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Hello 2014

perfectHappy New Year! I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions but I like to acknowledge the idea of a fresh start. There is something really freeing and exciting when I think of new beginnings. It feels like once again, anything can happen. In honor of this, I am practicing Sankalpa. Sankalpa is an ancient Ayurvedic practice in which we honor the deeper meaning of our life. So even though I have intentions of losing the 8 pounds that I have gained since Halloween, the practice of Sankalpa asks us to dive deeper with our intentions.

The process is simple but certainly not easy. We need to come from the knowledge that we already are who we need to be to fulfill our life’s purpose or dharma. We only need to peel back layers of resistance and old patterns that are no longer serving us. Like I said, simple but not easy. Ideally we can bring forth a statement or vow that we can call upon to remind us of our true nature and guide our choices.

The first stage is to listen in meditation to your heart’s desire. What is it you truly want? This desire is already present within you. You don’t need to create anything. Next, welcome the desire. Feel it with your whole being. The final stage takes courage. The final step is to take the action required. Think about actions that you can commit to that are consistent with this heartfelt desire. Some of the actions will require a strong warrior spirit mixed with loving compassion. This is already a part of you. Let it out.

Balancing tip-So what about that 8 pounds? This is a perfect time to do a mini home detox. When we cleanse in the winter, we want it to be gentle (especially for those of you who are living in colder regions). My plan is to incorporate some self-care practices into my day for the next few days. This will include skin brushing, oil massages, neti, and daily yoga and meditation. I will be drinking at least 1 green juice and/or smoothie each day. I will be drinking herbal teas and limiting caffeine. I will be taking some cleansing herbs and I will be eating plenty of vegetables, mostly leafy greens. My protein and carbohydrate requirements will come from a classic Indian comfort food called Khichadi. It consists of white Basmati rice and yellow mung dahl beans mixed with Indian spices. It is delicious and I will eat it twice a day. This dish is very easy to digest which will give my digestive system a much-needed break from the holiday chaos. The mung dahl beans are soaking as I write.  I (or my husband) will be making the Khichadi tomorrow. If you are local and would like to try a serving, let me know. The recipe makes a lot and I am happy to share.

Feel free to contact me if you would like try something like this for yourself and have some questions.

softening my gaze

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yoga workshopI had the opportunity recently to study with some of the greats in the yoga community. My Christmas gift from my boss at ReFlex Arts was a weekend in Miami at a Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman workshop. One word: Amazing!

There was so much information shared. They instructed on poses and breath, led wonderful guided meditations, chanted and spoke of yoga philosophy. I was particularly struck by the energetic conversation. Many of the poses were basic but we were able to tune into a more subtle energy and focus. One of the recurring themes of the weekend was drishti, or gaze. Where are we looking? Where is our focus? I am very familiar with this practice and I often talk about it in my classes. The idea that our attention follows our eyes, that where the gaze goes, the body and mind will follow. What was new and really cool to me was incorporating an element of pratyahara into drishti. Pratyahara is the fifth step or limb in the system of yoga according to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (the most ancient and revered sourcebook for yoga practice). Pratyahara is defined as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.” I have been able to experience this when in deep meditation or in that space between being awake and being asleep. I may notice lights, sounds and sensations but they don’t disturb my stillness. This wasn’t something that I could easily slip into until this workshop. More than once we were told to “pull your eyes to the back of your head.” “Don’t have your eyes bulging out of the front of your head.” Something within these repeated instructions clicked with me. I was able to withdrawal and soften my gaze. Not only that, but I was able to withdrawal the other senses as well by thinking of them moving deeper into my body.

I may have moved through triangle pose one thousand times but I found something deeper this time. Practicing a pratyahara inspired drishti made a world of difference and I have been able to take the practice into my life and bring a softer gaze to areas of struggle and resistance. Pulling my attention inward, where the true answers are, and seeing things from a different perspective is always a step in the right direction.

Balancing tip-Where is your gaze? What are you focusing on? Where the gaze goes, the body and mind will follow. What is on your TV? What are the lyrics to the songs you listen to? If you are a parent of young children, what are your children focusing on? It may be interesting to take a day or two and notice what you are letting into your soul. Namaste.

looking for clear skies

Clear sky and clouds

Clear sky and clouds (Photo credit: Archbob)

When we practice mind-body techniques we can fairly quickly start to see some benefits. Whether it’s yoga, tai chi, qigong or meditation we will notice a sense of peace and calm. This isn’t just an emotional response. The  emotional response comes from the physiology in our body actually changing. Our respiration slows and lengthens, blood pressure drops, feel-good neurotransmitters increase, stress hormones decrease, etc. The result is that sense of peace and calm. When we continue to practice whichever techniques we are drawn to, more profound changes begin to take place in our bodies and in our minds. We begin to see that stressors occurring in our lives have less of an impact on us. We feel that we can handle tough situations with some ease. We may even start to feel that we have the ability to overcome long-standing issues. Then, maybe one day after practicing for some time, we have the realization that we are not our thoughts, our emotions, or our titles. We start to familiarize ourselves with who we truly are: the vast being behind all else. This being is not influenced by our idea of reality. This being could be compared to the sky. Always present in the background. Our thoughts could be like clouds. Sometimes light and fluffy and sometimes dark, low and dense. Issues that we struggle with are like storms in the sky, sometimes seeming like they will never pass. But they always do, they pass and the sight of the sky returns, unchanged. Just as the sky seems endless, so is our true nature. There is always more to explore, ways to go deeper. Our access point can be as simple as the breath.

Once we connect to this vastness, we no longer need to be reacting to things around us. We can begin to take positive action and see things on a larger scale. We can let things go that seem minor. We can allow someone else to win the argument or get in front of us in line. We can apologize first and know that we are not less of a person for doing so. When we release fear, we can build others up knowing that their strength will not make us week. This connection is a total game changer. It allows us to widen our lens and change our perspective and see what is really important. Once we stop reacting and start acting with love, we will find we have much more control over our lives. We can stop playing the victim and step into a place of power. I often say “I’m so lucky”, but the truth is that I’m not lucky at all. I have consciously made a series of decisions over the course of years that have led me to the situation that I am in now. My situation may or may not appeal to you, but I am very happy to be exactly where I am today. We do not need to be victims of circumstance. We are powerful beings navigating through a world of illusion. The answers will never be in the illusion, they are always within.

Balancing Tip-Check the ingredients in your vitamins and supplements. Since my friend, Jackie, recently wrote a great article on this topic, I am just going to put the link here for you to enjoy her writing  🙂   The Truth about Vitamins

the guru within

I had the honor of giving one of my teachers a massage the other day. She is a beautiful, mature woman who is a shining example of someone living their truth. Although she probably teaches a great yoga class, I have never been to a class of hers. She has been to plenty of mine. I learn something from her every time we meet. During her session, we chatted about family and yoga. We discussed wellness and the practice of Ayurveda. As the conversation got deeper, we started to focus on the fact that we all already have infinite knowledge. That we have the ability to tap into everything there is to know. And that even in this lifetime, most of what we learn is a relearning or a remembering.

I ran a couple of yoga workshops this year called Honoring the Master Within. It was this same idea. That we don’t need to look for answers outside of ourselves. That we don’t need to find an external guru. We are the guru! The more comfortable we feel with our guru, the easier it is to ask questions and pay attention to the answers. How do we get more comfortable with our inner guru? Silence. Stillness. Meditation. It’s simple but not easy. Sometimes we feel as if our mind is going a million miles a minute. If we can see these thoughts as a storm in the sky, a passing whirlwind, and focus on what is behind the storm. The ever-present sky. Always there in the background. Unchanging. That is the big mind, or no-mind. This is where the answers are. This is our birthright.

Buddha, Kamakura, Japan

Buddha, Kamakura, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Balancing tip-commit to 5 minutes of meditation a day for 28 days. Pick a time that could work for you on most days. Pick a spot that feels comfortable. Make it happen. Once you are sitting, just focus on your breath. Maybe focus more specifically on the opening of the nostrils. Bring your awareness to the cooling feeling of the inhale, and then the warmth of the exhale. If you find yourself lost in thought, just gently bring yourself back to the breath. It’s ok if you spend the whole time trying to get back to the breath. You are building a muscle. Let me know what happens!

asking for help

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These past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activities and events. Many of which have given me cause to reflect on what is happening in my life. I celebrated a birthday, Mother’s Day, and my 16 year sobriety anniversary within two weeks. I am so grateful to be where I am today and I have been enjoying all of the mayhem that goes along with juggling family and career. Mixed in with the feeling of gratitude was some uneasiness. I’m sure many of you know the feeling and have heard the voice. The one that says, “Who am I to be thinking of expanding my business?, Who would want to learn from me?, What makes me think I have that much to offer?” This voice sucks. I hear it less and less as the years go by, but every once in a while I find myself caught up in self-doubt. Luckily, I have acquired some tools over the years for just this very situation. As I sat in my morning meditation the other day, I asked the Universe to show me if I was ready. I asked that my ego step aside and I become a channel for something greater than me. With that, I got up and got ready for the day while continuing to beat myself up. (It’s funny-or crazy-how quickly I can vacillate from one extreme to the other.)

My morning was unusually smooth, everyone off to work and school without a hitch. I arrived to work feeling less capable than normal but wanting to find clues that I was on the right path. I had three massages scheduled. All of them were new clients. As I talked with the first woman before her session, she revealed that she was struggling with some emotional issues and that she would be open to any suggestions that I may have. I stepped out of the room to let her undress and thought to myself, “I don’t know what to tell her.” Just then, I passed a regular client in the hall who had a session the week before. She said, “Thank you so much for the visualization exercise you gave me last week. It really helped. Every time I feel pain, I think of what you said and within minutes the pain is gone.” Then she gave me a hug and walked into a yoga class. My first clue. I was on the right path. I can help the woman who is in the treatment room waiting for me. That client left with a renewed hope and willingness to continue to make time for wellness. My next client came in for stress relief and floated out, stating that she thought my “hands had eyes because they stopped at every area in need.” My second clue. I do have something offer. My final client of the day is very much on edge. While I am talking to her before her session, she sternly stops the conversation and says, “With all do respect, I just need a massage.” Thankfully, I was beginning to feel better and her attitude didn’t bother me at all. Shortly after putting my hands on her, she began to release. She cried like a baby and hugged me three times before she booked another appointment. My third and final clue. I thanked the Universe for providing encouragement and I stated out loud, “OK, I get it, I’m moving in the right direction!”

My point in sharing this is to offer some hope and tools in case you experience similar negative self talk. I think a lot of people feel this from time to time. Please know that it is ok to ask for help from a friend, a professional, or whatever your idea is of a Higher Power. I have always received the help and support I needed when I have had the courage to ask. It hasn’t always been what I wanted, but it has been exactly what I needed.

Balancing Tip: Since I am still obsessed with my new juicer, I am going to share my current favorite morning juice. 1 large cucumber, 1 large carrot, a handful of leaves (romaine, spinach, or other green leaf), 1 granny smith apple, 1/2 lemon, about an inch of ginger. I have been pouring it over ice thanks to a tip from the writer of babeandablender.com (Thank you!). Super delicious!

An Evening with the Lama

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This evening I had the pleasure of listening to Anyen Rinpoche speak about emotions and difficult situations. Anyen Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist Lama based out of Denver who travels and teaches ancient Buddhist wisdom. He was soft-spoken, intelligent and full of humor. He explained that we, as Westerners, are attached to a certain idea about what life is and should be. When events happen that differ from our idea, suffering happens. The truth is that we live in a world full of impermanence, yet we continually conceptualize things to be static. Continued suffering. This is not only true in our situations and relationships, but also with our own bodies. Anyen Rinpoche said, “The physical body is only a guest of our Consciousness.” Coming to terms with the fact that we will eventually die can ease much suffering. He briefly spoke of the concept of Samsara which is the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This idea of reincarnation allows for a continuous flow and less attachment.

Releasing attachment to our ideas of what should be is the first step to equanimity. The next step, as Anyen Rinpoche suggested, was to use the breath. This can be a simple as paying attention to the inhales and the exhales for four or five minutes. Even when in a rush, taking that time will make the remainder of the day markedly better. The third step deals with thought. Not resisting the thoughts and emotions that arise, and at the same time, not chasing the thoughts and emotions. Number three is the hardest for me. When I am feeling strong emotion, good or bad, I have a hard time letting it go. This is where a daily practice of meditation helps. When I am practicing regularly, I have a much easier time allowing things to flow. When I fall off the meditation wagon, I am often in a state of resistance or holding onto something. He spent a little time speaking of the importance of exercise. He spoke specifically of yoga and tai chi. He was quick to add that although exercise can be helpful, we can’t just focus on the physical aspects. Breathwork and meditation are essential to our well-being.

I was able to receive a personal blessing at the end of the talk. The tradition is to present the Rinpoche with a white silk scarf called a Kada. He may keep the scarf or give it to you to keep. I was trying to not be attached to that outcome, even though I really wanted to keep the Kada. He gave me a blessing and gently put the scarf around my neck. I felt lucky for both the blessing and the scarf!

Balancing Tip–You guessed it–Juicing! I think this topic deserves entire posts dedicated to this art. For today, I just want to say that I have begun to incorporate it into my daily life and love it. I haven’t found the best tasting recipes yet, but when you are drinking something that looks like the picture shown, you know you are doing the body good. It also eases the guilt for ordering pizza tonight because I had somewhere important to be!

Namaste.

Lifting the Veils

Over time, many of us have created barriers to protect ourselves from disappointment and heartbreak. Unfortunately, these barriers have only managed to isolate us. As spiritual beings, having a human experience, isolation equals hell. Many of us are experiencing this hell on earth right now. It is the feeling that we are separate, not only from each other but from Source. In reality, we are individual expressions of Source Energy and are very much the same as and one with each other. Sometimes we have fleeting moments of clarity in which we realize this truth. Sadly, these are often too few and far between. The amazing thing about all of this is that we have the potential within ourselves to experience heaven on earth in this lifetime!

The walls that we have built around us are not solid and permanent.  We don’t need a sledgehammer or wrecking ball to bring them down. Think of them as soft and flowing. Although they may be thick, we need not climb over or trudge around. The easiest way to break through is to simply lift one veil at a time. Each time a veil of illusion is lifted, you will see more light shining through. This is how you will know you are on the right path. You will gain more clarity and inspiration with every layer that is removed. This can be a very exciting process. Lifting the veils can lead us to fulfill our fullest potential. It is here that things seem to flow in a synchronistic way as events begin to unfold perfectly in our daily lives.

So, how do we lift the veils of illusion that keep us from the truth? I am sure there are as many ways to do this as there are people on the earth. I have found a regular meditation practice to be the key for me. Don’t get me wrong-I am not at the “heaven on earth” point. I have, though, begun the process and in doing so have found a great peace. In the meditation classes that I teach, I tell the new students that if they meditate for 5 minutes a day, they will feel like a new person in 3 weeks–Guaranteed! I tell them that although their circumstances may not change, their perspective will. Often they look at me like I am crazy but the students who have been with me for a while or have meditated for any length of time, all nod their heads in agreement. I have never had anyone ask for their money back. Sometimes things don’t change, but it is usually because they won’t sit for 5 minutes a day on a regular basis. Once you can sit for a small amount of time daily, you may want to increase the amount of time. Ideally, we can work ourselves up to 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. This is a lofty goal, don’t let it deter you. It may take 10 years to get to that point and a lot of spiritual growth will happen along the way.

I like to have a “no excuses” approach to meditation. The way that works is to know that you don’t need any equipment and that any amount of time will do just fine. “Just sit” is a great mantra to tell yourself if you are having trouble getting started. There is tons of information and techniques on meditation on the internet and in magazines and books. I encourage everyone to go to a meditation class or group at least a couple of times a month. It will strengthen the at home practice to be around like-minded people regularly. Also, we sometimes hit a wall or mental block and it is good to have a support system in place so that we don’t give up when things inevitably get uncomfortable. And, the feeling of being accountable to something or someone helps on days when it is hard to get yourself to sit.

Making a commitment to 5 minutes a day for three weeks to change your life for the better doesn’t sound too extreme to me. I would love to hear any feedback or thoughts on this. I will be posting more soon on specific meditations to focus on to help you get through the veils and start living the life you were born to live. For now, just sit. Namaste.

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