Friday, November 30, 2012

Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds

Being a human has its advantages, even beyond having an opposing thumb and standing upright. We have the ability to wonder and dream things up. Many of our dreams become the stuff of reality. But how we see reality and how we relate to it, even what we actually call real or unreal is just as much of a wonder as are the realms beyond the fringes of the visible Universe.

Bound by a body, we are destined to decay and death. Endowed with a soul, we are destined for immortality. In everyday life, we struggle and suffer either unhappy with our circumstance or yearning for our greatness. Consciously, or unconsciously, we walk through life until one day it ends and it’s hard to say if we ever resolve the conundrum of what and who we really are.

In integral circles (where I happen to hang out and find validation of my ideas) we hold that the source of suffering from our human conundrum is the inability to hold our two opposing truths in the same space without conflict and actually enjoy them equally. The proverbial pendulum swings from materiality to immortality and hardly ever stops in the middle where they meet and support each other.

What does it look like when the pendulum is all the way into materiality? It looks like striving to accumulate, however never having enough despite of how abundant one’s life is. It looks like a fear of loss because one is so identified with what one has – body, stuff, reputation, friends, etc,  that if something is  lost, so is the sense of self worth. If the body is old or maimed, if the car is stolen, if the reputation is destroyed, if the friends have left…one feels like nothing. There is no room for spirit, no sense of one’s immortal being. But there’s a lot of drive to make things happen. A person fully and completely engrossed in materiality has his/her feet on the ground firmly but does not even know that the sky exists.

What does it look like when the pendulum is all the way into immortality? Death, really, but for a living being obsessed with spirit, it looks like spiritual bypass – an inability to deal with the requirements of the day, like holding a job, being a reliable parent, a functional social unit, a skillful creator of your own life’s path. Hiding in a cave, in a commune, in books, in constant retreats, spiritual practice, one is unable and unwilling to deal with his/her undigested past experiences and isolates him/her self from the world around. Without one’s spirituality…one feels like nothing.  Materiality is despised and considered wrong. But there’s a lot of drive to dwell in spirit. A person inspired and striving for spirit and spirit only, has his/her head in the clouds and the feet do not touch the ground.

What does it look like when the pendulum stops in the middle? It looks like integration. One is able to integrate both truths of human existence - the clay and the immortality. One is willing to mold him/her self into the most this mortal clay can offer supported by the immortality of his/her being. One is full of appreciation for the moment, realizing that matter is in a state of constant flux and no rose bud will ever be duplicated, no kiss will ever be the same sweetness and no moment of truth ever more truthful, while finding strength to watch it all pass with gratitude for the experience. Lost things, the passing of friends, the missed opportunities are both mourned and celebrated at the same time. One is both sitting in the comfort of Being and fully engrossed in Becoming. Not only is it possible to hold a job but it is fun to have one. Not only is it nice to study and meditate alone, but it is also easy to relate to people and share one’s heart and skills with all who can benefit without the usual selfish concerns.

An integrated person lives with lots of “and's” while a conflicted person lives with a lot of “either/or's.”
An integrated person creates reality without defining it. A conflicted person argues over what is real.
An integrated person is one who can walk with their feet on the ground and keep the head high in the clouds while fully embracing everything in between and enjoying the different perspectives deep into the heart.

Where the pendulum stops in the middle is where clay meets immortality – where consciousness, consciously potentiates and energy willingly manifests. It’s the only place where Reality can be seen and experienced for its realness. Everything else is bound to be an approximation by the very distance from the center. Any other place along the trajectory of the pendulum is bound to inherent suffering.  

Being human has its advantages. One of them is that we can choose to know integration and the privilege to realize it.

Just saying, don’t pay lip service to things you've heard on either side of the center and don’t live your life relying on other people to tell you what is good/bad, what is right/wrong, and how you should be living your life. Listen to everything. Hear everyone, and see what jives in your heart. You can only be what you are ready to be, but you can never become more than you are unless you try to test your comfort zone. 


Saturday, October 06, 2012


Take a pen and a paper and write down all the words that you associate Happiness with. Think synonyms. Do it and don’t read ahead!

Then take a moment to write down all the words you associate your “real life” with….

Are there similarities and what are the differences?

Bottom line is that we have a picture of happiness more like the yellow smiley face with a stretched out  curve representing a grin from ear to ear and when we look in the mirror we are neither yellow, nor grinning that much.  We think we are not happy, but I think we just don’t recognize happiness in “real life” even when it is staring at us in the face.

This sort of goes along with “practicing gratitude.” You can’t know that you are happy unless you take the time to practice gratitude. Which means you need to take the time to count your blessings. Which means you must make the time. In other words, what can you give up today to make room for counting your blessings?  In my life, I’ve noticed that I usually have to give up distractedness, a moment of doing nothing mindful in order to become mindful, a few breaths before falling asleep as I scan through my day for awesomeness… Time for counting my blessings is cheap. The benefits are priceless.

Imagine in your mind a dial, kind of like the speedometer in your car. If you stop for a moment and feel the rush of your gratitude as you focus on something awesome, you’d see the needle of the dial rush from 0 – 60 or even 120 in less than 60 seconds.  You’d feel the dazzling effect of elation and your lips will indeed stretch from ear to ear, even painfully so. You’d feel like a fool in the clouds and innocent bystanders may become infected with your seemingly unconditional jolliness.   On the other hand you could be driving the speed limit of 25 in a populated area and basically coast through all sorts of things to be grateful for on an autopilot, arriving at your evening with nothing meaningfully memorable and an empty heart.

Life offers plenty of points of interest one can focus on and feel grateful about. However, even more magical and even more addictive is the kind of happiness which comes from being grateful for your own gifts, talents, uniqueness and potential as you go about realizing them.  It becomes a perpetuum mobile of a sorts, as you discover more about yourself while you are exercising everything you already know about yourself. You find out that your life has gifted you of you and it keeps on giving. That’s when you get a permagrin and you realize what the cliché “you can’t become happy, you can only be happy” really means. That’s also when you find out that the two lists above contain the same words. Real life and Happiness are one and the same.

How long will that take? It all depends on how motivated you are to be yourself, honestly embracing your uniqueness and respectfully finding it ways to shine, contribute and evolve. That’s not the same as having your way and it does not mean it’s all about you. It’s really all about contributing your You-ness to the canvas of Life as it paint’s itself.

You wanna try? You can always start easy with some yoga. Then ad mediation. Read a few books. Contemplate. Experiment. Enjoy. Call me for a little exploration session of your deepest treasures.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Shadow full of gods.

Yoga is a funny thing. It’s everywhere. Even when I try to push it away I find myself in the midst of it. That’s Yoga not yoga, in case you’re wondering.

I started dancing Tango thinking the sultry sounds, high heels and seductive outfits are about as far away from Yoga as one can get. Instead I discovered that unless one is completely willing and able to transcend ones ego, this dance turns from sexy elegance limited only by a limitless imagination to a clunky clashing of conflicts bound by personal issues.  It is precisely, the union of two as one, in surrender, non-judgment, respect and interdependence that creates this magical experience.  In the moment of such intimacy one is necked despite the garbs and the two are one kosmic unit of bliss in midst of a rounda populated by glittering bling and the smiling faces of fellow dancers. That’s what brings people to the dance….even though, realistically speaking this only happens…like once in a great while… because it take two to tango.

Occasionally, I’d find myself wondering about my garden picking whatever the plants are willing to share with me, hearing a bird in the tree, or admiring my unlikely watermelon plants, which this year have decided to be very likely. I notice that it’s not me that’s walking around the garden. It’s just the walking and I am just there for the ride and the mind is clear enough to hear the mood of the plants and taste the fragrance of the flowers. Who know Yoga happened in the garden while pouring smelly organic slushy on my tomatoes.

Once on an airplane, I decided to practice Metta using the other passengers as subjects for the practice. Those unsuspected accomplices were rather put off at my big smile at the end of the ride when I felt like I was leaving great friends behind, saying good bye to all, and the look on their faces was betraying at least an annoyance and at most a serious concern for my sanity. Oh well, at least I had a great time.

Recently, I decided I need to shift my focus and read something that had nothing to do with anything and definitely nothing to do with Yoga. I picked up a book called American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I am a fan. A clever story teller that only makes sense to folks who know enough about mythology, culture and humans to get his drift, he became a favorite of mine when he published the Sandman series. His spinning of tales usually has the effect of opening circuitry in my brain that usually collect dust.  I generally end up walking around seeing things, I mean, more things than I usually see, which could be a pretty alarming situation. It also, with my re-opened circuits, gets my brain making interesting associations, dreaming things up and finding sense in strange places. It’s like drugs, but legal. It’s like him and I are totally on the same other-worldly brain wave, but we never met each other. It’s like this world is layered with levels of reality that most of us don’t bother to notice, even those of us who make mindfulness a committed practice for life. After all, you can only be mindful of things you notice. What are you going to do about the things you don’t?

So, this time  I noticed a meditation practice in which I got into my missing for a month without a word brother’s head (don’t ask) and wanted him to call, and then I got a phone call 8 hour later from my mother who told me he had called a few hour earlier and that he was fine.

I noticed some strange dreams that had nothing to do with life and a lot to do with death and ducks and flying and somehow I woke up feeling awesome thinking to myself “What’s hot yoga? It’s regular yoga with me in it?” Ha. Really?

I also noticed how much time I spend with my computer. It’s like it’s an extension of me. I don’t think I can write my name in manuscript anymore without spelling it wrong. When my mind sees the computer it bows down and gets productive. It kind of makes me wonder, who owns whom?

I was pretty proud of not having cable and not succumbing to media frenzy and bombardment. But then again, I have a cell phone which pretty much grows out of my hand now as I do things with it I never thought phones would ever do – checking my e-mails, Facebook, the weather, using the alarm clock, the GPS and maps, restaurant reviews, internet, and slew of other activities which used to be designated for when I was “at the office.” The thing I do the least with this phone is what it was originally meant to do – call and talk to people. Actually talk to people. Perhaps, talk to friends for hours. Or talk to relatives I haven’t seen since before they invented wireless.

“People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine and people believe:  and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.” - says Shadow, the main character of the book.  In the context of the book, people created the Gods by believing in them and sacrificing to them, which then gave the gods power to exist….Kind of like “wherever your attention goes, the energy flow,” which is one of the main educational warnings in yoga philosophy.

So, it got me thinking what do I believe in and where does my energy flow, in other words what are my gods? I am pretty sure my computer is one of them. The way I see it, we first decide that we need something, which in most cases is nothing we need but something we really just want. However, if you dress up your “want” with the garb of “need” than you have to go get it. So, we start with something we want, than we go ahead and sacrifice something to get it.  The more we believe we need it , the more we are willing to sacrifice for it. We sacrifice time, energy, resources, dreams, and sometimes other people, to get what we want.

Think of TV – that’s a modern day God for a lot of people. It keeps you company when you are alone. It entertains you. It educates you. It passes the time. You throw money at it every month so that it will continue doing those things for you. You devote time to it. You anticipate. You fall asleep to it. You feature it prominently in your house (like an altar). You sacrifice people to it – the people you don’t pay attention to because you are tuned in to the tube, the relationships you don’t attend to because you are fulfilling your diversion. You are sacrificing yourself to it, because you are sitting on that couch staring at wild flowers, animals and wonderful places to visit on the screen, instead of going out there and experiencing those things for real. It defines your reality by offering you media packaged ways of thinking, so you don’t have to think for yourself.

Relative reality was created out of Ultimate, formless, Consciousness because of a desire arising and then a thought that came along so there you have it – the Universe! The desire to create, to manifest is inherent in the design of this Universe. Thought was the energy that imagination rode and continues to ride to bring about everything that we see and don’t see. At least, that’s the model of reality we see in yoga philosophy. It’s a similar kind of process described in other spiritual traditions, even though Ultimate reality and Relative reality may have different names. I like Andrew Cohen’s “Being and Becoming” because it tells you exactly what the shtick is – on one hand there’s Being as in Ultimate Transcendental Reality, on the other hand there’s Becoming, as in what the Ultimate Transcendental Realty is manifesting out of itself.  Simple enough, until you consider that the Becoming part involves us humans. We are like little nucleuses of Ultimate Reality expressions through which It becomes aware of itself and through which It manifests Itself. Our thoughts are charges of potential that make our individual and collective Relative reality as it is. Not only our experience of it, personally, but our shared experience collectively. A nuclear bomb is not just a personally devastating thing, it’s a human and nature disaster of mega proportions.

Knowing stuff like that, Buddha proclaimed: "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him".  

Shadows follow everyone, but the person directly under the Sun….Rumi said it more poetically than my paraphrasing. Only direct sunlight will diminish your shadow, he said. Our gods live in our shadows, feed off our shadows and prosper there, the darker and the deeper our shadows the stronger those gods.

Direct sunlight is the domain of Yoga. Not yoga.  It’s the experience of Yoga. It’s the skill of Yoga, for Yoga is skill in action, we are told in the Yoga Sutras and in the Baghavd Gita.

What would I be empowering with my energy and thoughts if I had no shadow and gods to feed? What would I be Becoming if I didn’t have god’s too sacrifice to?

Sri Aurobindo calls it turia – the state of direct sun overhead, followed by turia tita – the state of I am  Being Becoming itself, the realization of the ultimate God – Me, but unfortunately “I” am not there to realize it. So, “I” wake up from it thinking “What’s hot yoga?” and feeling mighty great about everything and not knowing why.

A few days later, I pick up the computer to write this and realize it’s just a computer and I am grateful for all the imagination and thought that manifested such an efficient tool with which my imagination can transmit itself through the unseen layers of reality we call the Internet, and reach the eyes of beings interconnected by wonder.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Body, mind, heart….the many definitions of yoga.

The usual article about yoga tends to start by defining what yoga is. The usual definition of yoga is a dry intellectual explanation that goes something like this: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind,” or “Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word to yoke, which means…” and usually a description of what gets yoked follows. Sometimes it sounds like this: “is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline originating in ancient India and found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and ...”

There is this misperception that yoga is a one-size-fits-all practice of physical movements peppered with a mixed seasoning of new age ideas and ancient wisdom that is supposed to be your highway to health and a fountain of youth that’s cheaper and more fun than constant visits to the doctor.

For a lot of people that is exactly what yoga is. Generally whatever your expectations are from the practice, that’s what you are going to find in it and get from it. If you are coming to the practice for great abs and butt, you will be the person seeking ever more challenging workouts and you will be the person pushing the limits of your body in a yoga class until you are sweating profusely, exhausted and “feel the burn.” If you are the kind of person looking for connection, you will find yourself in classes where other students, just like you like to chat and hang out with each other, and the teacher makes you feel like you matter. If you are the kind of person who’s looking for transformation, you will have a giant library of yoga books, attend discussions, find yourself in kirtans and notice how every yoga asana class you take makes you feel – physically, mentally and emotionally.

That’s why everyone of us will have a different definition of what yoga is. If you sit and think for a moment what yoga is for you, you will find your own, personal definition, and if you stick with the practice long enough, you may find that your definition is changing. Hopefully, if you are in the yoga abs and butt category, you will indeed change your definition over time, or else, you will be missing out on most of the practice.
My first experience with yoga, even before I knew what yoga was, or that it even existed, was when I was 10 and sitting under a blackberry bush being quiet so I can see the universe out there reflected in me. I was having a mystical experience and not even knowing it. Which goes to show you that mystical experiences are available to anyone regardless of training, age, gender or location. Children like me, who were pretty much left to figure things out on their own and before their heads are full with experiences, impressions and definitions (samskaras), and who don’t have to struggle to physically survive, are probably more open and likely to stumble upon something profound than adults who are already molded into a worldview, stuck in life responsibilities and generally more skeptical. So, I don’t think, I was special. It took me years to realize I was having a mystical experience and I was only able to appreciate it when I grew up enough to learn a few things, get a few definitions and realize that I have built a few walls of my own.

Later in my teens, I acquired my fist misunderstanding of yoga to be a strange undertaking of a few people who live in India and like to do things like sleep on a bed of nails, walk around naked, try to hold their breath for too long and show off contortionist skills to amazed bystanders. I have no idea where that came from! Perhaps a TV footage on the Bulgarian news? Or, my grandmother, who years later when she found out that I was doing yoga, puzzled and openly disappointed asked my mother “Why would Valentina want to do that? What is the future of sleeping on a bed of nails?” Or, even my own mother, who when she found out I had become a yoga teacher said to me: “You spent all this time and sacrificed so much to get a real education (referring to my economics degree), why would you want to throw it all away?”

Over the years, my definition of yoga has changed dramatically. I have come to realize that my 10 years of age mystical experience has more to do with who I have become than what my family tried to imprint on me, or what I planned on becoming.  It left me with an insatiable yarning to find meaning beyond what meets the eye. It stuck inside and made me, mostly unconsciously and sometimes consciously evaluate my undertakings as “sukha” or “dukha” (wholesome/happy vs unfitting/suffering) and ultimately landed me an obscure place in the American universe and unnoticeable status on the ladder of success in a world defined by what you have and how you look.  That’s the good news.

The great news is that, sometimes willing, sometimes kicking and screaming, I managed to follow the instinct created by that mystical experience into a journey of self discovery which has paid off with experiential understanding of human nature and the nature of reality which, in turn has brought about tenderness, appreciation and compassion in someone like me, who’s not that tender, appreciative and compassionate to begin with.

So, my definition of yoga is: “A personal practice of transformation that tames the mind and reveals its limitless creative potential, purifies and shapes the body into the most amazing instrument of action to manifest that creativity, and opens the heart into universal connectedness that humbles, challenges and further transforms anyone willing to withstand it.”

Yes, I love me a great physical practice and always look forward to one. But my definition of yoga expands beyond that and infuses that with meaning beyond shape and form. I find my asana practice to be one of the best opportunities to practice mindfulness of my psychological tenancies. I notice the impulses of the ego to push the limits, the tenderness of the heart reminding me to listen deeply into the body, the passing of life and vitality which brings sadness and utmost gratitude for that which is still present now, the emotional reactions to the thoughts that arise, the reactivity and at the same time the vastness of speciousness and deep silence within which everything is born, takes shape and returns to. An asana practice for me is one of the best places to experience the multidimensionality of humanness because it is a safe container for vulnerability….That is if, that’s what you want out of your physical practice.

Ultimately, our intentions determine our actions and the outcomes of those actions mysteriously end up serving those intentions, even though the outcome may be something you didn’t exactly expect or plan for. My intention has been to grow, explore and fulfill the potential within me. I’ve been many places I didn’t expect to find myself and I realized that each and every place, person, situation and event had something to show me about me, that I had to deal with, if I was to fulfill that potential.  That’s “karma” in yogic terms. One is liberated by solving the riddles karma delivers your way and transcending the “samskaras” that lay at the bottom of every karmic occurrence… Yes, it’s an ongoing process, because we make more as we are going along – sometimes out of ignorance, as we just don’t know any better, or because we can’t see the connections. Sometimes out of ego which is unable to let go of its usual way of seeing and doing things just yet.  Sometimes our attachments and aversions run so deep we don’t know they are that. Sometimes, it’s just dumb luck and deeply engrained conditioning that comes from your formative years, or God knows where… Basically, it’s safe to assume that for as long as we are on this planet and have a body, we all are going to have plenty to do in the karma department.

Beliefs usually are at the basis of our intentions. We intend for something we believe we want, deserve or need, something that we consider good, useful to us or to all beings… something we believe is worth our time and effort. We don’t set intentions to suffer unreasonably, to be dishonest whenever possible, to cause others to suffer and to feel miserable pretty much all the time.  But sometimes we actually believe that we don’t deserve something like love, connection, prosperity. We actually believe we are incompetent and unable to get from where we are to where we intend to be. If intention and beliefs misalign we find trouble because we find no fulfillment and prove to ourselves that “this stuff just doesn’t work. “  By examining our beliefs we learn massive amounts about ourselves. We find all our samskaras.  As we unearth them, than we have an opportunity to transform them, thus transforming our beliefs and setting intentions that match our deepest convictions, our highest visions and our most sincere aspirations.  

So, what is your intention for your yoga? Does your yoga serve your intentions and how? Are these questions you even think about? There are no wrong answers, only sincere answers and pretend answers. If your answers are sincere, than you are seeing clearly, and this is a good start, or a good stepping stone on the endless road of transformation. If your answers are wishful thinking, or parroting things you’ve heard or read somewhere, than your practice will give you something just for practicing – like numerous health benefits that are attributed to yoga, but those will be temporary and limited and not that different from other forms of exercise, because that’s all you are doing – exercising.  Yes, exercising is better than not exercising, but there are a lot of unhappy people who are exercising every day. There are a lot of people with broken relationships, one after another, who are exercising every day.

If you want to know if your yoga is “working” take a look at your relationships. What is your relationship with yourself, with your partner, or children, or co-workers….all of your relationships? Go back to the mat, to the books, to the next discussion session you can find, to meditation if you find things that you could improve upon.

The Greek Olympics used to have a slogan, or perhaps they still do… “Healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit.” That’s not too far from what Yoga is all about, is it?

Heal your mind, transform your body, open your heart.  A mind that sees clearly, and is free of obstructions, envisions the future. A body that’s healthy, energized and agile creates the future. A heart that’s open and wise, shares the future with all others.

Ultimately, yoga is really not about you, is it? But without you it won’t happen. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Rules of the game of good times and good living….

These rules i keep in mind as I wobble in life, sometimes hitting and sometimes missing but always arriving exactly where I am suppose to be.

So, without further adieux, here are a few simple rules I usually remember when I need to. I offer them as suggestions and as food for thought.

1) A little goodness goes a long way. Another way to say this is, positive wins over negative – every time! That’s the same thing as the glass being half full instead of half empty. When we come from a place of half full instead of half empty, our intentions are more aligned with goodness than with negativity.  Thus, if your actions don’t produce the results you were imagining, you are still going to be OK because you will see the benefits of the unexpected outcome and roll with those punches, happily.

2) Creativity is the antidote of stagnation and when married to goodness, produces wonderfulness. Creativity married to negativity produces misery. We can be very creative imagining great fun possibilities, or we can be very creative imagining the worse in every situation. We can be creative finding solutions to difficult problems or we can be creative blaming others for our own issues. We can be creative discovering new connections, or we can be creative burning bridges. 

3) Your karma is everyone’s karma. David Deida put it very eloquently:  “Your every action ripples out and affects everyone.”  That’s “everyone” not just you, or the people you are in direct contact with.  “Everyone” includes people all the way to China, the butterflies in the Amazon forest and the dog next door. That’s because, you are a creation, manifested to manifest possibilities. Your higher purpose is to make the world a nicer place for everyone, not just for yourself. You are needed to give your gifts and to inspire others to give theirs. If you choose to make yourself into a reactive ball of hatred and negativity that’s what you will be rippling out to everyone, even to people and creatures that have never met you.  There’s a noble Zen practice designed for the advanced practitioner in order to help them refine their relationship to everything and reach final liberation. In that practice one willingly takes the suffering, illness, stress and every form of gunk out of one person, absorbs it into him/her self and offer his/her own peace and tranquility in exchange.  That takes courage.

4) “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.
Eleanor Roosevelt

5) The Golden Rule:

Confucianism: "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."

Christianity: "Do to no one what you yourself dislike."- Tobit 4:15

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. -Udanavarga 5:18

Baha’i Faith: Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. —Bahá'u'lláh

Hinduism: One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires. - Brihaspati, Mahabharata

Judaism: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself. —Leviticus 19:18

Sikhism: I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all. p.1299, Guru Granth Sahib

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.
—T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien

In the words of Dr. Frank Crane, "The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatsoever unless you realize that it's your move!"

Enough said! Cheers to all.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I really think about YOGAWOMAN….

Since yoga is my life, anyway you look at it, I feel like I have to make a few points that I could not (partly because of lack of time, and partly because I didn't want to rain on anyone’s parade) at the movie screening.

First of all, it’s nice to see that yoga is helping teens in trouble, kids, folks with cancer and building community in places like Africa. It’s great that there is so much interest and so much availability of yoga so that anyone who wishes could take part in the practice. Although quantity does not always mean quality and furthermore, individual results may vary, as everything depends on the practitioner's commitment to the practice and the skills of the teacher they go to. 

That’s “anyone” who wishes. Including man. Including “minorities.” Including people with limited income. Anyone and everyone.

I have the annoying habit of trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see what things would feel like from their perspective. So, I put myself in male shoes and discovered that if I was a man and never have tried yoga, seeing this move, would totally turn me off, unless I am interested in the view from downward dog during an all female class. It would sound to me that this practice, although it was started by men has now been transformed into a practice that is mostly beneficial for women and with all the female teachers out there, I would feel that no one would get it what it is like to be in a male body with its challenges practicing yoga.  So, I am likely to go back to drinking beer and watching my youth pass me by with all the aches and pains and hormonal changes that I am going through as a guy.

Second, I put myself in the shoes of a black male or female yoga student and was astonished to see that the only black folks featured in the movie where the ones in Africa. There are African Americans here in the West who are practicing yoga. There should be more, but how can there be more if this practice is now a “white, 25 – 50 years of age, with disposable income, image conscious, female” practice. So, if I am black, or latina, or Asian,  I don’t exactly fit the demographics. If I am a male of that kind, I am definitely out of luck.

Third, I am not sure that Yoga Journal’s poster children are the best spokespeople for yoga. I always say that my life became a lot better when I started yoga. It became a little better when I became a vegetarian in 1993. And it became absolutely awesome when I quit my Yoga Journal subscription in 2007. Why? Because reading beauty magazines only make you feel ugly! That’s what Yoga Journal is – a well researched and perfectly, demographically appointed magazine that tailors to the above described segment of the population. Everyone looks perfect in the Yoga Journal...I've got small boobs, a few wrinkles, my tops don't color match my bottoms, and i don't always feel like smiling and doing my hair perfectly. 

Also, what type of message does Patricia Walden send to all of her admiring students? With her 35, or more years of yoga practice and experience, inspiring others to live an authentic life, she can’t manage getting older without an upper lip filler gone so bad one can notice it from an airplane. So, how can someone who’s supposedly steeped in yoga and so influential stand there talking about self acceptance while parading a cosmetic procedure intended for women who can’t take it growing older?  (On that note – extra karma points to Angela Farmer for being all natural. )

Another case in point is the strongly overwhelming focus on “feel good” health benefits of yoga asana and just a two minute, brief mention of meditation. Why is everyone focusing on asana? Because that’s what makes women go to yoga – the promise of eternal youth together with nice butt, strong abs and increased libido. Yes, relaxing is nice too, and feeling more like yourself helps, but how’s one suppose to know what one’s self is when one is surrounded by so much Lululemon?

I am willing to bet the the average woman attending a yoga class at, say Exhale in Santa Monica, would be sporting enough expensive get up to equal the annual income of a family in Sri Lanka. And the pressure's on to keep up with the crowd, or else.... I saw a woman commenting on Facebook recently: "I am going on a yoga retreat! I better stock up on Lululemon!" Really? Common! Really? 

Mindfulness, equanimity, self acceptance, being a better human being, growing into your full potential…that should be the focus of everyone attending a yoga class. If this includes, mending your injuries, or growing more flexible, or shedding a few pounds, or lowering your blood pressure, so be it, but remember, there’s a bigger picture here and an asana class is just a door opening to a possibility not the end itself. It definitely would help if yoga teachers knew what they are doing, but hey, most of them don’t know which end of the yoga stick is up most of the time. 15 years ago, it used to be hard to find a bad yoga teacher. They were definitely a minority. Now, it's hard to find a good one. The bar is so low, that no one knows the difference anymore. 

Women are different, they say in the movie. Last time I checked all humans have mostly similar anatomy and suffer of mostly the same issues. Men and women alike get stressed, depressed, feel pressure to perform, anxiety and uncertainty. Fear is a universal human emotion. Everyone gets back issues, joint pain, headaches and gets heartbroken once in a while.  Everyone gets old. Everyone dies.

Yes, women have boobs and periods but guys have balls and penises and I know of enough nutcracker asanas that would totally justify a male uprising.  Guys have hormone changes too and go through midlife crisis. Unlike women who are brain wired differently for networking and multitasking, guys have no support networks, struggle with multitasking and have to watch themselves grow old without the support of “all guy yoga” in a world of estrogen driven yoga classes.

Here's why there are so few yoga guys in class. Not because they don't think it's good for them. Not because they don't enjoy an hour for themselves. It's because they think yoga is for women. Why would they  think that? Because everywhere they look there are women and the teachers are often women and a lot of the conversation and language used applies and concerns women, and a guy feels out of place. It's hard enough being a guy who doesn't know his big tow from his eyebrow, but being a guy in a class where women are looking down on you and are talking about their cycles, children, bed boyfriends and cooking dinners, while the teacher uses fluffy cupcake language you don't understand, and you get the picture - there are hardly any guys in classes. It's a girls night out.  

As far as I am concerned, yoga does not differentiate by gender, color and economic status. That’s because yoga is a state of being not something you do. We’ve re-qualified the noun of yoga as a verb and that’s when the trouble began.

Yoga was mostly a meditative practice with physical movement to enable that practice, keeping the body healthy and lively so the person is not distracted unnecessarily by trips to the doctor’s office. Yoga was mainly practiced by males because of the cultural context in which it originated, but aren’t we wiser than folks used to be a thousand years ago? If so, than we should learn to appreciate a balance between the sexes and rely on the wisdom of both male and female energy instead of choosing one over the other, or promoting one over the other.  We are all both! The face of enlightenment is Siva with a half male and half female face.  We need both, as people, as a culture as a world.

Sometimes it feels like women are more than compensating for being repressed over the ages by being extra self centered, more into self gratification and too negative about anything guy related....The message i often hear is that women will somehow fix what's wrong with the world. As if women are better than men and it's time that they stand up and make things right. That's just replacing one imbalance with another, as far as I am concerned. 

Finally, I would have loved to hear from an actual yoga spiritual teacher, male or female about the role of yoga in modern life. Instead, all we got was the next Yoga Journal Conference line up. What would Mātā Amtānandamayī Devī say? She hugs everyone!

It is human nature to swing from one extreme to another. Hopefully, we will swing back and actually stop in the center, where male and female manifestation will co-exist respectfully, mutually beneficially and harmoniously without the baggage of the centuries. Until then, I am not going to any “just for women” yoga classes. I will be one of the guys and I will be teaching yoga to humans - whoever they are.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Truth and The Pursuit of Happiness.

Humans just want to be happy! At least that’s what the advertising world out there is trying to convince of. Unless one is happy one is nothing. Nothing will be good enough, fun enough, important enough. There’s therapy to help you get happy. There are pills. There are apparently limitless possessions that if you just had this car, this perfectly white smile, that body weight, those shoes, and don’t forget the house, the perfect mate….you’d be happy.

With that goal in mind we humans are generally willing to do anything to get there. The problem is that happiness is not what we generally think it is. We have mistaken happiness with self gratification, personal self absorption and ego enhancement. It’s no wonder we have a hard time finding happiness and when we do find it, we don’t even recognize it.  Meanwhile, in the pursuit of happiness we are willing to do all sorts of things that we would never want to be accused of doing…

Like making up stories, or bending the truth to various degrees.
Like deceiving and manipulating others.
Like bashing others with complete disregard.
Like compromising our own values.

Truth is regarded as sacred in yoga philosophy (and in every spiritual teaching there is). It is so because truth alone leads to liberation. One must be brave enough, honest and strong to look at and accept the truth of the moment, the truth of the matter, The Truth. Unless there is a total recognition of the way things are without judgment, without manipulation, without wishful thinking, aversion or grasping, without resistance, there will be no happiness. Happiness is built on sincerity, authenticity, honesty and, if I may add – creativity.

Truth leads to happiness, we are promised, because truth leads to liberation and liberated beings are happy, joyful beings. They are at ease with whatever comes…however pleasant, unpleasant or neutral it may be to the rest of us. What the ancient teachings insist is that we must be truthful in speech, in thought and in action.

Most of us think we are truthful…for the most part. Are we truthful in all three ways? Do we notice when we are untruthful? Do we sometimes choose not to be truthful because we think that, that which we want can be here faster if we can just make the right impression, convince enough people, or take a shortcut. 

For example, if I am seeking people’s approval and recognition, wishing to see my yoga studio grow and prosper, I could simply start making inflated statements about myself and the Holistic Movement Center, in essence trying to manipulate people’s opinion,  saying things like: I am the best yoga teacher and the Holistic Movement Center is the most comprehensive yoga studio around. Perhaps a better way of expressing myself objectively and truthfully, would be to say that I have more than 20,000 hours of teaching experience which span over a decade. I can also say that the Holistic Movement Center has been serving the community since 2002 and that we offer several classes per day, 7 days per week. It does not sound nearly as glamorous as saying “we are the best, the greatest, the most” but it gives people useful information without subjectivity and without crossing the lines of fact and truth.

It’s worth examining our relationship to the truth. What makes us stretch it? What makes us honor it? When do we feel like stretching it and why? When do we justify a lie?

We live in a society and generally, the workings of a society and the cohesiveness of a community is strongly dependent on its members relaying on the truthfulness of others. If that’s not the case, than structures break down, systems don’t work, and folks live with doubt. Doubt erodes relationships. Doubt destroys trust and leads to unhappiness. “Unhappiness leads to hatred” – says the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

“When the practitioner/seeker is truly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realization.” – wrote Patanjali some 2100-2500 years ago.

May we all aspire to live by his words today…

Valentina Petrova (RYT500) has been the owner of the  Holistic Movement Centre- Yoga & Wellness SPA in Morro Bay since 2002. She’s the host of “Yoga for Life” TV program on Ch. 2, a Reiki Master and a personal life adviser. Call 805-909-1401, or visit the web at for more information.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

14 billion years later….

When you think about it, it’s taken the Universe 14 billion years to produce you. From nothing to matter, to Earth, to apes and assholes, here we all are. If that’s not amazing, what is? The other question is, what are you going to do with this opportunity?

Will you burst forth and create with the same kind of madness the Universe is manifesting every living thing, every shape, form, color, texture and smell? Will you be as bold and as busy, as fearless and magnificent? Or will you be just a pile of flesh, bones and sorry ass excuses for why you can’t do something?
I mean, human life is short as it is. It’s no time at all, in Universal terms. Yet, in that no time at all, there’s an opening, a possibility and a potentiality in every one of us to continue to manifest this Universe in whichever direction we choose to.

Looking around, it makes me think that the most complex, exiting and full of potential creation of the Universe – us, humans, may be failing at realizing its importance. Not as in “self-importance.” We are good at believing that. As in Universal Importance. As the creators of the future. As the foundation for evolution to continue from us in whatever amazing direction it needs to go.

Note the words “it NEEDS to go.”

Do you ever wonder what you are here to manifest, in Universal terms?

If you are hearing answers such as “I want to…” you are looking in the wrong direction.

If you are inspired to do something, but…there’s a “but” in there leading to your excuse of why you are not already on your way to manifesting your inspiration, you are fooling yourself. Buts are just like butts. Everyone’s got them. They get big and cushy the more you sit on them. You simply have to move and keep moving.

So, no buts, butts, or baloney. Be that which you are here to do.
Enough said.