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Ahimsa Now: 100 Days Of Intention – The Halfway Mark May 29, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Life,Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 8:39 pm
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Back in April, I launched a 100-day exploration of “Ahimsa” – the Sanskrit word for “avoidance of violence” or “avoidance of harm.”  Each morning, I light a stick of incense and say, “Ahimsa Now” – the name of my envisioned non-profit organization.  Ahimsa Now’s mission is to use yoga and related practices to address emotional pain and increase inner peace within at-risk youth and those that serve them, consequently decreasing violence within at-risk communities.

During this deliberate, one-day-at-a-time journey toward July 13th, my intention is to deepen my understanding of the human impulse toward harm, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So far, I have unearthed the depth of my own fear of being harmed – and how that fear can drive me to harm myself and others.  Not in hugely violent ways.  In ways like: pushing away or running away from situations and people when a small-ish instance of harm makes me feel greatly threatened – and then feeling the painful consequences of those self-generated losses.

I’m wondering if this sounds familiar to anyone…

*  *  *

Over the past 50+ days, I have curiously and patiently observed my impulse to Get The F*** Out.

I have been hurt – seriously hurt – too many times in life.  So it takes great effort to remain in a situation where I sense potential harm.  I must be acutely aware of my own fear’s ability to make something look worse than it is.  I must investigate.  I must root myself in trust, gain counsel and stay the course.  Life itself turns into a practice in times like these.

Maybe one day, all this practice will pay off and I’ll be able to just peacefully hang out in life.  Until then, “practice makes perfect.”  Or perhaps – practice makes acceptably imperfect.

Over the past 50+ days:

– I navigated a lot of loss (mine and others’) without getting too hypersensitive in or reactive to non-related situations.  I was mindful that painful situations can bring out the worst in me – but don’t have to.  I remembered to take good care of myself during the stress, in order to focus on my friends’ struggles, take my own pain out of the middle and be of service to others.  Among other things, I attended lots of yoga classes, workshops and Kirtan.

– I left a part-time job where someone verbally attacked me during the above-mentioned time of loss.  I was coached by others to separate the attacker’s action from the attacker herself (just like in Sutra 1.33), to have compassion and to return.  In the end, I just didn’t have the strength to potentially endure more hostility.  I’ll admit that I wish I’d taken a break instead of leaving altogether; because today I could walk in as strong as ever.  And now I am without that income, which causes stress.  Live and learn.

– I resolutely stayed with a rather rewarding part-time job despite challenges.  There are just some situations where the pros far outweigh the cons.  And in this case, my own fears created imaginary “cons.”  Thankfully they were elbowed out by very real pros: the faith I have in my talents, the support I receive from leadership and co-workers, and the security of working with a very caring and committed team.  Chanting the “Asato Ma” definitely helped clear my mind, so I could see that I would not be harmed there!

– I walked away from a difficult conversation with a friend and have not touched base since.  I definitely felt the threat of being emotionally harmed; but I am not yet certain what in the world actually happened to build to that point.  I just knew I felt triggered and had to get out.  So I did.  As in all conflicts with tried-and-true friends, I hope for reconciliation.  But for now, I need some time.

– I ended a dating relationship.  I stayed present long enough to discern whether my fears were telling me stories; I gained counsel because my dating experience is thin; and I was able to recognize simple incompatibility.  No fooling myself until the discomfort became conflict or blame or harm.  No disappearing act.  Just an honest explanation and a respectful good-bye.

I minded my own business when witnessing violence in my ‘hood, instead of being triggered into interference, which could lead to being harmed – among other things.  This is a huge area of growth for this paradoxically street-tough yogini.

In all of these situations, something existed that made me feel potentially threatened.  In my habit patterns, my options would be to get out, push away or close in – and therefore cause harm to others and myself.  Instead (when I could) I paused, took a breath, grounded myself – then used the tools of gaining counsel, trusting self-knowledge, exercising discernment and surrendering to the care of a higher being.  If I made a mistake along the way, I examined my motives, explained my actions, took responsibility for any harm I caused and offered amends.  And I felt love, compassion and forgiveness toward myself despite these mistakes.

I continued to grow toward Ahimsa.

So yes, I come from a challenging background which at times triggers a huge fear of being harmed.  But as luck would have it, I have been placed on a path that has been chock-full of opportunities for, tools for and teachers of transformation, healing and growth.  I have no option but to bounce along.

If I always get the f*** out, I don’t have a chance for growth.  But if I reprogram this default reaction and stick around, I can change my next response.

*  *  *

50 days of observation has reinforced my belief that people cause harm when they are in pain. 

Pain is inevitable.  And because painful situations will always occur – IF we want to decrease the cycle of harm and violence by increasing our own inner peace – we need tools for working through and addressing our own pain before we inflict it upon others.  We also need tools for deep acceptance, compassion and forgiveness when we do lash out, in our naturally imperfect humanness.

Yoga gives us positive alternatives to living in emotional pain.  Yoga is a safe venue for releasing pain.  Yoga cultivates inner peace despite pain.  Yoga reinforces non-violence as a resolution against causing more pain.

In the coming 40-something days, I will be sharing “Peace Tools” – a series of blogs sharing the yogic and related practices that help me stick around when I want to run, open my mind when I want to judge and take a breath when I want to control.  Basically, “Peace Tools” are my favorite practices for cultivating an accountable and serene life – despite painful situations, painful inflictions and painful emotions – so I can hopefully feed into a cycle of peace and non-violence.

Ahimsa Now!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching Ahimsa Now – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

Let the exploration begin.


Spiritual Activism November 3, 2010

“I don’t want to talk anything political, and will stick just to music and other art forms. There are instant super stars and they also fade away very quickly. What is it that gives the staying power? It is when you can communicate…to your listeners and touch their soul.” – Ravi Shankar

This past Saturday, you could hear a pin drop in my 200+ resident apartment building.  My entire neighborhood was as hushed as during a blizzard.  The “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” was in full throttle down the hill.  I was home, doing this and that.  My Facebook status read, “I am not at the rally.”  Two people “liked” it.

Today – on Election Day, three days after the Comedy Central rally and during a thick period of “activist” invitations via Facebook and e-mail – I am preparing my “Yoga Update” e-newsletter, wrapping up our September/October “Yoga In Action” class focus.

I’ll be frank – the term “yoga activism” is not my personal fave for describing how I might take my practice off the mat and into the world.  Born in DC in 1965 and having grown up here, the word “activism” reminds me of raised fists, raised voices and raised conflict.  I understand that folks want their values, their yearning for change and their messages to be seen and heard on a wide scale; yet I tried that “raising” in my college days and it just didn’t feel right.

Thanks goodness for yoga.  Through its “Karma Yoga,” “Seva” and “selfless service” teachings I have discovered my most comfortable and therefore effective venue for what I (and countless others) call “spiritual activism.”  What distinguishes it from “yoga activism?”

In recent years, many yoga organizations and practitioners have stretched Karma Yoga (or Seva) to a level of “activism,” offering trainings, organizing groups and sponsoring events that raise awareness about causes, purpose and service.  Over this time, I have observed four distinct ways that “yoga activism” manifests.

  1. Some yogis believe in their responsibility to participate in traditional activism (protests, rallies, petitions, campaigns, etc.) to carry messages;
  2. Some share their yoga with at-risk populations, having experienced their own transformation from the practice, and wanting to pass along those tools for change;
  3. Others see the yoga practice itself as a form of values-based activism – in other words, living a spiritual life is the activism.
  4. And others devote themselves to all of the above.

To me, anyone with sincere intentions to carry a message, inspire change and share values through their own attitudes and actions is a spiritual activist.  For me, #3 above is the most natural way for me to express my yoga in action.  In that spirit, I also do a fair amount of #2-like work.

Yoga’s ancient book of Sutras generously offers a design for living where my personal choices can be productive, useful and helpful.  The only thing I have to “raise” is my consciousness.  In this subtle venue, I can indeed be “seen” and “heard” – perhaps not by massive crowds, politicians and media, but definitely seen and heard.

Recently, the barrage of well-intended e-mails and Facebook campaigns, the swarm of do-good organization canvassers on every DC street corner and the excitement-driven pressure to “sign-on” started to feel as assaulting as uninvited telemarketer calls to me.  So I invite you to please let me know if I ever seem pushy or invasive about the things that inspire me.

I earnestly applaud yoga activists for expanding yoga’s purpose and reach.  Most of the time, I feel accepting of their way, my way, all ways.  I may not always hit the mark, but my intentions to live spiritually are strong and in-check.  Some may think I have my head in the sand; I think I have my head atop my neck, hovering above my heart center.

OM Shanti,







Focus Wrap Up: Yoga In Action October 28, 2010

To wind up our September/October class focus of “Yoga In Action,” we are expressing appreciation for noble acts of service through Pranayama and Asana.

Whether your service occurs within your family, your workplace, your community or otherwise, please take some time to breath deeply into your beautiful, generous heart center and celebrate your efforts.  Lift your heart to the sky in Chair Pose, Crescent Lunge, Cobra and Bow in gratitude for the service of others.

Whether you held the door open for your neighbor, were patient with an anxious child, rescued a pet, volunteered to teach a yoga class or fortified an at-risk population through your grant writing – I encourage you to now inhale self-appreciation, and on your exhale (ahhhhh) simply rest.

Back in September, we began our exploration of Yoga In Action by practicing self-care.  We acknowledged that self-care often includes asking to be cared for.  We drew upon the infinite resources of the earth beneath and air around us to enhance our yoga practice – and our daily well-being.  We opened our minds to the concepts of forgiveness (of self), acceptance (of self) and surrender (to other).

In October, we identified the tangibles from yoga practice that fortify our service off the mat in the form of Karma Yoga. We took the balanced calm of Pranayama, the supportive foundation of standing poses, the motivating wisdom of the Yama and Niyama and more to our challenges, our opportunities and our efforts to be there for others in Seva (selfless service).

Now it’s time to celebrate, appreciate and recognize your deep intentions over the past two months!  To close our classes, we offer gratitude to those who have been of service to us, as well.  And as we close our Bi-Monthly Yoga In Action focus, I offer gratitude to those who intend take their yoga off the mat and into the world however possible – even by simply sharing your glowing smile at the end of your yoga class!

Be gentle with yourselves, take good care, identify your resources and offer all of this to others.

I leave you with a Hebrew prayer for those who serve humanity, below.  May you continue to serve sustainably.  OM Shanti.

May the one whose spirit is with us in every righteous deed, be with all who work for the good of humanity and bear the burdens of others, and who give bread to the hungry, who clothe the naked, and take the friendless into their homes.  May the work of their hands endure, and may the seed they sow bring abundant harvest. – Mah Tovu prayers for Shabbat morning


Focus: Yoga In Action – Surrender October 20, 2010

I like the peace in the backseat, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak, I can watch the country side, I can fall asleep.  I’ve been learning to drive my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In the Backseat”

A few weeks ago, I completely unplugged for five days – no phone, no internet, no meetings.  No to-do list.  Whatever came up, I did it.

I walked down the street without a phone attached to the side of my head.  I met people’s faces.  I noticed the gum on the sidewalks.  I heard children’s delight and sorrows.  I spent a lot of time in solitude.  I cleaned, I gleaned, I cooked.  I meditated, journaled, slept, cried…then meditated, journaled, slept and cried some more.  At long last – the time to genuinely take care of myself.  Haha – I’d spent all of September encouraging self-care in our yoga classes, and there I was, stuffing emotions and exhausted!

What surfaced during this “purification retreat” was a strong priority to re-cultivate trust and love.  I am, deep down, a loving and trusting person.  I admire human beings, am in awe of humanity and adore people in general.  But since this past summer’s emotional betrayal, I have struggled to feel comfortable and secure in relationships – even long-standing connections.  Despite teaching many yoga classes and showing up for commitments over recent weeks, I have found myself sinking into fear and isolation.

So I am forcing myself to reach out and reconnect.

Asking for help is not always easy.  For most of my life I was a self-reliant, “that’s OK, I can do it myself” gal. Hence the Arcade Fire quote above.  I was always in the driver’s seat, making things happen.  Never in the back seat, enjoying the ride. Only over the past 8 years or so have I been able to comfortably surrender to being helped by others…to letting someone else drive.

I must actively surrender to feeling vulnerable, taking risks and accepting others’ care.  I am lucky and grateful to be part of spiritual fellowships and social groups that encourage honesty and outreach.  In addition, I can practice being cared for through specific yoga exercises, such as borrowing support and energy from the elements of earth and air.

During the last weeks of September, our classes explored just that.  First we grounded into earth energy.  Figuratively inhaling through our feet to the crown of our heads, then exhaling back down through the soles, we rooted ourselves into the infinite stability, balance and foundation of the ground beneath us.  Aside from our typical, Integral Yoga influenced set, we added standing and balancing poses such as Triangle Pose, Warrior 2 and Warrior 3 to truly reinforce the earth’s strong and ever-present support.

Next we drew upon the infinite air around us by oxygenating deeply. We energized our classic IY set by inserting Pranayama practices throughout.  For example, during our Sun Salutations, we started with the rapid, naval-pumping Kapaalabhaati breath in Mountain Pose, then flowed through the 1st half of our movements with deep, three-part Deergha Swaasam breathing; in Cobra, we paused for more Kapaalabhaati; then we completed the 2nd half of the flow with Deergha Swaasam.  We also turned up the heat in our floor poses by adding Kapaalabhaati to Downward Facing Boat and Upward Boat.

For me, being fortified by these natural resources represents being cared for by something or someone outside of ourselves.  I surrender to being helped – and generously, that support is there for me.

If all other yoga intentions fail, the one practice that always comes through for me is surrendering control with every exhale during Poschimotanaasana.  There is something about incorporating mindful Deergha Swaasam during this seated forward fold that proves profoundly effective every time.  Each inhale is an opportunity to infuse myself with a positive intention.  With every exhale, I let go physically and emotionally, curling inward in the upper body and sinking inward with my mind.  Using long, thoroughly emptying exhales, I symbolically surrender obstacles and dissolve distractions.

If I learned anything from my own classes in September, it’s that sometimes self-care means allowing something or someone else to care for me.  If I truly yearn to take my yoga into action and bring my healthiest and strongest self off the mat and into the world, I have to get out of the driver’s seat.

Turning it over and surrendering control might be the only way to rebuild trust and love.

OM Shanti.

P.S.  BTW, during my “retreat,” I also went to the Nationals’ final three home games.  If you’re wondering what baseball has to do with Yoga In Action…well first of all, because I love baseball so much, these three nights were acts of self-care!  Most importantly – I think I reached some kind of Samadhi when I witnessed the Phillies clinch the National League East title on the 2nd night!  I’ve only seen that happen on TV, and it was thrilling!  I was completely blown away by the energy and although a true Nats fan, I felt a one-ness with the 1,000’s of Phillies followers there.  Awesome!


Focus: Yoga In Action – Guest Blog October 14, 2010

CandaceHollyOTMedit(June2010)After the recent DC Global Mala, the local arm of Anahata International – Anahata Grace – asked me to write about my experience at the Off The Mat Into The World leadership intensive at the Omega Institute last June. Check out the guest blog below.

Learn more about Anahata at  Thanks to Caitlin and Alexis for the invitation to share how yoga transforms me, so I might be of service in this world.

*  *  *


“Trauma is a fact of life.  So is resilience.”  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-Creator

In 1993, I was emotionally, physically and spiritually bottoming out – again.  In my 28 years of life, I’d experienced enough unaddressed trauma to leave me without possibility for healing or growth.  I’d “lost my way,” my life was a mess and I felt empty inside.

A friend suggested yoga, and I’ve been “on the mat” ever since.

At first, my practice was selfish.  Yoga’s initial “ahhh” brought immense relief and I started to feel better.  Then came the intense transformation from being guided by teachers who embraced and passed on yoga’s comprehensive design for living.  Self-examination and change are not always gentle processes.  Surrendering, I fell back into the arms of supportive yogis and others devoted to healing.  Years down the line, teachers started to suggest carrying the benefits of yoga into the world.  Having gained so much from this precious practice, I knew I wanted to give back however possible.  The seeds of Seva (selfless service) were planted.

Today, I try to take yoga off the mat and into my everyday world, every day of my life.

Coming from a background of trauma, I must practice yoga and other community-based activities that encourage self-inquiry and spiritual living.  This is my responsibility to the world around me.  Because without these regular activities, I would be heading right back to that 1993 bottom.  I would be stuck in old stories, limits and pain.  So, I practice.  And I aim to offer my healthiest self to those around me.  At times, the facts of my past can be tough to admit.  Who wants to expose her/his dark side?  Through admitting these realities, however, have I found infinite tools for addressing them.  Sharing truthfully, identifying my patterns, gaining counsel, and passing on these solutions all bring a profound shift from darkness to light.

This is the kind of honesty, self-inquiry, community and action that Off The Mat Into The World (OTM) encourages, facilitates and supports.  In addition to their global fund-raising and youth empowerment initiatives, OTM co-creators Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling lead a 5-day workshop “Intensive” – a yoga-based transformational process that yields a sustainable, reinforced and proactive life purpose.

During OTM’s Intensive last June, I met 40 amazing yogis, teachers and “activists” (i.e. cause-inspired, nonprofit and social workers) devoted to looking at themselves in order to serve others.

To begin our week together, we practiced deep self-inquiry through Chakra Vinyasa sequences, Yoga Nidra, Somatic Therapy exercises, group sharing and more.  We learned how to hold space for, listen to and support each other.  We discovered that after unearthing what breaks our heart, exploring trauma triggers, exposing false beliefs and identifying chronic pain, we could strengthen and align our healthy selves with a true Seva purpose vs. being triggered by others’ traumas.

Mid-week, we moved from self- to other-focus with discussion and practice of collaboration, consensus process, non-violent communication and power models (i.e. inclusion, shared power and empowerment vs. having power over or being under power).  In our assumptions exercise we honestly exposed limited perceptions of each other; and in our “Circle of Truth,” we humbly learned how to expand our understanding of all.

To wrap up the workshop, OTM staff Kerri Kelly and Claire Williams introduced the Yoga In Action initiatives, focusing on activating our newly fortified purpose and mission statements within our local yoga communities.  I felt lucky to live in the amazingly proactive city of DC, where “yoga activism” is energized and thriving.

For me personally, three moments from the Intensive stand out:

  • An emotional breakthrough during Seane’s Chakra Asana practice liberated me from years of paralyzing resentment, and enabled me to forgive and move on in a major area of my life.
  • In Suzanne’s “What Breaks Your Heart” sharing circle, I discovered my inner resources (Pranayama and eye contact) for speaking my truth (“What breaks my heart is the pain of the child who knows no other way than pain.”) from a place of clarity and conviction instead of imbalanced emotion.
  • And the moment Hala said, “Imagine going through challenges without suffering,” I exhaled profoundly, knowing that I never had to “bottom out” again – nor did I have to “burn out” from my Seva efforts.

Most importantly, I created a list of 13 goals toward widening my yoga-in-action circle in DC and beyond.  The list included a range of intentions, such as “Be a yogi,” “Keep up with self-care and connection,” “Continue consistently developing your blog,” and “Plug in with those already doing this work in DC, i.e. Anahata Grace.”  As of today, I have completed or am active in 10 out of 13 of those intentions.

I have not done this alone.  OTM continues to invest in my development as a yoga teacher, community organizer and Seva devotee through periodic conference calls with my Intensive teammates and other OTM community leaders.  They have empowered me as a OTM ambassador, and I have started to incubate their Yoga In Action initiatives here in DC.

I look forward to seeing everyone at this weekend’s Global Mala in DC, and talking more about how DC yogis, teachers and activists can tap into Off The Mat Into The World’s resources for sustainable Seva work in our city.  Look for me at the Past Tense Studio booth!

Yoga teacher, musician and writer Holly Meyers blogs about living yoga in everyday life, promotes yoga events and shares yoga tips-n-tools at  As an Off The Mat Into The World ambassador, she is currently leading the Yoga In Action DC Facebook campaign.


Focus: Yoga In Action – Acceptance September 4, 2010

This brought me to the good healthy realization that there were plenty of situations left in the world over which I had no personal power… – Bill Wilson, “As Bill Sees It”

I’ve just returned from an intentionally slow walk down the hill, to the creek, and back.  I paused to lean against a bridge railing and watch the creek ripple then swirl then ripple again.  Bugs traveled along the railing’s highway, detouring to the underside when encountering my resting arms.  Leaves dropped and danced their way to the water.  I was silent.

Clearly I have no personal power over nature’s course, I observed.  I felt relieved.  Because I am just a small part of that process.  I must accept that there is much beyond my control.

This morning, I really needed that slow and silent walk.  Yesterday (Wednesday) there was a hostage situation at my former employer, Discovery Communications, in nearby Silver Spring, MD.  I happened to be in Silver Spring at that time, giving a talk to a 12-step recovery group.  The talk’s theme?  Acceptance.  Of all things.

I didn’t know exactly why I was stuck in unmoving traffic after the talk. Judging by the variety and number of law enforcement vehicles and officers along the roads, I guessed it was something quite threatening.  And because Discovery is the only fairly controversial and very high-profile organization in downtown Silver Spring, I guessed it was there.

Where did my mind go?  To the fact that I needed to be back downtown in 30 minutes for a business meeting with someone whose phone number I did not have.  Yup.  Completely self-centered!  I was worried.  At the same time, I was pretty darn patient in traffic, understanding that the magnitude of the situation would not warrant any fast movements or clever detours.  I also considered the number of people inconvenienced and changing directions at that very moment.  I listened to the radio awaiting the news, sat up straight and breathed.

I accepted the situation and therefore was able to feel peaceful in the moment, rather than disturbed by worry and lack of control over the situation.

Referring back to our opening quote from Bill Wilson, and the idea of acceptance, which in yoga is known as Samtosha

Acceptance means letting go of expectations, plans, wishes and such for the sake of cultivating a peaceful mind – which we learn from Patanjali’s Sutras, is the goal of yoga.  I inch toward acceptance using two tools. I write a gratitude list nightly; this helps me focus on the gifts in my life and let go more easily of the disappointments.  In addition, I try to look at the BIG picture – if my little plans do not work out as I wish, perhaps it’s because conditions had to be right for someone else’s day to work out.

Wednesday, the day worked out differently than many imagined. In the Discovery situation, three people experienced how it feels to be held hostage.  A company of about 1900 utilized their oft-practiced emergency drill procedures for a true emergency.  Hundreds of drivers and travelers were delayed.  And Discovery’s intruder was killed by police.

That night, we dedicated our Yoga In Action self-care practice to all of these people.  We reflected on whether we can accept that there is much beyond our control. We explored whether we can accept that people who inflict pain are often in pain themselves.  We brought in as much self-care as possible in an attempt to reduce pain – in ourselves and others.

Maybe this is a stretch, connecting hostage situations and yoga.  But to me, any opportunity to share compassion and practice care is a chance to practice Yoga In Action.

OM Shanti.


Bi-Monthly Focus: September/October – Yoga In Action

September marks the beginning of our new focus for yoga classes. Over July and August, we reflected on “Why Yoga?” and wrapped up by exploring the idea of giving back.  Our quote by Max Strom (see “Focus: Why Yoga? – Giving Back”) reminded us that only by focusing first on our own healing can we effectively be of service to others.

These next two months, our focus is “Yoga In Action.” We will explore self-care, being cared for, community, self-inquiry, acceptance, gratitude and other practical elements of yoga.  In relation to those actions and attitudes, we will see how our healthy, supported selves can sustainably offer our yoga in service to the world around us.

As mentioned in my “Giving Back” post, there is a broad range of ways to move our yoga into action.  Perhaps a restorative Asana class gives us the peace of mind to face a stressful situation; maybe yoga’s overall gifts inspire us to share that gift as a volunteer.  And so on.

On Facebook, “Yoga In Action DC” (a local effort of Off The Mat Into The World, for whom I am an ambassador) launched a “30 Ways in 30 Days” campaign, inviting yogis to report how they take their practice off the mat and into the everyday world, every day of September.  We invite you to chime in to our campaign!  Please log on to Facebook and search for the “Yoga In Action DC” group page.  You can see how local yogis like Caitlin Uzzell (of Flow Yoga Center and Anahata Grace), Charlotte Raich (Seva Coordinator at Yoga Alliance and loving mom), Caroline Millet (yoga teacher at Past Tense and Tranquil Space), Maggie Cunha (Seva Coordinator at Past Tense and AIDS relief worker) and others are setting intentions.

In the classes that I teach, we are kicking off our Yoga In Action focus by continuing a self-care theme.  Remember, as they say on the airlines, “In the case of a change in cabin pressure, four masks will drop from the overhead compartment.  Please put your own mask on first, before attempting to help those around you.”

Put your own masks on, yogis.  Take good care.  OM Shanti.

Check out:

– Yoga In Action DC group on Facebook

– Off The Mat Into The World at

– Anahata Grace at

– Yoga Alliance at

– Past Tense at

– Flow Yoga at

– Tranquil Space at


Focus: Why Yoga? – Giving Back August 24, 2010

“When we are in pain, we become self-centered and myopic.  When we heal, we become more empathetic, self-less, and sympathetic to the pain and welfare of others.  It is our gift to others to heal ourselves.”  – Max Strom, writer and yoga instructor

The Bi-Monthly Focus in our yoga classes has been “WHY YOGA?” We spent July and August pondering why we come to the mat.  Since July was my birthday month, I reflected about how yoga has carried me through so many life challenges and celebrations since starting my practice in 1993.  And these days, how it allows me to give back to the world that has supported me along the way.

So tell me…why do you practice yoga?

Max’s quote (above) definitely describes my story – nearly two decades ago, pain brought me to yoga; and today, healing allows me to be of service to others.

At the same time, I don’t believe that pain is the only path that can lead a yogi toward a deeply generous practice.  In fact, I hope and pray that healthy and happy people flock to yoga for their own personal reasons.  And I believe that these fortunate people can be of great service when they bring their yoga off their mats and into their worlds.

Because no matter what brought us to yoga in the first place, or, what brings us to return over and over – if we are indeed practicing yoga’s Eight Limbs, and healing ourselves for the sake of reaching Samadhi (what I would describe as a oneness with all), we will inevitably be of service to those around us, in small and great ways.

For example, practicing any of the Yama or Niyama can make us so conscientious that we become more aware of the human condition.  Practicing Pranayama can make our immune system so strong that we are able to show up for work through the flu season.  Practicing Dharana can make us so calm that we end up practicing Ahimsa in the gnarliest of traffic!

What propels me to practice the Eight Limbs of yoga?  Personally, if I’m only practicing some of those limbs, my motives will be self-centered.  That’s just me.  Some people can just practice Asana and find it in their hearts to think of others.  Me?  If I’m just practicing Asana, I’m only thinking about what’s in it for me – my strong arms, my perfect alignment, my awesome balance.

The other day in Caroline Weaver’s Strong Hold Level 2 class, I felt like a million bucks.  Typically, I feel very physically challenged.  The difference?  Caroline asked us to set an intention for our practice.  I silently repeated my usual pre-class prayer, “I dedicate this class to you, my teacher, and to all of my teachers.”  Then Caroline up-ed the ante – she asked us to deepen our intention until something was at stake, basically.  Immediately I heard myself say,  “This is not for me, this is for You, this is for all.” I swear, this was the first thing that popped into my mind; and I repeated it through the entire set.  Despite the fact that Level 2 poses typically kick my butt, I had an easeful practice, full of light, smiles and even giggles at times.  I was propelled by the thought of helping others.

Above all, my motive must be gratitude. Gratitude for all that yoga has given me.  For this I feel a responsibility to share those gifts with others.

Call it Seva, call it Karma Yoga, call Yoga/Spiritual/Conscious Activism, or simply call it Giving Back.

So, for this final week of “WHY YOGA?” – our July/August Bi-Monthly Focus – we are exploring the evolution from self-centered motivations toward other-centric reasons.  How can we be of service by keeping ourselves well through and using the tools of yoga?  This will segue into our September/October Focus of “Yoga In Action” – a campaign that I’m leading for Off The Mat Into The World ( here in DC.  More later…

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.