Who Am I?

April 15, 2013

Who Am I?

-A yoga teacher

Beyond That?

-A wife, sister, daughter

Who Am I Beyond That?

-A woman, a human being

And After That?

As I have dived into our inaugural book club selection, Yoga And The Quest For The True Self, I have been spending quite a bit of time with this idea of the True Self.  This Self is far more vast than the identity I describe with words.  This is the Self of inner knowledge, inner instinct and TRUTH.  The wisdom woven through our dreams trying to break into the conscious mind.

Lately, I have been having incredibly vivid dreams.  The kind of dreams that allow your senses to totally participate – I smell, I feel, and I taste.  Most importantly, I remember a lot of what happens in these dreams.  I haven’t been able to work out what these dreams are trying to whisper to me but as best I can I’ve been trying to listen.

I’ve listened by asking the questions above in my meditations.  And, more interestingly perhaps, I’ve listened by trying to allow my inner instincts a chance to do what they will.  On the mat and off, I’ve focused on listening to some of the spontaneous urges that arise in my day:  sitting down to meditate at a random moment, postponing a planned errand to review a book passage that has been reciting itself in my head, making lots and lots of lists.

Will these actions reveal more of this True Self?  In layers and levels, I’m sure it will.  In the meantime, I continue to practice, to breath and to journal.  “Practice and All is Coming” or so they say…

Blue Skies Baby

April 8, 2013

As I write this, I’m sitting at my kitchen table staring out the window at the woods behind my house.  It is gorgeous outside just as it has been all weekend.  It truly and finally feels like spring (with the pollen to prove it).  Over the weekend, I made the time to walk outside each day and simply savor the sun.  It has felt like so long since I’ve enjoyed the sun on my skin and the energies that brings with it.  I went for yet another walk this morning, and I realized how quickly I had given up my morning walking routine when the darkness of winter settled in.  There was something so unpleasant about walking outside when it was cold and dark and now it is equally pleasing to get outside and feel the light.  These thoughts reminded me of this awesome video from Get Some Headspace about meditation and the metaphor of Blue Skies…

Headspace Animation: Blue Sky

Headspace Animation: Blue Sky from Headspace on Vimeo.

It is also a fabulous metaphor for tapping into our Witness – that unaffected observer that watches all the actions, emotions and tribulations of our ego-selves.  This remembrance that our Witness is always there, likely obscured by the cloudy mind but always there, can be helpful guidance to digging into the breath, into the practice and reconnecting to our ability to witness rather than ride the waves of reaction.

One of my favorite examples of this connection to the Witness comes from a story told by Ram Dass – one evening he received a phone call from a student of his who was in the middle of a drug-induced psychotic episode.  Hallucinating, hearing voices, she was unable to be coherent and Ram Dass was having trouble getting through to her.  Finally, he said, “I’d like to speak to the person who dialed the phone.”  It was this Witness, this seed of crystal clear blue sky in the midst of a hurricane, that was able to pick up the phone, dial his number and ask for help.  It was the ability to reconnect to that seed of clarity that helped to bring this student back down.

As we settle into the sunny days of spring, can we also hone into our own Witness – growing it stronger and more apparent with each practice so that when the inevitable April Showers of seasons and life come, we can still find our Blue Sky hidden somewhere inside.

A few months ago, I shared this poem by William Blake in class:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

and eternity in an hour.

One of my favorites to be sure; so you can imagine my delight when I heard a story by scientist Adam Frank discussing this very poem on NPR.  What I love most about this story (you should really listen to it!) is that this is a scientist – the antithesis of a yoga teacher – basically encouraging us to develop our ability to witness.

The connection between the everyday reality we experience and boundless landscapes of cosmic beauty, inspiration and joy is actually so close, so present for us. It’s there in the dust on your car, the mess on your desk and the swirling water in your sink.

How do I know this? Because I am a scientist dammit and I know that Science — under all its theories equations, experiments and data — is really trying to teach us to see the sacred in the mundane and the profound in the prosaic.

The trick is in the noticing

As yogis, we work on and off the mat to notice, to witness.  It starts with perhaps noticing your breath in a class or your emotional reaction to a specific pose.  It moves deeper as you start to sit in meditation for a few minutes after practice.  Not thinking, not NOT thinking, just noticing your thoughts.  And then suddenly, you are that person.  The person who stops and points out how stunning a landscape is, how colorful and vibrant that flower is, and instead of reacting to your boss’ craziness you actually see that craziness from his or her point of view.  Reaction gives way to awareness.  A relentless drive to be better in the future gives way to an appreciation for the present moment.

So as you step onto your mat this week, give yourself an extra breath in each pose.  Take the time to notice the little details. How do your toes feel?  What are your eyebrows doing?  Is your tongue relaxed or tense?  Practice noticing on the mat and then watch as it seeps into the everyday moments of your life.  Allowing us to find more space, more gratitude, and maybe even more peace in our days.

We are kicking off our inaugural book club with one of my favorite authors: Stephen Cope.  Join me in reading Yoga and the Quest for the True Self this month.  On Tuesday, April 30, we will meet at the Sacred Thread Ashram from 8 – 9 p.m. to discuss our thoughts on the book.  All are welcome (even if you didn’t read the book!).

Yoga Book Club Selection for April 2013

About the book:

Millions of Americans know yoga as a superb form of exercise and as a potent source of calm in our stress-filled lives. Far fewer are aware of the full promise of yoga as a 4,000-year-old practical path of liberation—a path that fits the needs of modern Western seekers with startling precision. Now Stephen Cope, a Western-trained psychotherapist who has lived and taught for more than ten years at the largest yoga center in America, offers this marvelously lively and irreverent “pilgrim’s progress” for today’s world. He demystifies the philosophy, psychology, and practice of yoga, and shows how it applies to our most human dilemmas: from loss, disappointment, and addiction, to the eternal conflicts around sex and relationship. And he shows us that in yoga, “liberation” does not require us to leave our everyday lives for some transcendent spiritual plane—life itself is the path. Above all, Cope shows how yoga can heal the suffering of self-estrangement that pervades our society, leading us to a new sense of purpose and to a deeper, more satisfying life in the world.

The Battlefield

March 25, 2013

This world is a battlefield.  Anyone who is born has to be a warrior.  Whether man or woman, old or young, king or beggar, brave or cowardly, literate or illiterate, saint or sinner, he has to fight the battle.  Battles begin with birth and continue up to the last breath of life.  It could be said that our major duty in this world is to fight.

But this is not a hateful battle with an enemy; it is a loving battle with a friend, a form of exercise that brings fresh energy.  The yogi faces harassment every day but is not ready to accept defeat.  When at last he wins te great struggle, he looks and sees Almighty God standing beside him.  Embracing God, the yogi remembers something.  With tears in his eyes, he turns and bows again and again to the defeated struggle left behind.  He prays to struggle with a pure heart: “Oh great well-wisher, creator of my destiny, I have discarded you often.  Although I have committed numerous offenses against you, you have ignored my villainy and brought me to the holy feet of the Lord.  Without you, true humanity and divinity are indeed difficult to obtain.  Oh angel of struggle, let your victory be everywhere.”  ~Swami Kripalu

This world is a battlefield; anyone who is born has to be a warrior – doesn’t sound much like the yoga we talk about most days, does it?  Where is the peace?  Where is the, “may all beings everywhere be happy and free”?  It can be very easy to gloss over many of the struggles in our lives and our practices.  We use the rosy words of yoga to convince others and ourselves that it is all going to be ok.  “I’m witnessing,” “I’m breathing,” “I’m meditating,” but sometimes aren’t you just angry?  I am.

The struggle I’ve been aware of in these last few weeks is seemingly insignificant – the changing nature of a long-standing friendship.  And, while I agree that perhaps this isn’t on the same magnitude as Discovery of the True Self, it is a struggle all the same.  The fight to hold onto to something that is moving away from you; to accept a new reality is a great battle.

As I planned a visit to my friend over the weekend I felt as though I was preparing for battle – “what am I going to say,” “what will she do”…  and then I found these words: But this is not a hateful battle with an enemy; it is a loving battle with a friend, a form of exercise that brings fresh energy.

This quote from Swami Kripalu reminds us that indeed the struggle is part of our yoga and that all emotions, not just those of happiness, pave the path of our journey.  The act of rising up, drawing our sword and cutting of the heads of our demons to bring fresh energy and insight into the self is a powerful lesson.  It is a lesson of love and acceptance; it is a lesson of releasing reactivity and embracing openness.  It is the lesson of the Warrior.


Several weeks ago, I agreed to sub a class for a friend who couldn’t teach on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.  On Friday at some point, I realized that I had agreed to sub a morning class that was taking place right in the middle of Georgia’s marathon, literally.  The studio I was teaching at was in the center of the race course.  Being the over-planner that I am, naturally I printed out the course map, the road closure list, and sat down with my dear friend Google Maps to figure out how the heck I was going to get to the studio.

Publix Georgia Marathon

Sunday morning, plan in hand, I left my house two hours before class time just to be safe and headed out to take quite possibly the most convoluted journey to the studio that has ever been concocted.  Feeling crafty and oh-so-pleased with myself, I cruised along enjoying the sunrise and looking forward to getting my practice in at the empty studio before class started.  And, then my clever glee came crashing into the dashboard as I saw the sea of runners completely blocking the ONE ROAD I needed to cross to get to the studio.  Hmmmm.  No panic.  I’ll just try another route.  And another.  Another.  One hour later, I am intimately familiar with many Intown neighborhoods but no closer to the studio.  Time to throw all that yoga out the window and panic.

I call the friend that I’m supposed to be subbing for; I call the studio owner.  “Cancel class.  I can’t get there.  I tried everything.”  Defeated, I start to head back home going over what I could have done differently.  Then, I realized that I hadn’t actually tried “everything”; I hadn’t tried the route I normally take to the studio.  I had just ruled that route out as an obvious disaster.  Cutting right through Midtown? Across Ponce?  Please, that route can be a disaster at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday not to mention in the middle of a race with thousands of people.  But, not wanting to leave any stones unturned, I turned the car towards Midtown and headed down the roads of my auto-pilot route.  Did I make it to the studio? Um, yeah.  In all of about 15 minutes.  “ARE YOU FRICKIN’ KIDDING ME?!” I shouted silently in my head.  Calmly I dialed the studio owner, “hi, this is your very calm, zen yoga teacher calling to say that I did indeed make it to the studio.  No need to cancel class.”  Tail properly between the legs now.

I walked into the studio, lit some incense, opened the curtains to let the light flow in, and sat down to breath for a few minutes before folks started to arrive for class.  I wanted to practice but Irony was taking up too much room on my mat.  I mean if Alanis had been in my car that song would have way different lyrics.  If I had just let go of my need to be over-planned, over-prepared I would have gotten into my car 30 minutes before class, driven my normal route and arrived in plenty of time to teach.  Instead, because of my great expectations I had created a disaster out of nothing.

And this wasn’t the first time I had done this.  In fact, I did this a lot.  I fretted and expected and stressed over things that turned out to be nothing.  Mountains out of molehills, right?

So, Sunday I shared with my little class of yogis this idea of letting go of expectation.  The idea of just letting the situation be whatever it needs to be without labels.  Without words or story around it, most of what we experience is just that – experience.  Not good; not bad; not a mountain; not a molehill.  Just the path we travel.

I’m sending my lyrics to Alanis.


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