Sunday, December 25, 2011

How busy is the Universe?

It’s almost the end of the year and I can’t help but notice that I am saying, again, “This was the most awesome year ever!” Exactly what I said last year. And the year before. Probably because that’s how I see things, not because the year has anything to do with it and not because the actual circumstances support the notion. Yet, I am convinced that this was indeed the best year ever and I can point to a few things that would constitute “proof” in my mind. But that’s just in my mind. That’s also because I get happy just because, so one may say; low expectations go a long way.

One thing I try NOT to say anymore, though I did used to say before, is that the Universe had something to do with how things are. You know the usual expressions: “The Universe is telling me something,” “The Universe is opening doors and helping me along the way,” “The Universe is teaching me a lesson,” “The Universe is responding to me.” Basically, it appears that folks blame everything from good to bad, to strange and unexplainable on the Universe. This means, the Universe is really busy these days!

It actually is, but not in this way. In its own way the Universe is indeed super busy.  Stars come and go. Celestial bodies are moving with astronomical speeds. Galaxies are still forming. Comets are buzzing through space.  The Universe is expanding, than not, than expanding again….you name it. It’s happening in very real terms.

What is not happening is “Personal Catering by the Universe.” I expect folks would get a little confused with all the enlightened teachings out there that they hold dear – from dream boards and the Law of Attraction to the Secret, to all sorts of New Age excitement. What’s even more interesting is that somehow yoga got mixed up with wishful thinking and ended up being “feel good” escapist pursuit. So, now you can hardly go to a yoga class without some enthusiastic yoga teacher, telling you to release your worries to the Universe, or trust the Universe to guide you, or pay attention to what the Universe is telling you….

In all my years of studying yoga I have never encountered the notion that the Universe is my personal goodies delivery system. The Universe can actually be a scary place, with all the gods, goddesses and their relations, according to Hinduism. On the other hand, the Universe appears to be, just like all visible reality, a temporary phenomenon – every time Brahma goes to bed, a new Universe is being destroyed and another one is created in the morning after he wakes up. It’s a good thing a day & night in the life of Brahma is 8.64 billion years, which happens to be more than the age of Earth or the Sun, and about ½ of the age of the Universe according to astronomy. Therefore, our Universe is now longer than a day & night in the life of Brahma, so thank God Hindus were wrong in their calculations, because we should have been dead about 5 billion years ago (The current age of the Universe, as we know it is estimated at 13.75 bill years)
What they did get right is how dynamic and temporary the Universe is.

Yet, I haven’t read anything about the Universe working for me out there.  So, I am guessing the Universe is just not the kind of thing that works for anyone. Not even for Brahma, since Brahma seems to just make it up as he goes along and then leaves it to Vishnu to maintain it until it’s time to start over, in which case Shiva steps in and torches the whole thing. I guess, this shows you how seriously they take it.

So, why  do we feel like when we are doing things “right” we are supported, doors are opening, things are happening, and we end up in the “right” place?…Likewise, if we are finding difficulty, struggling, encountering obstacles, suffering, we feel like someone is trying to tell us something, teach us a lesson, show us where our mistakes are. Why is it that your dream board seems to work (sometimes)? Why does it have to be a “someone,” an “intelligent entity,” of some sort, that opens or closes those doors?

Could it be because we selectively choose what to focus on, have an insatiable need for meaning, hate to be alone, are desperate for approval… Is it all just wiring in the brain that colors things this way or that way, tricking you into experiencing a real connection where one does not exist, drives you out of unexplainable mixture of brain chemicals and hormones and basically has you enacting your species’ survival mechanisms?
No one likes thinking we are just flesh, bone and brain chemicals on a planet in the middle of nowhere, with no purpose and no meaning.  We must be more important than that! Aren’t we?

People prefer alternatives such as the existence of God, a reason for being, and a place to go after this is over. (Then they fight over which version of this is the better one. For thousands of years.)

Meaning, purpose, life…those are the big questions that we all entertain sometimes, or in my case, all of the time. The Universe seems to be how people fold everything into one word, a notion that encompasses all our hopes, dreams, needs and faith. The Universe is just like God, but you talk about God in church and you talk about the Universe in a yoga class and among your non-religious/spiritual friends while looking down on the folks that go to church. So, now we have another layer of discrimination: God vs The Universe. Theoretically God created the Universe, so why not just say God. On the other hand if you don’t believe in God, why attribute to the Universe the characteristics of God?

My biggest question is why do you always look outside of yourself for all the answers? Could it be that you are God, the Universe and everything else, and that’s why yoga scriptures always seem to find a way to point your attention back at your own being? Could it be that because you are all that, you are the inspiration, the motivation and the power for creating reality and that’s why your dream board works, or doors open, and when they don’t it is because you are not focused and acting out of that selfness? Could it be that mystics through the centuries and from all sorts of spiritual roots have been telling you all you have ever needed to know – You are IT, and you have not been paying attention?

“Love the questions.” said Rilke, and I think that’s all anyone should do. Love the questions as they lead you ever further, ever deeper and show you where you are not exactly jiving.   
What is this (reality)?
Who am I?
What should I be doing with “this one wild and precious life?”
Sometimes the answers come. Sometimes they don’t. Either way you are a changed person.  Next time you see me, don’t tell me what the Universe has been doing for you. Tell me what you have been doing.
Happy New Year. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The winds of change...

Is it winter, or is it summer? It’s hard to say by just looking outside. The nights are long but the days are sunny and warm. And then, there’s the wind…. Rattling windows, blowing leafs and whistling through windows.

That’s generally how I feel just before something interesting is about to happen. First I get a little confused and discontent as to what am I really doing, why and how long have I been doing it and am going to be doing it. Then I find my meditations getting longer and my mind shuts out the world of activity and goes into contemplation mode which kind of feels like dreaming, thinking, sleeping and meditating all at the same time. Then I start smelling the winds of change and shortly after I get blown away in some amazing direction and I am off to a new adventure!

It’s easy for me. I am sort of a romantic adventurer with passion for learning and discovering, so when I hear that wind hauling, I am off, full sail and a smile on my face. I don’t even mind the high seas or the occasional thunder storm that inevitably appear. I believe that every good adventure is worth all of its thunder storms and even the occasional getting lost. It’s who I emerge at the end that makes all the difference.
Yet, not everyone welcomes the winds of change with equal enthusiasm. Folks batten down the hatches. Close the blinds and turn on the TV louder so they don’t have to hear the whispers through the window cracks of consciousness.

There’s something comforting in knowing where you are, what you are doing and thinking that you have control over every aspect of your life. The need for certainty rules all other needs. So, we seek shelter, food, friendships, things that make us feel stable on our two feet and secure in the future.

Krishnamurti finds this need for perpetuity at the root of all human drama and struggle because, as he said, the self that seeks it is the ego and the ego is nothing but a story, told and retold, over and over again. You can’t make a story “feel” happy. It’s a story. And it is a story that does not exist outside of your own head.
As Wei Wu Wei put it:

Why are you so unhappy?
Because 99.9% of everything you think,
And everything you do,
Is for your self,
And there isn’t one.

So, what story are you listening to when you are all alone in your own head? Do you like it? My point is that if you are going to be telling yourself stories, you should at least pick one that you like. It beats the alternative. However, be aware that it is still a story. Swami Chetanananda ones told me “The difference is that I can hear my own bullshit.” And that made all the difference for me at the time.

How amazing that we can invest so much energy and effort, sacrifice so much for a story!

What would it be like if you choose to be storyless? I can imagine something like this…
Hi, what’s your name?
Everyone calls me Valentina, or Val, or Tina…

Or something like this…

Who are you?
Which “you” are you talking to?

Or like this….

So, tell me something about yourself?

So, you kind of need a story if you are going to enjoy a conversation here and there. Just as long as you don’t put all your chips on it and try to defend it, perpetuate it and uphold as if it is true, and at any cost. Let the story change with the times and the requirements of your creativity. Feel comfortable with that change and enjoy the results.

The stronger the identification with your story, the more painful the inevitable transformations. You can’t stop the winds of change. You can shut yourself in for periods of time and pretend you don’t hear what’s coming, but you can’t avoid it forever. While you are trying to avoid it, you are suffering, struggling and unhappy. Eventually, the storm that’s brewing out there smashes your shelter to pieces and you have no choice but to stand out there, your illusions blown to pieces in all directions, and kneel on the grown with gratitude that you are still alive.

I know. I’ve been there.

Now, I hear the winds of change, step outside of the shelter of my story and let them carry me away to where I should be.

Ah…so much easier. So much more fun. So much more to learn. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Looking at the leafs of the maple trees in autumn….

When you look back at your life, what do you see? Do you see the crossroads? Do you see the missed turns, the lucky breaks, the shady spots and the faces of those that have made an impact? Do you see the moments of “aha,” the moments of “oh, shit,” the moments of “I don’t have a clue,” the moments of “OMG,” pure joy, pure love, pure fear, pure being? Can you lay your head down today and say that you have lived an authentic life? One that at every step of the way represented you at that very step of the way, 100%...If not, what are you waiting for? When do you start living your trueness? When do you start strutting your goodness around for everyone to see?

Each leaf that falls to the ground does so in its full glory of color, splendor and complete fulfillment. It goes out in a blaze of orange, red, yellow glory like no other leaf before it and falls gently to the earth, resting peacefully, contently, delicately under its tree. Soon the branches will be necked and quiet in the cold of winter with the potential for a renewal deep in the roots, waiting for the sun to welcome it back in the spring. Every tree loses its crown without anxiety. Every tree grows beautifully a new set of leafs in the spring. Every leaf is its own creation. Every creation is completely unique. Every uniqueness transforms in the fall and lets go of its security on the tree branch to meet the earth in an elegant fall. It deposits it’s beingness to become food for the roots out of which it was created, giving back, without anguish, that which it had received in order to come to existence.

Each person lives a unique life, but each person holds on to memories, holds on to security, to safety and fears to let go. Fears a fall.

Some day we all have to fall. Sometimes we fall more than ones in a life time. Ultimately, the human life ends less gloriously and less colorfully than the life of a single maple leaf. When that moment comes and you look back all you will see is not a labyrinth of choices and possibilities but a single path you’ve walked, curving and twisting. Will you die with a smile saying – this life was an awesome experience? Will you get there full?  Full as in there isn’t anything more that can be added to become any happier, any fuller, any better. That kind of full. The yogic word is “Purna.”

To get there at the moment of your death, you have to live that way every day. Every night you go to bed and recount the steps of your day, you should feel that fullness, contentment that comes from knowing that you did what you are here to do. It has nothing to do with the circumstances of your life. It has nothing to do with the events of your life. It has to do with living from your deepest heart, authentically and mindfully.
You will never have all the answers. You will never be able to see what happens in the future and how your decisions in this moment will ripple out to tomorrow, to others and back at you. You may guess, anticipate, hope but ultimately you have to resolve yourself to not knowing and to being totally comfortable with that. When you are totally comfortable with not knowing than you can allow life to express itself through you and make your decisions based on what is the best course of action NOW.

To know what the best choice is NOW, you have to know yourself intimately. You also, have to be willing to behold the reality of whatever is going on in your life and call it what it is. If you are not willing to accept the way things are, because this is how they are, than you are eliminating the possibility to move forward from right understanding into right action toward the right outcome – whatever this outcome may be, even if it is different than what you are planning for.

If you are mistaking complacency for contentment, then you have a problem. It’s like mistaking numbness for comfort. It’s like mistaking an ice cube for an ice cream. They are both cold, but one actually has flavor and the other does not. Contentment has flavor. It’s the intensity of living – magical, curious, vivacious, joyful, open, rich, full body contact, kind of living.  Complacency is just dullness and flavorlessness.

If you are conflicted about something, it is because there’s friction between the way you live your life and the way you could be living your life. Only living from you trueness produces frictionless living.

Making mistakes is OK. You can always correct them. Waking up and realizing that you are different person is also OK. Now live up to that realization even if you have to re-arrange the furniture in the living room of your life, haul off a few pieces that no longer serve a good purpose. Nothing should be left just sitting there because it was there 10 years ago, or because you simply don’t know what to do with it. Everything in your life should glow with meaning, richness and purpose. Everything in your life should feed your soul with inspiration and creativity. Even when things are “bad.”

Nothing should be left unturned, unchecked, undigested. In the process, if you discover that things are not the way they used to be, that’s fine. It means you are paying attention. Now what do you do? Do you try to make things into what they used to be, knowing that it’s impossible? Do you pretend that they are the way they used to be? Do you make excuses and continue to allow things to be without responding to the call of transformation?

You have a responsibility towards life and towards yourself, to rearrange, change, move away, or whatever you need to do to keep things in alignment with your purpose.

What’s your purpose?….It is the same thing for every human. It is simply to be yourself. You are Life! You have to express potential. You have to express creativity. You have to express you self. 

We start by being a blank slate on which living writes its story in a way of experiences, impressions and learning. We, then, proceed to mistaking this story line for who we are. This leads to continuing along the same lines and building more experiences, memories and solidifying even deeper this identification with the story line.

Being yourself is the easiest and the hardest trip you will ever undertake. Naturally, most people get disoriented among expectations, cultural values, commercials, available options, desires and fears. Disoriented to a point of tuning everything out and going back to what one always does. Most people chose to turn the other way instead of turning in and digging deep, asking questions that may, or may not, lead to answers one wants, or does not want to hear. Getting out of the groove takes work. It’s scary for most people to let go of the tree branch they’ve been hanging on all this time and take the plunge towards transformation. They mistakenly fear “the end of what is” with simply “the end” when in reality “the end of what is” may mean a “transformation into betterness, richness, awesomeness.” Transformation is scary. Transformation is resisted. Transformation may cause conflict with others who are expecting you to be what they think they need, selfishly…. Transformation may mean losing a few things you think you care about, re-defining relationships, boundaries, re-drawing the blue prints, letting go of a few suitcases of stuff you carry around for no particular reason, discovering something about yourself that needs your attention, learning to shine, bravely opening to the unknown… Transformation leads to contentment. Otherwise, there’s just complacency.

As the seasons change, so can we. We all spring into existence in one way, express it, and eventually transform into something different whether we like it or not. If we make this process a mindful, conscious process, than we fertilize this future metamorphosis with the death of the previous. If we are not willing to accept that, then we get stuck. Unhappy. If we are willing to transcend and include all previous experiences, and forms of being, without guilt, conflict or attachment, than we grow and refine our personality, our existence, and fulfill our potential, for that moment and into the next, all the way to the end of a life time as we know it, and for the benefit of all beings…..

Each one of us not only lives to transcend our individual karma, but in the process, delivers karma to all we come in contact with. Now that’s really big. It means that if you are not growing, learning, fulfilling your potential, if you are not being yourself, NOT only are you NOT transcending your own karma, but you are robbing others of the opportunity to transcend theirs by not “delivering” those opportunities to them, the opportunities that become available due to your own transformation. Nothing is an isolated event in a world of interconnectedness. The realizations that you have today, which lead you to take action NOW, produce a reaction of some sort in those around you, which then affords them the opportunity to look within themselves, should they chose to, and can lead them to be the best they can be, and in the process making a difference in the lives of those around them…and so on, and so forth.

Be well. Be full. Be happy. Really happy.
Love & Light. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pretension…and yoga.

Is this possible?
Not only it is, but it is also everywhere. Unfortunately. Such is life. You will have to use your discernment skills to weed out the pretention from the authenticity.

For starters, yoga teachers are not egoless, selfless beings of light, no matter how much they try to work on their peaceful teaching voice, elaborately constructed resume, or how many yoga workshops they attend and how many books on yoga they read. In fact, for many that is part of the pretention. As if somehow, if one lists the number of teacher training they’ve taken, drops a few yoga celebrity names, and lists a few books on yoga this somehow means anything.

The funny thing about yoga is that it is something that one has to eventually embody. Teacher training in this day and age is pretty much a meaningless money making machine for yoga studios, as proved by the poor quality of yoga instruction around the country. Any warm body with $3500 in their pocket and a few weeks to spare can get through a teacher training, complete with a piece of paper serving to testify that this warm body is now a yoga teacher.  Young, inexperienced, well meaning folks, who still don’t know their own minds are in the business of teaching an ancient mystical tradition that requires grueling self investigation, long years of struggle, skillful teachers as guides and selflessness.

This is not to say that everyone attending teacher trainings is a ding-dong with stars in the eyes dreaming about having a “following” and the easy life of an urban yogi, or a yogini, who’s loved by all, makes more money than a doctor and keeps up his, or her yoga figure well into old age to the amazement of everyone. Some people actually are truly interested in learning about yoga. They are interested in delving deep into the philosophy of the ages, the mystery of the practice and the depths of self discovery. Those folks would make great yoga teachers, indeed. Most of them come from at least a few years of their own practice and study, and are truly looking for some guidance so they can grow further.

Questionable quality of teacher trainings, producing teachers of further questionable quality in a world of yoga that has now been officially named an “industry” – that’s where we live.  Multi-billion dollar figures get thrown around as proof of the industriality of this industry. Branding is just as prevalent in yoga as it is in cereal manufacturing. Yoga celebrities have yoga fans. Yoga conferences abound everywhere. Thousands of yoga books get published every year. Yoga studios pop up on every corner. Gyms dedicate space as “yoga rooms.” The word “yoga” gets slapped and mashed into everything one can think of. Yoga for dogs is doga, as if dogs need yoga. Last time I checked they were way more liberated than any human I know. Yoga + Palates = Yogalaties. I have no idea what that’s like since I have never taken a class.

Open any Yoga Journal magazine and you will find out that yoga sells everything from wine, snacks, sneakers, and purses to home decorations, vitamins and supplements, cars, cleaning products and what not. That’s in addition to the usual stuff like yoga mats, props and clothes.  Yoga advertising, yoga foods, yoga clothes, yoga life style, yoga relationships, yoga for children, yoga for black people, or gay people (as if it makes a difference what color you are or who you like to screw), yoga for increasing productivity, yoga for getting in touch with your sexuality, yoga for grieving, yoga dates, yoga phone apps, yoga Wii…that’s in addition to the usual health benefits the practice is well known for. Somehow, yoga is always “for” something, or else people don’t want to do it or talk about it.

Yoga, is just yoga. That’s how simple it is. Yoga is not a verb. Yoga is a noun. People forgot, mainly because there’s no one to teach them that. We, in the West, “do” yoga. Yogis of old, attain yoga. That makes all the difference. Postures are for posers…a bumper sticker said. It’s funny because it’s true.

Take the famous second line of the Yoga Sutras: Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah, which roughly means, “union (integration of the outermost layer all the way to the innermost self) is a state of control, restriction, cessation of the chitta (the vehicle of observation, attention with its three functions of cognition, volition and motion)” Or simply: yoga is a state of mind. Even more simply, yoga is a state. A state is a noun not a verb. That’s why yoga used to be attained and attainable and now yoga is doable and therefore unattainable. By definition you need to stop doing in order to attain. Doing is a mental predisposition that prevents being and for as long as you are doing you aren’t being.

I can already hear people ready to argue because how are you supposed to do yoga postures without doing. Well, that’s when you know you’ve attained yoga – the yoga postures get done while you are being.  So does everything else in life – it gets done while I am being.  That’s yoga.

Not very many yoga teachers can say that they know the feeling of that. So, how are they supposed to teach you to get there….

Actually, I’d be happy if most of the yoga teachers out there at least acquire some anatomical knowledge. Just that would be nice. The rest of the stuff one can work on by reading, investigating, meditating, etc. Anatomy is easily learned. Yoga teachers should at least know the names of a few most commonly used muscles and how they interact with each other, so that at the bare minimum they are not hurting people. When I look at the list of stuff yoga teachers say and make people do, commonly, and how harmful those things are, I cringe! It’s definitely one of the reasons why people going to yoga with great expectations for fixing their bodily problems end up with more of them at the end. It’s another pretention – pretending to know what you are talking about in front of a group of people who hope that you do.

Anyhow…I am just saying that if you are going to be involved in the process of yoga, you should know a few things. 1 – Why you are doing it. 2 – There is different quality of teachers out there and you should seek the best because it could be detrimental to your well- being.  After all you are paying for the service. Demand quality.  3 – Don’t chose a yoga teacher based on their entertainment skills alone, or the brand of clothing they wear, or the brand of yoga they teach.  Look for experience, depth of knowledge and substance. Look for someone who actually lives what they preach, as much as possible. No one’s perfect but some people are really off the mark and off the wagon all together. 4 – Don’t relay on the Universe to find you a yoga teacher. The Universe is too busy being a Universe and you should learn to rely on your own Self….that’s what yoga is ultimately about.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What is Yoga….realy?

If you ask this question in a yoga class, you are guaranteed to hear the teacher even a few of the eager yoga students chime right back at you the same answer you will read in every book written about yoga, which is also likely to have a chapter called “What is Yoga,” that answer being “Yoga means yoking. Yoking your individual self with the Devine Self.” 

“Really?” say you rolling your eyeballs into your head. “I am just here ‘cause my doctor told me it’s good for my back.” Or “I am just here to work out.” Or “I am just here to be away from the kids and the significant other.” Or “I am just here because…..” Perfect! Be that way and be proud of it. Honesty is the first step towards even getting a chance to grow. So, good for you for being honest. 

I love this practice and for me it is a lifelong exploration of the mystery of living, being human and growing. But don’t fool yourself – going to a yoga class, just any yoga class, won’t get you any closer to your True Self or Devine Self, any more than buying that new style of Lululemon pants, or the latest model of Yoga Toes.  

Yes, going to a yoga class may increase your chances of occurring to you to connect to your body and be curious about your personal process, but there are no guarantees. Why so, if this ancient practice promises to transform the mind, body and spirit into enlightenment and eternal bliss….? Why so? 

Folks, you are paying $5 - $15 per class and sometimes you are taking the classes for free. What do you think the price of enlightenment really is? 

For starters, the teacher teaching you is likely to have just rolled out of cookie cutter yoga school, which any one can attend without any apparently important pre-qualifications, and anyone can graduate from without anyone as much as suggesting a way of testing the worthiness of this new fledgling of a teacher to spread the goodness around. The time is long gone when for one to learn the meaning and practice of yoga, one had to chop wood and carry water for the guru and collect every crumb of wisdom that said guru may choose to drop, thus toiling and learning one valuable lesson at the time through living, serving and stewing in his/her own juices for considerable amount of years before finally being kicked out to meet the world. Besides, most yogis of old, didn’t really care to meet the word. If the world wanted to meet them, a long journey up to a cave somewhere may be required. Those guys were outcasts on the fringes of society, controversial in their practices and experimentation and most definitely underappreciated by the status quo. 

Not only is the average yoga teacher today incapable of pouring any amount of meaningful insights or wisdom into you, for they lack it themselves, but often they will annoy you with the things they throw at you while teaching you the physical postures, standing above your downward dogs like great eagles who are sweetly repeating things out of books you too have already read, or bubble gum-feel-good advise you too have already heard on TV.  A lot of yoga teachers don’t know the difference between a yogi and a yogini and you will often hear them use yogi universally. Well, folks as a female practitioner, I resent you calling me a yogi. I have the appropriate apparatus to be a yogini and intend to keep it that way. 

Furthermore, there are many aspects of yoga that TOGETHER lead the practitioner on the road of Self discovery. Asanas – or what you do while you are in a yoga class, is just one of the practices of yoga. One and not all. For a moment here, I’d take the Zen approach and tell you that you don’t really need to do anything to become enlightened. Actually, one can never become enlightened because one already is so. That being said, an asana class may indeed be more than one really needs to realize their own enlightenment, but it’s not really likely to happen. If you are anything like all the other humans on Earth, your ego is well settled in and it will take a lot of convincing to, willingly or unwillingly, relinquish its grip on your reality. 

Therefore, even though you don’t have to, you still have to practice something to help yourself along. Asana is not enough. Most people only do asana. Most yoga teachers only do asana if they do anything at all. I am willing to bet that there are yoga students who do asana more often than the teachers who are teaching them… 

Good news is that those asanas, when practice correctly for the level your body needs to be in, have endless benefits for you physically. That’s kind of why they exist in the first place – to purify and to keep the body healthy so that the practitioner can then go around doing more important and subtle work, such as, oh, say, mediation or self inquiry… instead of camping out in front of the doctor’s office or popping pills or dealing with ailments of all sorts.  They are also suppose to be the training wheels on your mindfulness bicycle so that when you do end up trying some of the other stuff, and when you do leave the yoga room, you have at least a glimpse of the way you habitually are, what your mind map may be and therefore, they lay one more brick in the foundation from which you are to grow, if you so choose. 

Bad news is that those asanas are an awesome opportunity to show off and thus they are a great tool to increase the ego’s bubble beyond bursting proportions.  Of course, you wouldn’t know the difference either way, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Most teachers will encourage you to try new things even though you hardly have a clue about the old things, show you harder postures as if postures are something to be had and accomplished, and as if postures mean anything at all. So, as a good student, you will want to please your teachers and show your fellow practitioners how much better you can do things and how much better you generally are. There’s nothing more fun than walking out of your yoga class with your head up high telling yourself “piece of cake” and it’s even better when the teacher says to you “You have a beautiful practice,” or another fellow student stops you and beams at you their admiration for your postures. Right? Who do you think that is, talking to you at those moments??? 

So, let’s get a few things straight. 

Asanas, or as you know it “a yoga class” is like car maintenance. If you want the car to drive you around to all your important appointments, you need to rotate and change the tires, change the oil, put in gas, check on the transmission fluid and so on. Asanas are body maintenance. If you don’t move your parts, they freeze. If you don’t fuel the body with circulation and oxygen it poops out. If you carry too much weight, your shacks give out. If you don’t pay attention to the way you drive it, the alignment goes out and all sorts of things start creaking and squeaking. If you drive it all the time, non-stop without rest, it overheats and wears out its parts. Bottom line – body needs maintenance. Asanas are great for that. Asana practice is not a glorified experience or meaningful endeavor. Of course anything is meaningful if you learn to pay attention, and asanas are a great way to learn to pay attention. To pay attention you don’t have to do cart wheels. Just sitting there is hard enough. If you don’t believe me, take up mediation. So, asanas have no meaning it terms of “who “ you are or “what kind of person” you are, or “where you are going” from here, or “what are you going to become.” They are meaningful because if you choose to pay attention to how you are, what drives you and what you are doing, you can learn about yourself. 

Yoga is more than asana practice but asana practice may be all you want to be involved in at this stage of your life, so being honest about it is admirable. So, don’t let people look at you like you are a second grade yoga citizen just because you don’t wear mala beads on your neck, don’t smell like incense, don’t know what “Namaste” means, or you don’t belive the Universe is like UPS delivering whatever you need at your door when you need it. Someday, you may be interested in finding out more and then it will be a good thing to pick up a few books, seek out teachers who live the practice not just talk the practice for an hour during your class, go on a retreat, experiment with things at home… the opportunities arise as you become ready for them, or at least it seems so because you are able to spot things out that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. 

Finally, don’t make your yoga teachers your spiritual guides. Let’s face it, how old is the average yoga teacher you’ve met lately? That’s right. Don’t you remember knowing everything when you were in your 20’s too…? It takes years and years of practice for a yoga practitioner to earn the right to share any kind of meaningful growth advice. And I mean “grow” advice; I don’t dare say “spiritual” advice. It takes countless hours of study to even scratch the surface of yoga spirituality. With more than 10 years under my belt of teaching and thousands of hours of studying history and philosophy I am still hesitant to open my mouth and make a claim that I know what I am talking about. All I know is that there is a vast body of information which spans thousands of years in time and it is so diverse that it is often contradictory and one cannot fully appreciate it unless one puts it in the context in which it was created. Therefore, I am pretty sure that the average yoga teacher in her 20 or 30 is not likely to be of any spiritual assistance to you.  That’s not to say that age matters but time on Earth spend does matter in a sense that, if you were just born yesterday, you are unlikely to have already finished reading the Vedas, and you are unlikely to have asked any of the Big questions about Life, the Universe and Everything Else between your feedings. 

So, all this being said – don’t go to yoga classes thinking you are getting anything more than what you are getting. Enlightenment ultimately comes at the price of sacrificing your own habits and hang ups and letting go of any notions about enlightenment. Ultimately, enlightenment is not a set point in time, which once reached is the end of your journey. It’s actually where things start getting hard. It’s the beginning and an on-going process that demands your attention and your refinement because like it says in the Bible among many other places: For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” and that folks, is the real challenge. The rest is easy as pie! 

So, what is Yoga?? Well, what’s it to you? Don’t accept the canned answers you hear every day. Find out on your own. Good luck.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Traveling and learning....

I have just arrived in Bulgaria. My brother picks me up from the airport and we are making the "the short" cut trip to my mother's apartment weaving through the back streets, avoiding traffic lights and traffic all together. As always it takes a while for the ugliness to set in. I make a comment: "Why can't people in these giant, communist apartment complexes get a piggy bank going, an HOA, and repaint the outside of these buildings?" I mean, rust is streaking down the balconies, the original colors long ago fainted and satellite dishes hanging in disarray do not make a pretty site, by any stretch of the imagination. Add to that the hanging laundry, waiving it's whites and colors to the world and the occasional "home improvement" project which consist of folks enclosing their balconies and making them as part of the interior by way of glass or other not previously agreed upon materials and you can see how each building resembles a gypsy patchwork of tasteless functionality and dubious safety. "They don't care" he said.

A few hours later, the sun set but the summer night still pleasnatly warm, we are seatted in an old gazibo in the Tsar's summer garden. It's now the property of Tabo&Co and the place is alive with drinking and smoking. The menu sports over a hunderd alcoholic bevarges but i find a fresh squeezed lemonade with mint in it for the price of $3. Yes, this is indeed the Tsar's summer garden on the back side of the Tsar's palace in the heart of Sofia. Once the communists claimed the place and kept it off limits but now it appears everything is within limits.

Dressed up dolls walk around in their high heals with properly applied make up and seemingly an intention to outdo the next one. Guys stooping over tables with cigarettes between the fingers and the usual "I am too cool" scrunched up eye brows, seem to be all involved in very serious, loud conversations. Hardly any laughter, which makes my giggling all the more abvous and a few heads turn around to check out who can possibly be so happy!

My brother's child hood friends arrive and they both proceed to explain to me how hard things are and how if they just had more money, all their troubles would melt away. One would take over a defaulted restaurant and make a bank. Theother is deffinitelly sure that the root of his problems is that he's not making enough money, which amazes me because by his own admission he makes above the average pay check and lives rent-free with is mother at the age of 30. What also amazes me is that on the way to this fine establishment we have passed by many big and small coffee shops, restaurants and night clubs with flashy facades and judging by the expensive BMW, Audis and the likes of cars parked on the outside of these places, everyone's a BMW, or the like, driver with everyone has too much money and too much time to spare packing these places at 11 pm on a Thursday night. Yet, you do have to drive through a lot of pot holes to get there. "They don't care" he chimes.

What's that got to do with yoga...all of it. First of all, yoga, as a way of life, makes a person care. Ghandi cared so much he caused a revolution. Modern day yogi and yoginies are involved in variety of causes from helping children, to urban development, to support for homeless and raising money for varieties of causes. Practicing yoga, even if you don't devote your time studing the philosophy of it, opens you body and your heart to a sense of connectedness from which comes care and genuine compassion and concern for other fellow humans, nature, the environment, everything.  Bulgaria, and the whole world for that matter, needs yoga. I am the only one laughing all evening while a few more of my brother's friends pour out of the dark say "hi" to me.

"What do you think?" one of them askes me. I say "I am hearing a lot of 'no', 'cannot,' 'it's impossible,' 'no way' around here" - I say."I am more used to 'why not,' 'lets give it a try,' 'everything is possible' and 'what the hack, if it doesn't work, do something else' where i come from."

First of all, that's just how most American's are - optimistic, oportunistic, adventerous bunch, dispite alot of things. But second of all, in my little yoga comminity, i see enthusiasm and trust that things will work out and life is more fun than trouble over all. You don't have to do yoga to be that way, but yoga definitelly helps you gain a perspective, a greatitude for everything you are, everything you have and everything you can be. Which, overall is a better place than being in the Tsar's summer garden on a Thursday night in Sofia.

"The glass is either half full or half empty" i tell my brother's friends. "What do you mean?" they say. I go into my gratitude lecture with enthusiasm and more laughing, to which more heads get turned as my second lemonade arrives and i just about give the waitress a hug and tell her how wonderful this fresh squeezed lamon, suger and crushed mint tastes. She likes my outburst but is clearly confused as to what to do with it. People are sure guarded around here. I guess i used to be too. So, i count my blessings and with gratitude in my heart for my karma, which i am fully aware of, is the product of my choices and the ability to unpack the potential given to me, i pay for the drinks and leave the place laughing on the way to the car as my brother endearingly makes fun of my made up Bulgarian/English words.

"I love when you visit" he said. "It's like the sun shines all the time you are here." "It's always shining", i say," you just have to change your sunglasses and be willing to bask in it's glory without judgment, nacked, open to whatever comes and greatful for the way things turn out, even if they don't turn out the way you think they should." After all, who are we to know how things should turn out. It's enough to know that we are all God's creatures and when it says in the Old book that we are created in God's image, it does not mean, we all have long beard and sit on a cloud. It means that we are all creators. That's power. That's responsibility. That's inevitibality and that's the beauty of life!

Yoga is skill in action, according to the yogic teachings. Yoga is the yoking of your individual self, with the Supreme Self and in that way, yoga is the yoking of you with Life without and ALL of it's manifestations. So, enjoy. Tat Tsvam Asi - You Are That.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This being human….

Life goes on, weather you are a hero or a cowered…I read this somewhere. It stuck. It means that life is not personal. It means that regardless of what I want, like, deny, become, live through, etc, I am really just there for the ride. Sometimes the ride may make you nauseous – too many twist and turns on the road.   Sometimes it makes you exhilarated, looking at the scenery ahead and around. Sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it’s so bright you have to put your shades on. Either way, the road you are traveling on, doesn’t much care you are on it. You care, though. You think you chose you destination, you find your road and you are going places. You think…. 

You think, therefore you constantly qualify, analyze and file your experiences in the usual categories – like, dislike, want, do not want, good, bad, beneficial or a waste of time… 

You think, therefore you can’t see that life has nothing to do with you. 

You think that you are you. You think that there’s a “you” out there that makes it all happen. This you visualizes getting what it wants, suffers when it doesn’t get it. Gets in trouble. Gets out of trouble.  Goes on a diet. Goes off the wagon. Goes on another trip. 

Constantly trapped by what the yogi’s call “The 5 afflictions of the Mind” this “you” suffers.
1 Affliction: Ignorance. Yes, ignorance as in not knowing the facts, the way of things, what to do, etc. More importantly, ignorance of who you really are. Therefore, Know Thy Self. That’s different than knowing what you want, what you need, what you like and dislike, what you think you deserve. That’s helpful for sure, but that’s just scratching the surface of the illusion. 

Know the nature of beingness that is life flowing through this manifestation you call “yourself.”  That’s enlightenment. Everything else is circumstantial. Play chips on the board of life you think of as real money. 

2 Affliction: The I-maker. That’s the “you” you think of when you think of “yourself” conventionally. That’s the personality which evolves because it’s necessary to navigate through the world of phenomena, because you don’t Know Thy Self and because you need it while you are embodied. That’s also the collection of personality traits that are responsible for all of your karma, suffering and generally the experience of living a life as an individual. That I-maker tends to take over and make itself the all important experience of who you think you are because it does thenthinking. It thinks in terms of itself as separate and it likes to make itself feel better by thinking of interconnectedness and compassion and wonderful aspirations like enlightenment, wholeness and wellness. It plays games like “growing” and “learning,” “healing” and “achieving” and in the process it inflates itself, if it conceders itself successful, especially when it compares itself to others. That is, if left unchecked. How do you check it? Know Thy Self and you will know what the I-maker is too. 

3 Afflictions: Attraction. That’s all the things the I-maker likes, considers important and generally gravitates towards. Which is all kinds of fun, when you consider all the things people like and want. The more you have of what you want, the more solid that I-maker feels. It erects a castle around itself surrounded by the walls of all of its accomplishments, possessions, labels and titles, all of its future aspirations, all of its wonderful past experiences and stories about itself. The more of what you want you get, the bigger that sense of ME and I. “This is who I am” you say. “This is what I do.” “This is what I want.” The idea being that the more you get of what you want, the happier you will be because the fuller “I” feels! These are what the “I” becomes attached to. Unless, of course, you Know Thy Self.

4 Affliction: Aversion. That’s all the things the I-maker dislikes, considers unimportant and generally gravitates away from. Which is all kinds of fun, when you consider all the things people dislike and do not want. The more you stay away from what you don’t want the more solid the I-maker feels. It builds a castle around itself on top of all of its mistakes, mishaps, judgment of others, all of its denials. Buries it all in the basement and stands on top bigger than all of it. Bigger than its problems. Bigger than its issues. Bigger than its ignorance. It’s “Who I am not.” It’s “What I don’t do.” It’s “What I don’t want.” The idea being is that the less you have of what you don’t want the happier you will be because the fuller the “I” feels.  These are what the “I” becomes disconnected from. Unless, of course, you Know Thy Self.

5 Affliction: The Fear of Death. That’s anything that hints of annihilation of “I” as you know it. The death of a dream, the unachievable goal, the failed relationships, the terminal disease, the rejection from someone else, the disappointments, loss of status, job and friends, the not having enough of (money, house, friends…), the ultimate Death.  This is what the “I” feels anxious about, all of the time. Unless, of course, you Know Thy Self. 

You can call yourself whatever you like – a looser, a life coach, a day dreamer, an accomplished anything, an artist…those are just labels. They are useful in describing something to someone else or to yourself, such as “This person is tall.” Or “I have HIV.” Or “I am the mother of 2 children.” Or “I am an artist, come check out my gallery,” You are not the labels though. If you can’t live without the label, you limit your ability to experience the mystery of life and you make your life be about your labels. 

You can deny anything you don’t like – an addiction, a disease, a friendship, a move to another town, a talent, a psychological trait. It eats you up from the inside, festers there in the basement of your castle.  It makes your life about labels. You are not those labels either. If you can’t live with those labels you limit your ability to experience the mystery of life and you make your life about your labels. 

Life is not about labels. Life is not about you. Life is just life. So, life is not supposed to be fair. Life is not supposed to be easy or fun, or anything at all. Life IS and it is every moment, weather you are sick, or blind, or preoccupied, or alert, or happy or sad. Life does not know of emotion. Humans do and they tend to attribute their own emotions to it. Life lives. Life happens. Your interpretation of it is yours and yours alone, and therefore, your experience is yours and yours alone. When you Know Thy Self, than you ARE. You live. You happen. All of it is absolutely fascinating, however it turns out. You play the game with skill and you use your chips in creative ways, discovering possibilities and manifesting life through your fingertips like it’s nothing. Because it is nothing and in being nothing it’s absolutely everything. It’s the end of “growing,” “achieving” “learning”. It’s the death of “you” and therefore its life in full force in infinity and eternity….and the bills still get paid, the house painted, the kid’s nose wiped off and the divorce wrapped up. You donated to charities, eat ice cream, pet cows, climb mountains, learn French, yell at someone here and there and vote for your favorite politician…chop wood, carry water. Absolutely delightful. Then the lights go out. Or so it seems. Life still lives. So do you. Again. Or so it seems. 

At  your me if you want to know how things are :)) 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Breath, Metabolism and a Peace of Mind!

Recently a girl I know asked me a question. She said: “My roommate and I decided to loose weight and started working out.  She started doing yoga and I am going to the gym. We do it regularly. My roommate’s lost weight. I’ve gained weight. Why? “

I always educate the world of the many benefits of yoga, but I definitely have a more psychological, emotional, spiritual bend on the practice, rather than strictly physiological, although I never miss a news announcement that shows latest research of how yoga helps anything from high blood pressure, to fertility, to cancer survivor rates…you name it. Today, I’ll focus on the physiology of yoga and specifically on the AWESOME benefits of the breath. 

Most people are completely unaware of their breath and don’t even know that there are better ways to breath, ways that lead to less stress, more energy, weight loss, low blood pressure and generally a healthy body. Yoga utilizes varieties of breathing techniques to give you that advantage in life. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is an integral part of every yoga practice. Most yoga styles incorporate the breath with the movements. A few, will instruct breathing separately from the movement. My personal preference, and from my observations, moving and breathing is better than move now – breath later. I will explain why in a minute. 

Deep diaphragmatic breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and kick starts the relaxation response in your body – hence less stress. Drs. Brown and Gerbarg in a recent article in Current Psychiatry show how trained deep breathing can relieve trauma symptoms.  The sympathetic nervous system, which is stimulated in times of stress and anxiety, controls your fight or flight response, including spikes in cortisol and adrenaline that can be damaging when they persist too long, becoming responsible for conditions such as depression, anxiety, muscle tension and pain, insulin sensitivity, GI issues, insomnia, adrenal fatigue and cardio vascular disease, among scores of other conditions.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing is the fastest way to influence the nervous system.  Also, it increases oxygen in your blood stream. More oxygen = more active metabolism. More active metabolism = leaner body. 1 L of oxygen burns 5 calories. Which is why people exercise. When you exercise, your body demands more oxygen. Even after you finish exercising your body stays saturated with oxygen for a while which keeps you metabolism more active, continuing to burn calories. This is known as the “afterburn” effect. 

Now you can see why moving AND deep breathing is better than just moving and then deep breathing. When you combine the two, as in the way of yoga – you move, increasing the demand for oxygen and your deep breaths supply extra amount of oxygen. This results in high metabolism, which results in burning more calories even though you may be working only at the level of moderate intensity. Some forms of yoga are very active and intense. The effect there is even more pronounced because the intensity of your effort is directly correlated to the amount of oxygen consumed post exercise. Nevertheless, it’s the deep breathing that turns a gentle or moderate activity into a fat burning activity through stimulating your metabolism.  This also means that more intense practice will be more effective if combined with deep breathing. But that’s not all!!! 

Breathing is the “pump” for the lymphatic system – that’s the sewer system of your organism, the way the body transports and gets rid of toxins.  Your cells must have oxygen to survive moment to moment. They rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood flow carries nutrients and oxygen to them, while the lymphatic system carries away destructive toxins. Proper breathing is the moderator of this exchange. More oxygen to in the blood stream = less toxins in the cells, to put it simply. But that’s not all either!!!

Pranayama is a whole practice of yoga on its own when one delves into various breathing exercises which have such an immediate and pronounced effect on your body/mind that only a few minutes per day can be of great benefit. Because of the profound mental, physical and energetic effects of some breathing practices, the supervision of a qualified instructor is necessary. So, don’t just do something because you read about it in a magazine. 

Curious about what it’s like to live life with energy and lightness in health and happiness, rather than stress, gloom and discomfort? Give yoga a try today. As always, remember the teacher has a lot to do with the outcome of your practice, so try a few and choose wisely. 

Happy breathing, all.

Valentina Petrova has been teaching yoga since 2001. She owns Holistic Movement Center in Morro Bay, CA where she teaches group classes and  advises people privately. For more info, or to book an appointment, call 805-909-1401, or visit the web at

PS...Some fun calorie burning facts, in case you care...

Energy expenditure and tables with a calorie calculator: Also, there at the bottom in the extra info you can find other tools like ideal weight (which tells me i am on the lowest border), body type, and all kinds of other stuff.

Scientists have found out that the burning of carbohydrates during exercise is equivalent to 5.05 calories for every one liter of oxygen consumed. For fat it, is 4.73 calories per one liter of oxygen. They also found out that there is a greater production of carbon dioxide when carbohydrates are burned compared to when fat is burned. So, scientists can accurately determine how many calories come from carbohydrates and how many come from fat during a single session of exercise. In fitness textbooks, the figures are rounded off to 5 calories per one liter of oxygen.

Cardio Equipment
Most cardio machines (treadmill, bike, elliptical trainer, and rower) base their calorie burning formulas on a reference person who usually weighs 130 or 150 pounds. Unless you weigh exactly that much, the number being displayed on the console is slightly inaccurate. Here's how to make it more accurate.
Find out from the gym staff what the cardio machines calculations are based on. Let's assume its 130 pounds. Divide the number of calories burned by 130 pounds. Multiply the answer by your weight in pounds.
For example, the treadmill's display console says you burned 300 calories. Divide 300 calories by 130 pounds. The answer is 2.30 calories per pound. Multiply that by 120 pounds (your weight). The answer is 277 calories. 

Then, if you are feeling bad because that's all the calories you burned for one hour of walking, console yourself with the fact that you burned 277,000 physics calories. 

A calorie in physics is different from a calorie in nutrition. Doherty explains that one food calorie (which should technically be spelled with a capital C) is 1,000 times bigger than one physicist's calorie (spelled with a small c). In other words, a food calorie is actually a kilocalorie (Kcal). It is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celcius. Sometimes, the physics calorie is called a small calorie while the food calorie is called a big or large calorie. Whew! No wonder one website starts its definition of calories with an ice-breaker question: How many calories do you burn just trying to understand what a calorie is? 

So now you know that a cup of rice has 220,000 physics calories or in food terms, 220 Calories or 220 kilocalories.