If we are to expand and evolve our vision of ourselves and of our society, let us start first with our vision of our own cells; our own physical vehicle, right down to the tiniest building blocks. When we allow our cells to experience movement of all kinds, loads and inputs from all directions, our cells respond by upping their capacity. They evolve. Cell by cell, our body transforms. When we allow ourselves to release our stories about who we are and what we do as categories, our mind evolves. It transforms.Read More
For a period of my life, the yoga postures served me well. I grew through them and they offered healing to my wrecked dancer's body for a time. But then, as many of us do, I allowed the postures to guide my physicality and I ultimately suffered because of that. You could see photos of me in postures or practice next to me in class and think, "wow she is strong and flexible". The problem was that I unwittingly pushed myself to be strong and flexible only in the places the poses required and in the end this was not balanced or wholesome, no matter how much alignment and breath and safe sequencing I applied.
When I was in my final months of pregnancy and just afterward, my body was pulled apart where it was weak and disconnected. I am not alone in this experience and it definitely doesn't just happen to pregnant yoga practitioners, although the elevated levels of relaxin in the body along with the increased abdominal pressure certainly enabled this to worsen quickly. Through the process of reconstructing myself in the last two years and working with many other students who I believe have been harmed by yoga, I have realized how insufficient the posturing, and more specifically how insufficient so much of the instruction in this work is.
I am not saying the postures do not contain insights, for they do, endlessly. I am simply saying that they are not enough by themselves. We have to keep looking beyond, beneath, inside and through them. The postures are patterns we set into bodies that already contain their own patterns, imbalances, incongruencies, imperfections and deeply individual insights. How can we not take the individual into consideration as we apply them? Alignment, as we may witness in some forms of yoga, takes us only so far on a personal level before it causes us to become rigid. Geometry certainly has its merits and beauty in certain yoga styles, but it doesn't break down or build up everything; it doesn't give space for all of the organic nuance and multitudes of asymmetry, in my experience. Flow is wonderful for moving without overthinking but it falls short in the realm of detail and precision, no matter how clear instructions may be. Breath work and opening pranic pathways means nothing if the physical structures are not addressed with integrity and after all, what ARE pranic pathways? What does that actually mean?Read More
Ultimately, as I reflect, the greatest obstacles I have faced in life have molded me in to the person I am. Injuries have made me a clearer and safer teacher, times of financial hardship have given me insight into the value of money and empathy toward others who struggle with it, experience both first and second-hand with depression has gifted me with the ability to hold space for myself and others at their lowest. Moving to a new land where I do not speak the language or understand the cultural nuances gives me a small glimpse into what it feels like to be invisible or powerless. It has also given me a greater appreciation for the ways in which I am incredibly privileged. When I offer gratitude to my challenges, when I meet my "enemies" with thankfulness and compassion, it transforms me. Even if the person or situation is not changed at all, I am. How I see and feel and taste hardship changes. And, in my limited but real experience, it makes a profound difference.Read More
I lie down on a nearly-daily basis and feel my midline with my hands. The space around my belly button seems at times possibly wider and other times narrows to nearly nothing. I have followed its ebbs and flows quietly and with a deep sense of care; perhaps more care than I have ever offered myself in this life. And while I check the width routinely, the residue of this ritual leaves my mind resting not in the space between, but in the quality of attention itself. I am not what one would call a religious person, and I often tend toward the dependabilities of mathematics and science, but through this process I have encountered what feels to be the soft slipperiness of prayer.Read More
I shared this a while back on FB but never here... I am in the process of sending a newsletter; something I haven't done in over a year since Miya was born. In order to streamline where people can check in with me - I thought I would repost. Enjoy. Much love.
I recently posted this on my instagram account... it's something I have incorporated a lot more since having a baby. I began to intuit that the bouncing would help me regain the integrity of my fascia after all those pregnancy hormones left me feeling SO lax. It's true! Bouncing aids in the health of our fascia/connective tissue and is said to be good for the lymphatic system and other regulatory systems as well (I read here that doctors are researching super bouncy roller coasters for passing kidney stones!)...
So incorporate some bouncing into your daily routine as a key component of the health of your fascia. Your body will thank you and it's fun too!
What are you doing right now? What is the smell in the air, the taste in your mouth, the feel of the phone or the computer on your fingertips? What is happening with your right knee or your left shoulderblade? How is your breath? What is the quality of light in the room in which you are sitting?Read More
We certainly are reminded of the great need for mindfulness when life hands us intense shifts such as the loss of a loved one or the birth of a baby. But the teachings as well as our own experience tell us that actually our life is worth tending to in all moments.Read More
I do realize that we are in a very privileged place if we can contemplate leaving our job for any reason at all. When we contemplate right livelihood I also believe we must contemplate joblessness, unemployment, disability, poverty, famine and war.
So please feel free to consider the following, but also consider the many many people who are unable to work or provide for themselves or their families at this time. Perhaps when you contemplate your own work you can also offer compassion to those who are unable to work for any reason.
Right Livelihood pushes us to look at our work and also how we use the money we earn and what kinds of businesses we support with our earnings. Here are a few contemplations on right livelihood.
Does your job fulfill you? Does it inspire and motivate you to show up and be truly present in your work? Is there some other work that calls to your heart? Is there a possibility you could pursue something more in line with your heart's work?
Does your job create suffering in yourself or others? If so, does it have to? Is that an innate part of the work (like being a butcher or selling guns)? How do you feel about the suffering it creates? Is there another way to direct your energy in a way that enables you to provide for yourself and your family?
Is your workplace connected to or supporting other organizations that support violence, inequality, hatred or greed? Is there a way you can loosen or sever these ties?
When we look deeply at right livelihood, we can actually see that there is no way we can remove ourselves completely from violence, inequality, poverty, hatred, war, destruction and greed. Whether it is the company we work for, a stock or savings account tied to a bank, or a brand of clothing or food we buy, so much of what we invest in (with time or money) is connected to unethical practices. We are deeply woven into the fabric of greed and exploitation that encircles this planet.
In considering Right Livelihood, let us begin by making a commitment to become more aware of the ways in which our livelihood and our money support life and peace and freedom, or how they support injustice and suffering. Let us challenge ourselves to continue to push toward honoring each other and the planet with our work and the way we spend our money. Educate yourself and try to use the time and money you invest in your life to go toward that which sustains life and happiness and health for all.
Please do not hide yourself away in the face of the world's broken heart. Continue to look deeply, with love at your own heart. Sometimes it may need protection but other times it is important that we step outside of that which covers over our tenderness and humanity. Our world needs us more than ever.Read More
A recent foray into practice through deeper listening took me to the wall to open my spine while stabilizing my pelvis and SI joint. Deep listening is an implicit aspect of Right Speech.
As I mentioned in last week's post, I am spending these eight weeks on the Noble Eightfold Path as part of the ground for both my weekly teaching and as I prepare for the teacher immersion I am leading in September which has roots in this very same system. This week's focus is on Right Speech, which in sanskrit is Samyag Va, and is part of the Discipline group (Sila, in Sanskrit) of the eight steps. Right Intention, last week's step, is part of the Wisdom group (Prajna, in Sanskrit).
It feels like such a poignant time to contemplate Right Speech with the advent and rise of social media. At a time when our world feels so polarized, we are caught in the crossfire between unprecedented access to news and information and unprecedented amounts of tabloid, extreme or just plain false communication.
When we contemplate the way our voice and communication manifest, we can consider four aspects of Right Speech. The first is refraining from lying. The second and third, which I think work in tandem, are avoiding slanderous speech and harsh words. The final is avoiding gossip and idle speech. Another way to reframe this with a positive spin is to base our communication on honesty, to speak with kindness and compassion, and to speak only when it benefits others and ourselves.
The other half of this equation which is implicit but not explicitly mentioned is what I might call Deep Listening. When we speak we have a basic desire to be heard, and so the act of listening goes hand in hand with the way we speak to others, but also in the way we speak to ourselves.
As I have grown older and my practice has shifted, most especially since I was pregnant, I have found so much benefit in the art of listening on the mat. I also have spent more time weeding out some of the negative, self-aggressive commentary that perhaps served some purpose at some point, but now that I have a daughter I do not wish to pass on such a torch. Removing aggressive messages and communication leaves more room for listening. More listening creates an environment where informed and honest action can be taken. This is true on and beyond the mat.
May we all benefit and be of benefit to others through this attention to honest and empathetic communication and deep listening.
Some ways to play with speaking and listening this week as we contemplate and practice:
How can we cultivate our communication in person with thoughtfulness and care? Can we listen to our partner or our children more intently? Can we put down the phone or turn off the computer for an extra moment so we can hear what our loved ones wish to share?
How can we cultivate our communication on social media with greater attention to kindness and honesty? In an age of intensely different opinions, and very serious life and death matters, can we maintain a steady even tone and refrain from slander? Can we perpetuate a sense of striving to listen rather than a striving to be the loudest or the most incendiary?
How can we cultivate our communication to and with our own self with more tenderness? Can we notice when we are being self-aggressive and could we reframe our internal dialogue in a sense of self-care instead? What does that look like on the mat or cushion?
I have spent most of my writing time this week pondering the violence that has shown its face in the U.S. yet again, and per my last post, I ended up simply not sharing my thoughts because it all feels too raw and unclear - not a good recipe for starting dialogue about such a sensitive topic.
I haven't forgotten that I have intended to share a weekly theme for classes and it is still my mission. My apologies for the delay on this week. Between a jet-lagged baby and my whirling mind post-travels, I hadn't been able to land on a topic.
Finally while practicing today during my daughter's nap I decided to dive into the Noble eightfold path and share a piece of it each week I am teaching. This is leading up to my teaching immersion which is directly influenced by the very same structure. The Noble path has a lot in common with Patanjali's Ashtanga eight-limbed system so if you are more familiar with that, you may see some similarities.
The original order of the eightfold path begins with Right View, but I would actually like to start with Right Intention and END with Right View as the outcome of all seven other aspects of the path. While this may make sense in a linear way, I also recognize and hope to share that the path is circular, or perhaps more like a spiral. The Buddha might say we all already have Right View, we just have to uncover it through practice. But since we are in a learning environment let us turn that on its head and begin first with practice to arrive at Right View.
My daughter is stirring from her nap so let me at least publish this!
A few questions to ponder this week:
What is your intention/s for practice? For living your life? Are they different?
How has it changed over the years and with different life experiences?
When you set intentions are you also loading yourself with expectations? How can the former exist without the latter?
Please feel free to write in comments or questions. Much love.
When I was living in New York, I marched in the streets for Black Lives Matter. Several times, marches would happen while I was working so I could not attend, but I had the sharply poignant experience of teaching yoga as crowds of thousands marched past our class on Broadway. I remember the roar of the protestors drowning out my own voice as they passed and I stopped class on more than one occasion so that we could listen and offer our silent support, sometimes for many minutes. It was a humbling and important metaphor for how big the movement was and what must take precedence in times like these.Read More
I am intrigued by what is revealed when we practice with real love. I am intrigued by those things that may at first seem limiting but in fact take us on a course to revealing wholeness. I am intrigued by gaps of all kinds, for it is often in "the spaces between" where we find the true treasures. Where once there was a gap, there is now understanding. And where once there was cluttered mind, there is now more gap. And so on.Read More
The Bhagavad Gita discusses action without attachment to the fruits of that action. The Yoga Sutras discuss abhyasa and vairagya, practice and non-attachment. The Buddhist literature takes this idea to the next level with the Heart Sutra's dive into the river of interbeing: nothing exists by itself in a vacuum and therefore all of the things we try to hold onto as singular (our opinions, our bodies, our relationships) are impossible to grasp because in some sense, they do not exist - at least not in the very simplified and solid way in which we tend to view them.Read More
In Buddhist meditation, you do not turn yourself into a battlefield, with good fighting against evil. Both sides belong to you, the good and the evil. Evil can be transformed into good, and vice versa. They are completely organic things.
If you look deeply at a flower, at its freshness and its beauty, you will see that there is also compost in it, made of garbage.
The same thing is true of your happiness and your sorrow. Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage. These bits of garbage are part of real life, and we must look deeply into their nature. You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers. It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too. So you should not throw anything out. All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers.
From You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh
I am a wholly different being, I feel, when I step onto my mat. My belly is softer. My biceps are stronger perhaps from holding Miya, but everything else feels weaker. My skin is stretchier. I hold some more weight, and I try not to stress about it, which is hard for someone who spent her early 20s battling bulimia as a dancer and the rest of the time since reworking the notion of what it is to feel at home in her body.
But one thing is also for certain: my heart is way more open. My patience has crested to the surface of every moment and overflowed into my reality in a way that it never has before. I move slower. I pay more attention to many things that I do, like how quietly I can put away dishes while my daughter sleeps.Read More
This week I hope to focus practice on seeing things as they are. No filter. No preconceptions. See as if for the first time. See and stay and be with. We will touch on this in meditation but also incorporate it into how we move and rest in asana. How we breathe. How we interact with our practice.Read More
It's true, I'm pregnant, due in about six weeks. I made a special effort not to post anything about my pregnancy on my FB page for nearly the entire term. I made a few hints a month or so ago and then decided to just come out and say the words "maternity leave" fairly inconspicuously in a recent post and another little mention of "after the baby" in another. It's interesting what sparks people's interests and what makes them comment out loud. I knew that an announcement of pregnancy would get a ton of likes, but I also knew I didn't really want that for myself, my baby or my growing family. And yet, this is a huge part of my life. It affects my work (which I do post about regularly) and more importantly my personal life (which I tend to not post about as much). I haven't wanted to make an ordeal, but I also realize that this reality needs to be communicated in some way. So here I am.
Someone asked on instagram the other day about my experiences in pregnancy with practice. I may write more on this at some point, but for now let me say that the most important thing for me has been to have a lot of space. Space to feel, space to connect with my husband and my baby, space to practice in a way that has soothed both me and the growing life inside of me. I have had zero interest in making a production of my process, but I suppose I understand why some other women may.
For now I will say that pregnancy has changed me like nothing else. It has humbled me and amazed me and I have had moments where I felt more scared and more exhausted than ever in my life before (I know this is just the beginning). I also feel more connected to my physical body, the sacredness of life, and to the ways in which practice should subtly and gently underline that sacredness... not ignore, or worse, glamourize it. And for the first time since I can remember, my work does not dominate my life any longer. I had a full page feature in Yoga Journal this month, which is an amazing accomplishment for a teacher, especially one without an agent. But I have to say I feel fairly ambivalent about it (and not just because I'm pregnant, this goes back to all of my frustrations about the perceived flashy trendy quality of Breakti and how I feel totally pigeon-holed by this perception) and it just doesn't matter on the same level that it did four or five years ago the first time my name made it to YJ. This has been eye-opening for me because my career has been priority one for so very long... so. very. long... and I feel that priority diminishing and YET!!! (and YET!!) my work feels more fulfilling and more interesting than ever, especially as I figure out how to connect the dots and teach good work to my students in a new body with new limitations and less ability to practice what I teach.
Finally, I feel connected to women. Everywhere. I feel strongly drawn to support and offer and share with them. My discoveries in pregnancy have pointed again and again to the wisdom of my own body over the direction or advice of any book or "professional". I feel inspired to help and support women and their fertility and pregnancy. Perhaps I will write a lot more one day about this and perhaps my work will shift in that direction. I simply don't know.
But for now... I prefer the space. I have a lot of it, and it sometimes feels a bit lonely but mostly it feels amazing to have the opportunity to connect to myself and my baby so deeply. I feel that we are on this journey together, and all of the practices and knowledge I have acquired as a mover, a teacher, and someone who has investigated healing on so many levels - all of this comes together right now and supports me in this very. sacred. space.
I only have a few weeks to go before I step out of the studio and have a baby. We don't know what it is, it's a surprise. We are so very excited! It is beyond words! It has been awesome being a teacher and practitioner through this process and I am confident it will be awesome on a whole new level once baby arrives.
I am going to be a mom... and as I enter these last moments before the final "push" I return again to space. To sacred space. I can't believe it took me this long to figure out how to give myself that deep and open space. I guess I have someone to thank once I meet him or her.
I have one or two concerns with the way a few things were depicted visually but overall this is super important.
Oh and by the way, yoga done from the original blueprint of bad posture often makes things worse! i.e. forward bends with the curve absent or reversed in the lumbar (not to mention headstand or shoulder stand with the head projected forward from all that texting). This is why props and proper instruction can be so useful for so many of us!!!