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...
Like many of us, there are moments these days when I’m in mourning for the yoga world that was. As retreat season here in Quebec rolls around, memories of past events popped up on my feed this week. With places around the world slowly opening up, teachers have reached out to me with questions about how, when and where they will go back to giving in-person classes. There are so many questions and very few clear-cut answers.
As I’ve seen some big-name, corporate studios close their doors, I admit that on one hand I’m relieved to see that the unsustainable bubble of studio chains and teacher-training machines finally might be bursting for good. At the same time, my heart goes out to small, local studios who are struggling. As a former neighborhood studio-owner myself, I know first-hand the commitment and sacrifice that goes into supporting an in-person community, and the tremendous value you bring to the lives of your students.
What better time than a hot, steamy July day to consider the case of the champion ice sculptor?
Can you imagine dedicating yourself wholeheartedly to producing the most beautiful, exquisite art you're capable of while knowing it would soon disappear?
What would it be like to work diligently, to give your all to a project, while knowing full well it was fundamentally temporary and fleeting?
What if you embraced the idea that the act of creating was the goal itself?
Stay cool, stay well,
This morning I had an appointment in our village that is slowly opening up. It's a time of day I'm not usually out. On my way home, I got to see the recycling truck and the mail carrier in action.
Although it might sound like a strange thing to say at a time when so much feels off-kilter, I actually had the thought, "All is happening as it should be."
I felt grateful for all the services and people I count on for the everyday functioning of my life. I’m thankful to live in a society where resources like these are provided on a regular basis. They're so important, yet I hardly ever think about it.
Similarly, a few days ago I was speaking with a group of yoga friends about how grateful we are for the practices we've come to rely on, day in and day out. Like the recycling truck and the mail carrier, I cannot imagine navigating life without these inner resources.
What’s more, the inner resources we gather as yogis are ours and they remain ours no matter...
Getting an "A" in yoga.
Sounds silly, right? The idea of getting a grade or receiving some kind of external reward for performance in yoga so obviously goes against our most basic reasons for doing the practice.
Seth Godin in his book What to do When It’s Your Turn, writes:
"… The prevailing system of the educational-industrial complex puts the fear of a ‘C’ in us. The entire point of twelve (or sixteen) years of our lives isn’t to learn anything, it’s to get an ‘A’…What if instead, we decided to opt in to a different path, the path of always learning?"
Because yoga is, or can be, all about continuous learning on so many different levels, it is a perfect example of “the path of always learning.“
In the alignment-based yoga practice, learning is progressive. It happens in stages.
First is the form of the pose. It’s about learning how to get the body in and out of...
Use your own light and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity.
One of the more interesting gifts I’ve received as a teacher was a bright-yellow Brazilian Melon. A student in a retreat gave it to me a few years ago as a symbol of the lightness she felt in the days following our time together. For me, it was a sweet reminder of the inner sun that yoga reveals within us.
This is the Prana Shakti. Like a sun inside ourselves, prana is the source energy that animates our bodies, enlivens our senses and powers our minds.
I spent a luxurious amount of time this weekend watching the sun illumine the fields and mountains around my home, everything bathed in its bright, golden light. It struck me that the practices of yoga illuminate our inner being in much the same way.
Within the body-mind, we might experience the expansion of Prana as it brightens our interior being with greater vitality and magnifies our...
Today feels like the right day to revisit the story of Tikkun Olam as told by Rachel Naomi Remen:
In the beginning, there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand, thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light.
And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand, thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and...
“The wound is the place where the light enters you” – Rumi
I learned recently that Rumi’s poem preceded this phrase that Leonard Cohen made famous. While I’ve contemplated this on my own internal level many times, it feels that now the collective wound is open. The wound of our society’s prejudice and injustice. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. It’s deeply unsettling.
And yet, necessary.
Necessary for the light to make its way in, for the reckoning to begin. For healing to become possible.
We have our work cut out for us. It starts with being willing to fully feel the pain of the wound itself, to take an unflinching look at what is being laid bare. It continues with being willing to let the light to come in.
For me, this light is shining on the wound and illuminating it with my most fundamental value. The one that launched me on the path of yoga when I read the words (I’m paraphrasing here): “If you truly...
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