Yoga is about learning to channel energy. Using your power involves channeling your energy. Not recognizing your power is perhaps the easiest way to negate the energy at your disposal. This tribute to women who have transformed their own energies into action to change the world in big and small ways is inspiring for all of us, men, women, children, elders alike.
Though International Women’s Day is March 8, I am inspired by this video TODAY. It really supports my intentions for the year 2012. How about you?
Pamir, from Reiki Help Blog and Carnival of Healing really struck a chord with his comment on the opening page of our yoga sutra study. After all, most folks begin a yoga practice for greater flexibility, or strength, or balance, i.e., changing their physical body. Most beginner’s have never heard of the yoga sutras, nor do they realize that yoga is about transforming the MIND and that THAT is where the most significant changes will occur.
It is NOT selfish to devote some time to developing personal qualities such as inner peace, contentment, and unconditional love for your SELF. Even if you have five kids who have special needs, or aging parents in nursing homes, or a dying dog, YOU NEED TO SPEND TIME developing your spiritual life. And if you haven’t figured out yet that yoga is a spiritual path — whatever religion you ascribe to — well, then it’s time to realize the bigger picture! Wake up and feel the grace, baby
If you want exercise, do aerobics, go for a swim, ride your bike, pound the treadmill, or dig in your garden. True, you CAN do a mess of sun salutations, work up a sweat in power vinyasa, but remember that these are supposed to the means to an end: to greater mindfulness of this moment, and to a connection with the universal.
Most long-time practitioners have stories of when others noticed the change in them. This morning, one of my students remarked that folks had commented upon how she had changed during the past few years. The change correlated exactly with the time she began yoga study, which these particular acquaintances did not know. She’d grown softer, not so much on the offensive all the time, more loving.
We seem to need permission though to nurture ourselves. This is one of the primary reasons students come to class: to be reminded to love and honor themselves.
Some of us have grown up with the notion that it is selfish, even immoral to give ourselves what we need and want. We should only think of others’ needs. Only when we have done all we can to help others achieve what they need.Then, and only then do we fulfill our needs . If there is time or energy AFTERWARDS, then we might think of ourselves.
One of the key tests of whether or not a spiritual practice or a teacher is worth pursuing is if you can see RESULTS. (More on the qualities of a worthwhile teacher in a later post). You might want to ask students in a prospective class, what changes they have noticed in their own lives or in the lives of classmates.
We create intentions to live more peacefully, truthfully, less greedily, BUT we don’t just think about changing; if the intentions were meaningful, we DO take at least baby steps on the path to perfection: liberation from suffering. If we are not feeling the bliss flowing more often, if we are not able to breathe and slow down or stop emotional twirls, if we are not able to stop frenetically DOING and relax into BEING, more often than when we began practice, it might be time to search a new teacher, class, or practice. We need to be in a state of growth and that growth should translate into a more loving, compassionate, and happier life.
How did you learn that your practices had changed you? Are you still evolving?
Yesterday I embarked upon a “vision quest” of sorts: a virtual retreat with Comfort Queen. I AM SO PUMPED! Four days I am giving over to bursting outta ordinary life in order to sit with my existence. It’s a time to look long and with new slant at how I do things, especially how I live my life and WHY. Ah, yes, I’ll even spend some time pondering the BIG QUESTION and if you don’t know what the heck THAT is, well, there’s probably no need for pondering on your part. For types like me, it is a darn-near obsession and one that I welcome iotas of answers. But then, there I am in the retreat and I find out that what it’s all about is ASKING MORE QUESTIONS! What gives with this?
I follow the guidelines in the How to Create Retreat Space doc….light pretty candles, gather colored pens, 2 notebooks (lined and unlined…just in case, I go journalling wild), create seating possibilities, including a small rocking chair that I bought at Salvation Army, yoga mat and blankets for impromptu practice and warmth. My space was comfy and safe, good for looking deeply sans interruptions from myself or others.
Jen Louden, retreat diva, led the first session and my oh my,it was exhilarating. I’d never been on a virtual retreat so it was a relief, both that I could figure it out (OMG as simple as making a phone call) and that I’d be inspired to do the work I felt needin’ to do. My excitement burbled after the call as I wrote in my journal and then headed upstairs to eat lunch and take care of a few other tasks. .
While happily munching away on my leftover stuffed delicata squash, something inside nudged me to go downstairs and blow out the candles, candles shouldn’t be left unattended and all that. Starting downstairs, I gasped upon nearly being flown into by a large black bird, a starling, for gosh sakes—in the basement! I ran upstairs, closed the door, breathed a few, and tried to think about how it got there…and how weird, one has never come into our house in winter, never in the basement…but it is zero degrees outside and I guess the poor thing was freezing.
I’m on a vision quest and a STARLING FLIES INTO MY SACRED SPACE!
It actuallyalightson the yoga ropes! Was it feeling the gorgeous spaciousness of retreat time and space? Was it connecting with re-treatants around the globe, seeking calm, confidence, and contentment with comfort? Hoping that at the least, its purpose will shift away from GRAND SUET MONGER at my feeder to something more uplifting like SINGER OF GOLDEN ARIAS, but not sure that THAT is in Starling’s DNA.
The symbolist in me immediately connected this bird with the poem Jen read at the opening. Even though underground and the wild wind was growling with buckets of snow belting outta the gray sky, I could feel the forest inside with the Wren and Raven’s presence when she read. Human- nature boundaries dissolved. Poetry holds much the same purpose as yoga —connectiveness.
Here’s the poem; sorry the spacing is off. It’s a lovely by one of my fav poets.
By David Waggoner
Stand still. The trees and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
FF to Day 2 of the Comfort Retreat: it’s mid-mornin’ and I’m setting up my “Stuff” and notice that there is a god-awful smell in the room. I call Mike down and we figure out that it’s coming from the furnace pipe (the day before we didn’t actually know HOW Starling got in…today the poop on the furnace was a dead giveaway). We hear a fluttering and realize that this bird is stuck inside the pipe!!! This is a horrible SAD disgusting unthinkable way for a poor defenseless bird to die. And since it’s our pipe, we are feeling kinda to blame. Mike puts on his gallant face (the one I LOVE so much) and informs me that he’ll take the pipe apart and retrieve the poor thing. I’m free to go upstairs and listen to theretreat call that is starts momentarily.
While I’m dialing-in, my head is screaming: GOOD LORD, THERE IS A BIRD BURNING IN MY PIPE!!! How very SHIVA-esque! Do I need a stronger metaphor for transformation???? Am I that dense? Did the universe really need to like bang me upside my head with a life on fire? The smell that now permeated the house? like Pashupatinath, the burning ghats in Nepal…GROSSSSSS.
Ahh, the second bird was only singed. It flew freely outside. The smell remains to remind me to let go of the past, to open, AND TO LISTEN to that which is my heart’s desire.
Which bird will you follow today? The one that flew towards the heat of the blue flame and found an opening into freedom, openness! Or the one that tried to retreat when it grew too warm and then became stuck in the pipe, singeing its feathers in the process?
Sure, there was a ridiculous blizzard, mucho tree karma again, kids stranded overnight in Atlanta, anise cookies baked too late for aging, fruitcake eaten too early for aging, the last minute gift wrapping frenzy, and unexpected visitors, including our dog-guest, Yoshi.
But there was also the traditional cheesy plastic nativity set on the mantle, the tipsy angel on top of the tree that we finally found after three days of searching the backwoods of the county, way too much cinnamon and citron Christmas stollen, too much loganberry wine, too little sleep.
It was Christmas after all. And even though I worried that I didn’t have the time or where-with-all to create the seasonal magic my parents pulled together year after year, I was nonetheless pulled into dreamy, timeless and very joyful days.
With ten people in the house for nearly a week, there was amazingly little conflict. There were no raised voices, except in laughter; there was no sulking or even passive aggression. Everyone worked hard to interact with each other and yet, maintained respect for each others space and feelings. Geesh, not much of a story here, but I warned you, it was all pretty ordinary. We cooked, took long walks, and hung out. We played a couple of games and racked homemade wine. We sat on our bums and talked, catching up with what’s been going on in our lives, munching each others insights and news like cookies.
The weather spun crap, keeping us nearly housebound the entire break. One day it’d be frigid blowing white stuff, the next thick, icy rain; the next day would gray over imbued with bone-numbing damp. Never was there enough snow and sun to snowshoe, nor enough green and balm to walk.
elves & eggnog
So why was this a season filled with grace? I was sporting an entirely new attitude. Yep, life’s all about ‘tude and I finally figured out that my life went down a whole lot more fun if I embraced a yogic attitude.
Last year, when a friend dropped by on Christmas day. I nearly bolted out the door to go for a walk with him. I was soooo glad for a respite from all that was going on in the house – which I would say now was absolutely nothing except my negative outlook- so why did I need to escape so badly? I have a journal entry from then wherein I recorded how alienated I felt, how separated from everyone, including those supposedly closest to me: my immediate family. And of course that was bringing on depression, the all-too-common holiday blues. I’m not trying to go all-confessional on you here; it’s just evidence of how my attitude, which included such stellar qualities as resentment, insecurity, formless ambition and competition, shaped not only how I looked at life, but created the threads of my existence.
There really wasn’t much different this year, except my mind – that great instigator of human turmoil and unhappiness. The great wrecker of human lives.
It’s all in the attitude!
What is? you ask.
Pretty much everything, I answer.
We create our world, thought by fleeting thought.
traditional Bavarian anise seed cookies
Yes, reincarnation probably happens when we die – the physical body eaten by slugs – the spiritual self enters the realms of the bardo and reemerges in another realm of existence. But we also have the ability to reincarnate during this life. We become new-old beings, that is, if we decide to change our minds – the way we view life. That’s the miracle of birth we celebrate in the Nativity every single year. We pray for the grace to invite transformation. And as everyone knows, change often occurs when we are at our lowest, darkest points. It’s no surprise that so many of us celebrate birth during the solstice’ short days. Or that depression runs rampant as hungry bears during Christmas cookie season.
Sure, we practice yoga asana or postures so our limbs and core will remain supple and strong, but there are deeper, much more fundamental changes that often go unnoticed since they accrue silently and invisibly, year after year of maintaining the discipline of the mat.
Here’s a list of some changes I’ve noticed growing in my heart and mind:
Acceptance - I learn from not being able to clasp my twisted hands in eagle or to touch my forehead to my shin in forward fold,from my distractedness and rushing in bellows breath, from my pitiful attempts at living by the precepts of nonviolence and nongrasping, from my restlessness and sleepiness in sitting meditation; acceptance must run parallel to self-knowledge,,,as I go deeper, it’s not always pretty inside! Acceptance of myself leads to accepting others in my life. I don’t have to always be right; peace is more important AND accepting you as you are, striped with faults of every color just as I am…well, it’s OK. Accepting who I am means also accepting my past decisions as well as yours; it means accepting where I am physically as well as mentally. There is a freedom I’ve found in this acceptance by and by which has led to a fundamental shift to a consciousness of contentment. At least greater contentment than ever existed in any precious life.
Flexibility -As I hold pigeon and camel – poses that break old patterns of holding, my body and mind and heart grow more bendy! When I let go my routine and any semblance of schedule (hey, with all those folks in this little house, there wasn’t much room nor was it ever quiet for practicing) …I ate different, heck I think my breath assumed a different rhythm for nearly three weeks. In the interest of flexibility, I let it go and didn’t look back, didn’t hold on to seeping strands of resentment, which left me free to fully enjoy my company and to welcome the relief from routine!
Confidence – Standing in tree or dancer pose light the inner fires of confidence; being able to sit with my thoughts alone or to spend a day in silence have given my self-assurance that even if my practice nearly disappeared, even if my beautiful schedule was obliterated, I am still me with my core intact and I will return to the balance that my practices afford on a daily basis after the holiday. This sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t always the case in days of yore. I’d lean a tad crazed and unbalanced in a semi-permanent fashion when thrown off schedule.
Presence (awareness) – By training myself to become aware of my toes and fingers, my heart and mind, while teetering in half-moon pose, or sitting in siddhasana meditation, or stretched in savasana, I begin to observe how my attention wanders while I am “listening” to you. I try to grow my awareness by staying on task and paying attention to whatever it is I happen to be involved in at the moment. It’s a tough call in a culture that praises multitasking and it’s a challenge when there are several conversations going on in the room simultaneously.
Playfulness – This is the attitude fostered when I fall out of half-moon or dancer pose! This is the attitude that keeps me from performing sun salutations like a robot, that drives my twisting self into crazy dog pose. This is the attitude that says, hey, whatever comes up during sitting meditation is AOK. In fact, bring it on…all of it, ‘cuz I’m gonna just sit here and watch! This is the attitude fostered by a sense of community that says we are all flawed and wonderful human beings (hmmm, even dogs!) and we don’t have to uphold any longstanding personas anymore. This is the attitude of the Laughing Yogini
I recognize these forces at work in my life when I celebrate with kith and kin, filled with hugs, laughter, ease and well-being, letting go and giving away. It all feels natural and makes me wonder what else lies on the road up ahead as I continue the path which no longer seems like a way; it flows as constant evolution, a constant rebirth.This all makes me curious to know what sort of changes have appeared in your life lately? Do you connect any of them to your practice? Wishing you Happy New Life and ‘tude in 2009!