland, breathe that air, jam with those musicians, feel my mother’s origins.
  • I will travel to India, stay in an Ashram and live the essence of yoga.
  • I will erase my current loans and debt within five years.
  • I will rewrite all of my obstacle-laden stories and move on.
  • I will enjoy a true romantic partnership with a man who is… (well…I know what I wish but HP might have something else in mind).  We will find each other soon… (OK…on HP’s time line, of course).  We will love each other through thick and thin.  Period.
  • I will explore my self-imposed boundaries in Level 2 yoga classes.  And like it.
  • I will tour regularly with alt-country, country, folk and singer-songwriter bands as drummer or percussionist.
  • I will be part of my sisters’ and their families’ lives – even if only through meta and prayer.
  • I will teach at Flow Yoga Center.

Your heart’s desire wants to know: when will you start your “year ON” or make your Mondo Beyondo list?

Until next time…OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

MEDITATION ON THE HEART’S DESIRE
(These instructions are archived on the Tips-n-Tools page.)

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.  Cross-legged, on the heels, or on a chair with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Close the eyes.  Witness the breath, the mind, the body.
  3. Begin to deepen the breath into three parts (Deergha Swaasam).  Inhale into the lower lobes of the lungs (belly area), middle lungs (rib cage) and upper lungs (collar-bone), then exhaling down from the collar-bone, ribs and belly.  Let each inhale be strong and full, and each exhale be long and thoroughly emptying.
  4. Allow the mind to rest on the breath.  Follow the flow of air with the mind, listening to the sound of the breath, or feeling the body move with each inhale/exhale.
  5. Feel the body sink and expand.  Become aware of the lower body’s contact with the ground, its stability, support, balance.  Become aware of the upper body’s length and let the heart center begin to open.
  6. Expand the heart center.  (See “Let Your Heart Bloom Open” for detailed instructions).  Using inhales and exhales to enhance your movement, reach the crown of the head toward the sky, maintain the length in the neck, broaden the collar bone, expand the rib cage, maintain the length along the side body, allow the shoulder blades to release toward each other and down the back.
  7. Bring the hands into Lotus Mudra.  Press the palms together in front of the heart; then, leave only the heel of the palms, the pinkies and the thumbs touching while spreading and opening the fingers and palms.  The hands represent a lotus in full bloom.
  8. Continue the Deergha Swaasam breath.  Imagine the inhale flowing through your lotus and filling the belly, flowing into your cupped palms and filling your ribs, then flowing up to the finger tips and collar-bone.  Imagine the exhale emptying from your finger tips and collar-bone, palms and ribs, then emptying the belly out through the lotus.
  9. As you continue this breathing technique, bring to mind your Heart’s Desire or Sankalpa.  It might be a resolution, an intention, or a wish for yourself or another.
  10. On the inhales, imagine filling your lotus with your Heart’s Desire.
  11. On the exhales, imagine releasing this wish from your lotus, sharing it with the universe.
  12. Continue this visualization for at least three rounds of Deergha Swaasam breathing.
  13. Seal your meditation by chanting the seed mantra for the heart chakra, “Yaum” (sounds like “OM” with an added “Y”).