The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

The Yoga of Turning 47 July 30, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Music,Philosophy,Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 10:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

I would not have lived to see 47 if not for yoga.

The morning of my birthday this past Saturday, I taught my beginner Vinyasa class with the theme of “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” (Yoga Restrains Disturbances of the Mind).  This early statement from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has been a powerful promise for me.  I did not start practicing yoga 20 years ago because I wanted a cute butt or flexible hips or even a spiritual life.  In 1993, my mind was a mess and consequently my life was even messier.  All I wanted was to feel better.  And yoga brought that relief.

After some years of practicing for my own sake, I started to understand that as I felt better, I was in better shape to show up for others.  These days, that’s the only reason I practice: to be of service.  In addition, in current life, no matter what hardship I come upon, yoga prepares and reminds me to keep going…at all costs.

So on this 47th birthday and in my 20th year of practicing yoga, I am super grateful for the teachers that guide me toward and influence me on this amazing yoga journey.  And I mean ALL teachers – not just yoga teachers.  I include the infinite people along the way that made me seek something more whole, more peaceful, more healthy.

*  *  *

Here is a compilation of reflections from my birthday weekend:

Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 2:30am

Turned 47 at the end of a sweet evening, walking around my ‘hood, bumping into friends, sharing a great meal, eating cupcakes and learning some new things. Grateful.

(And grateful to still be learning…)

Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 5pm

Bringing it in with yoga, friends, sugar, the jungle and love.

(I taught in the morning, met friends for cupcakes, went to the Botanical Garden and felt/shared lots and lots of love along the way.)

Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 7pm

What better way to wrap up a sweet (and HOT) birthday celebration than a crazy powerful thunderstorm! I can already feeling the temperature dropping. Ahhhh…

(It was so hot during the day, I sweat through my clothes about four times!  Especially in the Botanical Garden’s Jungle exhibit!)

Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 9pm

I’m not sure why birthday #47 has felt like a big deal. Perhaps because the past few years of life have been full of unexpected, unpleasant and unwanted (but perhaps needed?) bumps and trials and trips and falls. I’m only just beginning to peek my head (and heart) out from its hiding place – and I will admit, it feels liberating, it feels good. Last year, I had pneumonia on my birthday. That complemented the hiding quite well. The year before, I was dealing letting go of a relationship in which I was blindsided by betrayal. That piled on top of what felt like a lifetime of let downs. This year…well, this year, the month of July has been about looking at those bumps and trials a bit more briefly, then moving on. It’s been about opening up a little more…bit by bit. I’m so glad and lucky that y’all have been there to greet me with your experience, patience, compassion and love. Life can make me very, very weary at times. And although I can usually spark up a flame of gratitude and carry myself with a certain amount of joy despite hardship – even that has been difficult lately. So, approaching #47, I knew I needed to sort of force the celebration. And it worked. Today, I feel grateful and positive. Not over the top. Just balanced. I feel like I’m breathing more easily. Laughing a lot more. I feel like the big stuff is fading into a welcome smallness. Making room for newness. And you – you all make such a huge difference in all of this. Thank you. Love to you. OM Shanti.

(Samtosha = Contentment)

Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 9:30pm

Final birthday post, I promise!

At Summer Camp each year, the kids and staff and I observe my birthday with a big lunchtime get-down dance.  Prior years, the birthday theme song was Wilco’s “Wilco (the song)” – a jump-around anthem about feeling loved even when times are tough.

This year, that theme felt stale, wrong.  No more pity party!  This year, we celebrated with this booty-shakin’, soul-liberating, spirit-awakening anthme of joyous, smiling, uplifting love!  Michael Franti’s “Say Hey (I Love You)!”

Year #48, here I am!

(And if that is not an example of Pratipaksha Bhavana – the yogic practice of replacing negatives with positives – I don’t know what is!)

*  *  *

May the passing moments, days and years continue to bring new lessons, opportunities for growth and the tools to navigate all along the way.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.


My Mother is My Guru November 2, 2011

Mom’s been on my mind a lot lately.

And y’know, it makes sense.  I’ve been singing a lot (my mother taught me to sing).  It’s Autumn (October 2nd would have been her 81st birthday).  Thanksgiving is approaching (my family celebrated our last holiday season with Mom 10 years ago).  And I recently celebrated my 9th year clean and sober (my mom died as a result of long-term alcoholism).

I miss her.  I miss her right now.

Nearly a decade after her death, she still taps me on the shoulder at times.  She taps me when I’m playing percussion with bands, chanting devotional prayers at Kirtans, singing Gospel standards at open mics and lighting the Chanukah candles.  She taps me when my yoga instructor asks me to think of my most important life teacher.  She tapped me this morning while I was meditating.  She taps me when I’m pruning plants or arranging flowers.  She taps me when I’m decorating my home.  She taps me when I’m cooking a soup.

There are times when I reach out to tap her, too.  To hear her opinion.  To ask for her embrace.  To thank her for my life.  To apologize for any harm I did to her.  To grieve the pain of her life.  To send her the love she deserves.

I didn’t always love my mom the way I came to love her later in my life…later in her life…and then after she died.

*  *  *

I’m about to tell you some very personal and difficult stories.  Some are smiling and shiny; some are gritty and rough.  All are bittersweet.  I’ve selected these stories because they specifically prove that, indeed, my mother is the greatest Guru ever.  For me.

When I was young I hated my mother for being an alcoholic.  As an adult, I would learn more about the disease of alcoholism and honor the tragedy of her life.  But while growing up, I simply resented how drunk she got.   I was constantly afraid that my friends and the community would see her drunk; and because they frequently saw her, I was frequently embarrassed.  One time I spilled out the drink that she intended to take in the car on our way to Shabbat services – and she slapped me.  It was a gin martini.  To this day, I cannot stomach the smell of gin.

There were times when she came through as a great mother.  She was a hard worker, had full-time jobs, and did not drink during the day.  She truly wanted to show up, and when she could, she did.   But what I understand now is that her efforts to parent were overshadowed by the neglect.  In the end, alcohol always won her attention and became her priority.  Spill it out, and you became a threat.  So I learned to keep a distance.

*  *  *

During my college years, I grew to appreciate my mother.  My attitude shifted after I took my family to see a friend’s concert.  The next day at lunch, my friend said, “It was great to meet your mom.  For the longest time, I thought she’d died before we met.  You always talked about your dad – you never mentioned your mom.”  Whoa.  I had no idea I’d erased her so completely.  And then my friend said, “Y’know, you get a lot from her.”  I was so pissed off!  I argued, “No way, I have nothing in common with her!”  So he stated the obvious, judging by what I had told him in the rare instances of speaking about my mom, and his impression the night before.  She grew up singing; music is her passion; she gravitates toward soul music; she loves talking with other musicians; and, she was so comfortable backstage – it was the most natural place she could be.

That day, I surrendered my resentment and admitted that my mother had been an ally and soul-mate all along.  Clearly, I got a lot from her!  The passion for music, for soulful cultures, for gardening, for cooking, for interior design, for spirituality.  My mother taught me to sing, primarily through chanting the Sh’ma, a Jewish prayer, in harmony.

My mother did so much to inspire and encourage creativity.  Every morning, she’d have her coffee and cigarette while listening to WMAL-AM, when it was a jazz station.  Over breakfast I was exposed to the music that my mom had sung in talent shows and concerts – great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and more.  Although a blue eyed farm girl from the capitol of country music, my mom gravitated toward jazz and gospel.  In fact, I have her 1948 song book of Negro Spirituals.  This immersion in soulful music influenced me to write my own songs and perform them at my parents’ frequent parties.  Mom enrolled me in voice lessons.  On beach trips, she’d blast the radio and we’d all sing along.  She invited my high school New Wave band to hold a house concert.  When I was a little older, my drummer boyfriend invited me to tour California with his band – Dad said a firm “no” but Mom fought for me.  (I went to Cali.)  And so on.

At the same time, many opportunities were missed.  For example, there was a lot of self-taught musicianship and talent that was never deepened with consistent instruction or plans for ongoing development.  I do regret this and often feel that music education might have been my best choice for college.  Looking back, I don’t blame my mom for any of this, because I am certain she would have guided me in that direction if she could have.  I blame the disease of alcoholism.

*  *  *

As my mom became progressively ill, my love for her grew immensely.  Alcoholism and related troubles continued to take its toll in more serious ways.  In her 60s, Mom had cancer three times.  On the outside, she remained the strong-willed woman who could get through anything.  She continued planting gardens, harvesting herbs, cooking from scratch, building an art studio in her bedroom, doing crafts, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, drinking gin.

But there were points where I witnessed her heartbreaking vulnerability.  With each cancer, my mother never completely healed – more and more complications arose.  She became scared.  I once heard her crying in bed the night before one of her many surgeries.  When she was diagnosed with emphysema, she quit smoking and remarked with self-disgust, “I could have done that a long time ago.”  She would willingly try my yoga and diet suggestions, but was so sick that she’d end up feeling worse.  Toward the end, I remember laying next to her tired body on yet another day that she woke up with a “bug” that left her vomiting and weakened.  I will never forget the terror in her eyes when I urged her to go to the hospital.  Perhaps she knew she was dying and wanted to stay at home as long as possible.

That was Thanksgiving, 10 years ago.  I think the family dinner included Mom, Dad, two of my sisters, three of their kids and me.  That night, in my mom’s art studio, I drew an abstract of the scene.  My mother and father were angels at the heads of the table – Mom’s garden spade and a green vine enveloped us on one side; Dad’s cigar and its smoke on the other.  To me, both the vine and the smoke represented protection.  I sensed it was Mom’s last Thanksgiving.  I was right.

*  *  *

After my mom died, I developed a deep, knowing compassion for her.  Interestingly enough, I got sober six months after her death.  I’d started drinking at age 11, to calm the childhood chaos and hush the deep resentments.  Twenty five years later, as I came to understand the cunning, baffling and powerful disease that nearly killed me, I also came to understand the disease that succeeded in killing my mom.  Listening to other recovering alcoholics’ speak, I heard my mom’s story.  I saw how the disease had destroyed her life and consequently affected mine.  And I loved her even more.

My greatest awakening about my mom’s life came about four years ago.  By complete surprise, I found out that she had a child before meeting my father.  Stories said that she’d been hanging out with musicians in her native Nashville, might have been drinking, might have been raped…and ended up pregnant.  Her parents sent her away, to a “home for women” in DC.  The home arranged the birth and subsequent adoption.  They say that Mom was so angry, she never forgave her parents.  And so I found yet another thing that my mother and I had in common – we both drank to kill life’s pain and drown our resentments.

The biggest difference is: I got lucky and got sober; she did not.  I take that very, very seriously.

*  *  *

So yes, my mother is my Guru.  Throughout all the phases of my relationship with her – dead and alive – she has been my most influential teacher.  She teaches me with the light, and she teaches me from the darkness.  She teaches me through what she did, and what she would/could/did not do.  Her influence drives my passions and my purpose.

I love everything about her.  The singing lessons, the slaps, the strong will, the vulnerability.  She is the ultimate model of the perfectly imperfect human that I strive to be.

It’s taken me a day to write this.  I started when I finished meditating this morning.  I stopped and started and stopped and started again.  I cried my heart out.  There’s so much more than what you’ve read above, so many more experiences and stories, so much more grief and love.

*  *  *

Back in 2009, I went on tour with a folk-pop band and I took along a photo of my mom.  I’ve heard that the picture was taken in DC, at the women’s home, some time after she had the baby. She is beautiful and glamorous; she is too thin and her eyes look cold; she stands tall and her hands fumble with each other self-consciously. So I wanted to take this version of her on this exciting musical journey. Every night before I went to sleep, I lit a candle and thanked my mom.  I now play percussion and sing sacred chants in an all-female Kirtan group.  I’ve noticed that Kirtan leaders and spiritual teachers typically create an altar with a picture of their Guru.  Coming full circle, I can think of no one more perfect to place on my altar than the woman who sang Hebrew prayers with me, every night at bedtime.

Good night, Mom.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.


The Happy Heart Project: The Halfway Mark October 20, 2011

“Hey, I’m trying to hard to see the light, to see the light – to see it burn thru.”  – Abigail Washburn

When it comes to maintaining and manifesting an intention over 100 days – and that intention is to overcome a nagging internal darkness and move deliberately toward joy – it is imperative to know which tools, resources, practices and people support that intention.

So here I am, halfway into a project I started on a whim (for background, please see final note, bottom of page), and I am clearly learning what works – and what doesn’t work.

Back in August, when I started this daily ritual, joy felt elusive.  The origin of that challenge was a string of unfortunate, traumatic and painful experiences beginning in June 2010.  So the “Project” actually represented much more than a flippant whim.  It became a “Sankalpa” (deep intention, commitment, resolution) that would hopefully free my mind – and life – from the grip of PTSD, depression, anger and resentment.

And a shift is happening.  Of course, there are days when fear, negativity and doubt emerge.  Normal stuff.  At the same time, I have to be careful to not let those days stretch into a mindset.  So I reinforce my Sankalpa.

*  *  *

Move.  Toward.  Joy.

MOVE does not happen in the mind.  MOVE denotes a deliberate effort.  MOVE is an action word.

In yoga, when I think of action, I consider how I can take my practice off the mat and into everyday life.  To me, “practice” is a synonym for “action.”  Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Practice yoga, and all is coming.”  A simple metaphor – when we take action, things happen.  Aphorism I.14 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when efforts are made over a long period of time, constantly, and with great love (or devotion, earnestness, zeal).”

So again I mention the importance of tried-and-true tools, resources, practices and people to support my 100-day Sankalpa ritual.  They have encouraged my efforts, motivated my practice and strengthened my devotion.  Other influences, however, have been downright derailing at times.

What works and/or doesn’t work as I aim to maintain and manifest my intention to move toward joy:

WORKS: Being honest.  With myself and others.   This, by far, has been rule #1 for me.  THE best elixir for battling the stinking thinking.  Not convincing myself that everything is OK when it is not.  Not writing a bunch of “happy” lies in this blog.  Sharing my process with my circles, communities, co-humans.  Being honest about everything – feelings, ideas, plans.  Saying when I feel scared.  Saying when I feel confident.  “Sticking a pin in it” when my balloon of negativity, doubt and fear gets too inflated.  Getting it out.  Sometimes constructively, sometimes like a vent.

WORKS: Being listened to – being heard.  This means choosing the listeners carefully.  To truly be heard, I want to talk to those who have the patience, compassion and love to listen to everything I need to share.  People who care to know my insides.  People who care for my well-being, who have my best interest in mind.  People who do not immediately launch into fixing the problem.  I know this about myself: I need to let it all out – my stories, my theories, my feelings, my problems, my solutions.  Once I’m empty, I become spacious, calm and able to listen to feedback.

WORKS: Listening to, considering and/or heeding well-informed suggestions from people who know me well, who’ve stuck by my side through thick and thin, with whom I connect regularly, who are mental health professionals and/or who are trusted teachers whose experience I trust.  Listening to others’ stories.  Being as open-minded and willing as possible – yet still discerning, keeping my peace, purpose and sustainability in mind.  This is explored further in #1-4 below.

WORKS: Listening to and truly hearing loved ones’ and trusted beings’ encouragement and positive opinions.

WORKS: Staying close to those loved ones and trusted beings.

DOESN’T WORK: Trying to do this alone.

DOESN’T WORK:  Tolerating bossy, know-it-all recommendations (thinly disguised as concerned advice) from people who don’t know me very well (or who mistakenly think they do know me very well because maybe they used to know me a long time ago, or maybe they’ve read my writing or have heard me speak, or for whatever reason, they believe that we are alike), who have shown that they don’t care to know me authentically, whom I have not seen in a very long time, who intrusively beeline over to me because they’ve “heard what I’m going through,” who give medical advice without medical credentials and/or whom I absolutely do not trust.  And do you know what else doesn’t work?  Allowing these people to get under my skin; allowing myself to feel judged by these people; allowing myself to cop a resentment.  Indeed, at times, my vulnerable mind lets this happen!  What works then?  Taking a pause, replacing the false thoughts with a positive belief, and then understanding that these people are coming from a place of fear and/or a need to control.  I can have compassion for them, nod politely…and move on.  Or, avoid them altogether.  Or, be direct and say, “Thank you for your concern; I have a great team of supporters whose advice I am following.  So at this time, I want to stay on track and not add other suggestions. ”  Smile.  Walk away.  Bam.

Phew, that was a sassy little rant!  Sometimes I create my own frustration by being so open and honest about my process.  But, I’d rather have the opportunity to discern between appropriate/useful advice and inappropriate/fear-based advice than not get any advice at all!

*  *  *

In addition to clarity about support and action, I’ve also started to feel very clear about the process of cultivating positive change.  Thankfully, I’ve learned so much of this from the infinite influences I’ve said “yes” to over the years.  Here are the steps I’ve taken this time around:

1 – Let go of what doesn’t serve.  I’ve heard it a-thousand times, and it really is the best starting place for me.  This past summer, after what seemed like a year-long endurance test of trials and tribulations, I started letting go of anything that doesn’t represent deep peace, true purpose and long-term sustainability for me.  Jobs, relationships, belongings.  I took risks.  In the case of jobs and relationships, if I couldn’t leave immediately, I began to cultivate an exit strategy.  One by one, I started saying good-bye.  I will be honest – financially, it is beyond stressful.  But I really needed to let go and be liberated.

2 – Take time in the spaciousness created by letting go.  I learned to not fill the space YET.  To grieve the losses.  To feel uncomfortable.  To admit and accept my mistakes.  To witness my doubts, dreams, stories – positive and negative, real and imagined.

3 – Reflect on what brings deep peace, explore what constitutes true purpose and envision what looks sustainable in the long-term.  I have exposed myself to influences I might not normally consider.  I’ve read-up on the Occupy Wall Street efforts; I’ve started taking a high-power Jivamukti class; I’ve listened to Pema Chodron CDs (I love Pema, but am not typically a fan of audio learning).  And I have indulged in activities I absolutely love – that nourish me and bring instant joy.  I have seen live concerts, bought new CDs (please see the bottom of this blog to check out the video for the above-quoted Abigail Washburn song), listened to comedy, practiced yoga outdoors, watched baseball games, enjoyed inspiring films, participated in the Jewish High Holy Days.  I have let ideas and passions brew.

4 – Define peace, purpose and sustainability.  During the peak of Occupy Wall Street and the Jewish High Holy Days, I was struck with the strongest sense of self I’ve experienced in a long time.  It seems like a combination of the results of numbers 1-3 above, the pressure of calls to action in the media, and, the intensity of moral inventory, atonement and forgiveness sparked an energy of self-definition for me.  From Facebook, other media and other sources, I gleaned quotes that called to my soul, compiled them in a journal, and started aiming to live them, day in and day out.  They include: “Occupy within: a movement in awakening;” “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more deeply in your heart;” “The unexamined life is not worth living;” and, “Do I feel happy?  No.  But I feel progress.”

5 – Take action – fill the space.  A few days ago, a yoga teacher friend exclaimed, “How’s your new life?”  She’s referring to the many changes I’ve made since the summer, when I started this process.  I reflected silently for a moment.  “It’s very empty…” and just then, a light bulb clicked on in my mind.  “It’s time to fill it,” I answered, with resolve.

This is coming up for me now that I clearly understand what works and what doesn’t to practice my Sankalpa with consistency and zeal.  With that support, I can tackle some next steps, which include: seek a  job that fulfills my true needs and allows me to continue teaching yoga; seek new yoga teaching opportunities; continue deepening my PTSD sessions and exploration; conduct a fearless self-inventory that not only identifies how I was harmed over the past year, but that also identifies what my part, mistake and/or contribution may have been to those troubles; practice forgiveness of myself and others; commit to other practices that direct me toward joy.  Thank goodness, there are many!

Let’s see what happens over the next 50 days…taking it one day at a time, of course.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love – and a light that burns thru.  OM Shanti.

(Here is the lovely song containing the opening quote of this blog.  Enjoy!)

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “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.  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.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!


Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.


So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.


Focus: Why Yoga? – Challenge August 18, 2010

If we learn to open our hearts, anyone – including the people who drive us crazy – can be our teacher. – Pema Chodron, Buddhist monk and teacher

I would take the above quote a step further and say, “Anyone or anything – including the people or situations that drive us crazy – can be our teacher.” To me, this is challenge.  Challenge comes in many forms.  Perhaps we are facing tough difficulties; or, maybe we are offered great opportunities.  With all challenge, we are invited to jump into or go through something big, something new, something nerve-racking.

The question is – can we SEIZE opportunities…can we GROW through our difficulties?

For me, all challenge is a teacher and brings the chance to grow. But I did NOT always feel this way!  Hah!  All challenge meant inconvenience and discomfort!  Difficulties meant stuffing emotions in order to look strong.  “That’s OK, I’m fine!”  And opportunities meant finding ways to side-step toward a more comfortable route.  “I don’t feel safe doing that.”  What I’m really saying in those cases is, “I am afraid – afraid to feel my feelings; afraid to try something new.”

The funny thing is, these responses to challenge are related.  When I act strong on the outside but feel broken within, consequently, I stop taking healthy risks because I strongly crave comfort.  On the other hand, when I get honest with myself and others about my brokenness, my shadows and my difficulties, I find the support, conditioning and strength to seize opportunities and grow through challenge.

Yoga helps me do this.

Using yoga to face difficulties. In the past, my practice decreased when life got tough.  I remember a rough loss in February 2008.  Prone toward restless sleep, lazy mornings and naps on the couch, I most certainly did not prioritize my yoga practice.  People had to coax me from my apartment just to hang out and eat a little.  Ugh.  Then one day I received a “We Miss You” promotion from Flow Yoga Center.  It had been a while since I “belonged” to a studio.  At that very moment, I felt a need to belong.

I dove in.

Getting back into the DC yoga community truly re-awakened my life.  With a new set of teachers who helped me rehab structural injuries and regain physical confidence, consistent exposure to yogic philosophy, and regular connection with fellow yogis, I started to heal emotionally. By the end of that summer, I’d remembered my past yearning to teach yoga.  And in Fall of 2008, I became a certified instructor.

Using yoga for seizing opportunity. For 15 years I attended Level 1 yoga classes.  Talk about fear of healthy risk!  Granted, I’d been healing from a number of physical injuries; and, I’d been through some emotional losses.  So I had all the excuses in the world to stick with the comfort of my precious Level 1 practice.  After becoming certified to teach in 2008, I felt excited to teach beginners, and share the fundamentals that established my yoga foundation.  At the same time, that foundation was just that – a blank slab with nothing rising out of it.  I started to feel limited and stagnant in my own yoga practice.  And I noticed that same stagnant quality in my life, as well.

I had no faith.

I only had fear of newness, fear of being vulnerable, fear of failing.  I was living the same story every day – no risks, no opportunities, no challenges – and therefore, no growth.  So this year, I resolved to try Level 2 Asana!  Instead of saying, “I can’t do that pose because of my shoulder injury,” I asked for modifications to build the strength toward that pose.  Instead of claiming, “My core is not strong enough,” I asked for assistance in order to experience the full pose.  Instead of listening to my self-limiting stories, I committed to gradual conditioning and I accepted outside support.

If you’ve read past posts (i.e. April’s “100%” and May’s “100%+1”), you know that this year has been immensely progressive and I have seized a number of opportunities! I owe it to yoga – and the consequent inspiration and motivation I have received all around.

On that note…some of you know that I am a crier.

For me, shedding tears is a huge part of my path toward growth.  Tears keep me honest. Tears will sneak up on me in the middle of a yoga class – perhaps pigeon pose unlocks those stuffed emotions, or, a song triggers my heart to melt.  Or both.  I find that, if I allow myself that good “I can’t hold onto my tears because my body is so challenged by Asana right now” cry…I feel refreshed.  I feel stronger.  I feel clear.  I feel able to face what’s next.

I fondly recall two memories of transformations from fear to feeling, and from fear to faith.  I was terrified of “flipping the dog” – this fairly new and dance-like practice of moving from Downward Facing Dog into Wheel by, essentially, flipping the body.  I would watch people next to me in class and say, “That’s not yoga.”  The fact was – I was scared, and my self-limiting stories manifested in my judgment of others!!!

Then one night this Spring – during the height of my discernment about life’s direction – I was at John Horan’s class at Past Tense Studio.  John’s classes are beyond inspiring – with fairy tales and cosmic lighting, they take us to another world.  I guess my self-limiting brain was not functioning in this other world!  John was playing songs from the new Sade CD, all about love and strength and empowerment. So I was already a bit emotional.  There we were, in Downward Facing Dog, when John extended the invitation to “flip the dog.”

Suddenly, I felt as though strong hands reached down from the heavens and lifted me into the pose.

My leg rose, my hip opened high, I floated on my fingertips and I easefully settled into Wheel.  And I cried.  Pure tears of surrender.  All of my “no”s washed away.  Yes, I can flip my dog, and yes, it is yoga.  Yes, I can develop faith by practicing yoga.

I can also tap into stuffed feelings in class.  Recently, I went through weeks of struggle about a relationship, which finally ended.  Sometimes I think I’m totally in touch with that loss and am processing it authentically.  And sometimes yoga class tells me otherwise.

Just yesterday, I was feeling “ahhh-some” in yet another lovely class with Caroline Millet.  She guided us through a true Sun Salutation for the entire set.  The music was perfect for the summer sunrise – mellow acoustic folk and sweet Hindu chants.  And then, while in Downward Facing Dog, Caroline invited us (as she often does) to find something new in the pose.  So I was hanging out and waiting for the revelation. And BAM, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s sweet and heart-breaking version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” nailed me right in the heart.

I sunk to my knees and wept in child’s pose.

Apparently, I am still grieving my loss.  And lately, I have been too busy to feel.  Thankfully, I can reach and release these feelings in the safe space of a yoga practice, surrounded by community members and guided by a caring teacher.

How does yoga help you face challenges – whether new opportunities, or difficult times?  If not by releasing emotions or presenting new poses, then how does your practice support your growth – on and of the mat?  When you meet life’s teachers – even those people and situations that drive you crazy, make you uncomfortable, rock your security – can you embrace them with an open heart?

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.


Wine & Kirtan April 9, 2010

I just got home from “The Chant Super Tour” concert with Kirtan musician Krishna Das and spiritual singer Deva Premal.  Although I like her lullaby-like versions of Santeria chants for Yemaya and Oshun, and I don’t mind hearing her music in yoga classes, Deva’s work is a little too soft for me.  Tonight I enjoyed her partner Miten’s and her version of a Gospel blues song (with an astonishingly hot flute solo by Nepalese accompanist Manose) – but I couldn’t wait for the second act.

Because Krishna Das packs a strong punch.

During his Bhaja Govindam chant, I was clapping so hard that my arms tingled through the entire next song.  At the end of his set, I had no idea what time it was and I barely felt the surprisingly cold rain as I walked to my car.  Although he encouraged the audience not to leave the wholeness of the world around us to float off to a separate “spiritual” experience, it was definitely hard to not be swept away.

Aside from this event, I’ve seen a few concerts over the past couple of weeks.  (I swear this will relate back to Kirtan.)  I saw Wilco at the Strathmore in North Bethesda (formerly known as Rockville to those of us who grew up around here), and David Gray at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore.  Being a non-drinker who mostly hangs out in non-drink-centric places, I found it jarring to walk into the lobbies of both venues and smell the overpowering scent of alcohol.  No judgment, honestly.  It’s simply jarring.  As a non-drinker.

As a non-drinker and a yogini, it’s even more jarring to walk into a Kirtan concert and be hit in the face with that same smell.  And to smell it reeking on people’s breath while they sang and sweating from their pores as they danced.   At one point, I noticed that I was barely breathing while chanting, because I was so tired of inhaling alcohol fumes.  And you know me – I’m a huge breather.  Pranayama all the way.  But not tonight.

So it was a weird experience.  And I just thought I’d share about it a bit before going to bed.

Something I definitely appreciated from Deva was her description of Sanskrit chants as powerful medicine.  This reminded me of when I used to participate in Native American sweat lodge ceremonies – and the elders would warn newcomers not to “mix medicines.”  In other words, some people thought it would be cool to get high before doing a sweat lodge; and the elders explained the dangers of mixing “medicines” that had different purposes.  Drugs having one purpose (no need to explain), and the lodge having quite another (praying like heck while purifying intensely).

So tonight, while I understood that some people like to relax with a glass of wine (or something), I wondered what their experience would have been like had they simply allowed the power of Sanskrit mantras to create that relaxation.  Kirtan’s purpose is to express devotion to a Higher Power and it is a form of Bhakti yoga; while wine’s purpose…

Anyway.  As we chanted our powerfully medicinal songs, I wished the elders were there to share their warning.  Without their guidance, even I might not have thought about the significance of keeping medicines separate.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

(PS: Yes I know that this is more attitude-y than my typical posts.  I know that not everyone experiences yoga in the same way.  Personally, I’m gratefully accustomed to and really appreciate yoga spaces being free of other “medicines.”  Can you say “Eight Limbs?”  Goodnight now.)


Irish Yoga Music March 18, 2010


I typically stick to devotional music for yoga classes.  But yesterday afternoon I was pinched by my mother’s ancestors.  So, in the spirit of St. Patrick, I fused spiritual roots and mixed yoga with Irish rock.  Thanks to one of our students for requesting the set list.

During warm-up:

  • Damien Rice – Dogs (“The girl that does yoga…”)

During Surya Namaskaram & Vinyasa:

  • Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues
  • Van Morrison – Sweet Thing
  • U2 – Beautiful Day
  • Eddie Reader – I Felt A Soul Move Through Me
  • Swell Season (from the film ONCE) – Falling Slowly

During Integral Yoga floor poses:

  • Hothouse Flowers – The Older We Get
  • Interference (from the film ONCE) – Gold
  • Waterboys – When Ye Go Away
  • Damien Rice – Older Chests
  • Swell Season (from the film ONCE) – Once

During deep relaxation:

  • U2 – Grace

And post-class:

  • Waterboys – When Will We Be Married & Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz

‘Twas a lovely class last night, lassies (and our one lad, Patrick…appropriately).  Thanks for spending St. Patrick’s Day in a yoga studio!  OM Shanti.

(PS – Intro to our March/April class focus of TRANSITION & BALANCE, as well as related bloggings on BASEBALL & YOGA coming soon!)