The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy August 26, 2011

“The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” launches this Sun., 8/28.  Curious?  See below, then “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook or subscribe to UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com to stay informed, join in, and/or, share your efforts!

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I will launch “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy,” an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.

The “Project” idea arose when Whole Foods Market discontinued my favorite morning ritual incense – Happy Heart by Maroma’s SPA line – leading me to buy their last 10 boxes.  “Hmmmm…100 days of Happy Heart, ” I thought.  And the project was born.

For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  I will see what happens during the day, and journal about it each night.  When I finish a 10-stick box of my precious incense, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey over those last 10 days.  The blog will also be posted on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook.

If you’ve read my blog lately, you know that I’ve been in the process of healing from a number of physical and emotional challenges (illnesses, health scares, betrayals, violations) – some have occurred over the past year, and some are connected to older events that have been triggered by recent trauma.  (Please check out “Be A Yogi” and other recent entries for background.)  During this 100 day Project, I’ll share the practices and tools from yoga and other resources that consistently guide me toward the inner peace that allows joy.

I know there are no guaranteed outcomes for this 100-day project – only intentions and footwork, one day at a time.

I’m excited to say that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and will be sharing the journey!  So, we invite you to join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

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

 

Focus: Abundance – Love & Light December 31, 2010

I have long believed that people are beautiful beings, inside and out. Our humanness, our perfect imperfection, our state of constant growth gives me faith in the beauty of life as a whole.

Tonight a street drunk and I watched a meteor fireball together. I was walking to yoga class when a huge white comet-looking thing with a long firey tail burst across the sky then disappeared. “Wow.” We stopped dead in our tracks. “Ha lo visto?” I asked in my unpracticed Spanish. Yes, he saw it. He told me that it would keep going. We stood together for a few moments, faces lifted toward the sky. Then we went on our respective ways. Before we got too far, he yelled to me and gave two thumbs up. I waved goodbye to my new brother.

The gift of light and a moment of love between the two strangers who witnessed it. Seriously. Love.

This is how I experience humanity – when I’m not stuck in fear, distrust, anger and disgust, I look around and I love everyone. I love the street drunk, I love the pushy drivers, I love the grumpy shoppers, I love the crying babies, I love the lashing out friends. I love them in addition to the smiling, cheerful and sober people. So thankfully, it’s been a very loving couple of weeks.

Finally. The return of love and light.

I didn’t plan for the weeks to unfold like this. I didn’t will any of this beauty to happen. I simply wrote a decidedly revealing blog about pain and healing and bouncing back (see “Focus: Abundance – Growth”) a few weeks ago, and soon after, the fog started to lift.

Too simple to be true?

For me, the fact is, when I look squarely at and then honestly share my “stuff,” it’s no longer in the shadows. Writing out my “stuff” sheds light on it. I take action, I spark the flame. I turn my face toward the light. I stretch my arms out to it.

And the light reaches back to me in all kinds of ways…

*  *  *

It all started on Friday the 17th. I practiced a slow and prayerful Vinyasa with my 7am class. We were flowing to Alexi Murdoch’s “Orange Sky,” a spiritual ballad about the power of fellowship on the long road of life. I paused to look outside – and the sunrise sky was a radiant orange! Of course, I was brought to tears.

And from there forward, I have been shifting away from past troubles and toward inner happiness. Hallelujah!

It doesn’t hurt that our December Class Focus has been Abundance, and in my own practice, I have been savoring the sweetness of a favorite Asana among the challenging. Dwelling on that instead of loathing the other poses. Knowing that somewhere along the set, that sweetness is coming. I can bank on it.

Just like life. I’ve been dwelling on light.  And love is coming. I can feel it.

*  *  *

The day after that beautiful orange sunrise, I curled up at a cafe for hot drinks with a friend, and mused about living in the solution of a spiritual life. We were both weighing out certain situations in our paths. I encouraged her to trust her instinct, to research rather than run away from seemingly risky situations. To live. And to discern.

And breath by breath, I am taking my own advice, diving in a little bit while exercising healthy caution.

That evening, I popped around the corner to DC Supersonic Kirtan’s monthly chant fest. Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart. No caution here! With everyone around me singing their lungs out to the gods, there is no room, no need for caution. I leave every Kirtan blissed-out with love. Fearless. It’s like rebirth.

Fueled by Bhakti bliss, the next day was deeply connective, relaxed and joyous. I felt I had more to offer the day, the world, my life. My tiny studio apartment (aka The Urban Yoga Den) became a wonderfully crowded house of chilled-out, indulgent women, celebrating a few rare hours of down-time together at my annual (pre-) Solstice gathering. I love to just stay in the background and soak in how these wonderful women relate, interact, connect.

People are precious! And spending carefree quality time with like-spirited pals is priceless.

Later that night a friend and I discussed the world of dating. He mentioned the sensitivity of navigating what we like and don’t like about our mates – or what they may or may not like about us. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I like everything about you.” He was stunned. “Perhaps even the things you don’t like about yourself.” He paused to absorb the news. “No one has ever said that to me,” he revealed.

We are all works in progress. Growing, stumbling, flying, crawling.  For me, it’s easy to love someone for all that they are. The way I would like to be loved.

The way I would like to love myself.

*  *  *

Moving along the holiday week, the good vibrations kept flowing. I started a temp job. Typically I spend my days alone, at my home office, working on my own projects. Deeply fulfilling, yet also primarily self-serving. There’s nothing like suiting up and showing up for a group of workers and supporting their goals. I am certain this interaction and service to something beyond my personal intentions has also encouraged my softening heart.

To end the week, I attended Caroline Weaver’s “Warm the Heart” workshop on the morning of Christmas Eve. I love Caroline because she’s not afraid to bring god into a yoga class. (Hello, god!) Or god as some personal concept of higher power or a virtue that’s worth our full commitment. The uplifting, devotional energy of her class was so enveloping, I don’t remember much about it, except getting to a point in Warrior 1 where Caroline reminded us, “Remember, you are dedicating all of this to your highest virtue.” I felt this breathtaking swell of gratitude in my heart.

“Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You” I whispered repeatedly like a Mantra.

I strive to remember to dedicate ALL of this – not just my yoga moves, but my entire life – to something beyond me. When I remember that life is about playing a small role of service in the big picture of the universe, the great mystery, the infinite abyss, nature, Jesus, compassion, generosity – whatever name you pick for your god idea or highest virtue – I feel an abundance beyond “having.” I feel the abundance from giving.

*  *  *

Earlier in the week, during Winter Solstice, I’d visited family in Nashville and experienced a totally spontaneous opportunity for pure service, for giving without expectation of receiving. Karma Yoga. I awoke on Solstice morning, after what is known as the darkest night of the year – maximized this December by the the full-moon lunar eclipse. I thought, “THIS is like New Year to me. I truly feel different.”

I continued to lay in bed, in and out of post-alarm clock dozing. My brain started to play that age-old “should” game – I should get up, should do Pranayama/Asana, should pray, should make tea – and then it locked in on one thing. The broken bird house and bottle of Elmer’s Glue sitting on the desk across the room. My dad’s fix-it project. But he’s never been a fix-it guy. Since childhood, I have always been the fix-it girl. If you’ve read my story in other blogs, you know that at times I had to be.

I admit that sometimes my “fix-it” nature is not productive in adult life and relationship worlds. But in this instance, looking at my dad’s broken bird house, “fix-it girl” was the appropriate role to play. My 1st preferences (Hatha Yoga and prayer) were all about my routines for well-being – which I do believe are essential to being able to show up for others. On this morning, however, lazying around in bed after a full night’s rest – I am fine, my well-being is intact. But Dad’s bird house – something that brings him great joy – is not. It’s broken. And I can fix it (and with strong staples, not Elmer’s Glue).

My dad was so excited. He filled up the bird house with seed, went out the back door, and shouted, “Hey guys, we’re back!”

Karma Yoga occurs when love sets the priority. When priority outweighs preference. When big picture beats self-centered routine.

*  *  *

There are many more little stories of heart opening, light shining, exhaling, melting moments from the past weeks. I’ve been basking in the small yet profound pockets of joy.

For instance, while driving to the airport early in the morning, listening to Paul Duncan’s “The Lake, Pt. 2” I watched streams of sunlight (aka “Jesus rays”) burst through the clouds. I thought, “Hmmm, last Friday the sunrise burned radiant orange, and now it’s bright and golden.” And at that moment, I felt a jolt of realization that the days, the universe, my world is getting progressively brighter! The lunar eclipse proves that it’s always darkest before the dawn. It dawned on me – there is personal significance to this year-end season, more than just “The Holidays” and gift shopping and programmed cheer. BRIGHTNESS RETURNS. And at that moment, driving and crying joyfully, it felt like the 1st time I’d ever recognized that significance.

Also, while on my Nashville trip, I felt my 11-month-old grand-nephew burrow his little body into my heart center in the most loving embrace ever. (Ever.) I reunited with my ex-brother-in-law (who has always been like a true brother to me, and my only brother) and got a big bear hug. I witnessed the passion for life returning to my big sister after a very heavy number of years.

And remember that friend who I like everything about? A few days later, during a different tone of conversation, he said he cares about me. “Yeah? How and why do you care about me,” I angrily snapped back. He then proceeded to list the ways and reasons that he cares for me. I was floored as I silently absorbed his penetrating truths. He told me he loves me. And we continued to dwell in that love all evening. I haven’t felt that loved in a long time.

To no fault of the people who love me – just my own obstacles.

On Christmas morning, snow swirled softly outside my window and the swirly songs of Sea & Cake warmed the air inside. My 1st 100% free day in what felt like forever – I flowed with the solitude here in my cozy little home…writing, lounging, being. (Milking that isolation as long as I can. Hehe.) Then I got my butt out the door to accept invitations from the loving and caring people in my life.

*  *  *

In my December classes, I have been encouraging students to concentrate on the space between poses. To take time to grow into each shape.  To be present with the transition, the process, the breath. To make room for discovering abundance where it was unexpected or unplanned. I guess my own instruction has been rubbing off on me. Bit by bit, I have been opening up where I was once firmly sealed shut. Leaving space for orange skies and Jesus rays. Allowing the darkness of an eclipse to reveal joyous Solstice light. Making room for love.

To be honest, it doesn’t always feel safe. But I’m opening up anyway.

For a few of my classes, to complement our Abundance theme and reinforce that we are all surrounded by a supportive community, I taught an Asana set that built to a group pose. We held hands in a big circle for a collaborative Warrior 3 (not my most stable balancing pose). As we leaned into the circle, I felt the entire group unite with a strong energy of responsibility toward each other. We floated into and held the pose for a few long breaths.

Now that’s love. The dedication to serving your neighboring yogi. Or maybe just your neighbor. Or maybe just the random stranger with whom you watched a fireball streak across the dark sky.

* * *

Thanks to friends, family, students, strangers for the beauty of life. Your humanness fortifies me. Happy holidays, merry new day, abundant being.

OM Shanti. h*

P.S. No kidding – after drafting this blog, I checked e-mail and found the following holiday wish from yoga teacher and writer Max Strom:

“Dear Friends, I hope that on this day you experience a rise of the sun within you, the return of the light within your life, the embrace of your family who surrounds you, and the knowing that you can begin again anew. I write this as I witness the sunrise out my window and hear the winds of change blowing the trees outside.”

(Photo credit: “This exceptionally bright fireball meteor trail was photographed with a fish-eye camera at a Czech Republic station of the European Fireball Network on January 21, 1999.” [GSFC, 1999])

 

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
Tags: , , , ,

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”).