The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Yoga Class Focus: Foundations for Freedom July 2, 2014

During June, my class focus was “Foundations.” I told students that I felt like I was starting over as a teacher, after a 7-month absence from the Washington, DC yoga community. So together, we started from scratch.

September 2013 "farewell" party with DC teachers and students. Little did we know, I'd be back in 7 months!

September 2013 “farewell” party with DC teachers, students, friends. Little did we know, I’d move back from Nashville after 7 months!

Each practice, we arrived together. With the Eight Limbs as our guide, we observed and then shaped our thoughts, our physical being, our breath and our senses. We meditated on Sankalpa (deep intention or purpose), and then chanted OM to transition into Asana. We flowed through six traditional Integral Yoga sun salutations, focusing on each of the 1st three Chakras for two repetitions.

Always, we set these foundations of the Limbs, Sankalpa and the Chakras. And OM. That essential syllable that syncs up the room’s vibrations.

And then the practice opened up for variety. One week we explored Yoga Sutra 1.2: “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” (“yoga calms the mind’s disturbances”) with a heart-centered set. Another time it was Sutra 2.46: “Sthira Sukham Asanam” (“postures are both steady and easeful”) with a set of strong lunges and chair poses. Next we deepened our Pranayama (breath work) and Dharana (meditation) skills. Finally, we wrapped up the month with the story of Shiva, the original yogi (or, the O.G. – Original Guru, LOL) and an intensive on twists.

The beautiful morning light at my yoga HOME in DC: Embrace Yoga.

The beautiful morning light at my yoga HOME in DC: Embrace Yoga.

And yes, we practiced twisting from the foundation of the spine.

Personally, I cannot imagine practicing yoga without these foundational elements. Therefore, I certainly cannot imagine teaching without them, either.

I feel extremely grateful that my teacher, Faith Hunter, invited me back to my twice-weekly sunrise yoga slots and sub regularly at her studio, Embrace Yoga DC after I returned to DC in March. June was, indeed, a fresh start for my teaching. And thanks to my students, my personal practice is also rejuvenated.

Our July class focus is “Freedom.” For Asana, we will build on last week’s twisting set, and explore how physical mechanics can liberate the body for safety and ease, plus, strength and stamina. Conceptually, we’ll discover the Yoga Sutras’ keys to freedom from resentment…freedom from attachment…freedom from whatever trips us up, pushes us down or holds us back.

In fact, my July 4th “Declaration of Independence” class, 10-11:30am at Embrace, addresses exactly that: What do I want to be free of in order to live my truth? As the amazing 70s soul band Funkadelic said, “Free your mind…and your a** will follow,” brilliantly illustrating how Sankalpa (shaping the thoughts) should always proceed Vinyasa (flowing yoga poses). Heeheehee. Join us on Friday and witness the proof.

Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.

 

Surrender, Recovery and Death January 22, 2014

“OUR TIME ON THIS EARTH IS SACRED,
AND WE SHOULD CELEBRATE EVERY MOMENT.”
~ Paolo Coelho

This morning I am saying goodbye to a treasured DC friend, Sovani Meksvanh. Since before Christmas, I have been posting on my personal and Urban Yoga Den Facebook pages about his battle with late-stage cancer, and how touched I’ve been by his balance of strength/action and acceptance/surrender. Last night, I posted my final thoughts about this beloved soul…

*  *  *

ON SOVANI’S PAGE:

I know that Sovani is not reading this, but his beloved family is. Your father/son/brother has always been a very special being to me. I will never forget our first social outing. Somewhere around 2005, he hustled up and down the ramps of RFK Stadium at one of the 1st Nationals games, taxing the heck out of his lungs, and putting up with my crazy baseball fandom the whole day. Over the years I’ve seen him help dozens (if not hundreds!) of people who are in recovery…from many different “ailments.” He is, to me, the perfect example of a Spiritual Warrior – one who shows up for life and all of its trials knowing that his Higher Power has simply sent him to live out a purpose more significant than his own human will, to strengthen from that ultimate surrender, and to use that strength to be of service to others.
All this time, over the past few weeks, I’ve never “cheered him on,” encouraging him to fight. Not because I want to let go of him, but because I want him to let go of fighting – I’ve wanted Sovani to give himself a break. And then there was a point where he started writing about feeling safe in His hands, and I exhaled so profoundly, knowing that Sovani finally melted into the care of his HP instead of fighting so hard…
Well, that’s how I perceived it. And it helped me so much, to observe what I saw as pure surrender and devotion.
I have been meditating and praying and crying and loving for weeks…and all of this is a tiny fraction of the support and commitment and effort that you have offered him, consistently and honorably. What an amazing family you are. I send my love and my comfort from Nashville…I wish I were there…

FROM MY PAGE:

I dedicate this song (Te Extraño by Marta Gomez) to the strong spirit of my dear friend in DC, Sovani, whose cancer battle I’ve been writing about since before Christmas. His condition has worsened – since Saturday, he has been on life support, and today his organs started to fail.
Bless his beautiful young daughters, mother and family members who have been by his side through this journey, and updating us on Facebook the entire time – which to me, has been precious, since I moved away from DC in September. Despite the weeks of meditation, prayer, tears and love in his honor, I am feeling a bit useless. And I miss him. I wish I were there…
Bless Sovani, who – as everyone knows – has been the strongest fighter one could ever meet. I mean, he was diagnosed with cancer 17 years ago, folks. And all along, he has insisted on, taken risks with and surrendered to the most experimental and progressive treatments available. But the surrender that impressed me the most was over the past week or so, when Sovani started posting about his surrender to the loving care of his Higher Power.

Photo: Michaela Ringerson

Photo: Michaela Ringerson

So, this song is for Sovani, and, for his amazing family. Sending so much love to DC tonight, through the wind, through the cold, through the snow. 
Sometimes, for me, all love songs are simply conversations with god. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Pero te extraño hace tantos días

que las palabras se confunden con la voz
los sonidos ya no hablan de tu amor
no imaginas la melancolía que se cuela en mi ventana si no estás
y el silencio que me obliga a recordar
tantos años de vivir
toda mi vida junto a ti
tanto tiempo, tanto espacio para ti.
¿Cuánto tiempo hay que esperar?
¿Cuántas miradas recorrer,
para sentirte en un abrazo
y no verte envejecer?

But I miss you
It’s been so many days that words and voice have been confused
And sounds still can’t speak of your love
You can’t imagine the melancholy that creeps into my window when you’re not here
And the silence that obliges me to remember.
So many years of living all of my life with you, so much time, so much space for you.
How long must I wait? How many visions must recur…to feel you in an embrace…and to not see you grow old?

*  *  *

What could I add to that today? Hmmm…one thing. I am in the midst of a new phase of adult life, having moved to Nashville from DC to be closer to my soon-to-be 86-year-old father, who is struggling with dementia and increasing physical challenges. I am also deepening my relationship with my sister, from whom I was separate for decades, due to my addict lifestyle. As most of you know, I have now been clean and sober for more than 11 years. And thankfully, over the past few years, my sister has graciously invited me back into her life. She lives a bit south of Nashville, and we are teaming up to support Dad. So, this new phase is not always comfortable – but the three of us are doing our best.

My biggest challenge during this new phase of adult life? Dwelling in and acting from love and faith.

And so, to Sovani and his family, I say: THANK YOU.

CoelhoOurTimeOnThisEarthIsSacred(Jan14)

Image: Journey to Peace

I am grateful to Sovani and his family for Facebook-ing their journey over these recent months; I am grateful to Sovani for always sharing about his family so lovingly; I am grateful to have witnessed the gracefulness and transparency of his daughters as they navigated this process; and, I am grateful to Sovani and his family for sharing about their Faith so openly. I have learned so much from all of them; and I thank them for teaching me the best way to step forward in the journey with my own father.

With this family’s example as my inspiration and motivation, I shall aim straight and high to celebrate every moment of this sacred life.

From Sovani’s family this morning: “After careful and thoughtful consideration of the medical team’s advice, the Family has decided to remove Sovani from life support to relieve him of needless pain and suffering. God Almighty, Our Father in Heaven, Creator of the Universe please forgive his sins and receive his Gentle Soul into Your Arms.”

*  *  *

This is my 1st formal blog since before September, and my move from DC to Nashville. The intensity and quantity of challenges that have arisen over these five months prompted me to use Facebook more often, for briefer and more expedient updates. So much has happened since September. Sometime in late Fall, I drafted an update blog called “Shalom, Y’all.” But it fell to the wayside as more important priorities – my job search, my care for dad, my general adjustment to TN and my grieving of my beloved DC – took precedence. I didn’t realize that grieving a long-time friend would also become a priority.

I am posting “Surrender, Recovery and Death” on my Urban Yoga Den blog, because I like to pass on spiritual lessons as they happen in my life. Plus, there is so much yoga in the story of Sovani’s dying days…

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “Isvarapranidanani” (there are many alternate spellings) is the 5th virtue discussed in the 2nd limb of yoga. The 2nd limb, or “Niyama,” suggests 5 ethical values to follow if one wants to live the yogic life. “Isvarapranidanani” has been described as “surrender of the self to God,” “offering everything to the Lord or to Humanity,” “sacrifice of all to the Lord”… You get the picture.

I yearn for this kind of surrender. I know it would help me when I feel frustrated with and harmed by my father – who can be quite hostile due to his illness. I know it would help me when I feel scared of losing my dad. I know it would help me when – due to such heightened vulnerability from the move, from my lack of sustaining work, from my family situation – my old core wound of being a problem rears its ugly head while dealing with my father, my sister, and others in my life…causing me to react like a threatened child.

When I look back at the peacefulness and grace that Sovani and his family portrayed through their process, I am compelled to reach deeper into my own soul for the surrender that I crave…or, should I be reaching more widely beyond my own self for that surrender? More will be revealed.

From experience, I do know this – like the 12 Steps of recovery programs, the 8 Limbs of yoga are in order for a reason. And for me, there have been many parallels in my practice of both the Steps and the Limbs.

So in this case, if I want to access the surrender I seek, I must re-commit to study and practice of Limbs 1 & 2 – the Yama and Niyama (the 10 suggested virtues). And, I must broaden that commitment to include Limbs 3-8…a process of reaching my most ideal way of living, which includes: Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (regulation of the senses), Dharana (single-focused concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (“enlightenment,” or in my own simple terms: when my actions and behaviors portray the intentions and virtues that I have been aiming for since Limbs 1 & 2).

I must also energize my commitment to integrating the 12-Steps into my daily life. As Step 12 suggests, I aim to practice the program’s principles in all of my affairs, in order to carry a healthy message and be of service to others.

Photo: Sovani Meksvanh (I loved his shameless selfies...especially these, while I was so far away.)

Photo: Sovani Meksvanh
(I loved his shameless selfies…especially these, while I was so far away.)

And so today, I am saying out loud: I re-commit to the deepening of my spiritual practices, so I may replace my fear-based reactions with a god-based surrender, faith and love…and therefore, act toward others with love and in service.

Let’s see how that goes (she says with a slightly mischievous, quite human and very forgiving smile)…

I’ll close with another timely parallel between the tools of yoga and recovery:
In his commentary on the Niyama (yoga’s 2nd Limb and collection of 5 virtues to observe), Sri Swami Satchidananda says: “All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.” And, in the two primary texts for 12-Step recovery, Bill Wilson and his co-writers say: “There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer. …when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life.” And, in relation to the 3rd step, which invites me to turn my will and life over to the care of god (and I’d say that’s the surrender I’m seeking!), “…this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”

I am grateful for both of these influences on my life, and that they both led me to a very significant relationship with an amazing man named Sovani. May god bless you and keep you, my friend. Love love love.

*  *  *

HAH! In true Holly fashion, I just spent the morning side-stepping my grief…expressing it in a very structured and intellectual manner…writing, quoting, analyzing, learning, sharing…  And later, I’ll read everybody’s loving and honoring posts on Sovani’s page.

NOW, in true honor of Sovani and my relationship with him, it’s time to get messy, surrender to my heart, and let the tears flow (oh, god – even as I proofread this piece – here they come)…into music and nature I go.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for your love. OM Shanti.

{PS – Please forgive WordPress for posting inappropriate advertising at the bottom of my posts…I can’t afford to upgrade, and they need to survive!}

 

Holly Go Lightly June 15, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Philosophy,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 5:56 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Image“There is a light and it never goes out.”  ~ Morrissey

*  *  *

There’s some drilling or sanding or sawing going on in one of the apartments beneath me; and it’s piercing enough to make my skull feel like there’s a dentist office in its core.

I’m using all of my yoga tools to navigate this minor annoyance.  Slowing my breathing into three parts through the nostrils; listening to the whisper of each inhale and exhale; releasing the tension in my jaw with each breath out.  I’m also tapping into the Somatic Experiencing Therapy practices I’ve learned in my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) treatment.  Softly focusing my eyes on the room around me, feeling the contact of both feet on the floor, observing sensations in my body.

PTSD exercises to address some bothersome construction noise?  Well, yes – because before this morning’s noise came last week’s bad news.  And I’ve been in and out of my body ever since.  Trauma includes experiencing, witnessing and/or absorbing violation or shock.  Responses to trauma vary, and can include physical pain and dissociation.  So last week, when I was blindsided by some tough news about a loved one’s hardship, my body tightened to the point of deep pain.  And I checked out.  I checked out of my body.  (This response, BTW, can happen to anyone, not just trauma survivors.)

Since last week, I’ve jumped into action to respond to the situation, and, I’ve committed to a healthy amount of self-care for stress relief.  Still, there are times when small annoyances – such as unexpected and seemingly endless piercing noises – can increase stress and consequently trigger the physical check out.

Hence the yoga and Somatic practices in response to this morning’s noise.  Because I need to feel my fingers in order to type.

*  *  *

“Murdha jyotishi siddha darsanam.”

Aphorism III.33 in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of yoga’s primary ancient guides) describes a light at the crown of the skull, which – after steady practice of concentration and meditation, and, a consequent liberation of the mind – illuminates great knowledge, lessons, teachers, masters.

I’d prefer to have a light in my skull than the sensation of a dentist’s drilling!  Thus the importance, for me, of practicing yoga’s Eight Limbs, and, including Chakra-based Hatha Yoga exercises.  Beyond the instant gratification of simply getting on a mat and moving my body, Chakra work and the Limbs offer me long-term solutions for life off the mat.

As described above, through the practices of Dharana (the 6th limb, concentration) and Dhyana (7, meditation), we can reach Samadhi (8, liberation).  Clearly, though, there are five limbs before these final three.  I believe that when the Eight Limbs are practiced in order – either within one session of yoga practice, or, as applied to specific life situations – they become a journey from the basic human condition of challenge, distraction and frustration to the liberated state of enjoying an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life.

The first two limbs have nothing to do with the physical exercise that most consider as “yoga.”  The Yama (1, things to abstain from) and Niyama (2, things to practice more of) invite us to consider values-based or ethical intentions.  Only then, after setting intentions for how we want to behave toward ourselves and others, do we step into Asana (3, poses).  Once the foundational bodily systems – the digestion; the organs; the nerves; the joints and muscles; and everything in between – are stimulated, balanced and strengthened through physical exercise, the body presents fewer obstacles to mental focus.  In addition, after Asana, our lungs are primed for Pranayama (4, breath regulation), which connects our physical attunement to our ability to concentrate.  There are many forms of Pranayama, and they are all designed to decrease distractions such as emotional imbalance (anxiety, anger, etc.), environmental discomfort (heat, cold), and even fatigue.

Through Asana and Pranayama – or, Hatha Yoga – the Chakras can be activated.  Chakra work is part of Ayurveda, India’s traditional medical system.  Loosely described, Chakras are energy centers throughout the body, which affect our physical and psychological functions and well being.  In yoga, we primarily explore seven Chakras along the top half of the body, from the tailbone to the peak of the skull.  As with the Limbs, I believe that our Chakra work is progressive – through poses and breath work, we initially activate the energy at the base of the spine, and then make efforts to raise that vibration to the crown of the head.  In the first three Chakras, we visit our basic foundations of origins (tailbone), connections (sacrum) and identity (belly).  In the next three Chakras, we ascend through our higher centers of passion (heart), expression (throat) and intuition (forehead).  The crown Chakra represents an energy of great clarity and illumination.

This is an extremely simplified description of the Chakras.  Chakra work also includes Ayurvedic diet, “Kriyas” and many related practices, and, would take an entirely separate blog (and much additional study) to describe.  I highly recommend attending Chakra-focused classes and workshops to learn more and feel the profound affects of using poses and breath work to become physically and emotionally balanced.

Getting back to the Eight Limbs – Pratyahara (5, senses regulation) comes prior to the aforementioned trifecta of Dharana/Dhyana/Samadhi (6, 7 & 8), takes many forms of practice and addresses sensitivity to external distraction.  So, by the time we reach Dharana, we have deliberately pointed the mind, awakened the body and shaped the breath toward intention; the senses have softened; and concentration can deepen.  When our single-pointed focus deepens to the point where we no longer concentrate on something, but actually experience it, we have crossed the line to Dhyana.  For example, when silently repeating a word or mantra, such as “Peace” or “Shanti,” at some point, the meditator may actually begin to feel peaceful.

Ahhh, the 8th Limb…Samadhi.  My favorite way for describing Samadhi, or, liberation, is to compare it to “The Zone.”  When an athlete is “in The Zone,” she has finely-tuned her practice with such resolute intention and action that she no longer has to think about her feet, her arms, her technique, her pace, the goal post, the plate, etc.  When in The Zone, she becomes one with her purpose and easily flows toward it.

The Patanjali’s Sutras prescribe practicing yoga much like a disciplined athlete prepares to perform – consistently, over a long period of time and with total earnestness.  As we say in addiction recovery programs, the steps are in order for a reason – and so are the limbs and the Chakras.  We grow through each; we take two steps forward and one step back; and if we have an issue with one limb/Chakra, we can retreat to the previous for its wisdom and strength.

*  *  *

I just spent the month of May digging into our class focus on “Light,” and exploring Sutra III.33 and the Chakras.  The timing was perfect.  Because when I got punched in the gut by bad news last week, although initially rocketed into anxiety and worry, I was able to navigate toward solution and action.  I posted a vague update on Facebook and then stayed off for a day.  I drew upon all of my healthiest resources (which, due to my history of trauma, extend way beyond yoga alone) and was able to – despite extreme stress – show up for life.

The evening after receiving the news, I jumped onto Facebook to check in…

“Hello out there. I am hopping onto FB to thank everyone for responding to last night’s post with messages, texts, comments and calls. I feel your support, care and love.
Last night I received blindsiding news about a serious situation in a dear one’s life. It is not a health situation; it is, however, a very private situation. And it will demand a lot of my energy, immediately and over the coming months.

“Yoga, Judaism, addiction recovery, spirituality, mindfulness, intentional living…thankfully, all of these wonderful influences fuel me with everything I need to get through any situation. And I feel comforted to know that, if I run out of fuel, the community that has emerged from my life circles will lend me some of theirs. I am so, so grateful.

“You are probably familiar with the airlines’ brilliant philosophy to ‘put your own mask on before attempting to help those around you.’  I am taking action toward simplification, fortification and self-care. For example, a visit to the chiropractor and a heart-opening practice with my teacher got me back into my body this morning. Plus, I ditched my current Ayurvedic cleanse/New Moon fast plans and am diving into healthy sustenance…ok…and some comfort food…! And sadly, I had to cancel/postpone some of my volunteer projects; but I am still hoping to serve in simple ways. Because being of service not only supports others – when I am struggling, it truly strengthens me.

“I am neck-deep in calls and e-mails and action about this situation; so please forgive me if I haven’t responded to your messages. Again, thank you for reaching out. I will reach back as soon as I can, because I treasure you and want to connect. Sending so much love. OM Shanti.”

*  *  *

Approaching yoga through the Eight-Limbed journey – particularly when we reach Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – we are promised an “everyday enlightenment.”  Through consistent focus on, attention to and respect for the Eight Limbs and constant awareness of Chakra energy, I’ve enjoyed longer and longer periods of union with my highest values, therefore supporting sustained ease, peace and service.

I aim to access that light at the crown of my skull, not for the sake of being higher or better or separate from other yogis or beings, rather, in order to find my teachers, discover my lessons, deepen my knowledge and work toward mastering my craft of living life on life’s terms.  For me, the teachers have appeared in many different forms – including tough experiences.  Phew!  Thank goodness, after a long life of hardships, I became willing to learn; and I have discovered a valuable lesson from every challenge.  Over time, I have learned how to apply yoga, related resources and an eclectic toolbox to address all of life’s annoyances, traumas and tough news.

Today, I can walk lightly despite very heavy realities.  And may you, as well.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

“Lead me from that which is false, dark and temporary to that which is true, light and everlasting.”  ~ Hindu Prayer
“I stood in the sunlight at last.”  ~ Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  ~ John 1:5
“Blessed are You, L
ORD, Who creates the lights of the fire.”  ~ Jewish Prayer
“May the light of truth overcome all the darkness.”  ~ Integral Yoga Prayer

 

Sankalpa: The Space Between December 13, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,New Year,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

The New Year approaches. Perhaps you are considering your resolutions for 2013. Consider this:

Your past. Your experience. Your mistakes. Your embarrassments. Your outright failings. Your fulfilling moments. Your accomplishments. Your successes. Your triumphs.

Your foundation for setting New Year’s Resolutions.

Photo: Holly Meyers

Photo: Holly Meyers

Personally, I cannot look ahead to future goals without deeply (deeply) reflecting on my past. Behind me lie the clues for sensing what might come next. And if I seriously consider these hints, my next steps will be in harmony with whatever makes sense for my ongoing direction. On the other hand, if I do not consider where I’ve come from, then despite having all the best motivations, my path forward will certainly include more bumps, stalls and difficulties than necessary.

In the past, all too often I would set a goal (whether New Year related or not) based on unfounded hopes for the future…correction…based on conjured demands on my future. For example, the future must yield this or that. It must because the present is disappointing, unacceptable, even unbearable. In my past, current conditions would inspire a desire for change – but without recognition that change requires reflection, intention and then resolution.

There is a space between assessing the past and setting goals for the future. In that space dwells Sankalpa – Sanskrit for “deep resolve” or more generally, “intention.”

* * *

At the beginning of every yoga class that I teach, I invite yogis to form a personal intention for the practice – but only after taking time to observe the current, authentic flow of thoughts (without editing or censoring), the present physical state (without judgment), the natural breathing (without shaping it at all) and the senses (without controlling the tug or pull). Next, returning to the mind, we zero-in on one thought that’s been tapping us on the shoulder more than ever – again, without censoring or editing. And based on that thought – regardless of its quality – we shape an affirmation, a dedication or a positive reflection to bring purpose to our time on the mat. We form a Sankalpa.

With that Sankalpa in mind, we check in with how the body feels when the thoughts are positive; we shape the breath into three-parts to deepen the flow of intention on the inhale, and to dissolve and release distractions on the exhale; we notice that, as we embody and breathe with intention, the senses soften and concentration can deepen. In a way, we cycle through the eight limbs as a centering ritual.

During our Asana practice, I encourage yogis to regularly reconnect their body, breath and intention.

By the end of class, all of our initial observations – the mind, the body, the breath, the senses – have become the past, they are behind us. Distracting thoughts, worries or anticipations about the future have softened. What remains is the present intention in our hearts and minds, and our resolve to take that Sankalpa off our mats and into the rest of our day.

* * *

For December, anticipating the approaching flip of the calendar and the related trend of goal-setting, I introduced “Intention and Purpose” as our class focus. And my home studio (Quiet Mind Yoga in DC) chose Warrior II as the Asana of the month. So we’re fusing Sankalpa and Asana for some deliberate work toward New Year’s resolutions, and gearing up for our New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop at the studio.

Inevitably, my teaching of these themes and poses is powerfully shaping my personal reflections and practice. (I am so lucky to be devoted to yoga, and to teach it! I can’t imagine trying to navigate life without such intent and purpose.) Here’s what’s been arising for me this month…

When I look back on 2012, I recall these landmarks (in the order they popped into my mind):
– Committing to my “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention” blog and actions
– Rockin’ out at loads of awesome concerts
– Rockin’ out (and praying my heart out) at the Jai Uttal, Hanumen and DC Supersonic Kirtans; playing percussion and chanting with wonderful Bhakti yogis
– Coordinating and facilitating the 1-year reunion for DC-area Off the Mat, Into the World intensive participants; wrapping up my volunteer Community Builder service for OTM
– Planting roots as a teacher at Quiet Mind Yoga; part-time managing QMY for a temporary spring/summer gig

Photo: Holly Meyers

Photo: Holly Meyers

– Teaching yoga and percussion for another fantastic six weeks of the Levine School of Music’s summer camp
– Being mildly assaulted by a kid in my neighborhood; engaging in a makeshift restorative justice process with him right there and then; enjoying complete reconciliation with him months later
– Leaving a long-term teaching gig on principle; realizing I could have navigated the situation more confidently and potentially stayed
– Celebrating my team – The Washington Nationals – as they clinched the MLB National League East division title and wrestled their way through a noble post season (my god, I still get butterflies in my stomach and tears in my eyes recalling witnessing it all)
– Reuniting with some important friends; losing some relationships with people I care about due to my fear-based triggers and consequent reactions; healing some relationships despite my triggers and reactions; enjoying stronger relationships with those that embrace and practice the process of healing and growing from past patterns; receiving patience and love from those that support my process of healing and growth
– Witnessing, praying for and showing up to support close friends going through very difficult challenges
– Saying a final good bye to a man who betrayed me over and over and over; wising up; honoring my heart and soul
– Enjoying and witnessing ongoing healing and growth within my family of origin
– Attending yoga workshops and trainings focusing on at-risk populations’ issues, including Tommy Rosen’s Recovery 2.0 and James Fox’s Prison Yoga Project; starting a regular practice with Faith Hunter; tuning up the Chakras with Seane Corn and Amy Barnes
– Reaching 10 years of recovery from addiction; continuing to connect with and be of service in my recovery community
– Celebrating my 47th birthday with loving friends and community
– Reaching out far-and-wide with a job search effort; receiving support from many; facing the reality of my un-employability within today’s job market; navigating the doubt, fear and stress of being without full-time employment; using yoga and related practices to remain peaceful despite stress; borrowing money and navigating related shame and despair
– Feeling a very definitive shift from being negatively enmeshed with the pain of my past, to being positively strengthened by that past, and witnessing it inform my present purpose
– Staying open and honest, maintaining my “Nothing To Hide” mantra

* * *

Looking ahead, when I envision my ongoing future, I see these larger goals:
– “Ahimsa Now” as a nonprofit project, program or organization
– The Urban Yoga Den as a physical space for restorative work

Photo: Maria Teresa Henderson

Photo: Maria Teresa Henderson

– Credentials via university degrees or other certifications to support the creation of Ahimsa Now and The Urban Yoga Den
– Contributing to Restorative Justice efforts as a yoga teacher, counselor, social worker and/or lawyer
– The Urban Yoga Den blog evolving into a wider-reaching resource and a full-length memoir
– Contributing to family well-being and supporting the healthy aging of my father
– Remaining an active member of my recovery community, in service to others
– A loving, trusting, devoted, evolving circle of friends
– Playing percussion professionally more often
– A financially sustained life through which I can give more to others, and cultivate more rejuvenation for myself
– Yoga anchoring my every breath, thought, action ‘til the day I die

I’m sure I’m forgetting something! But hey, these are long-term ideas, so they aren’t going anywhere…

To set intentions for next year, I want to look clearly at what has happened this year, and recognize obvious direction, natural patterns, ongoing strengths and challenges. Also, I want to see if that experience is at all related to my vision for the future; and if so, how and where and why. And I must connect the dots between past experience and future dreams. And only then can I set intentions for next steps.

* * *

Behind me lies my past, before me awaits my future…in my heart center dwells my Sankalpa for moving forward – with informed wisdom, deep resolve and realistic intention.

So, when I think about Sankalpa for 2013, I feel these intentions arise in my heart:
– I will continue doing the practices and work to heal (from past brokenness), grow (into new strength) and serve (passing on what helps me heal and grow).
– I will continue to plant seeds for opportunities to share yoga with at-risk beings.
– I will ask peers and teachers for advice re: continuing education to strengthen credentials and knowledge for starting a non-profit organization. I will research their suggestions and options for continuing education. I will contact schools or programs regarding scholarships and other preparatory steps.

Photo: Holly Meyers

Photo: Holly Meyers

– I will practice percussion regularly.
– I will continue to attend concerts and baseball games for rejuvenating, exhilarating, blissful breaks. I will spend healthy time in nature.
– I will continue to pause and witness my own fears when feeling negatively triggered by those I care about. I will continue to slow down reactions and decrease the need to make amends. I will make amends promptly when necessary. I will prioritize developing trust and love.
– I will nurture friendships. I will visit family at least three times. I will make appointments to research services to support my aging father.
– I will continue to seek financially sustaining work that supports my day-to-day living, and, my step-by-step pursuance of continuing education and the founding of a nonprofit.
– I will chant my face off and pray my heart out at Kirtans. I will work with teachers to enhance my Asana practice and pass it on to my students.

This is it. This is what arises in my heart for the coming year. I am keeping it simple, building on the roots that were planted during 2012, which was a very positive year for me. Gratefully. I am feeling myself returning to my essence, my strength, my joy.

When I practice this process of assessing the past, envisioning the future, and setting realistic intentions for each present step forward, I can be true to and consistently fulfill my big-picture purpose. But how do I discover my purpose? Stay tuned for the next December blog, “On Purpose” – inspired by my recent teacher training with the Prison Yoga Project.

Wishing you a reflective December. Hope to see you on the mat, in the ‘hood or among the electronic air waves soon. OM Shanti.

 

Peace Tools: Raja Yoga August 14, 2012

(Note: Much of this is adapted from my May 2010 post on “Transition & Balance.”)

According to my teachers, the ancients invented Hatha Yoga so people could sit longer during a specific task.

Back then, yogis were sages who were meditating toward the highest state of harmony, otherwise known as Samadhi.  In his commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga Hatha founder Swami Satchidananda describes physical yoga as a process created for practitioners to eliminate physical distractions such as body aches and digestive imbalances through Asana (poses); enhance detoxification and energize the body using Pranayama (breathing exercises); reach Pratyahara (softening of the senses) as a result; then, settle comfortably into long periods of contemplation via Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation).  These are just five of yoga’s Eight Limbs – an eight-step system for reaching Samadhi – which are thoroughly explored within Patanjali’s ancient Sutras.  The Yama andNiyama (ethical considerations) comprise the 1st two limbs; and Samadhi is the 8th limb.

Today, yogis are regular-old-people who are sitting through work days, concentrating on family affairs, digesting world crises and seeking peace in daily challenges.  Our contemporary version of reaching Samadhi might be fulfilling our highest intentions for living mindfully on any given day.  Personally, the Eight Limbs have taught me tools for addressing all of this and more.  Their physical and ideological recommendations have been the greatest gift of my life.  Thus far.

Contemporary commentary on the Sutras has become progressive and expansive, enhancing what used to be mere physical exercise for many modern yogis.  Thankfully, there are more and more writings on Raja Yoga – the philosophy and ethics behind yoga’s “spiritual” side, or values-based practices.

When I say “spiritual,” I generally mean ethical, mindful and service-oriented; to me, a spiritual life maintains these qualities.  To achieve this intention for a values-based life, I focus on the tangible benefits of Hatha Yoga; and, I also contemplate the “spiritual” foundations for cultivating emotional and psychological balance within myself in order to share it with the world.

In my understanding, Patanjali’s Sutras are recognized as the most comprehensive treatment of Raja Yoga.  I have been most influenced by the following explorations of the Sutras:

  • The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda (www.YogaHealthBooks.com)
  • Raja Yoga – by Swami Vivekananda (www.YogaHealthBooks.com)
  • Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace – by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (www.HimalayanInstitute.org)
  • Yoga Journal, May 2010 Issue – “Love In Full Bloom” by Frank Jude Boccio; “Journey to the Light” by Kate Holcombe (www.YogaJournal.com)
  • Integral Yoga Magazine, Spring 2010 Issue – “Yoga Sutras Unveiled” section with multiple authors (www.IYMagazine.org)
  • And numerous teachers’ blogs.

In my personal Raja Yoga studies, I turn to four favorite Sutras for nurturing balance in the midst of life’s twists and turns.  I think of them as Peace Tools.

*  *  *

HOLLY’S FAVORITE SUTRAS FOR CULTIVATING INNER PEACE

1 – A PROMISE

Early in Book One, Sutra 1.2 says, “Yogas Citta Vrtti Nerodhah” or “Yoga restrains the disturbances of the mind.”  We’ve probably experienced a bit of this at the end of a luscious yoga class!  That remarkable liberation of the mind, free of worry and forgetful of fear, glowing with presence and brimming with confidence.  So in the very beginning of Patanjali’s aphorisms, we are assured: using yoga as described in the Sutras, we can still the mind and show up for life with serenity and peace.  We don’t have to force our mind into restraint – YOGA does it for us.

2 – A PRACTICAL TOOL

Sometimes I need more than my regular Asana practice to restrain disturbances of my mind.  If I sneak forward to Book Two, I find the remedy.  Sutra 2.33 says, “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam” or “When disturbed by negative thoughts, contrary thoughts should be employed.”  There are days when I find myself repeating “Pratipaksha Bhavana!” like a mantra, in order to snap out of negativity.  My Uncle Bill was the king of replacing negative with positive.  I remember one conversation in particular.  I was feeling hopeless and believed I’d made too many mistakes during my early adult life to ever repair the damage and pursue my dreams.  I’d been swimming in self-pity and doubt for a while.  As I defended my despair, Uncle Bill interrupted – “Well, Holly,” he said with his soothing Tennessee twang and churchgoers’ faith, “I believe you sort of lived your life backwards – when you were younger, you made all of your mistakes and somehow survived all of your trials.  Now you get to move forward based on what you’ve learned and live a better life!”  And you know what?  Since learning to replace negativity with positive or constructive thoughts, many of my dreams and intentions have been realized!  Pratipaksha Bhavana, indeed!

3 – THE FOUR LOCKS AND KEYS

To further pacify the citta (mind), we backtrack to Book One.  Sutra 1.33 says, “Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhkha Punyapunya Visayanam Bavanatas Citta Prasadanam.” The many lengthy translations and commentaries on this aphorism offer an overall belief that there are four locks in our own minds and in the character of other people: happy, unhappy, virtuous and non-virtuous.  To confront these attitudes – whether ours or others’ – Patanjali suggests: “Befriend the happy; have compassion for the unhappy; delight in the virtuous; be indifferent toward the non-virtuous.”  To properly discuss this Sutra would take many blog entries.  I refer you to the Yoga Journal articles and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait book cited above for my inspirations to have mercy toward unhappy mindsets (i.e. being compassionate with myself when feeling low) and to compassionately detach from non-virtuous acts (i.e. the violence of murder – see my November 2009 “Compassion for Killers” post).

The previous Sutras offer immense assurance.  If we practice yoga in this way, we can count on these results.  When we show up for our practice in this way, we give back to the world with these offerings.

And then comes…

4 – THE ULTIMATE PROMISE OF ALL PROMISES

Sutra 2.16 is my most favorite idea in the whole-wide-world.  “Heyam Duhkham Anagatam.” “The misery which has not yet come is to be avoided.”  By using yoga’s tools on and off the mat, we can avoid future suffering!  Yea!  Not only can we decrease physical injuries by practicing Asana with respect for our bodies, we can also decrease mental anguish by embracing Raja Yoga’s ideas.  This doesn’t mean that we can avoid bad experiences, because life will deal us whatever cards we are meant to hold.  But we can decrease and abbreviate misery and suffering while going through any difficulties by utilizing yoga’s resources.

*  *  *

For me, the most beautiful thing about these promises and suggestions is that, at any time of the day or night, no matter what is happening, I can reach into my Peace Toolbox to deepen my practice, my inner peace and my connections among others.

I don’t ever want to take this for granted.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Guest Blog for Quiet Mind Yoga – 2012 Intention: There is No “On” or “Off” the Mat February 2, 2012

Guest Blog for Quiet Mind Yoga (Reprinted by permission)

2012 Intention: There is No “On” or “Off” the Mat

Life’s ironies are entertaining, no?

At the beginning of each class, I invite students to set an intention for their practice. “This ‘Sankalpa’ is a positive reflection, affirmation or dedication that brings purpose to your time on the mat,” I say. At the end of each class, I encourage students to live their Sankalpa in everyday life. “Make a gentle intention to carry this purpose off your mat and into the rest of your day.”

As a DC-area Community Builder for nonprofit Off the Mat, Into the World, I use “yoga off the mat” terminology frequently. To be frank, however, I am not comfortable with the idea of dividing my yoga practice into two separate entities – “On” or “Off” the mat.

To me, yoga is life, and life is yoga.

It wasn’t always this way. In the early 90s, my messy life was emotionally painful. Yoga was something I did to feel better. I didn’t think about how the practice might affect me after class – much less how it might affect the world around me. My 1st style was Kundalini (funny thing – there are no mats in Kundalini yoga!). Although I may not have realized it then, our closing song planted a seed about yoga’s potential beyond the room where I was practicing: “May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.”

Around 1999, I started practicing Hatha yoga and the teacher’s closing dedication said, “May our bodies and minds be healthy, may our thoughts be filled with love. May our practice be free of obstacles, and may we carry its benefits into the world.” This same teacher talked about yoga’s Eight Limbs, which I understood as a process of growth from intention, through action, and to manifestation. That seed planted in the early 90s? It started to sprout conscientiousness about my responsibility to somehow share the gifts that I had so generously received from this healing practice.

In November 2008, I completed my Yoga Teacher Training at an Ashram, where for four weeks we were immersed in yoga – everything we did with our bodies, hearts and minds came from ancient origins. The trainers’ primary advice as we ran off into the wild blue yonder of teaching yoga? “Be a yogi.” And the seed grew into a tree whose cycle of life would organically nurture its own needs and nourish the earth from which it came.

At my very 1st teacher meeting at my very 1st yoga studio job, we were asked to introduce ourselves, describe our yoga style, and then say what we do “off the mat.” In other words – what do we do in our non-yoga life? I was stumped. Because it’s all yoga – whether I’m practicing flexibility in a studio or with co-workers…whether I’m practicing balance in a pose or in planning my commitments…whether I’m practicing compassion for my own pain or for unhappy people around my neighborhood…or whether I’m practicing presence in my breathing or with a loved one.

So my 2012 yoga intention is to nourish the roots that stem from my early days of practice, and re-commit to living yoga day-in and day-out. No mat required.

 

Gratitude, Pt. 1: Contentment, or, Samtosha November 8, 2011

I’ve gained 10 pounds over the past 3 months.

There are some very tangible reasons why.  My summer camp gig – during which, over a period of six weeks, I teach 90 Asana classes and 120 percussion lessons, and, run up and down the school’s stairs 100s of times – ended the first week in August.  The last week in August I gave up teaching three of my regular weekly classes – and although I don’t practice all the Asana during class, I do join in for the warm-up Sun Salutations and many of the poses.  And in September, I quit my part-time Florist job – for which I lifted dozens of buckets of water, chopped box after box of flower bunches, and climbed various steps with said buckets and flowers in-tow.  So my level of vigorous activity decreased immensely for most of September and all of October.

“Why,” you might ask, “didn’t you simply switch out your activities…attend more yoga classes…jog…take up fencing?”

Because there are less tangible but more important reasons why I gained 10 pounds.  I was busy getting comfortable with my Self.  Yup.  I was so busy climbing my way out of a major depression, re-gaining my emotional footing, digging deep to rebuild my inner strength and flying high with new truths, that I forgot to exercise my body.  And you know what?  I am OK with this.

In yoga, this might be called “Samtosha,” or, contentment.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer a design for living called the Eight Limbs.  According to this ancient text, the primary purpose of yoga is to still the mind’s disturbances.  So the eight-step process calms the mind and leads to discriminative discernment, wisdom, and/or, enlightenment.  The process includes the Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing exercises) and other popular practices from contemporary yoga classes.  But the initial two limbs, seldom taught in our studios and gyms, present ethical or ideological considerations called Yama (Abstinence) and Niyama (Observance).

In his commentary on the Sutras, Swami Satchidananda says, “[The Yama and Niyama] are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.”  To me this means that virtue comes before Asana, before Pranayama – before any of the widely familiar practices that I might know as “Yoga.”  It’s an inside job.  Or as my friend likes to tell her students, “Yoga is not a workout – it’s a work in.”

Samtosha/contentment is one of the Niyama.  If I am content, “It is what it is” becomes my mantra.  If I am content, I accept everything just as it is.  If I am content, I have no expectations.  If I am content, dissatisfaction, disappointment and discomfort fade to the background.  If I am content, I am certainly moving toward that inner peace promised in the eight limb.

Further, Swami Satchidananda claims, “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”  And Swami Vivekananda’s promises, “From contentment comes superlative happiness.”  So why beat myself up over 10 extra pounds?  It is what it is.  I’d rather feel supreme joy and superlative happiness than extreme self loathing.  My jeans feel too tight, my muffin-top runneth over, and, yoga classes are kicking my butt.  It’s humbling.  But it’s right where I want to be.  Because it’s the only place I can be.  Accepting the here and now.  Here.  And.  Now.

Y’know what else helps me accept where I am at this moment?  Remembering that I’ve gained much more than 10 pounds over the past three months.  I am grateful for every moment of that journey – from the darkness of despair to the celebration when light returned.  I’ve discovered and embraced new ideals that define me.  I’ve strengthened my purpose and priorities.  I’ve found deep faith and liberating surrender.  I’ve encircled myself with teachers of all guises.  I’ve rebuilt trust.  I’ve come to understand that the darkness itself can hold shining gems of enlightenment.

So basically…I gave up my 125-pound body for a weightless peace of mind.

Yoga teacher Max Strom recently wrote, “When gratitude fills the dark heart with love and humility, the heart becomes illuminated.”  He continues, reminding us to practice focusing on something that will inevitably bring a feeling of gratitude, “…to transform your state from a living hell, to a state of living contentment.”

Hell yeah.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

The Happy Heart Project: Days 1-31 September 29, 2011

I’ve read that we replace 1% of our cells daily. Every 100 days we have a new body. What that new body consists of is the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink, exercise we take and thoughts we think.  – A friend

Three-plus boxes of incense and 31 days ago, I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” as a simple way to set an intention.

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28th, I lit my first stick of “Happy Heart” (an incense by Maroma) and made a commitment to move toward joy for that day, and that day only.  Because that’s really all I have – one day at a time.

When I started this “project,” I understood there would be no guarantees.  The dark funk of the past year (or so) would either stay or go.  And indeed – over the past month, that funk has left, returned, become darker, been replaced by light, strengthened, weakened, disappeared, appeared again…you get the picture.

Still, it’s the intention that makes the difference.  It’s the intention that gives the journey purpose, that keeps me honest with myself, that drives me toward solutions, that sparks change.

*  *  *

“Sankalpa” is a Sanskrit word loosely meaning “intention.”  Other definitions include: commitment, resolution, resolve, will, purpose, determination, motivation.  I have heard from yoga experts that the act of reinforcing a Sankalpa has the power to replace and erase destructive habits, unwanted thoughts and false beliefs, aka negative “Samskara” (patterns created by the “scars” of life).  Setting this positive, committed intention is like a deep practice of “Pratipaksha Bhavana” – replacing negative thoughts with positive.

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.  I cling (loosely, hehehe) to this promise that my sometimes dark, anguished and seeking (aka human) mind can be calmed by yoga.  And not just the movement of my body on a mat, but all of yoga’s calming practices, from Pranayama (the movement of vital energy through oxygenation, aka, breathing) to setting a Sankalpa.

*  *  *

So how did the 1st month of “Happy Heart” burning go?

Well let’s see…in no particular order:

During a three-day yoga retreat, I had a soul-bearing conversation with a beautiful old tree, a powerfully silent meditation at Satchidananda’s tomb, and a thankful turn-of-the-corner from darkness to light.  Since returning from retreat, I have awakened between 5:30 and 7am each day to practice Pranayama, meditation and prayer.  I reunited and hung out with wonderful friends; listened to Car Talk and laughed my butt off; took a nourishing Asana class with a teacher I’d never experienced; saw the Washington Nationals’ win their final home game; saw “Our Idiot Brother” (silly comedy) and “The Interrupters” (intense documentary).  After consulting with trusted doctors, I paused my PTSD therapy in order to soften the intense triggers arising after the June mugging.  I finally started sleeping through the night and balancing out during the day with the help of herbal and nutrient-based supplements.  While walking near my home, I saw the guy who mugged me, followed him (again), called the police (again), and lost him (again).  I received very caring attention from DC MPD detectives.  I met with a DC MPD inspector who likes my idea of teaching Pranayama and meditation to traumatized cops.  In response to these recent tough times, and, the approach of my 9th anniversary of addiction recovery, I increased my recovery activities and started receiving regular guidance from a recovery program mentor.  The early-recovery gal that I was mentoring moved on to work with a different mentor.  I showed up for others; picked up my friend’s kids from the school bus stop; listened to friends who are hurting.  I had a panic attack, triggered by a false belief that someone was going to abandon me.  The all-female Kirtan group I’m in – The Shaktis – guided a roof-raising night of chanting at a yoga center.  I continued teaching my three yoga classes per week, with a focus on “Everyday Enlightenment” – observing how we carry our Eight Limb influences off the mat and into daily life.  I showed up for my part-time retail job; I reached the end of my rope with ongoing poor treatment by a co-worker; I quit that job.  Today I interviewed for a new job.

I healed, I worried, I laughed, I grieved.  I walked with confidence, I asked for help.  I felt pissed off; I felt forgiving; I felt human.

In other words, I experienced life.

Somewhere around Day #20, there was one morning that I felt so frustrated that I did not want to light the incense.  I did it anyway.

Because that’s what a Sankalpa is – a commitment, no matter what.  A firm resolution to stick with the positive action despite all challenges.  Or, even better – a firm resolution to meet all challenges with positive action.  Whether that positive action is to grieve authentically or celebrate joyously.

*  *  *

At this moment, under the new-new moon, I am preparing to attend Rosh Hashanah services.  The Jewish New Year launches a period of intense prayer, forgiveness (offered and requested), and atonement.  After 10 days, on Yom Kippur, we seal these efforts with a one-day fast.  I didn’t plan it this way – but after these 31 days of ups, downs, turned corners, endings, clarity and renewed intention…the rituals of the High Holy Days are the perfect way to start my 2nd month of “The Happy Heart Project.”

More will be revealed.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

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 UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com 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!

 

Clearing the Obstacles August 6, 2011

I am sorry to hear your pain.  You are a wonderful human being and deserve tranquility, peace, and love.  I would suggest that you stay focused on what is good for YOU, rest will follow.  –  letter from a friend

This quote sounds like something I would say to a student or friend.  Instead, it is an e-mail that a friend just sent to me.  I know he meant to write, “…stay focused on what is good for YOU, THE rest will follow.”  Yet the fact is, if I stay focused on what is good for me, indeed, rest will follow.  And I really, really need some rest.  The kind of rest that allows the heart to remember its yearnings, yearnings to cultivate clarity, clarity to turn into action, and action to yield change.

This has been the hardest blog to write, ever.  I keep starting and stopping; switching directions; adding this and that.  Stopping.  Sobbing.  And starting again.

It’s difficult to be 100% honest, and that’s what I need to do.  It’s difficult to not shade my current negative state with the positive solutions of yoga.  Is it yogic to admit that I am in pain, and that my usual solutions seem out of reach?

*  *  *

I feel it’s time for big change and I’m starting with small things.  But I wish I could crack myself open and re-program.  – letter to a friend

Last week, on my 46th birthday, I started parting my hair on the opposite side.

Ganesha, new hair part, pneumonia and me on my 46th birthday.

Immediately, I felt like a new person.  I saw myself differently.  My eyes looked happier.  My head felt lighter.  My mind was clearer.

The weekend before, I’d hit an emotional bottom where I spent an entire day acting very un-yoga-like.  OK, I’ll say it – although I haven’t had a drink or drug in nearly 9 years, I was acting as toxic as a drunken addict.  It was not pretty, people.  Some who went through that day with me were very forgiving.  Some were not.  Some recognized that stress from recent physical illness and emotional difficulties fueled my offensiveness.  Some didn’t care, because they were hurt.  And still others (thank goodness for the others) offered amazing advice and insight – including the belief that I’m hitting a bottom because big change is coming.

So last week, after a series of Facebook posts about fighting demons, letting go and changing…I parted my hair on the other side.

*  *  *

In the past month alone, notable events forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, activities and needs, and to reignite my practices, beliefs and vision.  – August “Yoga Update” (see “newsletter” tab)

To complement my fresh hair style, I’ve also been wearing my Ganesha charm more frequently.

Not only have I felt a need for newness, but also for a strong shove of old things out of the way.  When I first started practicing Vinyasa yoga, my teacher constantly spoke of “letting go of what doesn’t serve in order to make room for what does.”  I don’t frequently pray to specific deities, but being reminded of Ganesha’s power to clear obstacles (and provide protection) has been motivating.

These days, I know I need to release many things that compromise my deepest well-being in order to create space for what cultivates sustainable, lasting inner peace.  For instance, on mornings between the full and new moons, I used to pray, “Let me let go of anything that gets in the way of your will for me.”  Regretfully, that practice has faded off…but it’s time to bring it back.

*  *  *

Hindsight is 20/20.  – popular phrase

As you might know, I was mugged in June.  Feedback on my blog, “The Yoga of Being Mugged” has been positive.  People have used words like “resilient” and “compassionate” regarding my response to the situation.  I agree, and am thankful to be someone who uses yoga and other tools to recover from and address life’s difficulties.

Now here comes the 100% honesty – because I don’t want you to think that I am responding with perfect strength and forgiveness to an assault.  I want you to know that it hurt.  I want you to know that I now walk around scared and suspicious and over-reactive.  I want you to know that my past traumas have been triggered since the mugging.  And I want you to know that I sometimes act like a jerk because of this state.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know a bit about my painful childhood and rough road toward adulthood.  These last 18 years of yoga practice, complemented by 8+ years of addiction recovery, have sparked a journey of mending and growth.  Still, I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg in undoing 25 years of destructive patterns and related consequences.

When I look back on my life’s traumas, I see the lesson behind each one.  So why am I so stuck in the pain of the past?  Because, due to my childhood isolation and later impulse to kill emotions with substances, I did not properly process and/or grieve these traumas at the time that they took place.  Making sense of them is one thing; authentically expressing and healthily processing the emotions is a whole other ball game.

Thankfully, these days I am feeling weary from past traumas robbing me of day-to-day happiness.  I am feeling a low tolerance for anything that does not match my craving for inner peace.  I am fed up with these obstacles keeping me from my intentions to be of service in this world.

So I am willing to do whatever it takes to change.

At the same time that I am willing to let go of limitations, I am somehow holding on.  I have taken the reigns, and have been gripping them tightly.  Terrified of feeling more pain, I have taken complete control of my life.  Regretfully.  Because when I am in complete control, there’s little room for you, for anyone, for a higher power, for healthy risk, for trust, for faith.

*  *  *

I’ve been learning to drive, my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In The Backseat”

It’s time to let someone else take the wheel.  Let go.  Change.

In the Mahabharata – an ancient Hindu text – there is a story about true surrender.

A king wants to ruin a man’s reputation, and so decides to shame the man’s wife, Draupadi, by stripping off her sari in public.  A sari is a traditional Indian dress, made from several yards of material wrapped around the body.  In the story, the king begins to unwrap the sari, and in turn, Draupadi clings tightly in fear.  She continues to use all her strength while crying to god for help.

After much struggle, Draupadi realizes that, as long as she clings in fear, there will not be space for god to help her.  Bravely, she lets go of the sari, holds her hands up and exclaims, “If you want me to face this disgrace I will accept it.  I totally trust you; my life is in your hands.”  Miraculously, Draupadi’s sari becomes infinitely long, and the king becomes exhausted.  Draupadi was saved.

The first time I read this story around three years ago, I was struck by Draupadi’s willingness to accept god’s will, even if it means disgrace.  In the margin of the book I wrote, “WOW.  I wish for this surrender.”

At this very moment, I feel that exact yearning.  Since June, I have been so racked by fear that I wake up each morning with my fists clenched so tightly that my thumbs come out of their joints.

Shifting from self reliance to accepting help takes deep work.  A PTSD therapist has been helping me work through my past so I can heal from it.  Most days, I feel quite vulnerable, like a wounded animal, backed into my protective corner.  You know what “they” say about wounded animals – don’t go near them.

But circumstances have prohibited this isolation, and demanded togetherness.  Shortly after the mugging, I came down with pneumonia and had to ask for a lot of support.  All through my birthday week, my home was filled with friends bringing fresh produce, fun gifts and positive energy.  It chipped away at my rock-hard walls of “That’s OK, I can do it myself.”

I am continuing to reach out for the company, wisdom, experiences and advice of those prepared to step into the corner with me.  Yes, when they come near me, I might act overly protective.  I might swat them away.  I might misunderstand their concern for judgment.  I might mistake their discomfort for dislike.  I might offend them.  I might piss them off.  And they might or might not forgive me.

I will, however, forgive myself.

*  *  *

Here is the hardest part to write.  In my current state of imbalance, can I honorably teach the Eight Limbs, and how they outline a simple process for taking yoga’s principles off the mat and into everyday life?  How can I share “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nrodhah” and encourage yoga as a practice for calming the mind, when my mind is far from calm?  How can I authentically pass on yoga’s tools, when they don’t seem to be working for me in this time of extreme challenge?

Or does this messy phase of life illustrate yoga’s transformation?  Maybe this is my own version of “Draupadi’s Sari.”  Maybe my wish for absolute surrender is coming true.

One thing is for certain – this is my emotional bottom, and the only way out is up.

*  *  *

My god, Holly, you got mugged and now you have pneumonia?  The universe is trying to tell you something.  – a friend

My sassy answer to this remark?  “Uh-huh, the universe is telling me that I am a tough broad who can get through anything!”  Perhaps.  That would certainly match my self-reliant conditioning.  At the same time, I’m open to a totally different point of view.  By sending me a mugging, pneumonia and related challenges, the universe could be urging me to ‘fess up and say, “Come closer to me.”

See me, accept me, love me for exactly who I am – right now.  Vulnerable, fearful, distrustful and resentful.  Wounded.  Ready to focus on what’s good for me.  And more than ready for (the) rest.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

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.