Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thank you and a Happy New Year

Another year almost gone. I am going to have to say what I have been saying every year for the last however many years – “This has been the best year of my life!” There are many reasons why, but one thing I have to mention for sure is how grateful I am to teach in a yoga community that’s diverse, caring, giving, sincere and fun.  It’s like seeing friends every day I go to “work.” Here are few reminders of what this little yoga community has done this year, through the Holistic Movement Center.  

For starters, Narayni, a long time teacher at HMC, decide she has to wake up at the crack of dawn and offer a Karma yoga class to benefit the Red Cross and their relief effort in Chile after the earthquake. Folks got up for a yoga class once per week at 6:30 am. HMC matched donations. Then Narayani had to do it again and did the same thing for the floods in Pakistan. We had our Karma yoga classes collect money and HMC matched the donations again. 

Then came the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and with only 2 weeks, or so, to prepare we put a team together and walked the walk collecting almost $3600, which incidentally represents about 10% of what the event raised, out of the 20+ teams present. People came out, shared their stories and walked for a 24 hour period in the relay. It was by far the most touching of events. Yours truly shed a few tears and you know me – not one to sob over anything, unless it’s a chick flick. 

We also collected donations for the Woman’s Shelter for a couple of months and for the Animal Shelters to help them keep the animals cozy in the winter.  It seems like the donations bin and the Karma classes were taking turns almost every month. And people kept giving! In these tough economic times, people kept giving. That’s why I want to thank everyone for their support and compassion. 

What does 2011 hold for us? I don’t know, but I already have a beginning planed. On 3 consecutive Saturdays, I am teaching 3 classes at 3 different locations to raise awareness and support for the work of San Luis Obispo Child Development Center. The Center offers programs for protection, prevention and treatment of children who are neglected or abused. Their work is valuable as the children need all the help they can get. So, come to a class and instead of paying for the class, donate something to SLOCDC. Here’s where you can go: January 1, 2011 at 10:30 – 12:00 noon at HMC, 845 Napa Ave, Morro Bay / Jan 8 2:00 – 3:30 pm at Smiling Dog Yoga, 1227 Archer St, SLO / Jan 15th at 3:00 – 4:30 pm at Serenity Natural Living, 104 Main St, Templeton.  (To learn more about this event, please visit our website, or call at 805-909-1401, or find on Facebook at:

So, yes, I feel privileged to be a part of such a big hearted community. It’s fun seeing you all a few days per week and hearing people’s stories. Thank you all for being a part of “the best year of my life.” Happy New Year to all and my 2011 be the “best year of your life” too. 


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...

On a beautiful day in Morro Bay, California, it's hard not to be grateful to just be here. Add to that the yummy smells of cooking delights, the textures, the conversations, the pie and you start appreciating all of your 5 senses and all of the organs that go with them...If on a day like Thanksgiving you can't appreciate being a human, than you are really hopeless. You obviously need more yoga and probably a good therapist. Thanksgiving beats even Christmas in my book. Christmas has gotten a little warped into a gift giving mania, while Thanksgiving is about enjoying the gifts of friends, family and the bounty of the table, the bounty of  life.

Can't tell you the joy of eating freshly cooked cranberry sauce on a morning toast after a yoga practice! There are no words for that in the English language, but there are a lot of sounds such as "mmmmMMMmm" "ahh"...etc. Then off to figuring out how to make a procini risoto. Loved porcini, although a practically made myself allergic to them in Italy in September. I ate so much porcini that i was getting headaches. Goes to show you, less is more. Nevertheless, after a 2 month break, I am welcoming porcini mushrooms on the Thanksgiving table.

Hope all of you are as excited about this day of the year as I am. Also, somewhere between the tastings while cooking, the conversations, the setting up of the table, you make the time to reflect on the wonderfulness of your life and human existence. Instead of a second plate of food, get a second look at how you are on this day of your life. Watch this body glide through the kitchen, listen to the laughter of friends, barking of dogs, chirping of birds, delight in the taste of single spoonful of cranberry sauce, hug your kids, parents or pets, and just soak up the moments as they bubble up to the surface of time. You may not remember half of what happens on this day, but the delight in your heart will make you smile long after this day is gone. 

If this all sounds like too much Hippie talk, than you definitely need more yoga! Besides, all that awesomeness around Thanksgiving comes at the price of over consumption of goodness, which means, you definitely need yoga to process the holiday.

See you on the mat!
I am thankful for the opportunity to share this practice and this life time with all of you. I am assuming that my previous lifetimes have been equally worthy of appreciation, but this life time, so far, has been pretty awesome. Whatever may come ~ it's been great so far... and thank you all for sharing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yoga, gymnastics and history....

This note was inspired by Karen Croley, who read a recent article in the Yoga Journal and asked a good question – about the historical roots of yoga and it’s relationship to gymnastics. Here’s my response, similar to what I answered on Facebook but expended upon.

The article I found was titled: New Light on Yoga by Anne Cushman. She talks about a book by a guy named Sjoman who did some research on Krishnamacharya and where he got his yoga, from where we now have our yoga via Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar. The article makes mention of the fact that Krishanamacharya was interested in British gymnastics and used the gymnasium and the tools there to elaborate the yoga postures that are now a signature of the Ashtanga tradtionion, but also transcend it and have become what we now recognize as "yoga postures". 

Anne Cushman does make one point in the article which gets overlooked generally among yoga practitioners - it's not WHAT you are doing but HOW you are doing it that makes it YOGA. 

That being said - I have to agree with her article. It's well put together and it mirrors my sentiment and teaching style. It is because of the above mentioned point, that I tell people what to do, then tell them to experiment and find out what works for their body precisely! Each body IS different. We owe Ieyngar the attention to detail and the precision of yoga posture alignment but ultimately even his strict instructions must be adopted by a body and its own peculiarities. A posture must feel organic, dynamic, alive and what I like to say “juicy.” It’s like eating a good dessert. It could be done with most precise measurements of ingredients but it still may not be the kind of flavor you prefer. To your bread pudding you may want to add some rum, or nuts. I prefer chocolate. So, that’s the stuff that’s still left to you to figure out in a pose – where is your chocolate and your rum, and how much of a nut are you trying to perform the postures, rather than let your body express them.

Indeed we are left with very little instruction on the postures of yoga. Like the authors mentions in her article - the Hatha Yoga Predipika only has 15 postures and they all are sited, forward bends or variations thereof, or of padmasana (the lotus pose). Even things like Shiva Samhitta are short on a few postures when you compare it to yoga lore, the story told of when Shiva danced in front of his wife and manifested the 850,000 yoga postures....The Shiva Samhitta states that of all 8.4 million posture (notice the number just went to a million) only 84 are important. Most of these texts did not emerge until the 15th -17th century. Prior to that yoga was a philosophical exploration of reality aided by meditation and varieties of ritualistic practices. The Vedas mentioned the word “yoga” thousands of years ago, but in the context of spiritual growth, not in the context of exercise. In fact, thousands of years ago, it never occurred to anyone that exercising is good for your heart. They considered closeness to God, serving others, understanding the nature of reality, to be good for your heart…and your mind, and your karma, dharma and neighborhood.

So, as far as postures go - it has been left to the imagination of the practitioner to manifest a flow that works for the body. When that mentality and Krishnamacharya’s creative expression came to America, we added steroids to it and made everything fancier, more challenging, more fun, more everything, until it was all about the posture and not at all for the PURPOSE of the movement - which is to purify the body, the energy and the mind. So, our yoga postures became nothing more than a mind trip like everything else we do. That is not to say that a person cannot work with these postures for the right reasons and indeed purify the body, energy and mind. Many do exactly that. Creativity in itself is not a problem. In most cases creativity is the result of listening, experimenting, being present in the moment and manifesting the inspiration of the moment. In this case it's the HOW of the movement that makes it YOGA. 

Yoga is about growth, transcending suffering, realizing one's full potential and contributing positively to the lives of others. Even enlightenment is about that, not about a trip up to a cool place you can later tell all your friends about. 

So, that's why I generally get ticked off when people start asking, what I consider irrelevant questions  such as" Do I get enough cardio when I do yoga?" Not only does it depend on the style of yoga you do, but also it begs the question "Why are you doing yoga in first place?" If you want cardio - run, bike up the hill, box... there are tons of ways to get cardio, why bother tying yourself in a knot to do it. If you jog, bike, spin, or whatever for cardio, you also get to keep your dignity. In a yoga class, your hind end is up on display, you get to see, feel and hear body parts and mind tendencies you may not want to know that they exist, so if you want to keep the pretense of your ego personality, you should pick something more forgiving.

Even though we are left with very little instruction on the yoga postures, we are left with tons of instruction on how to be present, evolve and develop and realize our full potential, be happier, serve others and enjoy life...which is what yoga is really all about. The best part about it is that we get to learn these truths by first facing our own selves, learning to listen to our own bodies and intuition and learn to enjoy the present moment in the safety of our own mat. When we sincerely approach the practice, the practice changes how we are, even though we may have never heard of the Shiva Samhitta or Patanjali, or Krishnamacharya. The grass does not need to know how to grow. When the spring comes, it grows. It doesn’t even know what kind of grass it is or who brought the first seed over. It just grows and fulfills it’s grassness.
To Karen – thank you for the question. 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Letting go.....

Letting go…
Let’s face it – we use this little phrase all the time. There always seems to be something we could, or should let go of – relationships, ideas, past experiences, judgments, expectations, and stuff around the house…. you name it.

Why is it important to let things go? Because by letting go you make space. In yoga language, the human mind develops attachments to all sorts of things. It does that in order to affirm and maintain its egoic sense of self, safety, security and perpetuity. It holds on tight to what it knows whether or not it may be a source of suffering. So, we hold on to harmful beliefs, relationships, situations, habits…rather than learning new things, experiencing new things, becoming different people. Sometimes, we think we are learning new things, experiencing new things and becoming different people just to find ourselves sort of in the same boat as before, just with a different set of circumstances around us. This is why we often comment “Why is THIS always happening to ME?” We do not account for the fact that we have not let go of any of the mechanisms that have lead us down this path before, we simply moved to a new locations, changed jobs, significant others, wardrobe, traded one guru for another, one diet system for another…

Attachment can be said, is also a control issue. It’s the illusion that we need to control everything in order to manipulate reality into our liking. Some people are more direct, forceful, organized, and good hearted, others are more  dysfunctional, manipulative, and selfish, others are somewhere in between, but we all have a sense of wanting to elicit an outcome to our liking and that is a form of control.

The Amritta Bindu Upanishad tells us that the mind is both the source of our suffering and the source of liberation. If attached (to things) it leads to suffering, if non-attached it leads to liberation. The text calls the mind which is “possessed” of desire an “impure” mind, and states that only a “pure” mind can lead to liberation, while a “possessed” mind leads to “bondage.”

Dr. Phil – an unlikely reference for a yoga article, but nevertheless providing wisdom, asks “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? And how’s that working out for you?” he also makes another point “Life is not a success only journey. You are going to get beat up along the way!”

Why is it important to let go? Because not letting go, in simple terms, results in suffering. Suffering comes in many forms – we obsess, perseverate, become physically and emotional exhausted, stressed out, bitter, disappointed, frustrated, feel guilty, taste failure, depressed, become competitive, self-judgmental, critical, sarcastic….in other words, we become the kind of person we’d never want to hang out with yet we expect of other to make us feel like the kind of person we would want to hang out with.

This being said, we must begin the process of letting go by simply being willing to surrender control for a moment, become present in the moment and see. What will we see? This thing we call “reality.” If we are willing to sit and experience the way things are without rationalizations, expectations, criticism, judgment, fear and making things personal, we can see things for what they are. Not worse than they are. Not better than they are. Not what they could be, if only… We can see objectively, factually, honestly the way things are.

Then we must accept what we are seeing. Accepting is not a giving in. Accepting is giving to the moment what it deserves – your full attention. It gives you back knowledge. That’s the knowledge of how things are. If you don’t know where you are standing, you cannot possibly proceed in any meaningful way. It would be the equivalent of being in the middle of China without a map and no ability to read the language, and trying to get home by  convincing yourself that this is really not China and you are really not lost and that hopefully tomorrow when you open your eyes you’ll be in your living room, just like that. Forget about it!

Once we accept the way things are, we may see some options ahead of us. We may see what is in our control and creativity to do and what is not. We may see who may have answers for us, who may be of help, who may be of inspiration. We proceed from there.

But we proceed. As we make a decision to move forward, we are making a decision to let go of the attachments that we have witnessed to be in play. We choose not to dwell on the way things were. We have already acknowledged them. We proceed forward with an action plan. Whether we like or dislike the options ahead of us is not the point. Whether we are sure that the future will be what we want it to be is not the point, in fact, such expectations in themselves may be a problem if we are rigidly attached to them. Let the future be an inspiration rather than an expectation. Our action plan may be to digest the past with the help of a therapist, or it may be to look for a new job, or give up old friends, clean your house top to bottom, take more time for rest, clean the fridge and coverts from all the junk food….make new friends.

We have an action plan and we follow the action plan paying attention to how things are along the way and being honest with every moment. The mind actually likes looking forward to the new when it thinks it’s going to be beneficial. So, we put a smile on our face and remember that the yogis tell us that motion equals emotion. If we act as if we are excited, we become excited. If we act as if we are happy, we become happy. If we act as if we are enjoying the possibility for growth, we start to enjoy it. Here one finds varieties of visualizations and affirmations that can be used as part of your action plan. But none of them will work if you do not go through the process up to this point. Visualizations and affirmations only make sense and produce results if one has come to terms, honestly, to the way things are and is now motivated to proceed in a different direction.

As time goes, we find ourselves free and open. We find out that we have let go. Whatever we were trying to let go of has somehow been released and is now just information in the mind. It is only information and it does not produce an emotional or psychological reaction as parts or all of that information is brought to our attention. Memories are just information. People are just information. Things and place – information. Soon we may even find ourselves not remembering all of the details that we used to painstakingly remind ourselves about, regurgitating and re-living. Now, they just fade away and we feel space, we feel lightness and we feel available for whatever comes without the usual fears, expectations and judgments. We find out that they have been replaced by curiosity, excitement, a sense of adventure and gratitude for life just as it is.

Then we know we have indeed let go…. Until we identify something else that we need to let go of. Eventually, the yogis say that we completely let go of the notion that our personality is who we are and therefore, we use this personality to navigate to word, but we shape it to resemble more and more the divine magicians that we are, when we are not attached to a particular personality.

Meanwhile, remember, you are here temporarily. Enjoy the ride and travel lightly – less baggage is more fun because it’s easy to move around and take less time to pack and go.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Comparing apples and oranges….

Lately, it seems that the topics of conversation in the yoga studio are revolving around whether yoga is enough to make you fit, give your heart a workout, increase your metabolism, and other similar concerns. So, let us take a closer look under the hood of the fountain of youth mobile and see what we can see.

First of all we need some definitions.

The first and foremost definition is the definition of “Yoga.” The word itself has been translated in varieties of ways from simply “yoking” (as in yoking with ultimate reality), to the classical definition of “Chitta Vritti Nirodha” meaning - cessation of the fluctuations of the mind; to the  Bhagavad Gita’s “Yoga is skill in action.” Also, “Yoga is Samadhi,” says Patanjali.

Yoga is one of the accepted schools of philosophy (dharshansa) within Hinduism, standing on its own feet along side Sumkha and Vedanta.  In Jainism, yoga is the sum total of all activities — mental, verbal and physical.  For Buddhist the yogachara path is a framework of philosophy and psychology for engaging in practices that lead to the path of the bodhisattva. Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh teacher referred to as the “Great Yogi” by Yogi Bhajan (the founder of Kindalini Yoga and the 3HO movement), taught to engage all beings as members of the one family, being in service to others and deepening one’s own awareness of the mysteries of the body and mind.

Other important definitions:
Physical fitness/Health Related Fitness comprises two related concepts: general fitness (a state of health and well-being,) and Specific Fitness/Skill Related Fitness (a task-oriented definition based on the ability to perform specific aspects of sports, or occupations).  There is no simple definition of fitness, but when spoken of, it is generally understood that fitness has to do with the ability of the human body to function effectively, efficiently, meet energetic demands on it imposed by physical activity and be free of conditions occurring as the result of sedentary lifestyle.

Therefore, there are 5 major areas that are looked at when Health Related Fitness levels are assessed.

Cardiovascular fitness (Aerobic fitness) which refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity. Regular exercise creates cardiovascular fitness by enlarging and strengthening the muscle of the heart, thus making it more capable to pump more blood with each heart beat, thus supplying oxygen to skeletal muscles. In addition, it is shown that regular exercises increase the number of arteries in skeletal muscles that are regularly worked.  Further, the amount of oxygen being inhaled increases (lung capacity) and thus more oxygen is available for the system to function on.

Flexibility – this one should be self explanatory, but in case you are unsure – this is a measure of the range of motion in the joints of the human body. If one cannot tie their shoes, or scratch their head – there‘s not flexibility.

Endurance is a measure that shows the ability of the body to exert energy over a task and over a prolonged period of time.  The definition of “long” generally depends on the type of activity being performed and the level of intensity of that activity.

Muscle Strength and Body Composition are the final two parameter looked at when speaking of Health Related Fitness.  While muscle strength is an obvious one, body composition refers to the percentage of fat, muscle and bone in one’s body at any given time.  Two people with the same weight and height, but with different body composition will look completely different.

On the Skill Related Fitness end of things, things like Ability, Balance, Motor Coordination, Speed, Reaction Time and Power are relevant. One can take this in an everyday sense to determine if one can go up and down the stairs, bend over and squat in order to perform everyday tasks, or if one is coordinated enough to dance and play music, can get things done fast and is able to react to environmental stimuli appropriately. On the other hand, one can take that to the sports arena and depending on the sport in focus, these parameters must be within certain ranges, for the person to be successful in that sport. If you are going to be a soccer player but you can’t duck, kick, squat, take off running, change direction in an instant and jump, you will have a hard time playing at all.

Further on fitness, age and gender play a role in what is considered “excellent,” “good,” “moderate” or “poor” level of fitness.

Does yoga, then, have anything to do with fitness? 

Physical fitness is a way of keeping the body healthy through a cycle of exercise, nutrition and rest.

Yoga is a path to liberation and fulfilling your potential as a being while embodied. Physical fitness is only important as it enables the individual to proceed along the path with minimal distractions such as illness or discomfort.  Hence, the asana and pranayama practices.  However, physical fitness is not in and out of itself the goal.

The number of pushups one can do is absolutely irrelevant to personal freedom. Standing on one’s head is no measurement for wisdom. Ability to sit in lotus is no prerequisite, or a guarantee for fulfillment and enlightenment.  The number of pushups done with grace, the lightness and control of a head stand, the ease of a lotus posture are only indications, (not always good ones either) of the time spend in a committed practice. 

More important things such as mindfulness, equanimity and compassion have more of a chance of developing with a long committed practice. Think of it this way – the asanas will prepare your body for long hours of meditation, or the grueling demands of service to others. The asanas will give you the energy, stamina, and physical freedom to pursue other things you enjoy – from the great outdoors to cooking, writing music or playing sports. The asana will open the door for you to see and even understand many of your own traits and mental habits, teach you to be aware of your being physically, energetically and even mentally and emotionally.

Meditation will refine these skills and take them further into and outside of your being. 

Long and committed practice in itself is no guarantee for moral, ethical or psychological progress, not even for enlightenment. But as the yogis say, no effort is wasted on the path. You may get the point next time around. Meanwhile you are gathering the stones to pave the road when you are ready to do so, and while you are at it, you are still enjoying many of the physiological benefits of the practice.

If the ego owns your asana accomplishments, rather than viewing them as simply manifestations of possibilities, and opportunities to observe yourself in yet another twisted situation, than your asana practice is gymnastics and your time in a yoga class is strictly a work out.

Good news is that yoga can be an excellent work out too. It is sad to reduce the practice to just a work out, but if all you want is to work out – than be my guest.

…Which brings us back to comparing what kind of fitness levels we can achieve with just doing yoga.
Since I have been a full time yoga teacher for many years now, and at least 75% of my physical activity is yoga (the other 25% being split between dancing, occasional bike rides, hikes, gardening and walking around town with the sporadic and unusual fun things like zip lining, swimming, etc., when on vacation), I decided to go through a few standard fitness tests just for fun. Please understand, that I am not the kind of person to work too hard at physical things. I like hiking but slowly, so I can enjoy the scenery. I like biking – the same way. Going at 12 miles per hour is like…way too much work, and there better be some kind of a treat. So... my long training days and competing have long gone!

I got on the scale noting my weight – 115 lb, body fat -21% this morning (it actually ranges from 19 – 22% depending on what I had for dinner, how much water I drank, and when I got on the scale). I am age 38, height 5.4. Here are the results of this morning’s experiments:

  • BMI is 19.7, which makes me normal (18.5 – 24 for female of 38).
  • Below 21% body fat for a female of 38 would be “too little,” and 21 – 33% would be normal.
  • Blood pressure – excellent 109/75…or something of the sort.
  • Resting heart rate while typing on the computer is 60 (female athletes ages 34 -41 get 54-60, excellent is considered  61-65, good is 65 - 69). 
  • Flexibility – off the charts.
  • Upper body strength (the push up test) - did 27. Excellent is 25+ push ups in a minute (and I did chaturangas which are harder)...and it's sucks to hurry up. I can do more s-l-o-w-e-r.
  • Abdominal strength (simple crunches for 1 min) – Excellent. I did a total of 54 no fuss, no sweat. Second try was 63 still no sweat. Hmm...  (39 + is considered excellent.)
  • Leg strength – that’s the infamous wall squat test. 3 minutes. Actually, my alarm when off at 3 min but I could have stayed longer. I’d say I was at about 60 % capacity at that point, but who knows. That’s also “excellent.” Excellent is considered to be something above 46 seconds for women of 38 and 51 seconds for man of 38.
  • Balance test – you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Anyhow, I did it. It’s a joke. They don’t have a category for a person that can stand on one leg for more than 3 minutes doing varieties of twisted things.
  • I did not do the Explosive Power test since I do not have the proper equipment and I am committed to none violence.  But I can open my own jar of spaghetti sauce, thank you.
  • Will do the running test and let you know how it goes soon. I need someone to spot me, but I am guessing I’ll score in the excellent category as well.
Furthermore, I am guessing that anyone who’s been doing yoga at least 2 or 3 times per week in the strong beginner to intermediate level will be able to score in the good to excellent category.

Why? Because WHAT IS CONSIDERED HEALTHY IS NOT THAT MUCH! To be healthy, yoga can give you more than you need.

Yoga is not Olympic training. It’s a health and wellness practice. If you want to win Ironman, you will have to train for that and push the limits. Winning the Ironman is not a measurement for either health or wellness. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment for which one will pay the price later. Just like all athletes pay the price later – physically, mentally, emotionally, there’s always a price to pay for our greatest accomplishments….Why? Because they are, most often, accomplishments of the ego and in most cases they are in disregard of other important things in life and in the body.

Did you know….. The average world class athlete retires from his sport at the age of 33. Incredibly, the average NFL player is retired by the age of 28, the average world class wrestler by 24, and the average elite gymnast by 19.

And here’s another staggering statistic: The average elite athlete will die by the age of 67. That is considerably lower than the 76 year life expectancy of the average American. According to the NFL Players Association, the average life expectancy of an NFL player is 58 years of age.

With yoga, on the other hand, since it is not about accomplishments, the only thing you’ll get over time is more health, more wellness and more happiness.  Lots of people I know began yoga at 58 – the age the average NFL athlete is already dead! There is a multitude of yoga teachers over 50 and a respectable number of them over 70. If you want to see what yoga can do for your longevity, see Patricia Walden, Iyengar, Dharma Mittra. Krishnamacharia died at a 100 years of age. Indra Devey at 101 and there a countless others, most of whom continue to practice all the way to the end.  There’s a reason yoga is called “the fountain of youth.”

So, to all my friends who are wondering if they are getting enough from yoga, I suggest you ask yourself the following few questions.
1) Why are you doing yoga?
2) Are you actually doing yoga?

Of course, there’s a lot more to be said about the incredible benefits of yoga physically. News and research is coming out regularly, expounding on what yoga can help you with, heal you from and in general what it does to your biology, physiology, psychology and spirituality. Since, I’ve written plenty on the subject, I will save my ink here. However, next time your doctor, or your friends tell you that yoga is not enough for you to maintain a healthy level of fitness, you go ahead and invite them to a yoga class with me.

This being said, if you are one of the folks out there, enjoying your really gentle and restorative classes, and you never find yourself physically challenged, you may consider trying harder classes, or supplement your yoga with daily walking, swimming, biking and whatever else you like. People do yoga for different reasons. Peace, calmness, relaxation and enjoyment ARE very good reasons to be practicing gently. Just realize that you are not addressing all of your body’s needs, even though you may be addressing all of your mind’s needs…. As always…there’s got to be a balance!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Emotions & Equanimity

This is a small part of a larger essay i am working on for publication....Enjoy....

A lot of people have the misconception that Equanimity means sitting around while things are happening, escaping from the world, suppressing one's feelings, missing out on some fun and opportunities, being complacent. Emotions are seen as two kinds – positive ones you want to have more of and negative ones you want to have less off. Let us investigate.


What are emotions? No one really knows how to define “emotions.” There are numerous theories of what they are and how they come about. The definition, explanation and classification of emotions vary depending on the school of thought. No one has a clear definition, but who needs one. We all know emotion when we see it and feel it.

The drama and spice of life is associated in people’s minds with emotions. The pursuit of happiness is nothing more than wanting more pleasant, or positive, emotions which people seem to think they can get by getting more stuff, status, power… Everything else is a cause for unpleasant, or negative, emotions which people seem to think are brought about by the lack of the aforementioned.

Things like peace, love and compassion are not merely emotions. They are states of being. Joy is a state of being too. According to yoga and Buddhist philosophy, those are the characteristics of our natural state of being, naturally present when one learns the truth of who they are and the nature of reality.

Anything that can arise unconditionally is how we really are. The so-called “negative” emotions cannot arise unconditionally. They are dependent on circumstances to which we react emotionally. Example: Love is unconditional unlike “being in love,” which is conditional on someone else being there. Compassion is absolutely unconditional unlike “feeling sorry for” someone, or something.

The side effect of this emotionality is what everyone is trying to avoid, namely suffering. Suffering comes in many shapes, forms and levels of intensity – from being competitive, to being downright unhappy, stressed out, agitated, depressed, impatient or afraid. Basically, all of the “negative” emotions can be called by one name – suffering. Avoiding suffering leads to more suffering. The Buddha and yoga tell us that suffering is part of life, that it can be transcended and they leave tools for how to transcend it.

Humans continue to suffer - because, says the Buddha and yoga philosophy, we are ignorant of who we really are (and generally ignorant). This ignorance is the root cause of all afflictions of the mind. Craving, grasping, attachment and aversion follow as a result of this ignorance. Fear of death, too. Make a note that suffering and the causes of suffering are all strongly related to Me, Myself and I – the egoic personality that makes choices, experiences emotions and seeks to improve its lot.


Equanimity allows one to do things selflessly and with attitude of compassion. It is a state in which one is fully present and not disturbed by fear, pain and aversion, likes and dislikes, or any other distractions and afflictions of the mind, and does not escape the reality of the moment as it presents itself.

Inaction and silence in the face of injustice and cruelty is not a sign of equanimity, but rather a lack of it. It is a sign of cowardice even selfishness. In some situations the best action is inaction. In others, specific action is absolutely necessary. Which is which, and how one chooses will determine where things go from there. Unless wisdom is present, things can get worse.

The basis for equanimity is mindfulness. When one becomes more mindful, one lives a little more. Moments are richer in colors, tastes, smells, textures, sounds and meaning. Mindfulness gives one the strength to stand in the full experience of the ever present waves of feelings, not their suppression. Only when one is fully able to experience oneself without the constant chatter, interpretations and negative self judgments does one start to develop equanimity. If one suppresses one's feelings, equanimity does not develop.

A mindful person eases into a state of equanimity. As the state is disturbed by an emotional event of some sort, it is mindfulness that naturally quiets the ever arising feelings and returns the mind to equanimity. A mindful person is aware of arising feelings, thoughts, reactions and moods but observes them and acknowledges them with acceptance and without judgment for having them. Instead of being owned by the emotions, confused by the thoughts, or blinded by the feelings, a mindful person returns to a state of equanimity and sees the right choice of action in whatever way the situation necessitates, rather than the way the emotions dictate.

By learning to observe and be mindful, we know the fleeting nature of things and we become grateful for the gifts of life that come our way. We thoroughly enjoy that which is happening without attachment to it, without grasping and wanting more. Equanimity does not imply a stone cold demeanor. Joy is our natural state of being and it naturally expresses itself when we are not tangled up in our own egoic personality. We are life as we are and we are constantly expressing life just by being here.

Valentina Petrova is a yoga teacher & personal adviser. She owns Holistic Movement Center in Morro Bay, CA where she teaches group and one-on-one sessions. She leads workshops and retreats locally and abroad and produces the “Yoga for Life” TV program on Ch. 2, Charter. To contact Valentina, call 805-909-1401, or visit the web at

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Happy Easter

It's Easter, so I've been wondering about Jesus and the resurrection thing. Some people take it literally. Some people speculate the actual physical possibility for it to occur under bazaar circumstances. Some people think it's plane nuts. I'd like to think of it in metaphorical terms.

It's interesting how we take events in history and assign them specific meaning. After the vail of centuries, the mystery of Christ's death and the lessons of his life are a powerful draw to millions of people to a particular way of life, despite modern science, scandals and other lessons we've learned in more contemporary times.

So, to my Christian friends out there - I admire your perseverance. Perhaps, you won't agree with what i have to share here, but you can pray for me. I too can be saved :)

To go back to the metaphor....
3 days to resurrect the Christ. 40 more days on Earth, appearing to his disciples before he Ascends to Heaven.

Day 1 - Christ is dead and wrapped up in a cloth before sundown, placed in a tomb. Where the tomb is again depends on who you ask but somewhere between a rock and a garden.
Day 2 - he's in a tomb and no one knows what's happening inside. It's locked and guarded.
Day 3 - An angel, or two, or a "youth dressed in white" - depending if you are reading Mathew, Luke or Mark appears and Mary Magdalen is looking at Jesus who's talking to her.

The actual act of Jesus getting up from dead to being alive again is not recorded in canonical scripture. There's just a dead Jesus, then an empty tomb with the door busted and walking and talking Jesus after that, but only for 40 days. Funny enough, Jesus first chose to appear to 2 women....

Incidentally, did you know that after the Buddha reached enlightenment he was hanging out in that state appearing to people and talking to them for several weeks - like 7 in total, according to some accounts, or that's about 56 days or so?

Here's how i see this.
A person is born on this plane, in the body and circumstances, according to karma, or chance if you don't believe in karma. We struggle through a developmental process - from learning that we have a body in the first few weeks or months of our existence, to learning about other people, society, dreams and desires and how to make it all fit together. That's a really hard thing. It appears that there are 7 billion variations of the theme and although some appear more successful than others, no one seems to get it perfectly right.

We chug along on this planet making a mess of our ourselves and the planet while (hopefully) trying to learn from the mess and be better to our selves and to others. Some people make a big splash on the map of humanity - like Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Mohamed...and many others. Others make an even bigger splash but of a different kind - like Stalin and Hitler. Ultimately, we all are born, live and learn then die.

A lot can happen during this living and learning phase. Like growing. Like enlightenment.

So, i see the 1 day of Jesus as a time the person dies with compassion for others and for the good of all beings, much like a Bodhisattva would do. But also, i see him as transcending his attachment to life. I see Jesus in the time leading to this moment, in a process of growth. Growth which leads him to do what he did and to accept the events as they transpired with humility, faith and love.

I see day 2 of his death as a transformation from regular life to an enlightened life. There's closing down that happens in the process. Not closing down of life itself, but sort of closing the book of living a "normal" life with all the afflictions, drama and struggles it inherently possesses. A time of things settling down in a different way, although staying the same. A time for digestion of the discovery of being awake - as in the Buddha's case, just sitting there contemplating, or basking in it.

Day 3 is the emergence of the new Jesus, different to all others, the awakened Buddha, who now walks on earth with a different quality of being. We don't know what happened to Jesus after the 40 days. We do know what happened to the Buddha after the 7 weeks. And we do know that during this initial period, right after the awakening experience, both of them were ignited with the spark of the experience and drawing interest to themselves by those who came in contact with them. Inspiring wonderment, devotion and motivation in other humans.

So, was it 3 days that Jesus was laid up? Was he dead or alive at the end? Was he stolen from the tomb? Was he even the kind of person described in the multiple accounts of contradicting story tellers..... I don't think it matters. What matters is the pondering these stories provoke, should one choose to explore. What matters is the questions that get raised about who we are, and how we are, and what is important in the life.

So, while you color your eggs this weekend, think of the many colors of your life and personality. While you sit in church, don't think of the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, think of the enormity of his unconditional love, the strength of his faith, and mastery of his life. Connect to that. Become that. You too will break through at the end to an eternal heavenly life....right here on Earth.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Emotional Release and more.... from my Yoga for Anxiety & Depression class

A few words on Meditation, Yoga and emotional release:

Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation which will teach you to observe the present moment – emotional and mental states included, without judgment and with ease of knowing that “this too shall pass.” In this sense, we feel liberated from the grip of emotion and the states we are in tend to pass through more rapidly. It is so because the usual tension, pushing back, despair, agitation, etc, that normally accompany the realization of depression or anxiety (or anger, vulnerability, panic, jealousy, and any other human emotion) actually complicate and worsen the situation.

However, if you are already very depressed, or suffer from an anxiety based depression, it may be excruciatingly difficult to just sit and observe. Furthermore, if your state is the result of unresolved trauma, it is strongly recommended to sit and practice in the presence of an experienced teacher, as symptoms may worsen temporarily. You will need the guidance of someone to walk you through.

There are other forms of meditation that may be of good use to you:

Loving kindness meditation, or “Metta” is a form of meditation in which we sit and project loving kindness to others, or more importantly, to our selves.

“My you be well,” “May you be peaceful and ease with whatever comes.” “May you be free of suffering,” “May you be happy” These are some suggestions, but you can find your own words. Directing the Metta toward you can have a profound easing effect in moments of distress.
Even though it may feel unnatural at first, focus on being as sincere as possible and as genuine as possible, thinking of your being as something you love and care for.

Opening Heart Meditation is a form in which we use the breath and focus our attention on the area of the heart. As we inhale, we visualize the heart expanding in all directions and flooding with joy, love, ease and light. As we exhale, we focus on relaxing tension from wherever we are aware of tension. With every inhale the heart grows and fills with space and ease and we observe the feeling mindfully. It will feel like the heart expands past the boundaries of your body, and so be it. The bigger, the better. Again, we visualize and stay sincere and genuine. Using deep diaphragmatic breaths may help you as well. Otherwise, use normal breaths. 
Finally, you can slip from one form into the other as appropriate to you.

If you start with Metta and slip into Heart Opening meditation than you can transform it into Mindfulness and even practice Mindfulness while practicing one of the other two. The idea is to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Taking an Introduction to Meditation, and practicing with a teacher for a while may be helpful to you. If you are new at meditation and if you fear that your emotional state will get the best of you, then do seek private time with a teacher.

What to do when emotional release approaches while you are on your yoga mat, or during your meditation…..

1) Remember that whatever is happening is a good thing, even if it transports you into memories of trauma and discomfort. It is the body/mind system’s attempt to dump the baggage of that memory. Just like oil rises to the surface, the dislodged seeds of “samaskara” rise to the conscious mind from their storage place in the body and mind and are ready to be let go of….if you so chose.

2) Do not suppress what arises. Let it run its course naturally, while you mindfully observe everything about it. From the Witness Consciousness you will have a sense of safety observing the waves of emotion, memory and thoughts rising and subsiding. Acceptance and non-judgment are a key element here, so that whatever arises stays uninhibited by rejection, self-criticism, shame, or judgment. That which remains undigested will literally give you a belly ache. So, the more open and allowing you are to the moment to express its content, the faster you are digesting the experiences from which this emotional state is arising. (See it as it is, nor worse than it is and let it go.)

3) Practice gratitude. Remember to be grateful for this moment, as you are and as it is, with whatever is happening in it. The gratitude will give you strength to remain in the Witness and will inspire you to take care of yourself and follow through with any actions that may be necessary, after the emotional release is over.

4) Some things come at you like a freight train, and others drip in barely noticeable. Sometimes, you will be conscious of what this emotional release is connected to, and others, you won’t. It is important not to make stories, or attempt to look for reasons why this feeling is arising. The cognitive mind may, or may not, make a connection to a situation. It DOS NOT MATTER. Understanding is NOT required for letting go. Understanding is NOT required to be mindful. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is only helping you get stuck looking for a story rather than moving on and being free.

However, it is the nature of the mind to dig for worms, so be patient and stay focused on the present moment, and not on a story you are weaving through your head (even if the story happens to be true).  Sometimes, days later, you may get an insight of what the emotional release was all about. Sometimes, you will experience similar releases over a period of time, and then you may, or may not, get a clue of what it was about. Either way, you will feel much better letting the emotion run its course while you mindfully observe it. Some day you will find yourself responding differently to familiar situations, finding yourself more adventurous in your life, or ready to do something you never thought you can, or should. This is the result of the process, even if there is not cognitive, sequential understanding of the process. Trust that the body and mind can work things out without “understanding.”

You may have to seek the help of an experienced practitioner to guide you through the practice while things are arising. You may also, want to visit a therapist with your newly found insights. Whatever helps you with your digestion process, do it without delay and without hesitation. This is the process of cleaning up, of liberation.

Good Luck & call me if you need me. (805) 909-1401

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Yoga Philosophy to the rescue….

In light of the previous conversation about discerning what comes as a response to the moment rather than from the ego space and my challenge to you, I can see from the e-mails I got and the conversations I’ve had with some of you in person that you may need extra help on the subject….

I turn to yoga philosophy and offer you what has been helpful to me along the way. Briefly. As the subject matter can and has filled up countless books indeed.

First we need to understand 2 basic concepts. What is dukha and sukha. Dukha is the state of unease and discomfort – mentally, emotionally, energetically and physically. I’ve seen it translated as “unhappiness”  as “bad space” or “restricted space” or “obstructed space.” The word comes from a reference to the space of a wheel on a carriage that’s been jammed and thus makes movement of the carriage at the least bumpy and at the most it halts it completely. Sukha is its exact opposite. A space that is “open,” “good” and movement can continue smoothly. So, it is also referred to as “happiness” and “ease.”

Everything about yoga and meditation (and let me state here that meditation IS yoga, the highest form and practice of yoga), everything about the practices of yoga is about reducing dukha and by doing so, increasing sukha. From suffering to ease and happiness in a state of what the yogi’s call jivan mukti. Jivan mukti literally means “the human soul liberated” but since Jivan is a term for the human self/soul that refers to the self while the human is living, we get “liberated while still living.”

Notice that one has to be “liberated” in order to be unconditionally “happy.” Right there is the answer to all questions of why we are unhappy, some of the time or all of the time. Unhappy with who we are, how our life is, our relationships, accomplishments, gifts and experiences. Unhappy can be anything from a low grade of discontent to major depression and anxiety, just like the wheel of the carriage can be only slightly obstructed to fully jammed and immobile. From complaining and grunting through life to being critical and aggressive to being suicidal – these are all behaviors that are connected to the same thing – being in an “obstructed space” mentally and emotionally.

Liberating ones’ self from the obstruction should then be helping the wheel roll down the road of life smoothly even if there are bumps on the road itself.

And…of course…the liberation process gets to be a little complicated. Complicated not by itself but by the way we go about it. But this is a totally different blog discussion.

To be liberated, the Yoga Sutras prescribe several simple things: The Yamas – those are restrains one needs to be committed to or else more suffering is created as you go along and therefore, instead of freeing your wheel from the jam you are adding to it and getting more stuck by the minute.

The first and foremost of the yamas (and in other spiritual traditions of other cultures and heritages, it also ranks of the highest importance) is Ahimsa which is non-harming. Non-harming is a practice of being considerate toward other beings and toward yourself. Honoring boundaries of others and of your own body. Considering the consequences or your actions to others and for yourself.  This includes anything from what you eat, to what you wear to where you live and how you do your yoga practice. We can be violent in so many ways without even realizing that we are. So, the practice of ahimsa is the practice we undertake to learn about our violent ways and consciously attempt to minimize them.

We do this by becoming truthful (the second yamas, or satya) in every moment. Satya is truth and the truth will set you free as we all know. One must be completely honest within themselves as to what they are doing and saying. Exaggerating? Why? Telling a story? Why? Manipulating a situation? Withholding the truth? A white lie? Yes, there are many ways we attempt to control reality and reshape it in our terms instead of accepting it. This mainly means, we are not accepting of the "who we are" and trying to create an illusion for others about us that we think we like better, or that they will like better than the real thing.

Either way, by not being truthful, by not practicing satya, we rob others and we rob our selves of the opportunity to experience reality as it is and grow from there in the mysterious way we are suppose to, or as the Bhagavad Gita puts it – to fulfill our dharma, our duty to ourselves, to all the beings and to the divine dance of life.  So, classical yoga recommends that we practice asteya: non-stealing. Stealing time by wasting time is still stealing. Channeling your energy in unworthy pursuits is stealing from yourself. Hording things, taking things that are not yours no matter how you rationalize it, not giving others what they’ve worked for or is rightfully theirs, not giving your kids or pets attention they need….all those are forms of stealing. It weighs on your consciousness and therefore it jams the wheel of your carriage more than you imagine.

So, the yogis recommend a “godly conduct” known as brahmacharya. Often this is translated and understood as restraint in the sexual energy and expression. Therefore, there are yogis who take the path of celibacy. For householders the recommendations is to be faithful to your partner and use sex for reproduction mainly. There’s a lot said in the yogic literature about sexuality and how the energy that is channeled into sexual activities is a vital energy you can use for creative endeavors, getting closer to God or varieties of practices that would make you a better human being. The literal meaning is under the tutelage of Brahma, or God. Godly conduct goes beyond sexuality into every aspect of our lives. Sexuality is a primordial instinct we have for the reason of perpetuating our species, just like hunger is for survival of the organism. Eating is always a good thing, unless one is indulging in it for other reasons and excessively. Same with sex, or any other human behavior. Whatever you do, if you are excessive and doing it and coming from the wrong place into it, there are going to be consequences which amount to creating more “obstructed space.”

Wanting too much of anything, or for that matter, wanting a specific outcome and going into things with a predetermined idea of what you should get out of it, borders on the need to practice the final restraint – apargraha: greedlessness. Acting for the actions alone and from an authentic place within you not yearning for specific fruits of your labor, says the Bhagavad Gita is the way to live without creating more karma, or consequences that cause suffering for yourself. Greedlessness is the ability to say – I had enough. I am good for now. I have what I need. I feel secure with what I have. I am confident in my abilities. More is not always better. Sometimes more is just more stuff you have to worry about, take care of and pay attention to that tie you down a little too much for no particularly good reason. Generosity is a way of acknowledging that you are full, good way to lighten yourself up and to contribute to someone else’s needs.

For these restrains to be valid and have an effect on your mind and life, they have to be done in speech, in thought and in deed. You can’t smile on the outside and plan revenge on the inside…. The yamas are practices that we undertake at first because we need to, and as we become more educated and grow, we practice because it becomes how we really are.

These restrains prep and maintain the ground for the practices of the Niyamas (Observances) to naturally grow out of. While the yamas address your conduct in the world around you, these practices address the world within you.

The first one – shauca: purity, includes the purity of body and mind. From a place of purity, non-violence and non-harming as well as the other yamas, naturally arise. This has implications not only to what you put in your body but what you choose to put in your mind and what you include in your life. Your friends, relationships, the books you read and the movies you watch – are they contaminating you? Is your attitude toxic? Are your intentions pure?

If there’s purity, then there’s contentment. Samtosha: contentment is being in peace with whatever comes, with oneself, and with one’s life exactly as things are….so it requires acceptance, which requires honesty. There’s also gratitude in contentment. It is a place from which, with gratitude for the way things are, you guild the future. It is not a couch on which you complacently snooze. Contentment recognizes life, so far and how it has brought you to where you are, and says: “Great! Let’s see what comes next!” You contently put one foot in front of the other to get to where you are going, and every step of the way the contentment says: “Great! “  It’s a positively charged productive place of discovery of every moment.

The last 3 of the niyamas are the 3 legs that create the utmost balance in the human psyche and are the absolute definition of yoga itself. Those are: Tapas, Svadyaya and Ishvara Prhanidhana.

Tapas is translated as austerities. But it also means fire. Either way, it means a method which transforms one thing into another things. Your yoga practice on the mat is tapas; a willful practice to cook out the impurities.   It is just like making ghee - starting with regular butter and cooking out the solids, one gets a golden gleaming substance that has been transformed from a not so healthy butter to a healing substance known as ghee. The postures cook out the kinks and the energetic blockages through the body. By doing so, they free the flow of vital energy and free our movements, giving us a more lively ability to enjoy life as an embodied soul. One of the obstacles to practice is said to be ill health. The mind becomes preoccupied with survival and tends to the parts that are broken in this body. A healthy body is no longer an obstacle. It is a well oiled vehicle for transformation. But your yoga practice on the mat is only tapas if you practice with all of the above in place! Otherwise it is just an exercise and some exercises can lead to injury :)

Furthermore, as we diligently work with the body, we make self discoveries. This is the practice of svadyaya: self – study. What was mental has become physical. What is emotional has a physical expression. What is energetic has a physical imprint. So, this body is a map to what is within us and a solution to many of the bumps on the road itself. As we work with it we observe how we are with it. Are we practicing the practices mentioned above? What is happening mentally and emotionally? What is our attitude? What moves us? What inspires us? What drags us down? We see it by being willing to practice mindful self-study.  Self study is also learning through books and teachers. It is also observing and learning through experiences in life – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, exciting or ordinary.  Every moment is an opportunity for self-study.

The more we know about who we are, the more in awe we are of the magical mystery of being. Or at least the more opportunity there is to practice reverence, gratitude and love of being. (You can also be learning and bitching that you are not that which you are reading about and how it is really someone else' fault because they did something to you in the past!'s your choice which way you want to be learning.) This practice is called Ishvara Pranidhana. It is often translated as love, or reverence for the Lord. But knowing that Patanjali (the author of the Yoga Sutras, from where all these categorization comes from) subscribed to a philosophical system that was dualistic in its nature, I have to say, he wasn’t talking about God in the conventional sense.  Ishvara here is more like your full potential, your connection to the wholeness of things making up this Universe. Still for those who feel a connection with a deity – then this is your Ishvara, your Jesus, your Krishna, and your devotion is right here. Offering your practice to the good of all beings – this can also be Ishvara Pranadina. It is also translated as surrendering. But surrender to what? Does it mean giving up? Does it mean sit around and do nothing?

Surrender means trusting that you can do what needs doing, and that whatever needs doing, you do it because it needs doing, not because you are seeking a particular outcome. It is really surrendering attachment to our ideas and expectations. It means surrendering the notion that you have ALL control of events and circumstances. It means acknowledging that the only control you have is over your attitude and your focus.

There are always obstacles on the road. Some obstacles are more like potholes. Some are more like rivers.  Some are more like the Grand Canyon. This is just the topography of life. If you live by the ocean, learn to enjoy the surf and the smell of seaweed. If you live on a mountain, learn how to enjoy the storms, the snow and the clarity of the thin air. And know that sometime you can go down the mountain to the beach, or from the beach to the desert, or to a concert at Carnegie Hall. Whatever is happening on the outside is just scenery.

Surrender the egoic judgments and self judgments that are built around taking things personally. Surrender the notion that everything is happening to you. Everything is just happening. Pain is just pain. Pain is not suffering. Suffering is optional, teaches the Buddha.

This is the wisdom of yoga that one learns only by practicing. Practicing once will make a difference once. Just like taking a pill helps for a few hours but then the symptoms return and you need to take more pills, your yoga practice must be regular. Dedication to your yoga practice guarantees results. The level of commitment and sincerity will determine the results. So, results will vary! Unlike pills, your yoga practice helps you grow as a person and a soul, and the only side effects that exist are actually things you’d really like having as a part of you.

The only way to learn what comes from the ego, and what comes from the moment as it is…is to learn what is in your ego. These practices do the trick. Knowing this, you can move pass the habits of the ego and perhaps retrain it. The ego is only a tool for evaluating a situation and executing actions accordingly. So, you can use this tool to execute the actions that are inspired by being present in the moment and grounded in your deep, authentic self (or Ishvara). The ego knows how to drive a car, cook a meal, and keep this body from crossing the street in front of a truck. It has skills. It’s just a matter of employing these skills in the right direction and not just for the ego’s own self perpetuated illusion of realness.  Think of the ego as a kid that’s been growing up unsupervised for a long time and now you have to retrain it a little and refine its manners. That’s all. Surrender the games, the stories, the attachment to them. Awaken to the present moment, free of the unnecessary load that these games, stories and attachments to them represent. Be a liberated soul, a jivan mukti.

PS…these practices are the long way there…. The short way to becoming a jivan mukti is to….just be it. Hehehe.

PPS: these practices are the short way there....The long way there is to take all of this and use it as rationalizations for acting the way you usually do, calling what you do what it is not. Remember, words are just labels. Slapping a "Gourmet Chocolate Truffles" label on a can of tomatoes, will not change the content of the can. Hehehe....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Your Challenge!!!

Well, I have been wondering if i should just tell people the difference of what comes to mind being of the mind or inspired from a deeper intuitive place you should pay more attention to and trust... It seems that we all want to "know" things and want to know them NOW! This can be attributed to the way we live, the character of our society. There's a solution for everything and most things lay claim to making a difference NOW.

Go to the hardware store and you will see all the stuff you can buy to clean fast, to fix something fast, to make something as easy as 1-2-3.... The commercials on TV promote products that will help you now, make this easy, or that easier, get better results faster! These are words we hear in our heads like mantras.

The truth is - things in life that are worth it take time. How long does it take the Earth to produce a diamond? How long does it take an artist to create a musical piece, a painting, a poem? How long does it take a baby to be born and then to be an adult?

We seem to want magic. Instant results, rather than be involved in a process, much less being mindful in the process. So we look for teachers, for postures, for books....something that would give us all the answers so we can just hear it, see it, read it and not have to bother discovering it. It takes too long to discover something!!!

Unfortunately, even though it works to listen to some good advise and not have to rediscover ALL things on your own, it is also much more valuable to discover all things related to your self on your own. No one has access to your heart the way you do. No one has access to your mind the way you do. Therefore, for things of this nature, you have to find the answers pertaining to your self, by your self, or else it won't be nearly as valuable.

Think of the addict who's been told by friends and family "You are an addict" and who says "Whatever! I know what i am doing. Leave me alone." For there to be an opportunity for transformation, one must know what needs to be known from within.

That's not to say that reading something will not have an effect on you. If you are in the right place, reading something that means something to you from within will definitely cause a deep impression. But in this case, the only thing that's written and needs to be written is "Listen for the difference between thoughts that come as a result of your egoic mind constructing things and your intuitive self suggesting things." This is all that's necessary for you to begin exploring the content of your own inner space.

I can tell you how i know the difference, and how it feels to me and what my challenges are and, perhaps I will some day. I can also tell you the theory. But theory, when it comes to matters of the Self is not as useful as practice.

So, I challenge you to practice. Practice being present and mindful of the content of your mind. Use the breath to quiet your self when necessary, or a mantra, or your yoga postures, or whatever you are used to doing. (I assume that people reading know the basics of meditation, if not, i will gladly present those) Then just listen. Listen to what comes and how it feels and where it goes without making more thoughts out of the ones that already arise naturally. Just listen, pay attention to the way things make you feel. Be honest, objective, open and without any expectations for a particular outcome. Just be there. Then also try to be just like that during the day as you are involved in your work, conversations, shopping, cleaning, walking the dog, whatever you are doing - watch your self do it and watch what happens within you while you are doing it. If you are willing and if you are diligently practicing, you are bound to find out where things come from...even why the do so!!!

Practice is the mother of all skill.....It takes practice and this practice over time evolves into a skill. Mindfulness is a skill. Trusting your intuition is a skill. Skills cannot be imparted on a person, they can only be gained by practice. Remember the first time you tried to ride a bicycle? If you read the theory of what makes bike riding successful and how it feels, do you think you could have just got on the bike and rode like a pro?

Furthermore, a skill can become your permanent trait rather than simply a passing state. Imagine if mindfulness was your permanent trait! What would your life be like then?

Good luck & report back when you have some ideas and experiences :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Part 2 - Past, Present & Future all happening Now

OK, I was suppose to write the rest of it "tomorrow" and it's now been a week, or so.... my bad. But as it often happens with these things, when i get a bright idea it's like fireworks - goes up, makes a big bang and then fades away, and I can't possibly describe it in detail. So, when "tomorrow" came i was thinking to myself..."what was that?"

Let's see if i can recapture and relate the fireworks....

Last thing that happened was that we watched "Mr. Present" and "Mr. Responsible" about to battle out the contradiction between being present in the moment and paying the bills, raising kids, planning for the future.

What contradiction? There's no contradiction!!!

At least - it doesn't have to be one. I will explain.

It is only an apparent contradiction. It appears that if you are present in the moment, you shouldn't/couldn't be planning for the future because then you are in the future and not in the present moment. Well, almost.

If planning comes, than planning is in the moment. You see. The planning happens in the Now. There's nothing wrong with that. You are observing planning and just planning. The problem arise when you mentally transport your self to the future and start worrying about the "what if" this and "what if" that, or building sand castles you hope to live in.

When expectations arise and you become attached to them - that's when you are really in trouble. There's nothing wrong with expecting that your children will love you when they grow up and be outstanding citizens making you proud. But, if you get too attached to the idea as if there is no other possibility, you may set your self up for disappointment. If you don't believe me, just ask my mother. She though that her daughter's love and care was a given and blood relationship is all that was necessary for that condition to be fulfilled. She still can't figure out why her daughter is not acting as expected.... well, i wasn't there for the last 20 years to even know what is expected and she wasn't there for the time before to lay the foundations for it either. On the other hand, my brother turned out to be a drug addict (in recovery now for many years). I am sure that's not what she was envisioning for the future when she first decided to get hitched to my father. Not even when she found herself a widower at 32.  She was going for a nice house, love, security....or whatever she was doing for. I suppose she's the only one that can answer that.

Whether it is in relationship to a job, a loved one, a vacation plan... whenever you get your self too transported into the future and start tasting the expected outcomes you are fantasizing about, be ware - it may or may not happen and often when it happens it isn't nearly as spectacular, pleasant, or even scary, uncomfortable and horrible as you may have expected. Meanwhile, since you have transported your self in the future you are missing out on important arisings in the present moment around you that constitute the process of "living and being." To plan is fine. Even some expecting is in "if you touch a hot stove, you are likely to get burned." (this one is called learning) Or, as in "rain is expected - i better pack the umbrella." (This one is call, preparation.) Or as in "If i save some money today, some day i may be more comfortable and won't have to work as much." (This one is called Being Self Reliant.) Or, "if i pay my mortgage on time and regularly, the bank won't take the house away." (This one is called paying the bills) That's not to say that mother nature won't take your house away - don't get attached to the house. It's just a place where you are living now. Or that you may or may not live to enjoy your savings, or your saving may or may not be worth anything later - time will tell, just don't get attached to your ideas on how you are going to be spending your savings.

As it is said in the Gita - Action is better than inaction, but be not attached to the fruits of your actions. Krishna advises Arjuna that one should act from a place of non-attachment only because one is simply participating in the cosmic game fulfilling his/her individual purpose for the benefit of the whole. If one acts from a place of expectations and self benefit - those would be considered "karma producing" actions. Wise are those who are the same in success and failure, in pleasure and in pain. As they are rooted in the true self they are not diluted and affected by circumstances.

That's great wisdom, but one only feels it when one is fully present in the moment. Intuiting, acting as the moment requires. If the moment requires planning, than plan. If the moment requires listening to your kid's story for the 10th time, than do it like you've never heard it before. If the moment requires, dropping everything you are doing and helping a neighbor, than do it. Whatever the moment reacquires, just do it. But you only know what that is if you are present in the moment as the moment.

Therefore there is no contradiction. 

Warning: The ego is clever and tricky. How do you know that what you are feeling as necessary action comes from the moment itself as intuited by your authentic self , rather than a rationalization from the egoic self looking for a particular outcome, or acting out of fear, insecurity, hope, or something else? Hehehe.

May be next time....


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Past, present or future all happening now...

Well, i may actually irritate people with this post, but those of you reading, please keep an open mind. An open mind is a mind which hears and considers different points of view without judging them as wrong ONLY because they may be different.

Before i begin, I ask that you forget all that you know from reading and studying about what it means to be "present in the moment." Just forget about it. I am going to say some things you may already know but humor me and act surprised. Then hear the things you may have not read, or heard about and lets see what happens for you. As for me, I am just writing this as it comes, so i am just as curios as you are about what comes next.

Here's something that seems logical and true to a degree: The past is history, the future hasn't arrived, so all you've got is the present moment (whether you like this present moment, or not).

Now consider - the past is your karmic record, you experiences, learning, growing, pleasant, unpleasant, important, or unimportant....that past has shaped this body, mind, beliefs and quests as you have it at this moment.

Now consider - all your hopes, dreams, anticipations, preparations and planning for the future has shaped your choices for action and direction...which are now actions of the past, although some are still in the future, but also bound to become the past some day.

Finally, you can say that NOW you are where you are as you are as a manifestation of your past and your future together at this moment. The past and the future collapse into This Now.

Eckhart Tolle said (paraphrasing here) that when you think of the past the memory arises in the Now. When you think of the future, the idea of it arises in the Now. By the time you get to executing the idea you will be doing so in the Now. I am only adding that Now you are what you are as a result of your past experiences many of which are influenced by your future desires, goals and inspirations based on which you were taking actions, therefore gaining experiences which are now part of your past. Or you can turn it around and say that your past experiences have shaped the kind of future you want to envision which then has shaped the kind of actions you want to take or not take, still resulting in more experiences which are now the past, leaving you who you are at this moment. Therefore, the nature of who you are and how you are, who you are going to be and how you are going to be is always manifest in the Now.

Now consider what does it mean to be present in the moment.....well, i guess you just can't resist saying to your self the things you've read, heard and tried to practice over time - "being present in the moment is knowing what is arising within and on the outside of you and paying attention to it without judgment." Great. Lets break it down a bit more - "paying attention to physical sensations, the breath, the heartbeat." I must have said this a million times in the yoga classes i teach. Definitely, more than once per class. Some of you are probably hearing my voice in your head "are you paying attention to your breath?" I know it because you've told me.

What else..."watching the thoughts, emotions and your reactions to them.....being in honesty with what is actually occurring....witnessing without judgment....and if you come from the Zen tradition - just seeing, just feeling, just listening...."

Keep going... don't you feel the uneasiness of a contradiction pushing in, if i am suppose to be in the present moment, who's suppose to plan for the kids schooling, my mother funeral, for graduation, for my next meal, for my vacation, for my wedding, for ..... If i don't do any planning, am I being irresponsible for my own life? Won't i end up like the crazy neighbor on the block taking care of 20 cats scattered, making no sense to anyone babbling about energy, vibrations, constellations, using too much patchouli oil and maybe with a foreclosure sign in front of the house?

To let go of the past seems not only wise and convenient but also much more easy than to surrender to...what...? Hmmm.

If this contradiction has never "baked your noodle", as the Oracle would say in the Matrix, you are really not paying attention. And if it has, than what did you do with this line of questioning? Ignored it? Pushed it back to where it came from - your suspicious mind....or perhaps your intuitive mind...or perhaps your tired mind...your not "true self" mind...egoic mind...or your "true self" mind...

I can just hear the non-dualist out there chiming in "Who's asking?" .... well, i guess the one that needs to pay the bills and get up for work....unless you think you can replay to your boss who tells you "Mr. Anderson, if you want to work here, you will have to show up on time. Can you make this commitment?" - with "Who's asking?" complimenting the question with an enlightened look on your face. If it works - then try it on your IRS 1040 too. After you put your name, SS# and address, where you income goes, you can write "Who's asking?" but do state all of your expenses. A tax deduction is a tax deduction and a good thing! apparent contradiction. In the right corner with red sorts we have "Mr. Present." In the left corner, with blue shorts we have "Mr. Responsible." ....what happened to peace, love and happiness.

While the two battle it out, i am off to get something to drink, enjoy the sun and give my chickens a squeeze. Stay tuned for the rest of this pondering tomorrow.... For now just sit back, relax and let it cook for a while.