Category Archives: Life

Posts dealing with my life.

Sunset Meditation, Your Beautiful Self

Spending an evening enjoying a sunset is yoga in action!

Sit or stand quietly with a long spine, and the soles of your feet grounded. With every inhalation, breathe in the beauty of the sky. Invite the colors of the sunset, clouds, and sky to fill you. Feel the beauty within you.

With every exhalation, breathe out, imagining that beauty inside the people in your life.  As you think of each person, visualize them spending their day beneath the very same sky as you. Different colors, but one sky.  Think of how each person embodies  beauty.

As the practice becomes more familiar and easier, include not only the friends and family whom you love, but also folks who aggravate and annoy you. Fill your mind with something beautiful about each person.

When you are done, take a deep in breath and wish beauty for every person in the world, without exception.

Take a long slow, deep breath as you again return your thoughts to the lovely sky and appreciate being your own beautiful self.

When will I get it?

New students often ask, “When will I get yoga?”  implying a time frame, say in a year.   New students in the studio often show up saying that they are “experienced” yogis and they are ready for an advanced class when, in fact, they’ve only taken one session with another teacher.  Fast results are the American Way! It’s a part of our mindset, for better or worse. The new student signs up for one class per week and believes she’ll look like Christy Turlington in no time.

The reality is that though many students of this ancient art experience life/body -changing moments after only one or two classes, many more find results of practice only after several months of  dedicated effort.  The results are often stunning, don’t get me wrong.  But they do take time and effort.

I like to think of my yoga practice operating  on a geologic timescale.  B.K.S. Iyengar, who practiced five hours per day until he died at 95,  “Got it” after many many years of rigorous daily practice.  Above is a video from the Ann Arbor Y in 1976, thirty-eight years ago when Mr. Iyengar was 57! Below is an interview thirty years later,with Charlie Rose.  If you scroll past the George Clooney interview, you’ll reach Mr. Iyengar’s inteview.

Mr. Iyengar died today after giving the world his body and mind.  I’m saddened by his passing,  but endlessly grateful for the insights and teachings he shared for so many years.  They’ve changed my life in deep and dramatic ways.

Siren Call of Retreat

A SWIRL OF WHITE FLOWERSWho says you need to go someplace expensive to re-center and refresh yourself? Who says a monastery or ashram is needed?

After traveling in Europe that involved some intense genealogical study, I have embarked upon a one week retreat. I did take breaks while overseas and I meditated a lot while traveling. Click on the following links if you would like to read further how I practiced away from home:

I chanted Lovingkindness mantra for myself and others in need.

 I practiced gentle yoga everyday.

I even went on a little pilgrimage, and 11 mile hike, chanting lovingkindness most of the time. Afterwards, I needed a backbend.

After I returned home however, I found I wanted to bring those practices into my everyday life, not just my “traveling” life. The siren call of retreat rang in my soul.  It’s a time to re-group, re-center, and reconnect with my life. And yes, admittedly, I want to detox … that German chocolate, wine, and bread needs to go. I need to return to a more vigorous practice. OUCH! My body needs to adjust.  And that can’t be rushed or I’ll end up injuring myself.

The game plan is to spend more time exercising, yoga-ing, including daily savasana,  reading or listening, art-ing, writing.  Cutting back on socializing and going out.  Even talking is on the back burner! Sounds luxurious, doesn’t it?

For five days,  I’ll try to post daily to let you know how it’s going.

Perhaps you’d like to join me? If even for a day or an hour. It’s a tried and true yogic practice and in my experience, yields delicious rewards even better than German chocolate!

 

 

Meditating on-the-go

Meditating on train in Germany
Meditating on train in Germany

I love meditating while sitting on a public conveyance, such as a plane or a train.  In some ways, it’s easy to minimize distractions.

For the past year or so, I’ve been practicing Metta, or Lovingkindness meditation.

I sit up tall, with my feet planted on the floor, close my eyes, and begin to chant.  Sitting with eyes closed, folks usually don’t try to interact with you. This is not necessary, but when I’m in public like this, I usually do lower my eyelids to minimize visual distractions,

The mantra can be done for oneself  (very important!!) or for another person.  Since I noticed that I had defaulted to berating myself in my self-talk, I’ve been doing the mantra A LOT for myself to try to create more love within me, knowing that how I treat myself mirrors the way I treat others.

As a reminder, then, here is what I might chant:

May I live without fear.

May I live in physical health.

May I live in mental health.

May I live a life of ease and abundance.

The transformation has begun! For one thing, I cannot remember the last time I called myself a name such as Stupid, or Idiot.  Hopefully, my heart is opening with greater compassion for others as I think of them with less negative language.

 

Supported Backbend

Supported Backbend on bed
Supported Backbend on bed

After hiking the St. Wendel pilgrimage trail for a ways, then the Teiffenbach Pfad in St. Wendel, Saarland, Germany, a bed backbend was a must! This works after a hard day of gardening or whenever the back feels achy. Backbends raise energy, so be prepared for a surge of energy afterwards. Be sure to exit the pose carefully, drawing the knees up towards the chest and rolling on your side to release the spine. You an use a footboard or headboard during this maneuver to assist your return to standing.

 

Using Our Feet

Have you noticed an area of your body that has become “numb” or dysfunctional over time? Perhaps it was due to an injury or to sub-optimal posture, or simply because your awareness had drifted away and other parts of your body had taken over the function of the original area.

The toes, feet, and ankles are often areas that lose dexterity, strength, and mobility over time of dis-use or un-use. Sometimes an injury that occurred when we were children or teenagers, such as a broken foot or sprained ankle, comes back in the form of osteo-arthritis in our later years.

In yoga class, we have been working to develop awareness of how our feet, especially the soles of our feet,full of energy-sensitive chakras and plenty of touch-sensitive neurons, can aid us in the yoga poses. our lowest extremities can help the way we walk, stand, and, balance. Developing strength and flexibility in our feet should be a priority as we age.

 

 

Is yoga a religion?

Duke Gardens LotusThe debate over whether yoga is a religion has always struck me as odd. Kinda like saying that prayer is a religion. Yoga is a practice. For many folks, it’s simply a practice of physical-mental fitness and therapy. Nothing wrong with that. There’s no denying the long list of benefits that can be enjoyed through a consistent practice.

Yoga also creates harmony in the body-mind-spirit that is otherwise so often elusive in our daily lives. We feel that unity of being with pleasure. Thus yoga becomes the catalyst for further development of the whole self: our spiritual, mental, and physical selves. This may mean diving deeper into our own religious heritage or working with a meditation instructor. It may mean working with a life coach or therapist. It could also mean making that medical appointment or losing weight. It could even mean clearing the garage clutter.

Yoga creates a desire in me to be a better person. Not in a constant frenzy of self-help laden with heavy doses of something’s-wrong-with-me-that-I-need-to-fix-so-I-can-attain-nirvana’  mindset, but in the action of relaxing into living fully and wholly my LIFE. In living the life I was born to live. Healthy in all levels of being.

That is the lotus in the pose.

Standing on One Leg

Hast Padangusthasana r Standing Back of the Leg Stretch,  Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Hasta  Padangusthasana or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch,
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Tough not to focus when standing on one leg! Today’s To Do list recedes from consciousness while I affix my gaze at a point beyond my big toe.

How easily and quickly falling out of balance happens when attention wavers.

Just one of the perks of Hasta Padangusthasana, or Standing Back of the Leg Pose.

Practicing poses that cause the mind to open into full awareness, rather than the incessant, and often repetitive chatter that usually occupies the neurons, is how yoga brings BodyMindSpirit into oneness.

If only the ‘easy’ poses are practiced, whatever they may be for you, then bringing the mind and awareness into the endeavor will be a huge challenge.

Hasta Padangusthasana 2 or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch 2 Sarah P.Duke Gardens Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Hasta Padangusthasana 2 or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch 2
Sarah P.Duke Gardens
Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

When I practice poses that take me to the edge, poses where I really have to center and move mindfully. When that happens, no matter where I may be or whom I am with, I enter a YOGA pose.

The difficulty with daily life is that it is too easy to stray into action without the mind connecting. OR to get into working/acting from the head, without engaging the body.

 

 

 

July Meditation

Orange Daylily Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Orange Daylily
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

The garden tips in shadows and an overabundance of vegetables. Yet blossoming among the old stalks of July’s proliferation, are striking flowers. Beauty becomes the fading violet color on a Monarda going to seed or a single coral rose bending toward light.

My being flows in and out of this creation. I am one moment the created, another moment, and I become the creator. When life becomes rich in juice, I am both! Singing, without care for the distinction.

            What is practice? There are infinite ways of practicing the yoga poses. Sometimes the pose is hidden in life. Finding that the pose is life becomes the ultimate centering practice. Mindfulness.

As practice “seasons” through experience and time, yoga informs activities which are seemingly unrelated to our being on the mat. Tapas (fire, determination) and sukha  (joy, ease) play out moment to moment, no matter what activity is engaged.

So many ways we stretch beyond the physical. The way of strength, the way of holding and letting go. The way the breath informs everything.

            Sometimes the best practice is not physical.

Yoga is, after all, about the mind as well as the body and the heart.

Just becoming even slightly aware of what is going on up there in the place inhabited with a thousand chattering monkeys, is a profound practice. When breath takes me there, I roll in light and shadow.

Am I ready for what may be found? Can I allow myself to become that single coral rose blossoming amid the dried out stalks and petals in the garden? Am I ready for nirvana? It floats  in the very next inhalation. It may arrive in that still pause, the moment between exhalation and inhalation when the monkeys quiet in awe, and simple existence becomes total awareness of being.

 

The Flower of Yoga

Tree pose beside flowering eldersFor many years, I see-sawed between practicing sitting meditation and asana practice. I was gaining insight into my Self with both kinds of practice. Mind, Body, Heart, were all developing, albeit unevenly.

I could (and did) spend hours a day in sitting practice, to the point of neglecting the needs of my body, my family, my friends. I would continue this way until the niggle within grew, strongly suggesting that I was neglecting my asana practice. Then I’d kick up my asana practice. I was growing more and more comfortable simply being in my body, as well as growing stronger and more supple. New levels blossomed in poses I’d thought were unattainable for me, and so, working even harder, I’d push forward, sometimes to the point of bodily injury.

Both practices yielded many benefits, but I was left feeling chronically unsatisfied with my practice and with myself. If asked about my home practice, I would say as much because I truly felt as if it hardly existed. A sense of incompleteness in my life never lifted. I was a bud that refused to bloom.

Gradually, over time, I developed curiosity about why I couldn’t seem to settle. Was I more of a meditator, or more of a yogini? As I did this, I asked myself questions about what was most needed to fulfill my dharma, my reason for being here now.

The answer led me deeper into meditation in daily life. Meditation in asana practice. Yoga in the kitchen. Meditation while unloading the dishwasher. Yoga in the shower. Meditation while weeding. Walking meditation. Yoga in the garden.

Learning to connect the messages from my senses, the outer world, with my mind, the inner world — I glimpse union. The unfolding of the flower of yoga.

B.K.S.Iyengar tells us in his insightful book, The Tree of Yoga, The Classic Guide to Integrating Yoga Into Your Daily Life, that the flower of yoga is Dhyana or Meditation. It is the union of the outer path of our asana (messages from our senses) and the inner path of asana (messages from our mind). They must both become balanced. When imbalanced, and we’ve all seen advanced practitioners fall this way, even though they’ve practiced long and achieved a high level of ability in sitting meditation or yoga asana, they do not realize the calm bliss that comes only from the full flowering of yoga.

As I (happily!) settle into deeper union of life and yoga, paths heretofore unseen come into view. The garden blossoms. There are more flowers. The journey continues :-)