Autumn is just about to show us how beautiful it can be to let go.
If I see this meme one more time, I think I’ll scream.
Don't get me wrong, I love being inspired by the beauty of nature.
And, yes, the leaves are dying with incredible majesty and grace.
Of course, letting go CAN be beautiful.
It can also be really hard and not very pretty at all.
Can you relate? After all, the last six months have been a master class for all of us on letting go: individually, collectively, personally, professionally, every which way in fact.
Yoga has a lot to say about the importance of letting go and for good reason. There’s perhaps no more important skill we develop through our practice than getting good at riding the waves of change through healthy detachment, a courageous heart, and clear understanding of the temporary nature of pretty much EVERYTHING.
It’s a common response to being introduced to a new, exciting, scary or particularly bendy pose.
It is often said with nostalgia for what was once possible and even a certain resignation that limitations of age, stiffness or injury will keep us from ever doing it again.
It’s true that what we were once able to do might no longer, or at least not right now, be appropriate or useful for us.
The body is always changing. Physical constraints, lifestyle and so much more can keep us from being able to do what we did when we were 9 years old, 25 or even last week.
The quicker you can get past the regret, the sooner you will be able to move on to the point, which is to recognize, respect, engage with and learn from the reality of your body at this moment.
At these moments, the opportunity of practice is to let go of the old story of fear, frustration, and defeat and transform it into one of empowerment and responsibility.
It’s Pitru Paksha, the fortnight of the ancestors. This is the two-week period in the Hindu calendar (September 2-16 this year) dedicated to honoring one’s lineage.
This traditionally includes the three generations that have come before you – your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents that have passed on. It can also include teachers, friends, mentors, and even pets who have departed.
I believe the support of our ancestors is with us all the time, even when we don’t experience it. It becomes more powerful when we consciously connect to their presence.
During this powerful time I invite you to take hold of the support of your lineage today.
What would your ancestors see if they looked down on you and your life right now?
What would they want to tell you? What would they want you to know?
What blessing would they offer you?
I’ve been fascinated by the concept of liminality since I first learned about it years ago as an undergrad in Anthropology. It refers to the period between one role or stage in life and the next.
Liminal comes from the Latin root limen, which means “threshold.” It is a transitional time, where we're on the cusp between two ways of being. We've left one behind and aren’t quite established in another. The time between graduating university and starting a new job, being engaged and getting married, or leaving one home and moving to a new city are some examples of liminal spaces.
Liminal spaces occur on the collective level too. If you were wondering if there was a term to describe the strange reality we find ourselves right now, the answer is yes. The global pandemic has moved us into a collective liminality. In many ways, the world as we knew feels like it is over and our new...
Recently, in response to a column about being an ambassador for yoga, one of our readers wrote:
I have felt some pressure from people (students or not), an expectation that I have to be a certain way. For instance, people assume that because I do yoga I am always calm and never get angry (neither apply to me.) Or, that because I am doing yoga I am some kind of super Bendy-Wendy circus person (which I am not either).
Over the years, yoga has become something more and more private to me. A practice that I use and can go back to again and again. Yoga is my companion. It helps me reflect and awaken whether others see it or not.
I relate to this. I remember once leading a weekend retreat, drinking my morning coffee with the other participants during our breakfast. A student approached me, and with a look of disdain asked me, accusingly, "YOU drink coffee?"
The way he said it, you would have thought it was vodka.
My first reaction was to play into his stereotype, to...
The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
- Ram Dass
Silence. It's not just the absence of words, though that's where it begins.
It's the quieting of the mind, the slowing down of the stream of thoughts.
When the ripples of the mind settle and become like the calm surface of a lake, as the classic analogy goes, it becomes still, clear and pristine.
From here, peace emerges.
If I'm honest with myself, this is the experience I long for the most, the most precious gift of yoga in my life. It often eludes me, but when I do experience it, I realize that silence, more than anything, is what I pray my practices will bring. The gift of quietude that reveals freedom, serenity, and clarity.
It's from a quiet mind that all great work gets accomplished.
It's from a quiet mind that we can meet life from the best possible stance.
It's from a quiet mind that we're able to give our best to the situations and circumstances at hand.
It's from a quiet mind that we can listen to...
True confession: House plants are not known to thrive under my watch. In fact, I'm looking at one right now badly in need of water. Like, really badly. I'll get to it right after I write this, I promise.
But the sight of that thirsty plant reminded me of an experience I've often had in yoga. In fact, its one I'm having this week as I get back into a more regular routine after our family vacation.
Practice, my morning contemplation, meditation, silence - I feel like a plant being watered. It's only now that I notice how parched and dry I was, actually. Everything was fine, I was fine. But what a difference after three straight days of focused asana and getting back into my morning routine. Ahh the feeling of renewed vitality, clarity, and nourishment that comes with the practices.
How do the practices nourish you? What can you do today to water the soil of your inner being? To quench the thirst of your spirit?
One of my friends, a fellow yoga teacher, turned 85 last week. In response to my email wishing him a happy birthday he wrote,
I did a headstand to celebrate in these upside-down times.
That felt appropriate. Usually, yoga friends might celebrate such an occasion with 85 Sun Salutations, but this year it makes sense to go upside down. It’s feels like that’s just how life is these days.
My friend’s message reminded me of the upside-down representation of the Shiva Nataraj.
Many of us might be familiar with this typical representation of the Ananda Tandava, the divine dance of Lord Shiva:
It portrays the five acts of Shiva, Shiva as the source of the five universal processes – creation, maintenance, dissolution, concealment, and revelation.
But there’s an alternative version of the Shiva Nataraj that’s much rarer, where Shiva is depicted upside down balancing on one arm:
One of the...
Last week, I wrote about the shift that happens when we focus on how we are being rather than just what we’re doing. Nowhere is this more apparent, and important, than in asana practice.
Consider Child's pose. Physically, it’s a pose where you sit on your heels with the big toes together and knees apart, fold your torso forward over your legs and rest your forehead on the floor. That’s how you do the pose. But none of that describes the many ways to be in this pose. It’s a pranam, the classic posture of reverence in the Indian tradition. This is often how I practice it, infusing the form of bowing with the inner feeling of giving thanks and honoring all I’ve received as a student.
This week, that same pose took on a whole different energy for me. It became a pose of offering that same reverence and gratitude to myself, turning that sense of honoring inward. I needed a visceral reminder of what has always been...
Following a meditation retreat a few years ago I decided that I want to focus less on what I wanted to DO and more on how I wanted to BE.
No sooner did I decide on this shift than I realized that it isn’t as easy as it seems.
It can be so tempting, rewarding even, to put my energy into what I want to accomplish and achieve. But to bring a chosen state of being to my actions? To prioritize HOW I want to be as I do all the things I do? That takes conscious effort. And attention.
I remember my teacher once saying something like anyone can work like a bull, but to work with sweetness and clarity, well, that’s something else entirely. To bring the best of ourselves to what we do requires a particular kind of skill. It’s the work of the yogi, don’t you think?
My experience is that there really is no substitute for taking the time and effort to nurture the inner stance we bring to our actions.
It’s that shift of being that makes the whole...
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