Tuesday, January 31, 2012

7 for Spring!

I counted it out... there are seven more Mondays until the Equinox when Spring officially begins. In my opinion, it can't come fast enough. I know this winter has been extremely mild (it's almost 70 degrees here today), but February always seems to drag me down.

To keep our spirits up and our practice up during the doldrums of the year, I'm putting out a little challenge:

Seven for Spring

  1. Pick your Seven top feel-good poses. These should be poses that never fail to make you feel good. Poses that inspire or challenge you. That put you in an awesome mood. I also suggest that they be active (not restorative) so that you're also activating your energy when you practice. Maybe choose something you don't always practice but you find fun!
  2. Make a randomly numbered list of them.
  3. Add your numbered list to the comments of this post... or email it to me, and include if you're going to blog along about it. And keep a copy of the list for yourself.
Each Monday from now until Spring I will choose a random number 1-7 and post it here and on facebook. That is your party pose for the week. Your job is to put that pose into every practice you do that week. You can post how it's going in responses to posts here or you can post them on my facebook page.... even email or facebook a photo of the pose.

At the end of the seven weeks you won't win a prize or anything. BUT spring will be here, your practice will have kept up during the month of February (not a small feat for me). And, you may just inspire and be inspired by the others who practice along.

Sound good?

We'll officially start on Monday February 6th, but you can join in at any time. I'll keep a running list of poses on the side of this page. Just practice right along! Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Quote

It is so easy to close down to risk, to protect ourselves
against change and growth. But no baby bird emerges
without first destroying the perfect egg sheltering it.
We must risk being raw and fresh and awkward.
For without such openness, life will not penetrate
us anew. Unless we are open we will not be filled.

- Patricia Monaghan

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Pie that (almost) ruined my day

I am, well, WAS a cranky lady today. It happens to the best of us. Ugh. It's really all my own doing and is a reminder to Pay Attention or live with the Consequences. Why, hello Karma, nice to see you again.

Let's rewind, shall we. Remember on Monday it was my husband's birthday? Well, his favorite birthday treat is Key Lime Pie. It is awesome and he completely finished his by Tuesday night. So yesterday I made another one (seeing as how Babe and I'd barely gotten a taste of the first one). Yesterday was uneventful and he worked late not getting home until around 10:15. Around 10:20 that darn pie started calling to us in it's sweet yet tart yet tangy yet cool yet creamy voice saying we just had to taste a tiny bite. Really the oreo crust shouldn't be left alone there in the fridge unaccompanied, right? So we did. I had the smallest of pieces. But it was at 10:20 pm (when I'm usually lights out at 10, mind you)

That was IT. I stayed up late reading. Then I tossed and turned all night unable to get to sleep and stay asleep with the strange dreams...

That pie set me up for the crankiest day.. no early morning practice as I like to do on Thursdays before teaching, a weird disconnectedness in my teaching, (a lovely visit with a friend) and then shortness with my daughter as she came out from school.

Things were not looking good. Thank goodness, I woke up and decided I didn't want to go down with the ship. I looked at my daughter who was singing a crazy song not to annoy the bajesus out of me but because she was just so darn happy. And I decided to borrow from her.

For the first few minutes, switching from crankmeister to happy-go-lightly was really challenging. But then I settled in. Blowing bubbles for her reminded me to enjoy taking deep breaths. Being the soundtrack for her dance party reminded me to stop and sing once in a while. And demanding that I practice asana good and hard during her nap, then eat a healthful snack were the final switches to flip. I'm not totally better. I could use a little more sleep. A little more quiet time with no agenda today. But at least I'm not about to take anybody's head off anymore.

It reminds me of what Todd said at the workshop in the fall: "Let your afterwards be your teacher." Of course, I've learned the Don't eat chocolate after 8pm, and Don't stay up too late before you have to work in the morning lessons quite a few times. And I'll probably learn them again, but at least now I'm paying attention to it. And at least now I'm starting to learn that I can save a sinking ship. It doesn't all have to fall apart, instead I can fight for every single moment until a switch is made. I'm learning how much is in my control. Inevitably, I do switch back to bliss-ish, that's my ground of being, you know.

So. that's my day, take what you will.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Painted in Celebration

green food coloring from pie-making and a henna tattoo honoring a friend

It is Monday and I am filled up. I am green and brown and smiling. It is gray and foggy and cold outside and I am warm and juicy and inspired inside. I am full. This is a magical feeling.

This weekend was all about Service and Celebration and I am marveling at how energized and enlivened I feel coming out of it. On Saturday I hosted a Blessingway/Mother Blessing for a friend who is expecting her first child. It was a powerful circle of women which reminded me just how important it is to have deep real friends, and how important the task of Mothering really is.

And that whether you have children or not you may quite deeply engage in Mothering. Because the very first person you can Mother is yourself. What a gift you could give the world to truly nurture, love, and embrace yourself in the way that your own mother could not even know how to do. And from there we are each invited to be Mother to each other. Mother in the most accepting loving and supportive way possible. And even men can Mother I think. Wouldn't that be an amazing world, if men were Mothering others the way the tender-hearted ones Mother their own children. I think it's possible.

From the Blessingway to the Kula Jam where the studio was packed with new eager faces who delighted in exploration and community. As the "leader" of sorts of Saturday's Kula Jam I was invited into service of all the beautiful souls. In times past a schedule like that: the Blessing then the Jam: would've felt too much, too exhausting, too stressful... Saturday it felt like a gift. A magical moment to help people have fun explore and feel connected. Saturday was community day... even on into the night when we gathered with our newly forming supper club.

Sunday teaching and practicing and time with friends and the gift of rest to my body.

And today is Monday. And I am full. And it is my Husband's 39th birthday.

Again, a cause for celebration and service. A few years ago I wasn't home on his birthday. I went to a yoga workshop with my teacher. I forgot to wish him happy birthday as he stayed home and watched our one-year-old. I will never skip his birthday again, because, Birthdays are big deals. Birth Day is a huge deal, for all involved. It makes me frustrated when people talk about aging and not wanting to have the number creep up... the thing is, there is only one way to stop having birthdays, and I, personally, am not ready for that yet. SO let's celebrate them instead shall we?

All of this... an immanent new baby, a fledging new community, the birthday of the man I love... all about birth, beginnings, coming alive, it has a push and momentum that is building and about to crack wide open. I can see it coming.

Anodea Judith says: "Let what you love occupy the center of your life. Make the fulfillment of your longing your highest priority. When your longing is answered, you will have cause to celebrate.
The heart is nourished by celebration and play, pleasure and beauty, creativity and laughter. These are the seeds of love. They are the ground from which it grows, and they are present in every new relationship. ... Joy is a sign that the heart is open. Contentment is a result. Foster the age of the heart with glorious celebration, creative collaboration, and passionate production of continuous delight."

We do not celebrate enough. We do not engage in the passionate production of continuous delight in our society. I do not do it enough in my very house. But to celebrate is to mark occasion. It is to honor and validate shifts and growths, beginnings and endings, accomplishment and passages. And it need not be accompanied by fanfare, sugar, or confetti. Just a simple recognition, smile, and pat on the back may be enough.

On a dreary Monday such as this it is difficult to find cause to celebrate. January is certainly not my favorite time of year. So I say, go out and LOOK for it. Maybe we can smile inwardly to ourselves today and offer that loving Mother energy in celebration of the beauty inherent in our own lives. It is a gift that you are alive at this moment. Breathe in, Breathe out... Celebrate.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Quote

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth"

-- Muhammad Ali

(with gratitude to Dana, the girls, and PYR)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Arm's Length

A girlfriend of mine deeply feels that the reason she struggles in parsvakonasana and in arm balances is that her arms are just too short. She has trouble touching the floor. Too short may be an overstatement. Her arms are her arms and they are completely perfect for her lovely body. She has a long torso too which may make it more difficult to reach the floor sometimes. I got her to drop her hip and scoop her tailbone in parsvaK the other day and "suddenly" the arm length wasn't a problem.

I'm always amazed at how simple shifts can have a profound influence. Usually I know what is needed, but convincing myself to make the shift is the hard part.

Thresholding again. I'm doing some of that work that needs to be done but is wickedly uncomfortable. I think this year is about becoming a real adult. Maturing. Because, that's really who I want to be. I'm tired of blaming others, of judging others, of holding out, and particularly of fear.

I'm learning a lot about my arm's length right now. Have you seen my arm's length? Chances are, if you've met me you've been at arm's length. No matter how close you want to get to me and how deeply inside you think you actually are... fear kicks in and my arm will grow in an instant to move you back 20 years. Perhaps the only ones who really get in are my husband, child, and best girlfriends... but all are only visitors in the embrace before the push away begins again.

It's a knee-jerk reaction. Feels uncontrollable. But, I'm told, it's not.

And so this is a cycle to look at opening the boundaries (yikes!), which means dealing with things that are less than pleasant in an honest and mature way. This is also a cycle for maturing, discipline and not so much mental complaining.

And a cycle of service. Somehow those things keep coming to me. Maturity, Discipline, Service. All wrapped into speaking. Voice. WORDS = Power, Vibrancy, Vulnerability.

Well, I'm paralyzed/terrified. And I'm not going to let that stop me. Because I feel this incredible surge too. The cloud of terror is blocking a blinding sun of manifestation.

So it is also a cycle for playing and expanding. For many attempts and failures, and re-attempts, and re-learning. And for clocking time in the fire. For, to transform will require a lot of heat.

I have long arms that shoot out at a moment's notice. Time for handstanding without the wall. Forearm stand with no support. Turning the world upside down for long times. And letting it all exist as it is, not fixing. Time to twist and sweat and feel uncomfortably weird in a pose and in a moment and just let it be that way for the greater good of becoming a mature adult person on this planet.

Anyhoo. I'm back from vacay to some hard real work to do. Personal evolution.

While I'd like to do it all from this chair and in my mind, that just isn't how it works. Anodea Judith says "Relationship is the crucible through which evolution occurs." So, I'm stepping in. Trying to drop my hip, tuck my tail, grow up, and use my arms as I intend them... in the biggest, love-filled, most all embracing hug possible.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Unexpected

Ha! Life happens in unexpected ways, right?
This week we booked a vacation on a whim. So instead of dropping back into my life, teaching, and practice we're off for a few days of rest and play as a family.
Kind of like Grace, you never know when she'll come but it's always interesting to see what will happen.

So I'll leave you until next week with this image of the LOTUS I spoke about in a previous post. Nothing and then a beautiful surprise. Enjoy! And I'll be back in this space next week.

No pedestal, Thanks so much!

Remember this post?

Well, I taught with the story from the post for inspiration for a class on Friendliness on Sunday morning. It was a lovely class and theme for a beginning of the year practice with quite a few new friends joining our normally quite tight group.

After class some of my longtime lovely students commented to me that they couldn't believe that I'd thought and behaved that way. They couldn't believe it was me. Well, flatter me not, if refusing to move my mat over was the worst I'd ever done I might be a pretty amazing person, but believe me I am certainly no saint. I have thought, said, and done much worse in my life.

Their comments got me thinking about two things:

First, it reminds me how much we put our teachers on pedestals. I mean, I absolutely know I have Todd and Ann so high up I could never ever reach them. But they handle themselves so graciously and with so much humility it's hard not to believe they are absolute saints in living an honest and engaged life. It makes me a uncomfortable to believe that others could be holding me up in their minds the way that I hold up my own teachers.

I've been reading Christina Sell's My Body is a Temple recently. In the chapter on guru and spiritual authority she quotes philosophy teacher Carlos Pomeda giving some good questions to ask in choosing a teacher. Here's what he has to say:
"What's the person's pedigree? Who was/were their teachers? How long have they trained? How much have they practiced and how deeply? Most importantly, what is their level of inner experience? Have they dived into the depths of their own being? What have they learned? How much have they studied? How much experience do they have in guiding others? Finally, how do they live? Do their lives reflect their beliefs and teachings, or do they say one thing and do something completely different? Are they happy and fulfilled individuals?"

Whew! Well, that's largely how I choose a teacher. And, it's a lot to live up to if I want to truly truly be the kind of teacher I aspire to be.

And so, of course, I'm weeding out the habits that exist from the time when I was less invested on this path of yoga, habits from before I even knew the path. And am doing it as best I can, but to be honest I hope my students reserve the pedestal and know I am most certainly as human as they come. Struggles and all. I'm just doing my best to engage with the path, not to run away from it. And now especially I am making the shift into making my life off the mat match to the life I strive for on the mat.

Secondly, the comments my students made about me point to how effective this specific path of Anusara yoga actually is. The point of Anusara yoga is to teach people how to engage in their lives effectively in a real true way. The reasons to practice Anusara yoga are to remember our Divine Nature and to take delight in and celebrate that remembrance. In my opinion, Anusara yoga is designed to get you into your heart and keep you there as much as possible.

The path into teaching Anusara yoga includes Immersion and Teacher Training and takes a minimum of about 2 years to get to just the entry level of Inspired teaching. The immersion and teacher training set up of at least 200-hours of in depth study of Anusara, and the in depth practice in Anusara plus the years of practice in regular classes actually work. This yoga works. It is scientifically designed to shift not only the body, but the whole being on every level. The result is continuous transformation. At least, that has absolutely been my experience and the experience of those I've been alongside on the path. Honestly, the yoga works. It doesn't work as fast as instant internet, but it does work. I am absolutely a different person on the inside (and it's starting to show on the outside) than I was when I first started Anusara or yoga at all.

So, I'm glad I'm in it. I'm glad to be on this path and am excited to see what the next steps will be for me, for this sweet kula in Richmond, and for the broader Anusara community. To any students who think I'm more than they could possibly be I say: Keep the pedestal and instead walk this path beside me in humility, humor, and love. Let's keep getting into our hearts together!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The LOTUS in the Heart (of Virginia)

Unless you live here in VA you might not know it, but there exists, quite literally, a two story pink and sky blue lotus in the heart of Buckingham County, VA. It is the LOTUS of Sachidananda Ashram, fondly called, Yogaville. (LOTUS stands for Light of Truth Universal Shrine).
It is, totally and completely unexpected.

I drove out to Yogaville for my first visit on Friday. Driving there took me on a country highway through the piedmont for nearly two hours. Along the way I passed my country cousins out in full camo and blaze orange hats. I gathered that it was the last weekend of deer hunting season. And every extra tall pick-up truck I passed was covered in that red orange mud that let me know they'd been out in the fields working or on the look out for game.

I say "my cousins" because though these weren't my literal cousins, my country kinfolk were most certainly doing the same over the weekend. (that's what it said on facebook at least). I could get all upset at passing the hunting on the way to an ashram dedicated to peace and happiness for all. But I know from the ones I call family that many of these people are truly of the God-fearing, life-loving, family centered, hard-working salt-of-the-Earth type. I don't choose to hunt animals for sport and they do, but that doesn't mean I have to hate them. They love their kids and God, and they allow 900 acres of what is probably pretty good farmland to be used as a hippie ashram. Everyone seems to get along.

That's sort of what I mean by the LOTUS being completely unexpected. It sits in the middle of farmland right in the center of VA. To get to LOTUS from the quad of the ashram grounds you hike down a hill or drive down a long winding country road and suddenly round a corner you get a glimpse. Wham. There it is! Nothing at all subtle about it! A huge lotus sitting in a field.

I honestly don't know much about Swami Sachidananda and Integral Yoga. I do know that his translation of the yoga sutras is on the Anusara reading list. And I went to Yogaville not so much as an in depth study in Integral Yoga or an immersion into the nuances of ashram living (the 5:30 am wake-up by violin playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was lovely) but as a moment to take a breath and pause.

Yogaville being situated just as it is in Buckingham County offered just the right space from the noise of traffic on the street. The simple room offered respite from TV and internet. More quiet space for thinking and resting. The delicious vegetarian food prepared in the kitchen was just what was needed after continuing indulgences with the holiday season. And the reminders to stop and meditate, stop and practice asana, stop and practice pranayama were like a call back into my own Heart and sadana.

Just being in the LOTUS was an invitation to experience the peacefulness that I felt I lost with the end of one year and beginning of the next. So while I did not find a new yoga home as some do, my overnight at Yogaville did just what I needed. It put a period and two spaces at the end of the sentence that was the holidays.

Next paragraph. Next year. Now I can finally begin. Maybe this taking of time, this allowing for a reset will be just the reminder my heart needs to Open to the unexpected!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Not so Awesome and a look at the Newbies

One of my least proud yoga moments of all time. Are you ready for it?

Several years ago, when I was in my first teacher training but before I was a teacher, I went to class at my studio. Class was in the smallest studio of the 3 and I spread my mat, like the pro that I was, in just about the center of the room. A few other students were already there so I pretty much monopolized the entire space that was left over. I was early, as I often was, so I sat down and did whatever thinking or breathing I did while waiting for the teacher to come.

A few minutes passed and another woman came into the room. I sat on my mat and somewhat looked away. She stepped tentatively a little closer to me. I did my thing where I pretend not to see someone.... though in that studio it is impossible not to see someone enter. I thought to myself: "I'm not gonna move over, unless she asks me to. She can go to the other row." She stood there and waited.

She sighed a deep, disheartened sigh. (I can hear it now, the heaviness, the uninvitedness, the frustration)

It sent a shock wave through me.
She looked at me and said: "Could you....."
Total shame, embarrassment, and disappointment in myself.
Oh. My. God.
Oh. My. God. Of COURSE I could move my mat over!! What had I been thinking?

I nodded. "Mmm Hmmm." I played it off like I'd not been paying attention. Maybe I really was aloof.

I wasn't. I was just plain being mean. Being mean just to be mean and maybe even to pump up my ego in my status as a teacher trainee. It was so not cool.

Since that moment I've been much more keenly aware about making sure to make space for others and try to hold it when I'm in classes anywhere. That meanness didn't help anybody that day, but at least it woke me up.


This time of year a lot of us try to make a leap into something new and different. Something a friend or loved one swears by. We try to go to the gym or to take a new yoga class. It's intimidating, but we want to feel better. It's scary, we don't know anybody and just to try something new with this old body feels like an insurmountable obstacle. Touching our toes, forget it!

This time of year on the other side, new people bust their way into our yoga classes and take our "spots". They fill up our gym machines and hog our favorite teachers' attention. It's annoying, but those of us who are the experts, who've been here a while, we've seen a few new year's folks come and go. We're betting the Resolutions will be gone by February and class will get back to normal. Until then it's comical to watch them try, and it's nice to have someone to compare ourselves against.

You know, I just wonder if we aren't part of the reason that some of the Resolutioners don't stick around.

Ever heard how mean people are at the gym... how stuffy and uninviting people were in the new yoga class your friend tried? {'really?' you say. 'they're always so nice there!} I mean, I don't want to stick around somewhere where I don't feel welcomed and encouraged. Where people give me mean looks, don't move over for me, and I can feel myself being judged.

I don't know. I think this time of year is a good time to watch ourselves in the midst of the influx into our yoga classes. To watch and see how the buttons are pushed and to take note if the yoga is actually working. I mean, can I actually move my mat over before I'm asked next time, shake hands with the new girl walking into the space, and keep my mind on my own practice without a giggle at the expense of another (even an internal giggle)? How hard could all of that be? Probably harder than I think. But worth a shot.

The best part is, by making space (physically and emotionally) in the class for the newest members I might just be making space for my new best friend. I might just be giving that person the inroads to an amazing transformation that would have been missed if I were the same mean girl I was a few years ago. Or, she might still never come back. And my practice will go on either way, but at least I made a dent in my own mean habits.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Planting New Seeds

the paperwhite in our kitchen window

Here's how it went down:

I was inspired. I was psyched-up and excited. I got myself on the hook.

[months passed]

I freaked. I got nervous. I filled myself with doubt. I tried to avoid it. I did not publicize.

I stopped. I gave myself the time and space I needed. I went back to inspiration. I visioned. I GOT TO WORK. I prepared. I Opened the heck to Grace.

I went to bed early.

I chanted. I warmed-up. I asked Blessings. I saw 25 expectant faces. I got intimidated. I remembered my preparation. I remembered my Highest vision. I Opened to Grace [continuously]

I spoke with the voice of knowledge and wisdom that lives in my heart. I inspired. I guided. I shifted people. I awoke to a new day. I was filled with gratitude.

I stepped up a notch.
I reset my own bar.

I am proud.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year Inspiration

My Grandmother, Gigi, receiving her college diploma

My Grandmother, Gigi didn't go to college. Well, for most of her life she hadn't gone to college, that is until 1995. When I was enrolling in my last year of high school, Gigi, enrolled in her freshman year of college at James Madison University. She was 76 and lived about 30 minutes away in the tiny railroad town of Shenandoah, VA.

For the next nine years Gigi navigated dark country roads, paid bills for tuition and books, studied for and passed tests and final exams, learned to use the word processing component of the computer so she could write papers, took a math class, and cared for my ailing grandfather. Even after Joe passed Gigi didn't give up on her education. To complete her degree in Theater Arts she had to write, stage and present an hour+ long monologue, fully memorized, in costume, to a live audience. She did it with grace and her never ending charm.

In May of 2004 Gigi walked across the stage and received her diploma from JMU. The audience gave a standing ovation. (I, personally, burst into tears!) She turned 85 that summer.

(At 92 she still lives independently with loving support from my parents and is as dramatic as ever!!)

On this New Year's Day just remember: It's never too late to follow your heart and go for your dreams. It doesn't matter how long it takes for them to come true for you. As long as you are following your heart nothing can touch you. Certainly, obstacles with present themselves, after all, how will you know you are truly going fully into your life if you aren't challenged? Let nothing stop you. Chase your dreams and they will run toward you! Ask for Grace and she will support you. And know that you are fully loved and supported in all you endeavor to create out of your one life.

I am so thrilled to see what this new year will bring. With love and blessings! Happy 2012 -- Sarah