The Urban Yoga Den

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Haters Gonna Hate November 7, 2016

“Our world is wounded, fractured, broken and burning. We are products of this place and it is our job to heal the world through the healing of our selves.” ~ Chani Nicholas

The difficulty of maintaining peace of mind during this world’s current upsets is obvious. On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Election, I am preparing for a week (or potentially, a much longer span) of holding sacred, peaceful, neutral space for the staff and students of the yoga studio where I teach and manage…the neighbors I pass on the streets…those sharing bus rides with me…social media friends…and many more beings.

How? By clinging to, relying on and willingly using tools that have saved my ass during times of suffering, frustration and discomfort. These practical resources include prayers, yoga and meditation practices, breathing techniques, spiritual teachings and quotes, recovery meetings, talk therapy and more.

I recently saw a meme: “Prayer does not change the world. Prayer changes us, so we can change the world.” Peace begins with me. And perhaps you.

Here, I share readings, tools and experiences that are helping me immensely these days…

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“We put our hope in the awareness and in the promise that there will come a time when greed and injustice will be gone from the earth. We hope for a world completely repaired, all the inhabitants of this planet turning to each other in reconciliation, realizing that no one shall be excluded from the security of life.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

“May all of creation form a single bond with a balanced heart. May this occur soon in our lifetime.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer


* * *

“OM Sahana Vavatu. Sahanau Bhunaktu. Saha Viriyam Karavavahai. Tejas Vinavadhita Mastu Mavid. Visha Vahai Hi. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. (May we be protected together, be nourished together, work together with great energy. May our study together be enlightening. May there be no hatred between us.)” ~ Sanskrit Chant

Some people love to hate. They use hatred of the Other to validate their own worthiness – when, the only thing that truly validates worthiness is LOVE. Therefore, people who love to hate are actually deficient in love.

People who love to hate fear that, if the Other receives love, there won’t be any left for them. If the Other is validated, they go unheard. If the Other wins, they will lose their security. Haters believe they must blame, alienate and separate from the Other so they can receive praise, acceptance and inclusion.

Some hateful people believe – at their deepest and often most wounded core – that they are not worthy of praise, acceptance, inclusion and love. They do not understand that they are in dire need of positive validation; so instead, they pursue allies in their hatred – fellow haters, bullies, gangs, cliques and activists that validate their negative beliefs of Others, and, that reinforce their negative image of self.

People that love to hate are looking for love in all the wrong places. They cannot recognize true love when they see it.

Until…we choose to love them despite their hatred.

Why do I know so much about haters? Because I’ve been one. And I’m guessing, so have you. What yanks me out of hatred faster than anything? Remembering that we are all human.

“Meditation on the principle of compassion is a means of erasing our own hatred, cruelty, and fear, and replacing these traits with love, kindness, and a deeper understanding for others. Those who meditate on compassion rise above the primitive urge of self-preservation, and thus their reactions toward others are not motivated by fear.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

* * *

“By cultivating friendship with those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, cheerfulness toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.33

I have forgiven the man that raped me, the men that mugged me, the people who abandoned me, and those who betrayed me. Not overnight. No, no, no. Not overnight. Over years and years of commitment to healing my wounds, I have grown to see my perpetrators as suffering beings who deserve compassion, and, their harmful acts as separate. Consequently, over time and with dedication – and after grieving with support – I became able to let go of the traumas. What do I gain? Liberation. Peace of mind. A healed heart. My whole self.

“These four keys should always be…in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind. From the very beginning of Patanjali’s Sutras we are reminded of that.” ~ Swami Satchidananda

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“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah. (Yoga clears disturbances of the mind.)” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.2

This promise is the 2nd sentence in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – four long chapters about yoga’s eight-limbed design for living. Because it all comes down to this: the more I know about yoga, the deeper my practice becomes, and, the more inner peace I enjoy.
August in DC was a burning hot month. Hot temperatures. Hot tempers. Heated debates. Desperate actions.

As unrest continued to build, conflicts continued and November approached (you know what I’m talking about), DC only burned hotter.

Still – you can keep your cool as the heat rises and arises. Practice Sitali Pranayama (the yogic cooling breath) and Naadi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing). Attend Restorative and Slow Flow classes instead of intensely heated or extremely powerful classes. For your own good – and, for the good of those around you – you can keep the peace. You can increase the peace. You can teach peace. You can breathe, embody, sweat peace.

“If my body is made primarily of water and animated by the breath, is it possible to call the water in the body ‘mine’ and the air outside of my lungs ‘the world?’ …and so it becomes hard to talk about a body practice as separate from a world practice. I move my body and I’m moving a corner of the world.
“Yoga occurs when our inner work manifests in the world around us.
“The world of mind and body, in the nondual tradition of yoga, is inseparable from the larger world… The interconnected reality we call ‘yoga’ orients us toward a mode of perception that sees reality as an interconnected web in which our own small story line is only a part and certain not the most prominent.” ~ Michael Stone

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Translated literally from the Sanskrit, “Namaste” is a simple greeting meaning “Salutations to you.” It is not offered to a certain kind of being, nor to a certain part of each being. It is offered to the whole of every being.

Even haters.

“Namaste” cannot mean that one life matters more than another at any time – it means that all lives matter equally at all times. “Namaste” cannot mean that elevation and separation are the keys to justice – when historically, they have been the keys to conflict. “Namaste” cannot mean that out of guilt or pity, we move to “be of service” to those we see as having less than us – it must mean that we see ourselves as equals with those different from us in any way, and, stand together in a solidarity of humanness.

“Namaste” means that compassion is an equal opportunity offering.

It also means that I stop writing about “those haters” and start admitting that I’ve loved to hate.

We cannot truly come together until we can salute the whole of each being and all beings as a whole.

“Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.
“Kinship – not serving the other, but being one with the other. 
“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of the circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the  poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'” ~ Father Gregory Boyle


Haters gonna hate until our love erases their reasons.

Thanks for reading.
Namaste. OM Shanti. Peace.


Peace Tools: Morning Routine August 7, 2012

Filed under: faith,Health,Inspiration,Philosophy,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 8:29 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I thank you, ever-living sovereign, for restoring my soul to me in mercy.
How great is your trust!

– Traditional Jewish Prayer for the Morning

*  *  *

Like all of my days, as soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I said the above prayer.  Then, in the period of time between splashing my face with cool water and sitting down to work, I recited seven additional prayers or chants.  And that’s not counting several OMs and an affirmation meditation.

Prayer, meditation and chanting are part of my Morning Sadhana, or routine.  Ideally, my daily practices also include yoga movement, a walk in nature, breathing exercises, a drink of lemon water and more.  And ideally, all of this happens before sunrise.

Why do I do so much?

After 20 years of observing morning Sadhana in some form or another, I can guarantee its positive results: a peaceful day, for me and everyone around me.

With my background of addiction recovery, trauma survival and all that comes with those poignant life-shapers, and, with my current journey as a yoga practitioner and teacher, having a peace-making morning routine is essential.

The primary result of my routine is good health in body, mind and spirit.  Avenues to that result include: cultivating gratitude, connecting with a power great than me, awakening the whole body, stimulating digestion and balancing the nervous system.

(A note about “power greater than me” – from my experience and perspective, that power can be any being or resource outside of myself that consistently has my best interest in mind, that has more expertise than me in a certain area, and/or, whose influence restores my serenity when I am feeling off.  It could take the form of a metaphysical/spiritual “god,” best friend, doctor, ritual, quote, physical icon…or sometimes, just an oblivious, message-bearing stranger along my path.  It could have a proper name – i.e. Ronni, Doctor Smith, God, Ganesha, Nanak, Allah, Great Spirit – or a general character – i.e. nature, scientific theory, ever living sovereign, great mystery, infinite consciousness.  Most importantly, whatever it is, it is not ME.  And it is greater than ME because at any given moment of imbalance, its presence brings me to be my best self.)

At this point, my ideal morning Sadhana spans one to two hours, depending on the day of the week, what I have planned during the day and/or the time of morning.  When I first started following teachers’ advice to create a morning routine, the practice might have taken 10 to 30 minutes.  Over the years, though, I have collected so many effective traditions and rituals to address my oft distracted or triggered mind that, for me, it’s worth the time commitment.

That is my idealHowever

During the past six weeks, long days started at 6:30am, and included a juggling act of teaching Summer Camp 8am-4pm, managing a yoga studio part-time, teaching regular evening and weekend classes, plus trying to enjoy life!  In order to prioritize a good night’s sleep, I had to leave out some of the morning routine, practice parts while driving to camp, and/or finish parts at camp.

Boy, did it show!  That guaranteed peacefulness dwindled.  I became impatient in traffic, allowed small annoyances to make me grumpy, and had less patience with everyone and everything – including myself, which fed the cycle of self-criticism, annoyance, grumpiness and impatience!  Argh!

Having a morning Sadhana is a double-edged sword – if I keep up, I am gold.  If I slack, I am struggling to shine.  Overall, as I said, the pay off is 5-million percent worthwhile.

Your practice could be as short or long as you wish, depending on personal needs.  If interested, you might pick and choose little parts of the following routine – AWAKEN BEFORE DAWN, PRAY, CLEANSE, MOVE, MEDITATE/CHANT – and shape them for your own unique morning Sadhana.

*  *  *

Here is my morning Sadhana.  My complete ideal practice takes up to two hours; but an abbreviated practice can take as little as 30 minutes.


In 1993, my Kundalini yoga teachers highly recommended waking up before sunrise to meditate.  I had every intention to do so!  And I was happy to participate in pre-dawn meditation when on a retreat or doing a special workshop with a group.  But it wasn’t quite time for me to do this regularly on my own.

These days, I do start most days between 5:30 and 6:30am.  Pre-dawn energy feels neutral – removed from the previous day’s worries, and not yet taken hostage by the new day’s projections.  There is something about opening my eyes in the darkness and conducting a Sadhana in low light that simply prepares my mind to tackle all that might arise during the day with peace and balance.

Ayurvedic science claims that pre-dawn atmosphere is dominated by sattvic (or calming) qualities that support peace of mind.  I understand that waking up at 5:30am can seem extreme; after all, it did take me years and years to experience early rising as an enjoyable habit!

If I cannot awaken pre-dawn, I keep the blinds drawn and my home as dark as possible.  I used to think that the best morning practice was next to an open window or outdoors in natural light, greeting nature and allowing my self to awaken with the pulse of the external world.  However, since my 4-week yoga teacher training, during which we started each day in darkness without drawing the blinds (despite the natural beauty surrounding us), I came to embrace that above-described neutrality.  It simply creates a clean slate for the day.

Plus, when my house is dark, I am less likely to delay my morning Sadhana due to getting distracted by the plant that needs watering or the stray eyebrow that needs plucking or the laundry that needs folding!


Immediately after opening my eyes, I express thanks for the gift of another day by saying the prayer quoted above.  A grateful beginning is important for me, because many times during my crooked and “eventful” journey, I veered off a healthy path, and could have died.  The Modah also reminds me that a higher power (which is an individual notion for each person, of course) trusts me to carry along in its world…as well as I can…each day.

I then splash my face with water, stand facing east, chant a few OMs and recite an additional four prayers.

Choosing prayers is a very personal experience.  Currently, mine are a collection from my Jewish heritage, Hindu traditions and yoga influences, as well as adaptations from addiction recovery programs.  I might, at times, also include Native American, Sufi or Buddhist verses.  I have even included Santeria chants.  For me, finding prayers that help set daily and long-term intentions is important.  No matter what the origin, my chosen prayers are primarily themed toward surrendering my strong will, accepting help, being of service and cultivating healthy connections.

Here are the four I recite facing east…

Karagre vasate Lakshmi (At the tips of my fingers is well-being, abundance and beauty – gifts from Lakshmi); Kara-madhye Saraswati (In the palms of my hands is creative community, eloquent communication and learning – gifts from Saraswati); Kara-mule sthita Gauri (at the heel of my hand is Shakti, powerful meditation and the balancing force for Shiva – gifts from Gauri); Prabhate kara-darshanam (I envision all of these gifts in my hands).  I recite this traditional Hindu prayer to the great goddesses in Sanskrit, three times, slowly, looking at my hands, with great consideration and appreciation for each gift.  I then lift my hands toward the sky in a gesture of sharing these gifts with all beings and of offering them back to their divine source.

Creator, I am yours.  Please build with me and do with me as you need, as you will, as you wish.  May I be relieved of self-centeredness, that I may better play a right-sized, useful role in your big picture.  Thank you for being with me through difficulties, for bringing opportunities, and sharing joy.  May I do your will always.  Adapted from recovery program literature, this prayer hopefully establishes a humble beginning to the day.  I grew up extremely self-reliant, which means that I can sometimes – thankfully less and less – have a hard time accepting help.  Some employers definitely took advantage of this tendency, as I took on way more than I was prepared, acknowledged or paid for.  Some friends and ex-s gave up on trying to share life as I plowed through everything on my own.  Live and learn.  The positives to this prayer?  Surrendering my strong will to some benevolent greater power definitely keeps me from acting overly selfish, fearful, egotistical or otherwise destructive.  It sets my focus on being useful to others – step by step, day by day.

In my relationships, I earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity and for the strength to do the right thing.  Woo!  This is a big one for me and also comes from recovery literature – specifically, in a passage about shaping healthy sexual relationships in sobriety!  To be honest, with this verse, I am praying to embrace ideals, accept advice, act sane and do the right thing in ALL of my relationships – romantic or otherwise.  Humans are complicated, sensitive and unique – and I yearn for healthy, positive connections.

Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me.  I pray to be relieved of anything that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows today.  Grant me strength as I go from here to do your bidding.  Another ego-busting recovery prayer, before I go into the rest of my Sadhana and day, which shapes the mind toward being of service to others.  What strikes me deeply about this verse is the request to borrow a higher power’s strength in case I don’t have enough of my own – or in case I am trying to be too forceful with my own strength, instead of flowing along with a greater purpose and will.  I feel great relief, support and motivation each time I say this prayer.

I understand that one could feel vulnerable giving up a strong will in exchange for surrender.  In my experience, the more I take my plans and hopes and expectations out of the center of my thoughts (which doesn’t mean abandoning them completely, but instead, dwelling on them less), and the more I focus on being useful and of service to others (even in simple ways like smiling while walking down the street and or doing my job really well), the more I generate an inner peace.  And the more I feed a cycle of peace around me.

There is no need to recite multiple prayers.  The initial, awakening Modah would probably suffice for me (and sometimes must, depending on my schedule).  However, I enjoy reciting my little collection of five.  And sometimes, if I am observing a specific study or focus in my yoga practice (i.e. my recently concluded 100-day exploration of Ahimsa), I might also light a stick of incense and set a specific intention for the day.  How one prays is an individual decision.  Some kneel, some stand, some sit, others do movement.  Some light candles, some light incense, some open windows.  Some are silent, some louder.  It all comes down to personal preference, motivation and significance.


Next, I focus on awakening the body.  You might approach this in your own way, with practices that internally and externally cleanse.

Many medical systems, including India’s Ayurvedic tradition, recommend drinking room-temperature lemon water soon after waking, and most definitely before ingesting anything else, to stimulate a healthy bowel movement.  In my yoga teacher training, I learned that most disease originate in the digestive system; so I am happy to drink bitter water to encourage healthy digestion.

I also brew a homemade tea of fresh ginger root, cinnamon stick, clove, cardamom, turmeric and black pepper.  These ingredients stoke the digestive fire (known in Ayurveda as “agni”) in order to sustain healthy digestion throughout the day.  In the order of my Sadhana, I wait until just before meditation to begin sipping the tea.

Continuing to follow Ayurvedic recommendations, I then brush my teeth, tongue and mouth to remove bacteria and improve digestion.  Finally, I wash my face and hands with a Sandalwood-scented soap, to evenly awaken my dominant “dosha” (body/personality type) of “Pitta” (fire).


In this phase of Sadhana, I continue to subtly awaken my senses, my body, my breathing and my whole self.

A brief, early morning, outdoor walk has proven – for me – to make a huge difference in my day.  This stroll is not exercise-based, nor is it time for me to greet and/or engage with everyone I see.  This meditative and simple lap around the block gives me the opportunity to awaken and stretch my eyes, deepen my breath with natural air and gently ease into the rhythm of life.  When rushed for time, I’ve tried to substitute with everything from taking deep breaths at an open window, walking to work or driving to my busied destination with the windows open.  Nothing suffices.  The brief outdoor walk is a mood-stabilizing ritual and well worth the 10 minutes!

After my walk, I return to my still-darkened room to practice Hatha Yoga.  I begin with a series of Sun Salutations that progress from old-school Integral Yoga for digestion stimulation and nerve balance, through Ashtanga- and Jivamukti-inspired styles for strength and energy.  I also include Pigeon Pose for my frequently ache-y hips, and Twists for my spine and…you guessed it…digestion.

If I have the luxury of 20 minutes at this point in my morning routine, I enjoy a guided Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation) CD by DC-based yoga and meditation teacher Jonathan Foust.  Jonathan takes us through systematically relaxing the body, breath and mind for a restful yet aware experience.  The practice of even a 5- to 15-minute, self-guided, systematically relaxing Yoga Nidra after Hatha movement gives the body time to integrate the benefits of each Asana (pose).  In addition, due to its profoundly rejuvenating effects, Yoga Nidra can bring deep healing of many forms, and, when done in the midst of a tiring day, can feel more energizing than a nap.

To awaken and balance the nervous system after deep relaxation, I practicing breathing exercises (aka Pranayama).  I begin with a basic yogic technique called Deergha Swasam, which encourages a long, easeful, emptying exhale followed by an energetic, completely filling inhale – both through the nostrils.  This deliberate three-part breath travels through the three parts of the lungs – inhaling upward from the low lungs (belly area), middle lungs (rib area) and upper lungs (collar bone area), then exhaling back downward.  Focusing on the thoroughly emptying exhale creates a deeper inhale whose consequently deeper oxygenation can help strengthen the immune system.  Following a few minutes of Deergha Swasam, I move on to a rapid, naval-pumping breath called Kapalabhati.  Again through the nostrils, this technique only activates the lower lungs (belly area) with a rhythmic pattern of sharp, emptying, belly-contracting exhales and passive, brief, belly-relaxing inhales.  This energizing practice helps continue awakening from Yoga Nidra, and, its cleansing effects support the detoxification process of our Hatha poses.  I usually practice a 100- or 200-breath count of Kapalabhati.  Next, alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Suddhi, uses a specific technique for exhaling/inhaling out of one nostril and then the next.  This calming breath soothes the nervous system and balances the brain hemispheres.  I practice Nadi Suddhi for a minimum of three minutes.


After Hatha, Nidra and Pranayama – when the mind is alert, the nerves are balanced, the body is at ease, the breath is natural and the senses are softened – the mind can concentrate more deeply.

This is the perfect time for meditation.

No matter how much or little time I have for my morning Sadhana, I strive to always include at least three minutes of some form of meditation – whether silently observing the breath or chanting out loud.  One fail-safe technique when time-challenged is to incorporate a positive affirmation with my Nadi Suddhi breathing, for example, inhale “my true nature is peace” and exhale “nothing can disturb my peace.”

When I do have 15- to 30- minutes for meditation, what I love most is singing 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” chant.  I have seen many spellings, translations and interpretations of this widely-used Sanskrit chant, popular with many yogis.  This version is most effective for me: Asato Ma, Sat Gamaya (lead me from falseness to truth); Tamaso Ma, Jyotir Gamaya (lead me from darkness to light); Mrityor Ma, Amritam Gamaya (lead me from things that die off to that which is everlasting).  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (OM Peace, Peace, Peace).

Repetition of these phrases reinforces my psychological direction toward and faith in the positive.  Falseness to truth can signify my desire to stop lying to myself, or, my hope to be free of people who lie to me…and so much more.  Darkness to light could be finding the means to be delivered from my depressive tendencies, to liberation and joy, or, awakening from being in the dark or uninformed about something, to being enlightened or aware.  Things that die off to that which is everlasting…the meanings are infinite, depending on personal experience.  For me, this phrase reminds me to choose attitudes and actions that will support long-term health in body, mind and spirit.  Among other things.

If I don’t have time for the 108, I chant this three times, and then close with another Sanskrit chant, popular in yoga circles, which wishes well-being for others.  Lokah Samastaa Sukhino Bhavantu.  Again, there are many versions out there.  My favorite is: “May the entire universe and all its beings realize peace and light.”

*  *  *

As I mentioned – I don’t always have the luxury or time to complete my ideal Sadhana first thing each day.  Yet, I always – always – practice at least some parts of my routine immediately upon rising.  I have learned that trying to spread it over a broken morning of errands or texts or other activities never pays off.  So even when I feel totally distracted – life drama tugging at my mind, the computer tugging at my fingertips, errands tugging at my feet – I still try to stay unplugged and go through the motions.

The above may seem exhaustive!  As I said, I actually enjoy a complex and absorbing morning routine to ensure a peaceful day.  Remember, this lengthy Sadhana can be broken down into manageable parts for a much shorter version.

Play around with parts of it.  Choose your own contents.  Find your own way.  And most importantly…enjoy!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Peace Tools”

From April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa – the Sanskrit term for “avoidance of violence.”  You may read more about it under the “Ahimsa Now” entries in my blog. 

Since the final quarter of that exploration, I have been compiling my favorite Peace Tools – fail-safe practices for cultivating a reliable inner peace, which leads to a serene life and accountability to others.  In the long run, using these Tools supports the yogic concept of Ahimsa by decreasing violence. 

They can also just make you feel darn goodOM Shanti Shanti Shanti.


Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  –

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.


Focus: The Yoga Sutras – Love & Murder February 28, 2011

Each morning when I rise, I try to spend about 30 minutes praying, meditating and doing some Pranayama.  When I do, my soul feels infinitely more peaceful throughout whatever the day tosses my way.

For me, this is the point of yoga.

From what I’ve learned, this was also the point of yoga for the ancients who invented this deeply balancing art  – ancients like Patanjali and others, who thankfully passed yoga along for thousands of years so it could reach us. Yogas Citta Vritti Nrodhah is the 2nd aphorism in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  “Yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.”  The only Sutra that comes before this is the statement, “Now we will explore yoga.”

So clearly, cultivating a calm mind is the most important goal of yoga practice.

In our February classes, we have been exploring a very basic introduction to the Yoga Sutras.  I am sharing five aphorisms from Patanjali’s wisdom that, for me, are practical tools and inspiring promises.  (Please see “February Focus: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” for an introduction to the five.)  On and off the mat, they inform my discernment process when making large and small decisions; they remind me how to live in peace with all others; they guide me toward self-acceptance, -love and -compassion; and they give me hope.

Last week we covered Sutra 1.33, which is a tough order.  In my opinion.

In Sutra 1.33, Patanjali introduces “The Four Locks & Four Keys.”  He suggests that (in order to fulfill yoga’s purpose of a calm mind) we cultivate the following attitudes toward the following types of people: friendliness toward the happy; compassion for the unhappy; delight in the virtuous; and disregard (or indifference, or equanimity or detachment) toward the non-virtuous.

As I prepared to teach my seven weekly classes on this theme, I decided to share the story of my 11-year-old yoga student who was murdered in March 2009 – and how I used the four locks/keys to navigate that deeply disturbing situation.  I meditated on this decision, realizing that such a dark story could potentially shake up the room.  I prayed, “May I be relieved of self-centeredness, that I may better play a small, useful role in your big picture.  I pray to be relieved of anything that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.  Grant me strength to do your bidding.”

I checked my motives, reminding myself that I do not teach for my own needs, but for the well-being of my students.  In the end, I decided to share my personal experience in order to demonstrate yoga’s solutions for every possible situation.

Even a situation as severe as murder.

*  *  *

In my early experience, the toughest part of Sutra 1.33’s “advice” was offering anything but anger, disgust and all kinds of judgment toward the non-virtuous.  Even today, as harmful things occur around me and happen to me, I can naturally (and humanly) sink into all kinds of harsh emotion.

Thankfully, in his commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda nudges me, “We come across wicked people sometimes.  We can’t deny that.  So what should be our attitude?  Indifference.  ‘Well, some people are like that.  Probably I was like that yesterday.  Am I not a better person now?  She will probably be alright tomorrow.'”  Simply put.  And with an underlying vibe of self-forgiveness.  Beautiful.

What of the people who are habitually “wicked” – who commit harm as a reaction to being harmed themselves; or due to fear; or to fulfill a sense of survival?  How do I keep a peaceful mind in the midst of serious threat?  I first recognize that in order to commit harm, a person is most likely deeply unhappy.  Therefore, as the 2nd lock/key suggests, I offer compassion to that person.  And I disregard the non-virtuous deed as the result of that very human state of unhappiness.

I was inspired toward this approach by the beautiful book, “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.  “…if someone is ‘non-virtuous’ according to our definition, the judgmental part of our personality comes forward and we label those people as ‘bad.’  We try to maintain a distance, either my withdrawing ourselves or by pushing them away from us.  Any of these actions sets the stage for violence.”

And then he makes the strongest point.

“Cultivating indifference for people we believe to be non-virtuous damages our sensitivity to others and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness, and selfless love.”  He reinforces, “But by cultivating indifference toward the deeds themselves, we remain free of animosity for those whose actions are non-virtuous.”

Hmmmm – a mind free of animosity sounds like an undisturbed mind.  Therefore, if I want to practice yoga as the Sutras suggest, I must disregard the deed, have compassion toward the doer…and perhaps even forgive her.  I had to practice this recently.  And believe me, it works.  And it’s worth it.  For peace of mind.

In his May 2010 Yoga Journal article, “Love in Full Bloom,” Frank Jude Boccio takes this Sutra one step further.  He invites us to offer ourselves these same attitudes – friendliness or lovingkindness, compassion, delight or joy, and equanimity.  He asks, “How would you like to be unconditionally loved, just as you are, without having to be or do anything special?  What would it be like to feel truly, completely, radically accepted, without feeling as though you had to hide or deny or apologize for any aspect of yourself?”

And I add – can you imagine how peaceful the world and our own mind states would be if we offered this unconditional acceptance to all beings?

So let’s start with ourselves.  Can we remember to offer ourselves lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity?  Can we forgive ourselves for mistakes, accept our humanness, see ourselves as worthy?  Boccio points out, “…if we cannot love and accept ourselves just as we are, we will find if difficult to truly love anyone else in such a limitless, unconditional way.”

Remember, yoga’s ultimate goal is an undisturbed mind.  So how do we cultivate love when it feels impossible?  If I am firmly stuck in harsh judgment toward myself or another, the most effective elbow-to-ribs is the tool we learned in Sutra 2.33 – Pratipaksha Bhavana.  The replacement of negative thoughts with positive.

In his ever hopeful way, Swami Satchidananda says, “If the thought of hatred is in the mind, we can try to bring in the thought of love.  If we can’t do that, we can at least go to the people we love and, in their presence, forget the hatred.  So, although the hatred comes to the surface, we can keep if from coming out or staying long by changing the environment.”

May all of your yoga classes be an Environment Of Love.  May you feel surrounded by love.  May you feel secure, safe and supported during your practice.  May you find peace of mind.

*  *  *

Over the past week, I have witnessed students’ profound dedication to cultivating the virtues suggested in Sutra 1.33.  I have seen them apply The Four Locks & Keys during their Asana practice.  I have watched them wrestle with discomfort, re-commit to cultivating a peaceful mind, and choose positive over negative.  I have felt the love in the room; and I am certain it has found its way off the mat and into the world.

Since hearing the “murder story,” many students have confided in me about difficulties or hardship they are going or have been through.  I pray that, during our classes, they feel support for their healing.  I pray they get an ounce of relief, a break from troubles and tools to cultivate the peacefulness to face whatever life tosses their way.

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


Focus Wrap Up: Back to Basics February 2, 2011

Over the weekend I taught the final classes in our January Back to Basics focus. To complement our fine-tuning of alignment, review of three-part breathing and return to proper resting, these last sessions invited students to deepen their commitment to setting an intention.

Personally, I can’t imagine getting on the mat without exploring some kind of purpose for my practice.  To set an intention, I like to let the thoughts naturally flow through my mind while arriving, and see which one most strongly asks for my attention – it might even be a thought that’s been tapping me on the shoulder for a few days.  Maybe weeks!  Or longer!  Then I shape that thought into a dedication, affirmation or reflection.

Using the three-part Deergha Swaasam breath, I deepen my reflection by imagining filling with intention on the inhale, and simple resting with it on the exhale.  Later in my set, during the internal focus and natural surrender of seated forward folds, I inhale to fill with intention, and exhale to surrender (dissolve and let go of) any obstacles (distractions, old stories, self-imposed limitations) that might stand in the way of realizing my intention.  And I reconnect with my intention before settling into Yoga Nidra – a process of deep relaxation, between a state of sleep and consciousness.

Although I’ve been shying away from the word “resolution” this new year, I will say that having a Sankalpa (a firm, prayerful, resolved intention) during my time on the mat makes a huge difference in my practice, my day and my life. Different traditions approach Sankalpa with unique perspectives – for example, setting a Sankalpa during Yoga Nidra so this process of yogic sleep helps us realize that intention; belief that Sankalpa can erase negative Samskara (imprints on or patterns in our lives); or using Pratipaksha Bhavana (replacement of negative thoughts with positive) to create a resolution.

There’s that word again!  Resolution.

I can’t escape it – if I am going to reflect deeply on intention, I must have resolve.  So I’ll try to ease up on my anti-resolution attitude!  Your encouragement is always helpful; I’m not the only teacher around here.

I hope you’ve found something useful during this Back to Basics month of reviewing and fine tuning Asana, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and Sankalpa practice.  Looking forward to starting a 9-month look at the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Eight Limbs beginning in February!

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

P.S. Remember, the fine-tuning tips for Asana and Pranayama that I’ve taught over the past month can be found on the Tips-n-Tools tab of this blog.  Enjoy!


Focus: Why Yoga? – Resilience August 11, 2010

Today a friend is having a lumpectomy to remove cancer in her breast.

This friend is a strong, solution-oriented, resilient woman.  After reading my news about the betrayal, breakup and decompression process, she wrote to encourage me to join her in a ritual of surrender.  Instead of asking friends to pray for her well-being, she invited us to pray to let go of something that no longer serves us. On Monday evening, under a waning moon, I invited students to use their breath intentionally.  Together, we inhaled something positive into our being.  On the exhales, we let go of whatever might impede that positive intention.

Amazing what happens when I follow my own instructions!  I inhaled, “I trust that I will be taken care of,” and exhaled, “I surrender my fear.” I did this…after a day full of self-centered fear and heart-racing anxiety.  You see, while decompressing from this betrayal (which triggered memories of other traumas), I had become distrustful of humans.  By practicing intentional breathing in class Monday night, my fears and anxieties started to dissolve.

My friend’s proactive and positive attitude cracked open the door of my own resilience. And for that, I am grateful.

In past posts, I’ve written about “Pratipaksha Bhavana.” Essentially, this is what my struggling friend suggested.  This practice (mentioned in aphorism 2.33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) invites us to replace negative thoughts with positives.  This does not mean we should stuff or deny strong emotions that produce “negatives” – the healthy recognition and processing of anger, fear and anxiety is essential to our wholeness and well-being.  At the same time, for a multi-trauma survivor like me, the tendency to dwell in those emotions can cultivate fear-based stories that have nothing to do with the actualities surrounding me.  False beliefs such as, “I can’t trust anyone; everyone is hiding a horribly hurtful truth; I can instruct yoga but not get close to anyone” can invade and pervade.

When actually, I am surrounded by caring, honest, healthy and beautifully-human beings.

For those who know me and know how I teach, you also know that it would be impossible for me to disconnect!  I love engaging deeply and authentically with fellow yogis, students and teachers.  It was scary enough two weeks ago, when I found myself halfway through a class with no recall of what I had taught.  This realization lead me to make better choices for myself.  The end of my relationship has allowed me to reconnect with my truth, my essence, my healthiest me – and therefore, to show up for others.

For me, a path toward true resilience must include this essential aspect of service.

Since Monday evening’s Pratipaksha Bhavana/intentional breathing practice, so many other remedies have surfaced.  In fact, Tuesday was a long string of therapeutics.  I started with a visit to the chiropractor, who, by aligning my structure (post-traumatic-couch-sleeping is not great for alignment), reinforced proper flow of energy through the Chakras.  Then, in a Cranio-Sacral Therapy session, I finally verbalized my anger, disappointment and grief through a gradually-unstuck throat Chakra.  During a noon yoga class, where the teacher spoke of “Samtosha” (the Eight Limbs’ “Niyama” or virtue of contentment with or acceptance of what is), pigeon pose released my tears.  Afterward, talk therapy nurtured my trust and balanced my emotions.

Does this sound like a lot of effort?  Perhaps.  At the same time, through years of experience, I’ve grown to prefer the liberating results of proactive healing to the destructive crawl toward progressive depression.  Let’s see – liberation or destruction?  I know which sounds best to me.

“Therapeutic Tuesday” would not have been complete without sharing my experience, strength and hope with others who also believe in proactive recovery.  So that evening, in a room full of people who surrender to solutions one day at a time, I admitted my distrust of humans, identified this as dangerous, and described the tools I’m using to move away from that false story and toward the positive reality.

And the door to resilience cracked open a bit more.

This morning I woke up to my alarm at 6:30am.  I sprung off the couch (ok, ok, this IS a process!) and zoomed down the street for a 7am yoga class.  Inspired by a Sufi poem, the teacher encouraged us to see flowers growing within…and then to envision an entire garden.  Perhaps in full bloom; perhaps in need of some pruning.  Her music choices were positive and spiritual, organically complementing the bright sunrise.  No crying this time.  I felt energized and excited for change.

I even felt that trust was possible.

When I got home, I popped Joshua James into the CD player and cooked Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal with goji berries and walnuts.  What a shift from lazy comfort foods and mandatory meditation lectures.  Not to say that Dharma talks don’t help!  But to reach this point, where I can listen to Joshua’s soul-stirring stories and hear both the outcry and hope in his voice…I can now cry as a release and have hope, too.

As for the oatmeal, well, a self-nurturing and nutritious home-cooked breakfast beats the fleeting pleasure of potato chips in the long-term!

So on Monday, my friend with cancer helped crack the door open.  (Today, despite her encouragement to surrender my “stuff,” I’ll be praying for her and her only.)  Since Monday, despite my fear of trusting humans, despite my anxiety, despite my gushing emotions after so much holding-in – I have allowed people’s hugs, words, smiles, songs, teachings and prayers to penetrate this broken heart and tired soul.

This morning, the door to resilience is wide open. And I am choosing to walk through it.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

(P.S. If you have any questions about the remedies, practitioners, teachers or concepts mentioned above, please write me at


Prayer & Niyama June 2, 2010

One of the reasons I love prayer is because it is an antidote to guilt and blame. If I am unhappy with the way I have acted or have been treated, instead of stewing in self-recrimination, or harboring ill will toward someone else, prayer gives me a way out. I bring my painful feelings out into the open and say, ‘I have done wrong,’ or ‘I have been wronged.’ And then I ask for a vaster view—one that contains within it all the forgiveness I need in order to move forward.

– Elizabeth Lesser from “The Spiritual Adventurer’s Guide to Prayer”

I had a rough day at work.  Day two of a brand new part-time job.  You’d think I’d be breezing through.  But I am very sensitive, and I have anxiety in new group situations.  Today, there were conflicts within the team that left me emotionally rattled.  I won’t get into the details.  I think the paragraph above says enough.

Yoga’s Eight Limbs offer tools for every kind of rattling one could imagine.  Their goal is to dissolve unrest and replace it with serenity.

Today’s unrest churned a pit of both guilt and blame in my stomach.  In the moment, the Eight Limbs were a distant solution.  In the moment, the only tool I remembered was GET OUT.  This is old behavior, left over from growing up in an emotionally hostile and physically violent household.  When things got rough, I got out.  These days those memories and reactions can be triggered by family like situations that feel hostile.  But at work today I didn’t leave – not for good.  I detached from the situation, confided in someone, saw a new POV for the situation, then took a lunch break.

When I got home this evening, I was pooped.  Guilt and blame still rumbled in my tummy.  I fell asleep sitting upright in a chair.  When I awoke from this little nap, I checked e-mail and found the latest eNews blast from the Omega Institute, which includes the above-quoted article by Elizabeth Lesser.  (

So I guess I did use a yoga tool in this situation – the Niyama (Limb #2) suggest the study of spiritual texts toward a goal of self-purification.  In this case, Elizabeth Lesser’s inter-faith offerings about prayer brought serenity for my emotion-crowded mind (and ease for my rumbling tummy).  As she suggests in her article, I know that my solution is to pray.

Today I did wrong; as well, I felt wronged.  I pray for a vaster view.  I pray for complete and absolute forgiveness for myself and others.  And I pray to move forward in the spirit of yoga – with a loving and tranquil heart and mind.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.


Compassion for Killers November 17, 2009

“Compassion for the unhappy.”  “Indifference toward non-virtous acts.” – Sutra 1:33

So here I am, again practicing the locks and keys of Sutra 1:33 (see “Boy, 9, Dies…” post for details).  This morning, 26-year-old Josue Peña was arrested for killing 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes a few nights ago.  (*)  Immediately, I thought, “Josue Peña must be in some kind of pain in order to shoot-to-kill.”  That’s simply where my heart and mind go when I hear about violent crimes.  I know too much about pain’s ability to turn intentions horribly sour.

But I wasn’t always able to access compassion regarding violence.  It’s taken years for my anger about such crimes to soften – and partially from necessity.  As I’ve mentioned before, resentment is a killer for me.  It sucks away my joy and can turn me dangerously destructive – self and otherwise.  So I had to find tools to express my anger, and then promptly transition to more empathic and forgiving feelings toward criminals.

If Sutra 1:33 just isn’t cutting it for you when it comes to killers, check out the “Charter for Compassion” (below).

When Inter-Faith leader Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize in February, 2008, she made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people contributed to the process so that last week the Charter could be unveiled to the world.

My favorite line in the Charter, regarding responding to violence with compassion, is: “To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”  Visit the awe-inspiring and interactive website at Or, check out the Charter’s text, below.

If you still feel negative feelings toward Josue Peña and other killers…know that you are human.  And that’s A-OK with me.  Still, I urge you to consider finding room in your heart for empathy, understanding and compassion.

Wishing you truth-to-self…and liberation from resentment.  OM Shanti.

Bullet hole in a door.


A call to bring the world together…

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

(reprinted from

* Update: A few days after being incarcerated, Josue Peña hung himself in his prison cell.  No further comment.