Category Archives: Lifestyle

Just Feel It

glassFacebook and other social media have been filled with intense expressions of anguish, violence, sorrow, hate, unity, despair, hope, and higher consciousness following the flurry of pain and counter-pain that sprung into our global consciousness last week.

I’ve been on a strict “info diet” since last Friday, consuming controlled portions of all the messages floating around — and that includes the posts that are about light and love in the face of tragedy. That’s because sometimes it appears that yoga and other so-called paths to wakefulness are about escaping the cold, hard truth of the world we live in under the guise of “enlightenment.”

But that’s never been how I roll. I’ve never used my yoga practice to escape. Maybe I never had that luxury. When I landed on my first yoga mat in 2003, I was nearly dead. Whatever was happening during those classes didn’t make me feel worse and, every so often, even brought some relief. So I kept showing up in my utterly wretched state, mostly for lack of a better idea.

Since then yoga and mediation have been one of the cornerstones of how I cope with the harsh circumstances of being human in a capricious, unjust and painful world. It’s because of my Kundalini yoga practice that I’m able to see the facets of existence that uphold love and light and to choose the kind of person I’d like to be as I walk around (or crawl, depending on the day) on this third rock from the sun. So at first it was about not dying and surviving whereas now it’s about something more elegant and happy.

But I’ll tell you what my practice is NOT: it is not about platitudes or sticking our head in the sand or hopping onto soapboxes of higher consciousness. It’s also the underpinning of my approach to teaching. In my classes, we don’t stare and obsess over the rough stuff, but neither do we pretend it’s not part of life. If you want to join me for some breathing and moving and meditating in the middle of it all, please come out for class. I’ll be happy to see you and I’ll hope that it will bring a little comfort.

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Sadness and Being Present

flowersandbutterfliesMy friend’s dad died last month and she is sad.

His death was not a tragedy. He lived a full, long life. It was his “time.” My friend believes in an “afterlife.” She’s grateful he won’t suffer and that he was pretty sharp and good-humored almost to the very end.

And she’s sad. Because that’s how human beings feel when someone they love dies.  The details don’t much matter on that score. Young or old, estranged or close, expected or sudden, loss hurts and we need love and support to come to terms with it.

Her dad lived in another part of the state so she’s been up north, tending to him as he shuffled off this mortal coil, and then tending to the business of death, before making it back to LA last week, exhausted and essentially traumatized by the all-too-common dysfunctional family freak out that accompanies the death of a patriarch or matriarch.

When we were finally able to talk on the phone, she told me about the horrible drama that had unfolded the day of the funeral. I listened until she was done with the tale and then said, “It sounds awful. And it sounds like no one has really been taking time with you about the fact that you lost your dad and I’m really sorry because that’s what matters most. I know how much you loved him.”

She burst into tears. We sat with that for a bit. In between sobs she thanked me repeatedly for attending to her feelings and I was so grateful I was able to support her that way.

Because, the fact is, as a culture we really suck at handling death and grieving. Grief is messy, inconvenient and draining. We often leave those suffering to cope in isolation because we don’t know how to be present for their feelings and needs.

But all that’s really needed is to sit, breathe, listen and care. There’s nothing to fix. Death and grief are bigger than you or me. In fact, you need not say anything. But if you feel the urge to reach out with words, I’d like to recommend two sentences that in my personal experience are genuinely soothing:

(1) I’m thinking about you and sending love.

(2) If you’d like to share something about your father/mother/sibling/child/friend/loved one, I’d love to hear it.

My friend has a long, in some ways endless, road ahead in adjusting to the absence of her father. She’ll walk through it, one day at a time, and she’ll carry on.

While she does, I can hold her hand and I’m grateful for that.

My friend is sad.

“To Be or Not To Be” — Why Is That A Question?

image“Life is difficult.” —  M. Scott Peck

Simply put: it’s not easy being alive. It’s just not. Of course, no one promised it would be and, yet, somehow we assume a right to ease in this life.

If being alive is challenging, then being alive and sensitive is enough to send almost anyone over the edge. I mean, look at Hamlet. But we needn’t resort to Shakespeare for proof. The headlines lately are littered with plenty of examples of people careening over that line, which then causes profound agony to others. And those folks then have to find a way to live their difficult lives with that anguish, feeling victimized and lacking trust in the world.

Sounds fairly bleak, I’d say. Trying to manage that shit sandwich is one of the reasons, I believe, that people rationalize pain as a good thing — a blessing.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone offer up a “pain slogan.” At least Lord Byron’s version is poetic:

“Adversity is the first path to truth.”

Yeah, well, if you count the physical act of birth being our first “path” and how much adversity that involves, I’ll have to give him that one.

However, there often comes from that sentiment a false notion that pain or adversity is the ONLY way to grow. A sort of, “Well, where would I be if I hadn’t been hit by that truck/lost everything in that fire/been beaten as a child? I guess I’d be a shallow, thoughtless, unevolved imitation of all I am today.”

That logic rankles me. It always has. (P.S. If that’s your belief and it’s working for you, awesome, don’t change a thing…if not, read on.) I think my chief objection is that I suspect it arises from our culture’s pathological need to “fix” any emotion perceived to be a problem. After all, being sad, hurt or angry is an inconvenience and a buzz-kill…unless you can turn it into a phenomenal tale of victory that propelled you to achieve towering success. Whatever. God forbid we just sit with someone’s discomfort (physical or emotional) and bear witness to it while they have their experience.

That being said, yes, I acknowledge that pain most certainly provokes change — or as my teacher, Guru Singh, puts it: crisis provokes evolution — which is kind of the point. And making it to the other side of pain is, no doubt, a glorious accomplishment. But pain is not the only gateway to profound awakening.

The wisest teacher of all, I have found, is not pain but love.

The love I am speaking of is the kind that makes you unselfish and courageous. I’m talking about putting what the other person needs before what you want. Love that may include — but far surpasses — the romantic experience of falling for someone (which, by the way, is awesome in its own right so please don’t think I’m devaluing that phenomenon). This powerful love is described beautifully by one of my favorite quotations from Hafiz:

“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth,  ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”

This love is the sort that allows you to see and experience things about yourself that you had no idea were possible. It gives you a measure of who you really are and the lengths to which you will go to deserve the gift of loving. This love makes you strong.

But, unfortunately, many of us consider this kind of love to be unrealistic or at least unlikely. It isn’t, but thinking makes it so (also from Hamlet, for you Shakespeare fans). The bravery required to “be in love” this way is so tremendous that we often choose to retreat instead — and then wander the earth believing it doesn’t exist.

As for pain, it’s right there screaming at you the whole time, very difficult to ignore or misinterpret. I think that’s why people recognize and trust pain far more easily than they do love. I also think it’s why we have so many handy little sayings to make us feel better about pain’s offensive imposition in our lives, including my least favorite of all time:

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Grrrrr @#&!!%! I hear that phrase and I practically convulse with the force of my irritation (but don’t worry, that’s what hours and hours of deep meditation help manage). So in this week’s Yoga Bits, I am proposing a new saying, one that I hope to make popular enough to overtake the other obnoxious piece of blather. Say hello to a new catch-phrase:

“What I truly love makes me stronger.”

Pain happens, it’s true. It’s real, necessary and, yes, even at times a blessing. But let’s bring love as a motivator into its rightful place in our collective consciousness. The choice to love courageously whenever, whomever and whatever we wish is always within our power, regardless of any other circumstance. Let’s dig deep and ask ourselves what it is to genuinely love — not to grasp or want or covet or need, but to give and receive — and then do that.

Are you with me?

Now there’s a question.

This post originally appeared in the Yoga Bits newsletter on August 26, 2012.

What happens in vagus does NOT stay in vagus

The Vagus Nerve branchesYou may have never even heard of this busy little messenger, but your vagus nerve is working full time. Its influence is shaping your perception constantly. Recent research has uncovered specific opportunities to capitalize on its mechanism, as this article explains in Psychology Today.

“Stimulation of the vagus nerve might be able to speed up the process by which people with PTSD can learn to reassociate a non-threatening stimuli which triggers anxiety with a neutral and non-traumatic experience.”

And guess which ancient yoga practice has a long-standing relationship with this fascinating feedback loop? That’s right…kundalini yoga! Get to know your vagus nerve! See you in class.

Built to Last

SustainabilityI’m baaaaaack! I know it’s been a while, dear readers, and I appreciate hearing from you how much you have missed the Yoga Bits newsletter! I missed you, too! Read more…

 

Perfectly Imperfect

Sunrise

Sadhana sunrise over Pasadena, Calif.

I’ve been doing this kundalini yoga thing a while now — about 10 years.

As a result of my studies, I’ve finished a bunch of 40-day sadhanas, a few 90 and 120, and I even have a lifetime sadhana that Guru Singh, my teacher and mentor, gave me about four years ago. (Sadhana, you may remember, means “daily spiritual practice.”) I impress the hell out of myself with these things. Seriously, it’s no easy feat committing to this practice at this level.

But let me declare at the top of my lungs (via newsletter, blog, Facebook and town square) that I screw it up, fail, suck at it, whine about it and generally do a crappy job very often.

There. Cat is out of the bag. I have blown it again and again. I get back up and fall flat on my face — and get back up again. And fall. But my most recent example of “sadhana failure” turned into a profound insight about the nature of my perception.

I’m in the homestretch of a 40-day Aquarian sadhana, which is a group yoga and meditation practice done between 4 and 7 a.m. each day.  In the second week of that commitment, I made the decision to practice at home one morning. I was feeling pretty lousy, really depleted from all the running around the city at 4 a.m. to join others on yoga mats in what I used to refer to as “closing time” but I now call the amrit vela. So given my fatigue I thought it might be wise to adjust things — a sensible and compassionate choice I would have recommended to any of my students.

Yet the entire morning afterward, I heard an obnoxious voice nagging away: that didn’t count, you’re a faker, a liar, a cheat, just forget it, you blew it, you bailed on your 40-day. I posted those thoughts as a status update on Facebook — confessing about my “sub-standard” showing that morning and my feelings of disappointment in myself and finishing off with a rather anemic (and, yes, defensive) “But it still counts!”  Then an amazing thing happened.

I received comment after comment from friends, fellow yogis and students embracing my choice and telling me not to be so critical. Of course it counts, they wrote. Whatever I perceived lacking in my sadhana that morning, the bottom line was that I showed up for my commitment.  My perception of it was just that: an opinion, and an unforgiving one at that.

The unanimous urging of these people to be more accepting made me realize how harshly I was treating myself.  I really had not been aware that I was being so judgmental — my clever, determined Inner Commentator had me believing I was simply making an honest assessment of my practice.

It has taken a lot of work —  a lot of sadhana —  to come to a place where I can give myself any kind of credit instead of punishing myself when I’m not perfect. It will take a lot more effort to develop and maintain the compassionate consciousness I felt after getting that validation from others. I know that my vicious internal critic is not going to shut up and go away permanently. But with awareness I can choose to believe something else about myself, something more complex and realistic and loving.

There is a phrase that applies here called “perfectly imperfect.”  That’s me. Thank God. I am a perfectly imperfect student, teacher, yogi and human being. I’m doing the best I can each day and it is enough. It is more than enough. When I am able to experience that self-acceptance — that my so-called mistakes, limits and failures are a beautiful and rich part of being human — I’m able to feel compassion and kindness toward the humanness of other beings, too.

What a relief.

Now Hear This

Angelina Jolie After Angelina Jolie’s public announcement of her decision to have preventive double mastectomy, I was saddened to read plenty of nasty criticism about her choice from the natural healing community.

There are many ways to look at her decision and many “teaching moments” to be made of it. But the angry rhetoric and judgment I’ve read from some is not helpful…READ MORE

You Can Leave Your Hat On

raylan10I practice yoga and meditation every day, which allows me to be calm, healthy and happy. Meanwhile, my favorite TV show is Justified, which is a violent Elmore Leonard-style crime drama set in the hills of Kentucky and known for its vigilante hero U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens as well as its pathologically vicious villains.

I’m sharing these few details to make the point that as humans we are a complex matrix of characteristics and tendencies. I, like you, wear many, many hats. Some of them do not appear compatible but each reflect a genuine facet of the total “me.” We choose which “hat” to wear at any given moment based on whatever is necessary to fulfill our role at that time — parent, child, employee, boss, friend, volunteer, teacher or student, to name only a few.

But what happens when those lines get fuzzy, as they inevitably do?…READ MORE

Overmeditated

forgotkeysIs it possible to do too much yoga and meditation? Apparently so since last week I did not realize I left my keys dangling from my open mailbox in the lobby until I reached my front door on the second floor!

God only knows what parts of my life and belongings I’ve strewn across LA. But you know what? I don’t even care. Because this oversight happened after returning from my weekly class at the cancer support center. I was preoccupied thinking about a new student who came that evening.

She was very young, probably under 30, with a tumor (and a port) in her chest, diagnosed six weeks ago. She’d had her first chemo treatment and she was trying so hard…READ MORE

Yoga Stoned

The Time Is NowI’m blessed to be immersed in numerous intensive yoga studies for the next six weeks, including a phenomenal advanced teacher training this weekend at Yoga West Los Angeles. All that yoga has me in a somewhat spacey, happy place that I often refer to as “yoga stoned.”

I don’t know if I made up that phrase, or if it was my friend and fellow yogi Zoe Ruiz — or if she or I heard it somewhere else entirely. I do know the term frequently applies and I use it often!…READ MORE