Friday, December 13, 2013

And So It Ends

English: The other end of the lane The green l...
The end of the lane  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In just a few weeks, this blog will be five years old. It has been an amazing five years, during which my life has gone through huge changes. I have chronicled them here.

And now I'm done.

This blog has been an outlet for my fears, a creative challenge, a place to be accountable and, most of the time, a place to simply share what has been happening. Lately, though, it's just been an drain - something I feel I should work on without the inspiration to do so. Where I used to find joy, I now just find a chore.

So I'm letting it go.

It came to me early this morning that I am no longer the True North Yogini. That was who I had been reinventing myself as when I was leaving behind the corporate world and creating a yoga studio in the middle of nowhere. I've reinvented myself quite a few times during my forty-plus years on this earth, so I know what it looks like.

If necessity is the mother of invention, who is the mother of reinvention?

I pondered that as I considered why these all-too-frequent reinventions felt so good for awhile but always brought me back to the same place of feeling like there was something missing. Am I straying too far from who I really am? Do I lack the talent/skill/drive to succeed in these various personas? Am I, in fact, too lazy/unfocused/noncommittal to put all my energy into making something great?

Is boredom the mother of reinvention?

I still love to teach yoga. I can't envision a life where I'm not teaching yoga. But I don't want to write about it anymore. And I don't want to be just a yoga teacher. I don't even want to be just a yoga teacher, yoga studio owner, runner, triathlete, hiker, knitter, baker, crunchy tree-hugger and homeschooling Adirondack mountain mom.

My creative spirit has wanderlust.

I've decided, Dear Reader, to let this blog go and give myself permission to explore new creative outlets. Thank you for five years of support and community. Thank you for the comments and the likes and for just stopping by now and then to be part of my world. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

And so it ends with my word for 2014:

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Insanity kicked my asana

Four weeks ago I started the Insanity workouts. During those four weeks I never missed a workout, and followed the six-day-a-week workout calendar exactly. I'll be taking my measurements next week, at the end of "recovery week" (also known as "the week in which the daily workout makes my thighs long for the good old cardio recovery days"), but I am starting to notice the changes in my body.

I have to confess that I haven't kept up my yoga practice during the last month. With a 30-40 minute workout to squeeze in, my mornings are pretty tight. I take a class when I can, but my meditative morning practice has been replaced with lots of jumping around. I was feeling a bit guilty about that, until I made an interesting discovery:

Insanity pushed my asana practice up a notch.

Shaun T is pretty serious about stretching, so I'm not surprised that, after four weeks of daily hamstring stretches, I'm more open than I was. The Insanity workouts are also very core-focused, so, despite the lack of an obvious six-pack, I might be stronger after the first month. It turns out the two ganged up on me.

Navasana is an excellent core-strengthening pose, and I can hold it comfortably as long as I keep my knees bent. My hamstrings are too tight to achieve the straight-legged version, and I never even imagined experiencing the beautiful variation where you draw your legs and upper body closer together. It turns out I might have been a bit hasty in accepting my limitations.

Last Saturday I spent a couple of hours bellydancing with some ladies from the yoga studio. Later that evening I unrolled my mat to stretch a bit. I don't know why I thought to try it, but I ended up here:

This picture was taken today, which means I can still do it, two days later. It wasn't just one of those freak yoga things.

Thank you, Shaun T, for the yoga breakthrough. I'll forgive you for all those mornings when your workouts kicked my asana.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What does Insanity look like?

Insanity looks like this...

It's day 24 and I haven't missed a workout. Yesterday I made it all the way through the Cardio Power and Resistance workout. Well, there was that brief rest when my butt hit the floor during triceps dips and stayed there for 20 seconds. But I got going again. And my push-ups are slower than Shaun T's. I'd play the girl card, but Tanya is on the video putting the rest of my gender to shame.

Next week is "recovery week." I'm kind of excited to hit that milestone, but, if the workouts are anything like like the current Cardio Recovery workout, I'm not sure I'm going to have a fun week. My thighs are getting very worried.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Making my Niyama Case for Virgosity

English: Illustration of shallow focus, showin...
Don't  move my salt shaker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Don't bother googling "virgosity." It's a word my husband made up to describe my extreme Virgo-ness. I don't know what it is about being born during late August or most of September, but everyone I know who was born under the astrological sign of Virgo has the same catch-phrase. It is "Don't move my stuff."

My husband coined the term "virgosity" to explain behaviors that to his Leo brain seem completely irrational, like sliding the salt shaker a half-inch to the right so it will be exactly where it belongs, or arranging candle holders so they will be in a perfect non-linear scatter. After I've had some alone time at the yoga studio, the classes arrive to find all the blankets folded identically and stacked with all the fringe facing the same way, a specific number in each stack.

Lucky for me and all my fellow Virgo yogis and yoginis, Patanjali justified our virgosity in the Yoga Sutras, right there in the list of Niyamas. Number one on the list is Shaucha, which is purity or cleanliness. Shaucha refers to both your external environment and, being yoga, what's going on in that mind of yours.

We know that a cluttered mind creates obstacles to the practice of yoga, whether it's asana, meditation, self-study or one of the other branches. What makes this Virgo heart sing is the acknowledgement that a cluttered or dirty environment also creates those obstacles. Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time focusing on work when my desk hasn't been cleared off, as I learned the hard way when I allowed it to get out of control. I have never been satisfied with an asana practice surrounded by piles of laundry.

You can do lots of things to purify the body and clear the mind, but your breakthrough might be stalled under a stack of dirty dishes. The simplicity of life when everything is in its place can free up energy for the internal work.

And if you don't know the exact place for your salt shaker, it's time to make friends with a Virgo.
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Friday, October 18, 2013

A shower, my thighs and Ahimsa #365Yoga

Levi rockin' the Scorpion Pose
A guy rocking Scorpion Pose (Photo credit: FabulousTerrah)
Yesterday, after I finished Insanity Cardio Recovery (a.k.a. the "slow, painful death of my thighs" workout), I was thinking about whether or not a painful workout went against the "nonharming" principle of yoga. I was standing in the shower at the time, and I was also wondering how a non-cardio workout could have made me sweat so much, so don't expect anything too deep and philosophical here.

Ahimsa, usually translated as nonharming or nonviolence, is the first of the Yamas in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The Yamas teach us how to control our personal conduct when dealing with others. In its simplest terms, the principle of Ahimsa asks us to not hurt anyone. But, if it's part of the code of ethics for dealing with others, does it allow us to hurt ourselves?

I've heard yoga teachers point out Ahimsa as the reason we shouldn't push too hard during an asana practice. "Show compassion for yourself!" "There's no pain in yoga!" "Stay within your edge!" I've said these things myself. They are yoga teacher language for "Please don't get hurt in my class." I have to wonder, however, how the guy rocking Vrischikasana never pushed past his edge while learning how to get there. And if he was sore for awhile, like I was when I was regularly working on scorpion pose, did he feel un-yogi-like because he wasn't gentle with his body?

My thighs disagree, but I think using Ahimsa as an excuse not to take reasonable risks with my body takes something away from the Yamas, which are supposed to remind me that it's not, in fact, all about me. The violence we're supposed to be avoiding isn't muscle aches from a good workout, it's the harm we do when we think we're separate from everyone else. It's the pain that we cause whenever we allow differences in race, gender, nationality, religion, living conditions, etc., to create an "otherness" in our thinking. It's the rips in the web of existence that we create every time we come from a place of fear rather than openness.

I'm not advocating recklessness in yoga classes or home practices. We should always practice safely and with intention and awareness, to avoid injuries. I just think we do a disservice to Patanjali when we claim Ahimsa while we're dropping into child's pose but forget to talk about the much deeper commitment nonviolence requires when we step off our mats. After all, Patanjali probably never saw a forearm balance. I know he never checked out Insanity.

Yes, there are awesome yoga teachers out there digging into the Yamas in their classes, but they weren't in the shower with me. It was just me and my thighs, and, Ahimsa or not, we've got another workout tomorrow.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

I'm not dead (I don't want to go in the cart)

Sometimes I think that Shaun T, creator of the Insanity workout from Beachbody, is trying to put me in the cart. I'm not dead, though. Not yet, anyway. While the workouts are hard, I'm hanging in there. I haven't missed a day and, I have to say, I think I'm getting better.

What I appreciate the most about the workouts is the stretching that is included every time. I haven't even had to yell at the television because Shaun does a good job with the alignment of the yoga stretches. He's even given me some ideas for Body Shop, a vinyasa-based yoga class I created to include hand weights, resistance bands and some Pilates-inspired core exercises. I enjoy planning and teaching the fusion class and it gives me the opportunity to put my personal trainer credentials to use.

All I have to do is survive the next workout. I think I'll go for a walk.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Don't do this, do this #365Yoga

There is a saying that if you really want to integrate something, you should teach it to someone else. I've found that to be true, especially with yoga. Then creating and teaching a yoga teacher training program really drove home pieces of yoga philosophy that I had been just flirting with for years.

For the session that just started, I decided to narrow the study of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras into an in-depth look at the Yamas and the Niyamas. As a result, I've been researching how different people interpret and apply yoga's ethical guidelines. Like all of the Sutras, I wonder how best to apply the Yamas and Niyamas in the time we live in.

The five Yamas are yoga's "don't do this" list - "don't harm," "don't lie," "don't steal," etc. The Niyamas lay out five better choices to make, including staying clean, cultivating contentment and exploring your inner self. All ten are at once simple and extremely complex.

While what North America has truly embraced is Hatha Yoga, it is interesting to note that, when Patanjali laid out the eight limbs of yoga, he put the Yamas and the Niyamas first and second. Did he believe that the rules for living needed to be embraced before one was ready to tackle the other limbs? Well, that's a question for a group of yoga teacher trainees in a couple of weeks.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

And, Rest... #365Yoga

yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)
After six days of Insanity workouts, there is a rest day, if we can call a day that starts with teaching a 7:00 am yoga class followed by eight hours of teacher training and ends with a 7:00 pm meeting with my Bona Fide Butterflies partner Annie to work on our January women's retreat a rest day.

My body was awake and ready to go ridiculously early. It apparently doesn't see the point of rest days. I was very surprised at how good I felt. There was some minor muscle soreness, noticeable only when I moved in certain ways. My yoga practice felt strong and I was pretty together most of the day.

Of course, it was very uplifting to spend the weekend with the group of incredible people who started their teacher training journey. They are all very different, and collectively different from the last group; each one is unique expression of the divine oneness. Seeing that inner light makes me want to work very hard on their behalf, yet I know the real work is theirs. My work, really, is to show up and unlock the studio door.

And to tackle another Insanity workout. The rest day is over.
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Friday, October 4, 2013

Insanity before teacher training #365Yoga

Yesterday's Insanity workout was called "Cardio Recovery." I have renamed it "kill your quads." While it didn't have much cardio, there was a great deal of lower body strengthening. My muscles were burning! Surprisingly, I'm not very sore. A great yoga class on Wednesday along with post-workout Isagenix shakes helped reduce the aches. My energy level is way up. I don't think I've ever been this productive, which is good, because I have a very busy weekend ahead.

My favorite part of last winter was leading a 200-hour yoga teacher training for the first time. Tomorrow I begin again with a new group of trainees. I have heard from some that they are excited about starting the program. I wonder if they are as excited as I am.

Some of the graduates of that first program are teaching at the True North Yoga studio, so I have been able to enjoy their classes and watch them progress as teachers. It is very humbling to notice that their classes contain so much more than the basics I offered them. It reaffirms my belief that good yoga teachers are made on the inside, inspired by and integrated with the great Guru, or whatever you choose to name god/dess, and I am just providing a space for that integration to start.

Even without the extra energy provided by the Insanity workouts, I'd be headed into the weekend filled with excitement, and humility, open to the flow of grace which will guide my teaching. This is for the new teacher trainees. This mind of mine, this body of mine, my every atom is dedicated to you, for the next six months and forever.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Waiting for the end (of Daylight Savings Time)

English: Radio Alarm Clock 日本語: アナログチューニングラジオ付...
Situating a house in a dip between two mountains makes listening to the radio almost impossible. Our alarm clock gets two stations - one is NPR (Vermont's version, not the local station that transmits from two towns away) and the music on the other one instantly starts my head pounding. While I like NPR, I don't like to start my day with bad news, so I use the "nature sounds" option on the clock for my alarm. 

At this time of year, when the simulated birds start chirping and I open my eyes to the pitch blackness outside my window, I curse the extension of daylight savings time. Any real birds out there would still be curled up in a tree, heads tucked under their wings. Already an early riser, this week I've been up extra  early to allow time for the Insanity workouts in addition to my normal morning routine. I want some light.

I'm only on Day 3 of the program, but I've already noticed increased energy during the day. I've also been enjoying uninterrupted sleep until about 4:30 am, when I find myself wide awake and ready to get up - if I could see anything.

There are no streetlights here to light up the wee hours. There is very little traffic. When I lay awake in the middle of the night, as happens often, it is my mind's fault. It seems that the time between midnight and dawn is self-examination time, time to review failures, things I let slide, bank balances and all the other things that trigger stress. 

Now it seems that the cure for my nightly contemplations is Insanity. I've always suspected as much.

I'd still like my hour back.

* * * * * *

I almost made it through day 2's workout, leaving out only the last set. There's quite a bit of jumping and my calves are very sore, which I discovered in downward facing dog when I tried to reach my heels down. Since it's my day off from teaching we could put our workout off until 7:00 am, after I post this. Wish me luck.
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Monday, September 30, 2013


When my daughter said she was going to order the latest P90X program and asked if I would do it with her, I agreed. Honestly, I didn't think she would actually go through with it. Now I find myself with "Insanity" on my to-do list six days a week. With a mess of continuing education credits to complete before the end of the year, a new group of yoga teacher trainees starting in five days and countless home and garden projects already on the list, perhaps "insanity" is most likely to get checked off daily.

Today, day 1, was a fitness test. I made it through the warm up feeling confident. Halfway through the second test exercise I had paused the DVD and was sprawled, panting, on a deck chair. I'm pretty sure it was cold outside, but I couldn't feel anything except a very, very rapid heartbeat.

I went back and finished the test, pacing myself better, having acknowledged my lack of cardiovascular fitness. I've never been comfortable at a high heart rate, which is one of the reasons my half-marathons and triathlons were always slow. And, with a history of cardiac events on both sides of my family, I have a some fear around pushing too hard.

At least I felt good during the warm up and cool down stretches. Perhaps I'll be doing Insanity in half-time. Does that make me only half-insane?
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

All That Falls Shall Rise Again

English: After the harvest
English: After the harvest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm struggling to come up with a good introduction to the celebration of Lammas, or Lughnasadh, the festival of the first harvest. I can look out my window at green mountains and catch a glimpse of the lake to the east, but there is nary a wheat field to be seen. Perhaps the Champlain Valley boasts some, but here in the mountains we're lucky to find a flat patch for a vegetable garden. With it's short growing season and rocky soil, the Adirondacks is not the best place to get in touch with the agricultural festival cycle of our European ancestors.

Not that suburban New Jersey was much better. There Lughnasadh, which honored the harvest of grains, was excuse to drink beer and barbecue burgers. We often planned a middle of summer gathering to catch up with friends, and drink beer. And eat tomatoes. I bet most of our guests had never heard of Lugh, the Celtic Sun King. That's okay, because, while I knew about the festival, I didn't get it.

While preparing for the yoga studio's monthly New Moon Circle, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into the idea of the first harvest and started to see how I harvest things in my own life. There is a cycle to manifesting. I have an idea, I cultivate that idea, it grows, then it comes into fullness. I create something wonderful and enjoy the abundance it provides.

Except when it doesn't.

This year, thanks to marauding grasshoppers, my vegetable garden is doing poorly. After gathering barely enough peas for one meal, I had to admit that the plants were spent, pulled them out and turned over the bed. Sometimes things don't turn out like I planned.

Sometimes I cultivate an idea and it doesn't make it to fruition. Sometimes things that were providing abundance reach the end of their cycle and they have nothing left to give me. Sometimes I have to step back and decide if what I'm tending has any more potential or if, like the peas, it's spent.

In looking at what I'm trying to manifest, I realized  how scary the harvest must have been for those agricultural folks. Since they were unable to grow grain in the winter, there came a point every year when the grain had to be cut. It didn't matter if the grain hadn't fully grown. It was ready then, or not at all. There had to be some tough winters, when all that got them through was the hope that next year's harvest would be better. The following spring they'd be thinner, but they'd go out and plant the seeds again.

This year, in honor of the first harvest, I've been taking a look at my life and deciding what I should still nourish, and what I should let go. I've realized that neither my mind or my body are benefiting from running this year, so I dumped my marathon plan. I admitted that most of the summer workshops I planned at the studio aren't filling up, so next summer I will only be offering regular yoga classes at the studio, leaving me some time to enjoy the sunny days. I've dropped some volunteer work that wasn't feeding my soul.

What's interesting is that, as I cut these things, new ideas have been popping up. I see opportunities to plant something new, or just a bit different. It's a cycle, after all. After winter, there's always hope for new growth.

It's in the words of a neo-Pagan chant that's often heard at Lughnasadh:

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn,
All that dies shall be reborn.
Corn and grain, corn and grain,
All that falls shall rise again.

You can listen and watch a group performing the chant here. Don't you just want to get up and dance? I, for one, am left feeling hopeful.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

False Summits and Forward Bends #365Yoga

The view from one of Noonmark's false summits
Some of our favorite mountains in the Adirondacks High Peaks region, like Baxter, Rooster Comb and Noonmark, tease us with false summits. They appear when we've been walking for what seems like forever, drawing us hopefully on with glimpses of blue sky through thinning trees. There's relief, satisfaction and, often, a beautiful view, all ending abruptly when one of us notices the trail marker beckoning us back into the trees to continue up the trail.

I thought of false summits while leading a yoga class through a series of forward bends. We were working on moving to the edge of the stretch, lengthening our spines when we inhaled, releasing further forward with our exhales. The edge is uncomfortable and, like a false summit, makes you think you've gone as far as you can. Unless you give yourself time and muster up the fortitude to continue on, you'll never know what the view looks like from the top.

For the false summits of our forward bends, we can thank musculotendinous sensory receptors called Golgi tendon organs (GTOs). Through their reflexive actions, the GTOs help to regulate muscle stiffness. Low-force, long-duration static stretching, felt in the hamstrings during Paschimottanasana, brings on a temporary increase in tension as the muscles lengthen, the first "edge" we discover. Don't give up there because, after seven to 10 seconds of holding and breathing, your GTOs activate and the muscle tension temporarily releases. Another exhale and you'll find yourself deeper into the bend.

The muscle quickly reestablishes its stretch threshold and a new edge is reached. You may work through a few before you reach your true edge, provided you can stay patient, focused and breathing smoothly throughout the process. After practicing consistently for a period of weeks or months, the muscles will lengthen more or less permanently, so you'll be able to go further forward before reaching the first edge. As a result, the true summit of your yoga pose keeps getting further away.

The true summits of the Adirondack mountains keep getting further away, too. The Adirondack mountains are still growing, at a rate of about one millimeter per year. Some days, when it seems like we've been walking forever, I'm sure the mountain has gone through a recent growth spurt. Climbing these mountains requires patience, focus and lots of breath.
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Seeking Eagles #365Yoga

Photo of a Bald Eagle taken at the Toledo Zoo.
Photo of a Bald Eagle taken at the Toledo Zoo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Taped to the wall behind the yoga studio's reception desk is a snapshot of a bald eagle, captured by one of our yoga teacher training graduates. Bald eagles are native to the Adirondacks, although they had to be reintroduced in the 1980s after DDT use in the 1960s all but wiped them out. Now they are spotted throughout the Adirondacks, but, unfortunately, never by me.

I enjoy practicing and teaching Garudasana, known in English as eagle pose. In deference to the presence of America's bird, it seems fitting to wrap arms and legs into the look of a perched eagle at our Adirondack studio. Exclusive to North America, the bald eagle could not have been the intended reference in the Sanskrit name. There are Indian spotted eagles and short-toed eagles, but it is generally agreed that the name honors Vishnu's mount Garuda, a massive half-man, half-eagle known for devouring serpents.

Here in the Adirondack mountains, surrounded by so much of the natural world including the elusive, at least to me, bald eagle, I can't help but bring the spirit of that beautiful bird into my practice of eagle pose, despite its Indian origins. As a shamanic totem, the eagle represents access to higher planes of consciousness. Borrowing the eagle's strong wings and courage, you are free to fly to great spiritual heights.

Being birds, the eagle is associated with air, but they have sturdy legs to walk on the earth and hunt over water, and thus are grounded while seeking spirit and also carry the cleansing energy of water. This is very balanced energy, fitting the balance of eagle pose. Whether on my mat or on a rock, I embrace Adirondack bald eagle energy in Garudasana. Perhaps, after enough practice, I'll finally get to see one.
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Calling Ganesha: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha #365Yoga

Ganesha (Photo credit: bandarji)
Last week, my meditation practice morphed into a mantra practice. I didn't sit with the intention of chanting "So Hum" the whole time I was meditating. It just happened. 

Afterward, it felt like it had been the right thing to do. I repeated it the following day, and the days after that.

Last Saturday, Lisa Devi, during a visit to the Adirondacks, led our New Moon Circle. She welcomed Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god, with the chant "Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha." Ganesha is called at the beginnings of things, perfect for the new moon, to clear obstacles from the path ahead.

Yesterday, instead of "So Hum," my chant was "Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha." Again, I didn't intend it. It just came out. And, again, it felt right, so I repeated the chant today.

The Sanskrit phrase "Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha" means, basically, "Salutations to the remover of obstacles." "Ganapatayei" is another name for the widely-worshipped Ganesha. In addition to removing obstacles, Ganesha is known as a patron of the arts and sciences, and as the deity of intellect and wisdom. 

Why do I feel compelled to ask Ganesha to help me past the obstacles in my life? Perhaps this is part of the letting go I've been doing lately. I'm in the habit of doing too many things, taking on too much, and never asking for help because that felt like weakness. Putting those things that are holding me back into the hands of a deity with four arms and an elephant's head is a small step towards allowing myself some weakness, towards admitting I can't do everything myself. Giving your problems to God, to Ganesha, to the universe, or to whatever your sense of the divine, is the first step in twelve-step programs for good reason. It's very freeing to put obstacles in the hands of a higher power.

I'll send salutations to Ganesha until a new mantra arises or silence returns to my meditation practice. Meanwhile, thanks to Ganesha moving roadblocks from my path.
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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Exploring Snake Energy: Cobra Pose #365Yoga

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...
English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Family, one of India's venomous snakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

For a good part of my life I echoed Indiana Jones whenever I encountered snakes. My less-than-friendly feelings toward snakes started in ninth grade, when a classmate presented an oral report on their care and feeding, including a demonstration involving his pet snake and a live (for a short time) white mouse. After I crawled out from under my desk, I decided I was very fond of rodents and not at all fond of snakes. I also decided I no longer had a crush on the young man who did the presentation.

Twenty years later, when my daughter held a snake at a petting zoo, I decided it was time to get over my distrust of snakes. I've taken time to learn about snakes and have new respect both for their place in our eco-system and their symbolism. I still jump when one startles me on the trail, but I no longer dislike snakes.

Snakes represent transformation and healing. They are re-created each time they shed their skin. By tapping into snake's energy you can shed the past and emerge into a fresh, new life. Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, carried a caduceus, a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. The caduceus has become the symbol of modern physicians. If a snake appears in your dream, be on the lookout for new wisdom, healing and changes ahead.

In yoga, snakes represent Kundalini, a Sanskrit word for the sleeping feminine energy thought to be coiled at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened through asana and meditation. When aroused, Kundalini rises up through the major chakras until it reaches the head, completely transforming the individual along the way.

Practice Bhujangasana, or Cobra pose, to explore the transformative energy of snakes. Lie face down and stretch your legs back, feet hip-width apart, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and hug your elbows to your sides. Keeping your pelvis pressed into the floor and straightening your arms as you make space to do so, lift your heart. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, draw your lower belly slightly off the floor and lift the top of your sternum. Draw your ears away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck.

You can hold Cobra for a number of breaths or experience snake's movement by rising with each inhale and lowering with each exhale. When the pose feels complete, rest your head on your hands for a few breaths before moving on to a twist.

For the record, although I have made peace with snakes, there are no pet snakes in my house. I'll stick to my bug-eating lizard, and let the cat deal with the rodents.
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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Let Freedom Ring

English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July
English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bo·he·mi·an  [boh-hee-mee-uhn]  noun

1. a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.
2. a Gypsy

I suppose it's appropriate on July 4th in the United States to reflect on one of my core values, independence. What does independence mean to me, and how do I cultivate the spirit of independence without packing my hemp backpack and wandering around the lesser populated parts of the country? I've been feeling the pull to wander for a few months, while at the same time treasuring the time I can spend at home. Perhaps, like the day lily that appeared in a previously un-lily-ed part of the garden, my own roots are so firmly planted I am ready to risk spreading out.

I am lucky to have a wonderful life coach to guide me through turbulent times and to remind me to dig deep under the feelings to discover the value I have been living out-of-sync with. That's where the "ah-ha" moments happen. After sitting with hiding under my covers and trying to ignore what seems like such a conflict, followed by a minor meltdown, I began to see how much making space in my life for both home and wandering was going to be necessary.

Am I packing my bag? No. The work I've done around the house lately has made it feel more open, and I feel less trapped. I've made time in my schedule to wander in the woods at least one day a week. I've also taken a deep breath, reminded myself that teaching yoga was never supposed to be a full-time occupation, and accepted that my little yoga studio in our little town will never make me financially independent, leaving me free to stop striving and to focus on serving those whose loyalty keeps the studio sustainable. That is, after all, why I wanted to teach.

Yesterday I finished reading Marianne Elliott's Zen Under Fire. In it, Marianne talks about learning to slow down and drop the high standards she had set for herself, and about finding peace while working as a human rights worker in dangerous, post-U.S.-invasion Afghanistan. As I read her account of her morning yoga practice and how that ritual supported her work, I realized I have neglected my own practice. My yoga practice makes me whole, and when I step into the yoga studio as a whole person I can better serve those who come to me to guide their own practices.

So, if I have been skipping networking events and neglecting to update the studio's website, it is because I have redefined "enough" to give myself freedom to wander my little corner of the earth and explore my own spirit, so that I may serve you well. And, although I haven't packed it yet, I do own a hemp backpack and may someday take off on a bohemian adventure. But only if my house is clean.
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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Connect with Fire: Candle Gazing Meditation #365Yoga

English: This picture shows the motion of a ca...
English: This picture shows the motion of a candle flame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In honor of the summer solstice, we rebuilt and improved our backyard fire pit, then lit a big bonfire to honor the sun at its peak. Gazing into the fire, watching the flames dance and jump, reminded me of this simple candle-gazing meditation, which can be done anywhere you can safely stand a candle holder.

Find a place where you can sit undisturbed for a few minutes, either on a cushion or blanket on the floor or in a sturdy chair with your feet on the floor. Using a table or other props (yoga blocks or a stack of hardcover books work nicely) position a lit taper or pillar candle in a holder so the flame will be at eye level. You'll want to use a holder which will support the base of the candle and catch any dripping wax, but which won't block your view of the flame.

Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes for a few moments. Bring your awareness to your breath. Breathe through your nose and lengthen your breath. Notice your thoughts, then let them float away. Notice when you feel centered and present to the flow of your breath.

Gently open your eyes and gaze at the candle flame. Focus your awareness fully on the flame, letting other thoughts drop away. If your attention wavers, bring it back without judgment. Begin to notice all the qualities of the candle flame. Notice the colors. Notice the movement. Become fully absorbed in watching the flame. Blink whenever it is necessary.

With your awareness steady on the flame, notice the thoughts flickering in your mind. Acknowledge any thoughts or feelings that arise, then let them go as you bring your attention back to the flame. Sit with the flame for five minutes, or as long as you are comfortable. Enjoy your connection to the flame.

When your meditation is complete, blink a couple of times, then close your eyes and notice your breath. Take four or five slow, deep breaths, then allow your awareness to return to the room. Open your eyes and return to your day. Be sure to blow out your candle!
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Monday, July 1, 2013

A Clean Sweep

Tadley Broom
Tadley Broom (Photo credit: Flicktone)
This morning I grabbed my broom and swept my front porch, ridding it of slippery, wet leaves deposited by the daily rains we've been enjoying here in the Adirondack rain forest.

I like to sweep. For efficiency's sake I usually opt for the vacuum, but there's nothing like a good sweeping session to clear both dirt and my mind.

Brooms have a long history as instruments both of dust moving and energetic clearing. A twig or straw broom called a "besom" (pronounced "beezum") was used to sweep a space clean before a ritual. Often that sweeping was done without the bristles even touching the ground, to sweep away negative energy. Ancient handfasting rites (the precursor to weddings) might conclude with the bride and groom jumping over a broomstick, which represented hearth and home, to signify the start of their new life as a couple.

This morning's broom was not a besom; rather it was an ordinary broom meant for real dirt. That doesn't mean, however, that my sweeping experience was ordinary. There's something about the act of sweeping that centers me. The rhythmic "fwisk, fwisk" sound quiets my mind, like a repeating mantra or the ocean sound of ujjayi pranayama. By being present, even the act of sweeping the front porch becomes meditative.

Any household chore done mindfully can be grounding and meditative, but I think sweeping beats scrubbing the toilet for the opportunity to turn inward. Folding laundry is second, but the effect is ruined when I have to match socks.

I sadly retreated into the house this morning after I reached the bottom of the porch stairs. I do enjoy a good, clean sweep. As it's raining AGAIN, I'm sure I'll be out there again soon.
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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yoga to Walk on the Earth #365Yoga

June got lost in a whirlwind of activity. Actually, I just lied to you. June got lost, but the whirlwind was in my mind so there was no visible activity to speak of. I spent four days at the beginning of June with Laura Cornell at her Overflowing Workshops retreat in northern New Jersey. It was fantastic and I enjoyed both the learning and the connections.

But it started the whirlwind.

At the retreat and at other times, I've been asked why someone would want to take yoga with me, and I never know the answer. People do take my classes, so there must be reasons, but I couldn't say what those reasons are. What I can say for certain is people do not come to me to learn how to do the pretty poses of the uber-flexible. I want people to learn how to walk on the earth with awareness, to fully breathe the air, to experience the fire of transformation and to move like a river, flowing through life with ease and wellness.

Yoga to walk on the earth.  If you hike, at some point you are going to meet a snake. We're lucky here in the Adirondacks because we only have one kind of venomous snake, the shy eastern timber rattler. I've never encountered a rattlesnake, but I've come across a number of his benign cousins sunning themselves on the trail. Every time it goes like this: I don't see them until I startle them into movement, and then the movement startles me and I jump out of my hiking boots. I used to blame the snakes for laying in wait for me, but I've realized that each time it happens I have failed to walk mindfully, failed to be fully present to the act of hiking. When I'm on my yoga mat I practice being aware of where my feet are, and where they are going, and I share that practice with my yoga students, so they can walk mindfully on the earth, whether on a hiking trail or a city sidewalk.

Yoga to breathe the air.  After practicing yoga for eighteen years, I automatically check in with my breath many times a day. As soon as that last sentence formed in my mind I deepened my breath. Breathing fully into my lungs has become so natural that I often have to remind myself that this is not the case for everyone. Pranayama, the practice of breathing exercises, is as important as the asanas as far as I'm concerned. Deep breathing exercises the diaphragm, moderates the stress response and improves focus. Deep breathing also makes me aware of the air itself, and how important it is that we have clean air to breathe. Did you know planting trees was a yoga practice?

Yoga to experience the fire of transformation.  If you've been following my blog you know that yoga has created profound change in my life. If you practice yoga, sooner or later you will experience a transformation. You may give up all your possessions and take up residence in an ashram, or, more likely, one day you will notice that you are standing a bit straighter or that the old ache in your hip is gone. I'd like each of my students to experience their own transformation, no matter how subtle, so I make sure each class fuels that fire.

Yoga to move like a river.  For a society that seems to be all about getting somewhere, we don't move much. When we go places we go sitting in cars or on airplanes. We send emails to the coworker in the next office and see a good deal of the world on a television screen. When my clients complain that it gets harder to move as they get older, I point out that they are moving much better than many of their peers, because they make a deliberate effort to keep moving. An aspect of the yoga practice I find fascinating is how, by relieving stiffness in the body, other parts of life that were stagnating start moving too.

In some of my yoga classes we work on challenging asanas. Most focus on minutely refining the basic poses until you are aware that your feet are firmly rooted to the floor, you can direct your breath, you notice a small change and, when it's time to move on, whether to the next pose or back into your life, you can flow with ease. 

If you really think about it, why do you practice yoga? Please, share in the comments.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cleaning up, cleaning out and perhaps a bit of procrastination

English: A Miele T8627WP heat pump clothes dryer.
English: A Miele T8627WP heat pump clothes dryer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two weekends ago I had a gloriously productive weekend which involved a good deal of yard work, massive amounts of laundry and 48 hours of ignoring my desk, which was, unfortunately, where all the items actually on my to-do list needed to happen.

I couldn't help it. I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was feeling the need to clean out, and that's what I've been doing. I can now take several steps in a row in my basement without needing to climb over anything. The SPACE is amazing. When I practice yoga and make space in my body, my breath flows right in. Air and energy are doing that in my basement. I almost cry with joy every time I go down there.

The massive amounts of laundry were in part due to the basement cleanup. I uncovered a bunch of hand-me-downs from my nephew that were the size my son needed to be wearing. (Never mind that he's been going around in pants that end slightly above his ankles. I didn't tell him to grow so fast.) I also uncovered three sizes to grow into, which are now sorted and stored. Unfortunately, I also uncovered a large amount of outgrown clothes that we didn't need to save but did anyway. The charity bin in town got filled up.

I also cleaned out my closet. Despite having done this in the fall, I still have too much. I can't blame a shopping habit, because one of the side-effects of choosing a career in teaching yoga is not having extra money for things like clothes. In the past two years, I haven't purchased anything except a new pair of running shorts and a package of underwear. (You can ask the dog why I needed the latter.)

I'm getting better at letting go. The charity bin received my last suit, the one I had hung on to in case of a job interview or a funeral. After four years of freedom I'm pretty sure I would go insane in an office, and I managed to get through a couple of funerals without having to resort to my suit. It went, and perhaps it will serve someone else. The bin also received most, but not all, of my "dress up" clothes. After throwing a long tunic over my yoga pants and *gasp* brushing my hair, I was told "it's so nice to see you out of your yoga clothes." Clearly I can fake it well enough not to require actual dressy outfits. I did save my sexy black pants that are slit up the sides of the legs in case I get invited someplace classy. Hey, a girl can dream.

My husband and I cleaned up outside, mowed, mulched and planted. Although the summer solstice is a month away and we're still burning wood to keep the house warm, Memorial Day weekend feels like the start of the summer season and I needed to be ready. I also needed to be outside, where it was sunny until it started raining. And raining, and raining, and raining...

Now that the house is ready for summer, I should have no excuse not to get down to business and organize the myriad of summer events and activities on my calendar. I'd been avoiding my desk except as a repository for things that have to be dealt with. I realized I'd let it get out of hand when, in order to find the watch I run with, I had to disentangle a skein of yarn from the telephone cord. (Yes, one of our phones still has a cord. It's the North Country. Sometimes the power goes out.)

A few days ago I cleaned my desk. Now all I have to do is sit at it. I'll do that tomorrow, when it starts raining again.

* * *

In 17 weeks I will attempt my first full marathon. My mother asked me if I think I'll be able to run 26.2 miles. I guess we'll find out.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I'm done

Moore, OK tornado.
Picture by Basehunters
I wrote a happy post about all the things I cleaned out of my house. I'll publish it another time. It seems inappropriate to brag about my clean basement when so many families in Oklahoma lost their homes yesterday.

It's another sad day in America. Watching parents frantically looking for their children in a school parking lot after the tornado hit, I was reminded of how precious life is. And I'm done.

I'm done telling my son I'm too busy for a hug. No matter what's in my hands, what thought I'm trying to hold onto, or what I'm angry with him about, I'll let it go and give him a hug. He's almost ten years old. Even if nothing bad happens, it won't be long until he's too cool to hug his mother. I need to get all the hugs I can now.

I'm done complaining about little inconveniences. Last night we ran out of propane, the fuel for our stove and hot water heater. We cooked pizza in the barbecue grill. We took fast, cold showers this morning. Otherwise, life went on just fine, and our tank was filled by 8:00 a.m. This was not a crisis worth devoting my energy to. Most of life's inconveniences aren't.

I'm done putting off yoga and meditation for a better time. There is no better time than now. The day my floor is covered with the remains of my roof is the day I can say it's not a good time to unroll my mat. Otherwise, I have no excuse not to practice.

I'm done holding onto things just because I feel I should have them. If I lost everything tomorrow, but had my family, I would be okay. My existence would not be diminished because I didn't have a pile of books, Halloween costumes from 2007 and a fondue pot. (Okay, it would be a little bit diminished without the fondue pot.)

I'm done forgetting that the best thing in life is life itself. Let's live life, right now.
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Making space (and something new) #365Yoga

Chakra Muladhara
Chakra Muladhara (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I recently began leading a series of Chakra workshops. Working through the aspects of the first Chakra, I rediscovered my own imbalances. We all have an energy block or two somewhere. One of mine is at the root.

My root Chakra imbalance shows up as an accumulation of clutter. It's not that I want the stuff. I just don't take the time to get rid of it. I look at my basement and see a mess too huge to deal with in a reasonable amount of time. (Remember when I felt that way about my desk?)

The problem with holding onto stuff, for whatever reason, is that it leaves no room for anything new. The unwanted items not only take up physical space, but they take up space in my mind and block the movement of energy. Rather than being a comfortable, safe place to live, prosper and grow, my house feels like it's closing in on me.

It's time to let go and make space for the energy to flow. The basement, the closets and the kitchen cabinets are about to be purged - a bit at a time.

While I was thinking about making space, my kids were thinking of another way to bring new energy into the house. My Mother's Day gift was a baby bearded dragon, to fill a space in my heart that's been empty for four years. When I need a smile, all I have to do is sit and watch the little guy scamper around the enclosure.

Oh, about that enclosure - it was in the basement collecting dust. There's already more space.
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Monday, May 6, 2013

Turtles and Stardust: Experiencing a Shamanic Journey #365Yoga

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carol...
Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri). Taken in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Despite my endless exploration of all things spiritual, I had not, as of last Saturday morning, experienced a shamanic journey. I'm not sure how I avoided it for so long, considering that I've been in the company of shamans a number of times. I really wasn't trying to avoid the practice; there was just never a good time to try. 

True North Yoga hosted a shamanic journeying workshop last weekend, so I finally got my chance. While being led on two journeys I experienced intense physical sensations, including floating, falling and dancing. And I saw turtles.

When I first got my Medicine Cards I pulled my seven totem animals. Turtle was the first card I pulled out of the deck, and is my totem in the East, or the guide to my spiritual challenges. But I haven't seen the turtle card for quite awhile.

Turtle represents Mother Earth in the cards and in a number of cultures. Hindu and Chinese mythology (and Terry Prachett's Discworld series) describe the world as being supported by elephants standing on the back of a turtle. Native Americans call North America "Turtle Island." I wasn't surprised to find turtle in a vision in which I was guided to connect to the earth.

Besides representing earth, turtles might also represent the lunar cycle, protection, perseverance and longevity. Turtles have been around 200 million years or so. They are wise old souls.

In my vision, turtle was stepping deliberately, to the drumbeat, and stirring up stardust. 

I've had a couple of days to consider what turtle means for me, besides the obvious earth connection. A few web authors suggested a need to slow down, to practice patience. Others point to turtle's ability to withdraw, to hide in its protective shell. Both explanations are fitting, but neither feels complete.

Turtle pose adaptation
This morning I led my yoga class into turtle pose (a preparatory adaptation of Kurmasana) and as we were holding the posture I thought about turtle's ability to draw inward. It seemed to me it wasn't so much about fear as withdrawing into perfect stillness, which sounds like Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses, the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. Perhaps this is something I'm being called to practice.

Sitting on my desk is a wax turtle, meant to be a candle but unlikely to ever be burned. It was sent to me by an internet newsgroup acquaintance, someone I never knew in real life. If you remember newsgroups, you know I've had this turtle candle a long time. (If you don't remember newsgroups, just know that I accessed the newsgroup with a computer that had dual floppy drives to accommodate both sizes of floppy disks. If you don't know what a floppy disk is, please don't tell me. It makes me feel old.) I received this turtle because the person felt I should have it. It has represented earth on my personal altar many, many times. I don't remember how the turtle candle came to be on my desk today, or how long it's been sitting there, but I've decided it can stay. It seems to belong there now.

Now if I could just find some stardust...
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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Awake in the Outdoors #365Yoga

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY
We are finally seeing spring in the Adirondacks. When my son and I went for a hike today the temperature was sneaking past 70 degrees and the sky was bright blue. We followed a short trail into a pond, then sat at the edge and watched tadpoles and baby fish play in the water.

My son is starting to experiment with creative writing, and is often trying to imagine settings for his made-up stories. While we sat by the water, I suggested he try noticing as much as he could about the place where we were, to get an idea of the details that make a setting imaginable for others. So we sat, and we looked, and we listened. We even smelled and felt.

How often do we get lost in our thoughts and overlook all the small details of where we are? How much do we miss? What would life be like if we took the time to stop and notice? What if we were truly awake to every moment?

Sitting by the edge of the pond, we woke up. We watched the water ripple in the breeze. We saw the bigger ripples left by surfacing fish and the v's left by water bugs skating by. We watched the light dance in the leaves of the trees. We saw birds and clouds above and below, reflections in the water. We took in the frayed edges of tiny leaves just uncurling from their buds.

We heard the songs of birds, some melodious, some chattering. We heard the muffled voices of two fishermen floating in canoes across the pond. We heard the splash when a fish jumped.

We felt the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze. I smelled pine and decaying leaves. My son smelled my deodorant. (I suppose that could have been worse.)

I struggle to meditate with my eyes closed, focusing on my breath. My mind wanders. But out there by the pond, open-eyed, I found the calm awareness that I look for on my meditation cushion. My meditation is to become fully awake, in the outdoors.
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