Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Earthy Meditation

A group of us enjoyed yoga and meditation by candlelight during last night's Earth Hour. I wrote this guided meditation for the group and thought I'd share it with you. Take a few deep breaths and enjoy!

Guided Meditation for Earth Hour

Close your eyes and allow your breath to flow naturally. With each breath, feel your body become more relaxed.

Imagine you are standing on a gravel road at the edge of a forest. In front of you are five stone steps down to a path that leads into the trees. You start down the steps. At the first step your body becomes completely relaxed. At the second step your mind quiets. On the third step you feel peace flowing through you. At the fourth step you know you are in a safe place. As you step onto the fifth and final step your vision becomes sharp and clear and the light seems brighter and the colors more vivid.

You follow the path into the trees, fully taking in everything that you see. You notice each subtle hue of the green leaves and the brown dirt. Here and there a yellow leaf left over from the fall catches your eye. The light filters through the treetops and dapples the path in front of you. You look up and see bits of blue sky between the tall trees. You see the varying textures of the tree bark, some smooth and some gnarled, knotted and rough. You notice tiny flowers on delicate stalks nestled against the root of one tree and you wonder how they came to grow there. Twigs and pebbles crunch under your feet. You feel a slight, cool breeze that rustles the leaves. You become aware of mossy smells and the singing of birds high above you and the buzzing of insects around you. You can feel life here.

You continue down the path, stepping carefully to avoid the small green plants which have sprung up between rocks. As you move deeper into the forest the light fades and the air becomes damp and musty. The path becomes softer beneath your feet. Moving on, you notice the sound of running water ahead and walk down the path toward the sound. Suddenly you step into brighter light and find yourself on the bank of a wide stream. You can see the sun overhead here and the sunlight reflects on the water. The stream is rocky and the water tumbles over the worn stones in a series of small waterfalls. The spring sun is melting snow in higher elevations and the water runs quickly by, carrying leaves, small twigs and a few water bugs over the rocks.

You sit on the damp, cool moss on the bank and watch the water flow by. As you watch, a small green lizard scampers onto a rock, then you move slightly and he disappears between the rocks. The sun is warm despite the breeze. You are filled with peace just being in this place.

A rustling in the trees on the opposite bank catches your attention, and you look up to see an animal emerge from the trees. What kind of animal is it? Let it be whatever first comes to mind. It sees you and moves cautiously toward the stream. You catch its eyes and it stops, watching you. You know you are safe here and do not feel fear, just awe at being this close to this animal. You have a clear, unobstructed view and can see it in detail. You can see the shape of its body, muscle and bone. You can see the shape of its feet, its tail, its jaw. You know there is power in that body, the power it needs to survive in the forest. You notice its texture – fur or scales or feathers or skin. You imagine what it would feel like if you could touch the animal. You can see its colors – not just the body colors but the color of its eyes. And you look into those eyes and feel a connection, and know this animal has a message for you. What is it telling you? What would this animal have to say? Perhaps it is just a message of mutual respect, perhaps it is something else. Let the message come to you. Trust that whatever message you hear is the right one.

You repeat the message to yourself a few times, wanting to remember it. Then you look down, breaking eye contact, and the animal turns and wanders back into the trees. You watch it go, grateful for the opportunity to see it so close and for the message it shared with you. Knowing your time here is done, you stand, turn away from the stream and walk back along the forest path, through the darkness under the thick trees. A few more steps brings you back to the place where patches of light illuminate the path ahead and before long you can see the stone steps.

You walk to the steps, taking one last look at the trees behind you, then put your foot down on the first step and start to climb. On the next step you become aware of your breath. On the next step you feel your body. On the next step you become aware of the room. As you reach the top of the steps you are back in the present, bringing with you the animal's message and the sense of peace you found in the forest. Take a few deep breaths before you move back into your day.

* * *

I've noticed that I am drawn to certain animals during times of stress, other animals when I am feeling introspective or down, and still others when I am happy. Sometimes, like last night, I will dream about an animal. Bear has been with me all day today, telling me to head into a dark cave and listen to my intuition for awhile. I should probably listen.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Then Sings My Soul...

{{en|The Adirondack Mountains from the top of ...Image via Wikipedia

Today is the first full day of spring. Since snow was falling in the Adirondacks this morning it looked like winter was hanging on. The pastor at our church wore one of his Hawaiian shirts this morning so we would know that, despite the snow, spring had indeed arrived.

The snow was short-lived since it's been unseasonably warm for the past week. Other than a few spots on the north side of the house the snow piles have all melted into mud puddles. Yesterday we spent a couple hours raking up the thick layer of leaves that had been under the snow. Since it was late fall when we moved into this house we have no idea what the yard will look like in spring and summer. As I uncovered the dirt I saw signs of new growth and the promise of pleasant summer surprises, but there are lots of empty places that will be perfect for gardens. I introduced myself to the trees and plants around the house and promised to care for them. Soon I will have my hands in the dirt, working with nature to create patches of color where none previously existed.

One of this morning's hymns was "How Great Thou Art." What a perfect song for the beginning of spring. I really like the second verse:
When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul...
I must have zoned out a bit after that hymn because I couldn't tell you what the sermon was about. I was thinking about things that make my soul sing. Even though I see them every day I am always in awe of the mountains. Sometimes, when the light is right, the view takes my breath away. The lake is beautiful whether ice covered or blue and rippling in the breeze. I can't help but smile when I see the local wildlife - woodpeckers, huge deer, fox, scampering chipmunks, snakes and even an occasional bobcat. What better surroundings for my yoga practice than these?

This is why I came here. When we moved out of New Jersey we could have gone anywhere. There are plenty of places where it would be easier for a yoga teacher to find work. I could have joined a group of teachers in an established yoga studio with hundreds of students rather than struggling to build something from nothing. My soul just wasn't settling for the easy way.

It's interesting to note where you can find the meccas of the yoga community in the United States. New York City and Los Angeles are so packed with yoga studios that you can't walk into a Starbucks without tripping over a rolled mat propped next to a latte-sipping yogini. In the suburbs, the yoga studios are found in shopping centers and office buildings. Simply, studios sprung up where people are, making it convenient to squeeze in an hour's practice after work.

In contrast, the stories from India tell of seekers struggling to mountaintop caves where sages lived in isolation, becoming wise through solitary meditation. Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) tells of his many attempts to escape to the Himalayas during his youth. For yogis like Yogananda, the spiritual, quiet mountain was the place for a yoga practice.

Ironically, it was my suburban yoga teacher who inspired my own mountain quest. While we worked through our chakras in teacher training, one thing kept coming to the surface. I wasn't satisfied living where I was. I felt like I was missing something. I felt scattered, uncentered. I needed different surroundings to really live my yoga.

I didn't come here to be a yoga teacher with hundreds of students. I came for the mountains themselves. I came to feel the sun on my face as I sit, in lotus, on the flat rock of a summit. I came to ground to the energy of the earth by being with the earth. I came to stick my feet into spring-fed streams and watch dragonflies dance over cattails. I came to let my practice evolve organically, to share that practice with anyone who's interested and to build a community of yogis and yoginis where none previously existed. Then sings my soul...Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, March 19, 2010

To Write, or Not to Write...

...that is the question, lately. I like to write and, in the interest of promoting my yoga studio and maybe covering a couple of race entry fees, I've been looking for local publications that might publish an article or two on yoga. And I found some. Great!

Now all I have to do is write some articles.

A couple of years ago I had an article published in Sage Woman magazine. I was pretty proud of that article. All I have to do is write something of that quality and someone will publish it. I have lots of ideas. I just have to put something on paper.

So, why is it that I sit down to write and get immediately distracted? This week I have gotten caught up on Facebook, read my entire blogroll, found a bunch of new people to follow on Twitter, cleaned out my email inbox......


(Guess how many times I've checked Facebook and Twitter while writing these few paragraphs.)

I'm not sure why I'm not getting my head into writing the articles, but I need to get over it. When I was writing lots and got my article published, I was reading and following The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It lived next to my bed and I read it every night. I wrote Morning Pages. It works. I was on a writing roll.

Then, one day, I stopped. I don't know why. I must have gotten distracted.

Yesterday I went to our storage unit and dug through the boxes of books until I found my copy of The Artist's Way. Maybe it will work this time, too.

Since I brought up the race entry fee thing, I suppose I should mention that I've registered for the North Country Triathlon in June. This was my first triathlon ever last year and I'm looking forward to going back and maybe beating last year's time. Committing to the race got me past my training procrastination. My legs can attest to that. It felt good to run yesterday. I think of lots of things to write when I'm running.
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Friday, March 12, 2010

Good-bye to Gaia

I'm always sad when things I like go away, and they go away too often. It seems like the television shows that I really enjoy never make it through the first season. The stores where I like to shop are always empty and frequently close shortly after I discover them. When I find a really nice style of clothes, or a brand of food my family finds particularly tasty, it is always discontinued. I suffer with scratched sunglasses because they don't make that style anymore. Forget about shoes.

I never think about the internet being like those real life things, though. Once it's on the internet, it's there forever, right? I mean, I haven't been on Geocities for ten years, but I hear it's still there. Every now and then a Google hit is hosted by Angelfire. Once in cyberspace, always in cyberspace, or so I thought.

Today I got an email from the Gaia Community. Before it was Gaia, it was Zaadz. Zaadz was cool. I found the site when they were advertising in Yoga Journal. It was all about people coming together, building community and learning from each other. I couldn't resist the print ads and had to check it out.

Zaadz had a blog, and once I was signed up I started blogging away. I found the site right before I started yoga teacher training, so I blogged about that. I took an online writing course and blogged about that. I blogged about graduations, a puppy and moving. When Gaiam bought the site and it became Gaia, I kept on blogging.

About a year ago, I decided that my blog needed a wider audience. I mean, why have two people reading my blog when I could have, say, twenty? So I set myself up on Blogger and rarely posted at Gaia anymore. I guess I wasn't the only one.

While I wasn't using it all the time, I liked that it was there. But, like the empty stores, Gaia is going away. That email that I got said they would be shutting the site down at the end of the month. While I don't need it, I will miss having the tab with my Gaia page open when I start my browser. It's been there for three years, longer than I've had this laptop.

Good-bye to Gaia, and good-bye to the shadow of Zaadz that still lingers there. Good-bye to my Gaia cyber-friends. Thank you for reading my words. Both of you.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

A Change in Diet

Almost a month ago, my six year old son and I started an experiment. I was convinced that my son's digestive irregularities (the nice way of saying he's always constipated) were due to more than just a lack of fiber. This condition had, after all, been going on since he was a baby. I was the only mother I knew who hoped for poopy diapers. The pediatrician, however, just told us to give him Metamucil. We tried, but the extra fiber had no more affect than the tons of fruits and vegetables he already ate. The poor kid got bound up, then couldn't sit still, acted out in class and became a bear to live with until he was finally able to go. This had to stop.

Thanks to the vast amounts of knowledge that everyone shares on the internet, I got turned on to the book Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp. The book deals with food allergies and their effects on the body. Was constipation an allergy symptom? Yes, it can be. Who knew? (Well, somebody knew. Just not me.)

The book suggests an elimination diet to test for food allergies. I figured it couldn't hurt, and maybe we'd get to the bottom of my son's issues, so we tried it. Not wanting my kid to feel left out during family meals, I did the diet with him. What an adventure we had.

The first week we eliminated just about every potential allergen. This was really, really hard. I had to read every label on everything we had in the house, and I spent hours in the grocery store. No wheat, no dairy, no nuts, no sugar, no eggs, no citrus fruit, no artifical colors or preservatives... I think the first week we ate only fresh fruits and veggie, rice and potatoes. Not a bad diet, really, except when the local food store has a very limited produce section during the winter months.

My attempt at making pancakes out of rice flour was pitiful.

After a week without any of the eliminated things, my son's bowel movements resembled those of a normal human. Then we started adding stuff back. The first day we added dairy. By that evening he couldn't go. Can't get more obvious than that. We took the dairy out of his diet and things started flowing again. Nothing else seemed to have an effect, except we noticed sugar made him, like many children, a bit hyper. I've always tried to limit the sugar in my kids' diets, so that didn't require much of an adjustment.

The big surprise came the day we added back eggs. Turns out that eggs make me itch. I've been suffering from eczema since I was a teenager. I always thought it was something environmental. I never would have suspected eggs, but the symptoms came out so fast while eating a plate of scrambled eggs that there was no question what the cause was. I sat there, scratching the insides of my elbows and knees, cursing myself for not thinking of this sooner. I could have avoided years of itching, unsightly rashes and cortisone scars.

Now that I knew what had to be eliminated permanently, I had to come up with a whole new meal plan. I already had to be creative to include my vegetarian daughter in meals. Now I had to make them dairy- and egg-free as well. It's okay. I needed a new challenge.

Baking has been a disaster. The vegan brownies I tried tasted like banana bread and burned our throats on the way down. At least I can do french bread.

My egg- and milk-free pancakes are getting pretty darn good, though.
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Crooked Sage

BMS_6782Image by kyle.stern via Flickr

To introduce Astavakrasana, or eight-angle pose, to my kids yoga class, I wrote this version of Astavakra's story. I thought I'd put it out there in case anyone else would like to use it. Please note that my telling of the story is based on a number of different sources and I took some liberties with the story, so don't expect historical or mythological accuracy.

The Crooked Sage

Once, a long time ago, there was a scholarly man who spent a great deal of time reading aloud from his religion's scriptures. His wife, who was pregnant with their first child, would often sit beside him as he chanted the spiritual words.

Late one evening, as the scholar wearily recited verses, a tiny voice spoke from inside his wife's belly. "Sir, you have mispronounced that verse!"

The tired and short-tempered scholar was so insulted that he didn't even think of the wonder of an unborn baby speaking. Instead, he cursed the small voice and, since words have power, the curse took hold. The baby was born deformed and was given the name Astavakra, which means "eight bends", for the eight crooks in his little body.

Shortly after Astavakra was born, his father was called to King Janaka's court to have a debate with Bandi, a great philosopher who was tormenting the king. Everyone who lost his argument with Bandi was ordered to walk into the river, where he sunk to the bottom and was lost. The king had no sages left to help with his rituals, and the kingdom was suffering. Astavakra's father was no match for Bandi and was drowned like the others, so Astavakra never got to know his father.

Despite his deformities, Astavakra was a brilliant child and quickly learned as much as the great sages of the time. When he was twelve years old, he went to King Janaka's court. When he hobbled in, the guards and guests took one look a the bent, crippled boy and started to laugh. Astavakra looked around and started to laugh, too. King Janaka saw this and asked Astavakra why he was laughing when everyone was laughing at him.

Astavakra replied, "I am laughing because you are supposed to be a great scholar and king, yet you have surrounded yourself with cobblers. You must be a cobbler, too." (In those days, you called someone a cobbler when he only looked at the skin and not inside. Astavakra knew the king's friends were judging him by his shape and not his being.)

Astavakra told King Janaka that he wanted to argue with Bandi, who was still sending scholars to the bottom of the river. King Janaka was desperate for someone to defeat Bandi and help him with the rituals, so he agreed.

Bandi and Astavakra had their debate and, of course, brilliant Astavakra won. To avenge his father and all the other sages, Astavakra demanded that Bandi drown himself in the river. Bandi revealed that he was in fact the son of the god of water. His father, Varuna, had sent Bandi to earth to gather sages to perform an ancient ritual. Since the ritual was complete and Bandi had lost, the sages were freed and all walked, unharmed, out of the river.

Astavakra's father begged Astavakra to forgive him for cursing him and said that Astavakra was clearly more intelligent than he. King Janaka became one of Astavakra's students, and the things Astavakra taught the king were written down and have been studied by many scholars since then. Astavakrasana, or the Crooked Pose, was created to honor the little crooked boy who was a great sage.

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Yin and Yang, Eyes Closed

The Yin and Yang Symbol with black representin...Image via Wikipedia

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a Yin and Yang Yoga workshop at Susanne Murtha's gorgeous yoga studio in Bakers Mills, NY. Ken Nelson, PhD, LMT, a senior teacher at Kripalu in Lenox, MA, led the workshop. Ken, and his assistant Lesli, guided the group through 3 1/2 hours of movement and stillness as bright sunshine streamed through the windows.

We started with om, exploring one part of the sound at a time and really feeling the sounds resonate in different parts of our bodies. Then we chanted some good, long, full oms. Ahhhh....

After warming up we moved into the Yang portion of the workshop. Ken taught us movements and Taoist breathing that seemed like Tai Chi. We used the breath to gather and direct energy up, down and to the sides, then to settle the energy back into our cores. The arms moved with the energy, while our legs took familiar yoga poses, like Goddess and Warrior II. We repeated the movements many times, letting our muscles enjoy the repetition.

The second part of the workshop was the Yin poses. I have to admit I've never been a big fan of Yin yoga. An acquaintance was interested in becoming a Yin teacher and I practiced with her a couple of times, hating every long, drawn-out minute of it. When I tried at home I got bored 30 seconds into a pose and concluded that this was not the practice for me.

I glad I decided to give it another try. I really liked the Yin yoga. Ken did a great job of presenting, talking us through how our bodies were supposed to feel during and after the poses. He said we had been holding the poses for at least three minutes, but it never seemed that long. I even lasted through frog, although I was cursing my tight hip adductors and bony knee caps the entire time. Ken's simple anatomy lessons helped, as did his reminders that, once we knew exactly which muscle was stretching, we should let the tight muscle relax. I was surprised when it actually worked, and loved being in touch with my body enough to be able to feel the fibers of the muscles release on my command. Mmmmm.....

The time went by quickly. I was relishing being on my mat, allowing myself to be taught. I kept my eyes closed as much as I could. Since none of my students were with me, I turned off my teacher-brain and consciously avoided watching the others in the workshop. (I couldn't turn it off completely, of course. Every now and then I caught myself tucking away new information for future use.) While I love teaching, I am trying to take time for my own practice and self-development as well. I believe when I am feeling centered and whole I have more to offer my students.

Another blessing that came out of the workshop was finally meeting Susanne Murtha in person, as well as another yoga teacher who had come to take the workshop. I was warmly welcomed by both. Yoga is pretty spread out in the Adirondacks, so teachers don't have the same kind of community they have when they teach in big yoga studios. It will take extra effort (and driving), but I think we can build a community of sorts here. I love the online yoga community, but sometimes what I really need is a walk in the woods with a like-minded soul. And what could be better than being gathered into a hug by a new friend?

Om Shanti. Peace.
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