Putting the Pause Back in Practice

With the windchill temperature at -30°F, now is the time to stay inside and watch t.v.  Wait, what?  I meant, umm, stay inside and follow our breath.  Really, honest.

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Ok, I’ll ‘fess up.  I have been known to be way too involved in Transparent to pick up my kids on time from school.  Please don’t call Children’s Aid.  My pause button for all things electronic is broken.  It’s either on or off.  Moderation for me is not possible, so for this Lent season I thought it may be a good opportunity to give up all unnecessary screen watching to tame my addiction.  Wish me luck!  And please don’t tell me what happens to Maura!

I’m embarrassed to admit how difficult it is to tear myself away from a lit screen — like a cavewoman drawn to fire, I just can’t look away.  But if I don’t look away, when am I going to enjoy this life I’ve been given?  During the commercials I guess.

In the end, what I’m seeking is a little bit more balance in my life.   A little bit of ice cream, a little bit of tv, that’s awesome.  A tub of Ben and Jerry’s and  a netflix subscription, wellll…that’s pretty awesome too.  But every day? It’s kind of gross.    

A rich, full life demands balance.  And baby, that is tough.  Too much Transparent = too little house cleaning, and this delicate balance is lost.  In our yoga practice we also aim for balance…a steady comfortable seat in every asana we embody.  And that is the challenge, isn’t it?  We fall.  And we get up and we fall again.  And then, after practicing and practicing, when we find our balance easily in the asana, then we find a way to challenge ourselves a little more, knowing that the fun of yoga is finding the ease in what was once impossible.  To find space where there was none before.

Moving to Rest

A few weeks ago our family took a movement class in the city with Eiko, an East Village treasure, who, with her partner Koma, form the incredible duet Eiko + Koma.  For over forty years they have been practicing their particular style of dance which combines slow, searching movements for hours at a time.  They are hypnotizing to watch, and I hoped to discover, by taking a workshop with Eiko, what made their work such an act of meditation for me as an audience member.

One of the exercises we practiced was moving to rest, to practice “becoming useless”.  It brought me back to yoga, where the practice asks us to  find a steady comfortable seat –sthira sukham asanam – in all the asanas we embody.  What does it mean to practice becoming useless?  Perhaps not working, not striving towards a goal, but just being here until it becomes effort and then moving into the next moment seeking stillness and rest.    Not trying, but just being.  It’s hard, right?  It is easier to run towards a goal:  the challenge comes from being here now, right Ram?

If you get a chance to practice moving to rest with Eiko, I hope you will.  The workshops continue on Wednesdays at 10am at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery.  Or you can practice moving to rest on your yoga mat, any time, any where.IMG_2191

Yearning for Spring

Where are you Spring?  We’ve been waiting for you such a long, long time.  We come into the studio and the floor is chilly on bare feet.  The rain never ceases.  And we pine for the warm fragrance of blossoms, the sunshine on our faces, cool mud between our toes.  I am longing for your softness, your suppleness.  Where are you?

Lord of my Heart.  Open wide I keep for thee.

Wilt thou come?  Wilt thou come?

Come for once, come to me.  

Will my days fly away, without seeing thee my Lord?  

Will my days fly away, without seeing thee my Lord?  

Night and Day, night and day;  I look for thee night and day.

Night and day, night and day;  I look for thee night and day.

Unknown-4At Integral Yoga on 13th Street, this was a song we learnt during our Teacher Training.  Not a Sanskrit chant, but a love song of sorts.  Waiting and waiting for a Lover to come, searching every nook and cranny for just a trace of Him/Her.  That unrelenting yearning for Someone to step in and Save The Day and fill that yawning, gaping hole in our belly with lovingkindness ASAP, or at the very least make it stop raining.

Darlin’, we know that feeling.

This desire for change-it’s what brings us to prayer, and what brings some of us to our yoga practice.  A longing that we think may be satisfied by Someone/Something outside, but that which we seek is in all of us.  Atman, Holy Spirit, call it what you will,  we all have this light that shines within us, and sometimes even shines through us.  It may be 45°F and drizzling outside, but inside it is always sunny and warm.

Embrace the Season

245px-Seagull_in_flight_by_Jiyang_ChenTo everything there is a season.  And this season, beloved friends, is summer.  Even if you are not tethered to a school calendar, the relief of summer permeates every crevice of your being.  After the rushing and pushing and striving and elbowing forward of spring, we melt into the lethargy of summer where everything goes into S-L-O-W-M-O … what was so pressing and urgent a few months ago becomes a little less so, as we begin to let go of what we no longer need to hold on to.  So take the time to lay in your hammock, or sit on the park bench, or by the sea shore and let the summer rays transport you back to your essential self.  Embrace this season of relaxation and renewal…all too soon it shall pass.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Remember June, the end of the school year, and with it that short season of recitals? Oh, I remember it well. The panic of hurriedly memorizing a piece before performing it in front of a group of peers and parents can stimulate even the most reluctant musician to practice.  But why practice if there is no performance to perfect, no fear of humiliation to focus our intention?

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In yoga, we practice in order to perfect, well, living life.  Although the yoga industrial complex’s mantra may be, “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look”, yoga practice is far less about perfecting a pose, and far more about simply showing up, leaving your baggage (literal and not) to the side, turning off your phone and breathing. Opening your heart and mind to the possibility of change. Breathing into becoming present in these different shapes that sometimes feel tight, and uncomfortable and unsteady, because we want to be able to breathe in the tight, uncomfortable, unsteady places life brings us when we are off our mat.

As long as you are treating yourself kindly, respectfully, encouragingly, breathing into each moment, there is no wrong way of embodying the asana.  So just as you wouldn’t chastise a young child for not performing his Suzuki violin piece perfectly the first time he played it, we don’t scream and yell at ourselves if we don’t  get the pose “right” the first time we practice it.  That would be ludicrous, and absolutely not the point.  Honestly.

The point is not to score a perfect 10 out of 10 on your Chakrasana, to win the admiration of your fellow practitioners with your flawless execution of Sirsasana, to become a YouTube sensation with your sultry rendition of Namaste.  As Patanjali (you know, father of Yoga, wrote the Yoga Sutras long, long before Facebook existed) stated, “Yoga is the cessation of the mind-stuff”.

Mind-stuff, isn’t that a great term?  I’ve also heard the substitution “thoughts”, but I love the image of mind-stuff, stuff in the mind, like your mind has become an episode of “American Hoarders”, and all this mind-stuff is clogging up the passage ways and not allowing you to think straight.We practice yoga for the physical benefits, that’s true, but more importantly to clear out the thoughts, beliefs, prejudices and all that other mind-stuff that is no longer serving us so we can unfetter our mind, body and spirit.

To practice with a beginner’s mind, that’s the true joy of yoga, to practice lovingkindness with yourself everyday as you return to the physical practice of Yoga which transcends the physical. gif

College Tour

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If you spend any time around cars in Westchester, you may notice the back window stickers.  Some tribal branding that has little significance to anyone other than the driver.

  We went to some of those places this week, the ones that are so prominently displayed on the back window.  Yup, that was us, finding a perfect college for my son in five days.  We generously brought him along.

Is there a better way to test the bonds of family then a five-day road trip?   We started off all kumbaya with our meditation tape and kale-ginger shake and ended up world wrestling smack down even before we got to the highway.   Nothing brings out the love more than trying to arrange a person’s entire life for them. 

What an education, and you don’t even know what you are looking at!  Class sizes, vegetarian options, SATs, ethnic diversity – it reminds me of touring hospitals before the birth of my first son; asking all the questions, thinking you know what you are looking at but not having a clue.

So perhaps it is the same with touring colleges with your oldest – excel spreadsheet in hand, cooling evaluating all the variables to find the perfect one.  All while ignoring the fact that your child is leaving you.

It is so much easier to look at the variables rather than to face the emptiness.   My friend Dana used to say when our kids were in kindergarten that parenting is all about getting your child to a place where they can leave home.  And the older I get the more I understand this.  I mean, my brain understands this – my heart is a little slow.

Families are fluid; the players change over time.  The sweet pain of attachment, watching our children grow and our parents age and knowing that nothing is forever.  So enjoy that road trip now.  The rest stop is coming up.

Groundhog Day

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I really didn’t think I’d be using this photo two months in a row…but how can I resist?  I’m writing this at home in my living room while one son is writing an essay beside me on his laptop, my husband takes a conference call in the attic, and another son is shoveling the driveway.  Thor is Storm Number 17, people, and counting.  But who’s counting?  

 

This may be a good time to bring up Groundhog Day.

 

Anyone else love this movie?  Can I see a show of hands?  I know, isn’t it great!  For the uninitiated, Bill Murray plays a mess of a man, who gets lost in the present moment for a millennia — trapped in time, like an insect in resin, or Westchesterites in the Winter of 2015.  When faced with the same snow day, after snow day, after snow day, after snow day, this narcissistic windbag evolves from a creature who feeds his most base desires to a Buddha who frees himself from worldly desires and in so doing frees the world from suffering. 

So imagine, if you will, you are in your own Groundhog Day.  That’s where I am!   Right now it feels as if we’ve had the same snow day forever.  But one day the snow will melt.  My kids will leave the house.  One day I will leave the house and time will march on.  But for now, in this moment, in the middle of my own snowday millennia, what small choices can I make to do the most good for the most people?  Listening to my children?  A phone call to a friend?  Holding off on the car horn?  Practicing fifteen minutes of yoga?  These small, small choices we make, this is the fabric from which our life is woven.

In the Deep MidWinter of our Yoga Practice

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Sephen

When the Snow Lay Round About

Deep and Crisp and Even

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My God but it does the Canadian Heart good to talk of snow deep and crisp and even. 

Is it because as a child we know all that is possible?  The snow forts!  The snowball fights!  The snow angels!  The mountains! The creation of a magical, crystal, ephemeral kingdom made entirely of snow and ice, lasting only a few short days, but such possibility!  

Or is it because everything is perfect, if just for this moment?  All imperfections forgiven and forgotten, covered with a fresh blanket of snow. A chance to start again.  A clean slate.

It reminds me of how we come back to our yoga practice, time and time again.  We unfurl the mat against the floor and place our sitzbones on a blanket or two. The mat spread out in front of us creating a physical space for our practice.  We take a moment not to dwell on our past successes and failures but instead to create an intention…where is our focus?  What shall we create or cultivate today?   So much opportunity in this short time we have to delve in and breathe deep.

The Golden Rule

Ahimsa!

Ahimsa.  Non-violence.  One of the basic tenets found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras written 2000 years ago.  It states that non-violence or ahimsa is central to the practice of yoga.  That the benefits of yoga cannot be garnered if you have in your heart violence towards yourself or others.

It may be hard to find any American practicing Ahimsa right now.  Many of us are filled with anger and this anger is charging us to action, marching through the streets of New York to once more try and correct social and political inequities that do not serve us as a nation.  This anger feels good, because it is righteous.

Anger is so delightful, isn’t it?  And if you can channel this energy, great changes can happen.  And when it is righteous, there is nothing like this drug!  It invigorates. It gets us out of our stable day-to-day existence and challenges us to put ideology over our own comfort.  To make the world a better place.

That’s the trouble with anger.  It feels so good, who wants to stop?  This anger, like love, hate, lust and other strong emotions, is addicting…it is difficult to enjoy in moderation.   We are reluctant to lose this emotional high, and fear that life will be less exciting, less meaningful if we cultivate an attitude of non-attachment.

But when passions die down,  what will help us continue our pursuit of a more just society?

The practice of Ahimsa.  By noticing the harm we think, say or do to others and to ourselves.  We can stop this cycle of anger, and work towards building a more just society by practicing being kind and loving to ourselves and the world around us.

The practice of Ahimsa does not mean sitting idle as others speak on your behalf.  Be heard, yet cultivate in your heart the truth that we are all one.

Some things are scary…

I was gone for the weekend when our closest neighbors moved out of their home.  What was once a hub of near constant activity in daylight hours was now a tomb. Maybe in the middle of the night…who knows, Ravi didn’t even notice they were gone until I pointed it out.  But how could you not notice their absence?  It seemed they were always looking in our bedroom window early in the morning, ostensibly to check out the weather, but I wondered if they were spying on us from the other side of the glass.  Sometimes I could swear they were practicing yoga as they clung upside down and naked against our tree, opposing limbs stretching to the fullest.  Frankly, it just wasn’t the Scarsdale Way.  Could I have reported them?  Well, possibly, but who wants their name in the Police Blotter?   And wasn’t this squirrelly behavior appropriate because they were squirrels?Unknown-1

Yes, these neighbors were of the bushy tail, light grey fur variety, who happened to live in our tree (or maybe we were the ones who happened to live in their house-they had been here longer).  Their sudden absence feels disconcerting.  Where are they?  Why did they go?  Do they know something about the tree’s life expectancy that I don’t, or is the food simply better on the other side of town where a kindly neighbor feeds the squirrels acorns she harvested in the fall?  I just don’t know.  One day they were here, and the next, gone.

Life gives us changes and rarely gives us the reason why.  And if you sit with this for a moment it can get scary.  Change comes whether you want it or not.  Peaka’-Frickin-Boo. And really the only control we have in this game is our attitude toward this inevitability.  No matter what we do, or who we are, change will come for all of us.