Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oh, pity us, the lumbering sleepwalkers!

eIn the introduction to Will Johnson's "Yoga of the Mahamudra", he discusses the idea of correlation between degree of human consciousness and how straight and upright the spine is. The straighter we become the more conscious we become.

You might be saying, "hey, well now, aren't we all standing up pretty straight?" No, well, some of us more then others but no. We are much straighter then our ancient ancestors but evolutionarliy speaking, we have more work to do. "What?!" Yes! Check your posture. Even after six years of sleeping, eating, breathing, teaching, living, constantly seeking yoga I am still day by day discovering a new degree of alignment and a new degree of awakening consciousness, and I think that I may have quite a ways to go.

Thankfully, yoga and the awakening of consciousness (and the awakening of alignment, for that matter), is a process-oriented experience-- their isn't a need to struggle or race to the goal, because the goal is the process.

I am not an engineer, but if we talk in basic terms about the body as a structure, we can feel and understand this concept. Think of the four-leggeds, the quadripedal animals. Imagine them standing up onto two legs and prancing around. Oh, isn't the idea of prancing doggies and kitty-cats so cute? :) But seriously, whenever meow-meow and woof-woof come up, they can't stay long, because their entire structure is designed for their four-legged lifestyle. For humans to make the jump from knuckle-dragging apes (said with love) to bipedal beings was nothing short of radical, revolutionary and maybe even random.

Coming from that vision of humankind's two-leggedness, we can now shift to contemplating gravity- a force that we have to work to overcome, or that can effortlessly stabilize us, depending on our alignment. Posture has gone by the wayside, sacrificied to the frantic multi-tasking monster devouring our society. In ages long past, parents consistently worked on their children's last good nerve with postural reminders. Even if it was done just out of ettiquette or tradition or habit, it was quite beneficial. In the last century and especially last few decades, people don't seem to pay attention to their own banana-like posture, let alone their children's, we have just forgotten to care. We plod along like dinosaurs, with the posture of a jumbo shrimp.

There are many factors compounding the Western constellation of issues- illness, unhappiness and unconsciousness- one of which is poor posture. While we stopped paying attention, or where we never thought to pay attention, we have left our bodies to fall slowly into gravity. Most people don't actually think much about posture and bodily structure, how they sit or relax or stand or sleep. To stand in poor alignment increases structural pressure to 150% and to sit slouching increases that preasure to 200% or more. This constant, daily pressure is the equivalent of carrying that much extra weight, it prematurely grinds down joints like the spine and knees. It chokes circulation to a minimum, it starves the major organs very, very slowly. It pinches nerves and diminuishes their ability to function profoundly. It also makes our torso distend, get bloated, feel heavy and look much bigger then it is, making us feel very uncomfortable and unhappy with ourselves. It can cause major digestive issues, including contributing to IBS. We are paying a heavy price for our ignorance and laziness.
If we don't give any thought or attention to how we sit, stand and move, then we are relying on unconscious support, gravity is having its way with us, and we actually spend a lot more energy whenever we sit, stand or move just to stay up. Proper alignment takes months of transition to make it past getting some sore muscles (because they have to strengthen in new ways), and years of transtion to newer and newer levels of straightness and lightness. But its only work for a short while. Once we reach a critical mass point, we suddenly feel horribly uncomfortable if we slouch and have to stand up straight because it just feels so much better.

Consequently, since it takes reminding ourselves every time we notice postural deviation, we also strengthen our ability to be conscious. We have to develop a level of mindfulness, a low-level watching that monitors at least the body position, if not the body's other senses and signals as well. This is where the mind-body consciousness connection becomes clear. As we develop posturally, we develop a clearer and clearer level of consciousness.

So how should we be using our body, to stay well and evolve our brains in all our true bipedal glory?

step by step...
Whatever part of us touches the ground is our foundation- feet or feet and hips when sitting. Feet should be flat (watch how you may be habitually shifting weight to the side of one or both feet!), and especially when standing, should apply a gentle to moderate amount of pressure downward into the earth. Pushing down just a little activates the legs, and those big muscles do the majority of the work of overcoming gravity for us. Next, point the tailbone down toward the earth a little, drawing the lower-belly diagonally up and in, navel toward spine. Continue the gentle lifting upward through the chest, and allow your heart to be held high and openly, shoulders opened out to each side. The muscles in the upper-center area of the back will become much stronger and the chest muscles will need to get a bit looser. Slide the ribs back a bit to place them over the hips, and I know, it feels like leaning back at first, it's okay, it just takes practice.
So, to recap, feet (and hips when sitting) push downward, which encourages a lifting motion. Engage navel to spine and lift and open the chest high, allowing the ribs to slide back over the hips.
The stranger this feels the more important it is that you patiently and dilligently practice EVERYDAY, even weekends and holidays. The more you practice the more quickly it becomes natural. Practicing yoga poses helps speed this process tremendously and make it more comfortable. Working out usually makes it harder, because unconsciously, or maybe unavoidably, when we do resistance training we tend to strengthen our muscles in the same imbalanced patterns we hold all day- in other words the imbalanced tightness-looseness of the muscles is what causes improper posture, so working them out gets them stronger, but at the same level of imbalance- unless you work with a very exceptional personal trainer. ( I can help you with that, actually.)

To work on building proper posture similtaneously stimulates the opening of awareness. When we pay attention to our posture and regularly check in on it, we begin to develop body awareness. We hear the body's signals more clearly, we may even start to listen. In time we have found greater all-over health, we eat better because we feel the effects of junk food, we are more joyful because we are better taken care of, we have less stress because we feel better. Just by practicing better posture, we have practiced better mindfulness. We transition from unconcious living slowly to more and eventually fully conscious living, enlightenment.

So physically and mentally, practicing proper posture is one of the most powerful and important endevors possible. It is crucial. It is the work needed in our times. Through the doorway of the body we become more truly human, more alive, fully conscious. In this very lifetime we make a huge leap in evolution. By finding bodily peace we find mental/emotional peace, and with that, our desire to harm or hate others melts away. We become peace.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

108 Days of Meditation~ sips of mindfulness + dancing with delight

Originally attempted to post July 13, 2011

Inspired by Daniel Odier's book "Desire", I am changing techniques, but retaining my pledge of meditation for 108 days consecutively. Instead of requiring myself to sit in classical meditation for 20 minutes, I am going to take mindfulness breaks for 15-30 seconds each, and I'm aiming for 10 times an hour-every 6 minutes or so. So I will have been present for closer to 30-60 minutes daily, instead of just 20.

The shift from traditional practice is in line with my heart and experiences. I believe that forcing things is never as fruitful as allowing interest or delight to guide the consciousness freely.

I rather enjoy sitting to meditate directly after my asana practice. I can feel such a delightful pulsation of energy throbbing through me, I am joyful to just be. At other times, I'd rather delight in my senses, and get a similar experience from taking in a sunset, tree, fresh air, the wind, my child, colors or textures, sounds, Cooking, cleaning, gardening, movement, playing uninhibitedly with my son... life, I'd rather delight in living life.

It's a very high feeling to live this way. Its highly devotional. It's a kind of ecstatic feeling, like being turned-on or post-sex relaxation, but its not sexual. Its the same high, the same jovial loving-bliss, free of worries, energized but totally smooth and mellow, very sacred. Its like being in love, but without one particular target. I think this is where yoga is leading, what enlightenment is like- a constant loving, blissful, ecstatic state, no hesitation, just intuitive from the heart-center.

It's my asana practice that feeds this level of consciousness, it frees my body and brings it into harmony. My asana practice is a pilgrimage within, a long drink from the well. The rest of my practice is in taking sips while living life boldly and blissfully. By drinking from the Source frequently, a level of peace, openess and joy is maintained and fueled by life itself. Instead of being frustrated because I can't maintain continuous mindfulness, the intention to sip whenever I remember to is powerfully affirmative and profoundly effective. It has brought me full-circle in a mature way.

This is how I intend to practice.

108 Days of Delight: following the rules and seeing how it goes

So again my transformative commitment of 108 days takes a turn. I realize that what I need is to deepen my practice in an unconventional way-- by actually living it even more fully.

This is more challenging because much of my time is spent with my young son. I am frustrated when what I need to do, or think I need to, is met by his sadness: he wants my full attention and I feel the need to do other things. Sadly not all of it is probably necessary at the moment, but I assure you, its pretty paired down. Dishes, cooking, peeing top the list, doing laundry and sometimes sitting with him instead of carrying him when I'm tired. But there are random, inspired bursts of cleaning/organizing, gardening or other creative acts that are very much a meditative/flow state experience for me, that are sometimes met with his joyful participation or happiness to play his own way, or may be faced with his frustration or sadness. I endevor to find my flow without causing him or others any sadness or harm.

But what if I meet his resistance the same way I'd meet my own inner aversion?? What if I trust that the "sweet spot" will be found as it has so many other times, when he will be in the mood to play or sit or help me do some chore, and we enjoy the moment together? What if I let go of another layer of resistance and ignore-ance/ignorance and truly surrender to my body-heart-mind's spontaneous guiadance?

This is how I am deepening my sadhana these 108 days- I am answering each moment spontaneously from my heart-conscience before my brain/ego gets in the way and starts debating. So much guilt, resistence and tension is eliminated by trusting the gut, so to speak. And in that way I am following my bliss. I do whatever non-harmful (non-stressful to myself or others) acts pop in my head without second-guessing or rationalizing them. I speak my heart. I am practicing raw, loving honesty. My quality of mindfulness is improving, because I am following fascination and wonderment of the senses, with whatever I experience. Whatever works. If I feel like asanas, playing wildly and whole-heartedly, seated meditation, getting lost in the sky... I just live from my heart.

In fact today, during walking meditation to the park I took 2 minutes to swing, and it was amazingly blissful and profound. I felt such an expansiveness gazing into the sky and flowing on the swing... I really had to hang on because I was so relaxed I could've just laid down or floated away!

My mindfulness, my moment to moment level of awareness is the greater goal, and it is improving, so I am having success with this experiment. In some ways I output a little bit more energy, but I am getting so much more consciousness, lightness and bliss. I feel myself in that post-yoga-practice spacious-bliss-flow longer, I'm out of it much less then before.

Beautiful things are happening! All it takes is practice and true willingness! Namaste!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Solar Oven: cheap, simple, gourmet, and helping to feed the world"s poorest

Solar Cookers International, sells the CooKit solar panel cooker for US$25 online here.

Check this link to see information related to solar ovens. There is a DIY plan to make your own for under $10, then google up some recipes and cook away. Cook with a solar oven like you would a slow cooker, or you can even bake- the person who gave me the link said he made some AWESOME banana bread in his!

There is information about Solar Cookers International, from which you can purchase a very sleek version of the solar oven for $25, supporting there work in impoverished areas of the world. Places that are ravaged by poverty and disease still use cooking fires, which as romantic as they sound, produce a lot of smoke and force people to keep buying and burning coal or other fuels. The smoke is very unhealthy, especially for someone suffering diseases such as AIDS or who are otherwise weakened, or the young and elderly as well. By providing these solar ovens, SCI is helping people to afford more food and to stay healthier by avoiding smoke, plus doing the earth a favor, reducing burning that releases greenhouse gases.

Plus, I love the idea of putting out a suntea jar and the solar oven on my picnic table, and having a delightful dinner all ready to enjoy al fresco. Keep the house cool, keep power bills lower, and do the earth a favor! Please feel free to send us your favorite solar cooker recipes to share! NAMASTE!

Friday, July 8, 2011

108 nights of meditation: how concentration works

I am still keeping the chain, although my meditation style is very creative, tactile and not very rigid and forceful. The difference between formal meditation and my interpretation of Tantric meditation is that one can feel bored, forced and restricted in a formal seated practice. In keeping my consciousness as the focus, my attention naturally falls where it wishes. Where there is interest or delight there is concentration, naturally. So I practice opening my awareness in the moment without expectation, judgement or agenda. I let creativity lead.

So I basically follow my fascination for 20 mins a night. I feel joyful when I practice, and after as well. It actually gives me a lot of energy, where forcing my concentration stiffly caused me to feel tired more often. They say it takes more energy to fight the flow. Instead of trying to control the situation, I am riding the wave of consciousness, not clinging to the objects in it, but delighting in their experience while they flow by. Sometimes a natural little fluid movement arises and I flow with it and feel presence, or I sit very straight and still + just enjoy the ride. I enjoy the rising and dissolution of what tickles my senses, without seeking it.
In this way I find it hard to NOT become energized, inspired, joyful and at peace. Meditation can take many forms. Don't let those stuck on form poison your ability to explore and adventure. Eventually, we have to go beyond ALL concepts on our journey to clear awareness.
We also have to keep evolving. As we do, what used to work for us may not any longer. We change, so new ways work better in our new consciousness. Change and movement are the nature of the manifest universe. Embrace the flow! We can't fight reality if we are trying to find reality-it certainly doesn't help!

Living in your fullest potential is possible, you just have to do it

Many of us judge ourselves so harshly, and idolized the achievements of others, so we often feel paralyzed before the seemingly monumental task of self-improvement. Perhaps though, if we start by thinking of it as organizing and clearing our lives of all that is unnecessary, cluttering and superfluously burdensome, so that our essence can shine through, we will have the courage to start.
From the Eastern perspective, we are not broken needing to be fixed, we are whole + holy, waiting to be unburied and rediscovered like a lost treasure. Our essential nature is buried under a lifetime of conditioned thinking, the whims of the ego and society crushing our ability to just be.

We have only to do the work of regular meditation, and begin cultivating ways of eating and living that brings us inspiration, lightness and freedom. But we really have to do it. It is as many have said- drop by drop the bucket is filled. Begin by follow the desires of the spiritual-heart, not the ego. We all want happiness, health and freedom from suffering. So takes steps according to your energy and lifestyle each day to manifest that freedom. And that is it! One step at a time, the greatest potential is revealed!

Stay on track by attending yoga classes with a group, to benefit from the group energy. Know that others are on similar paths. It isn't always easy, but its always worthwhile.

Step by step, you will climb. Life is too short to sit around unwell and complaining about what you should've done or being too afraid to start what you know you need to for your own sake. To free yourself is to free others around you too. Namaste!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What would the perfect yoga sanctuary be like?

I have a constantly evolving inspiration for what our studio can and will be for our community. Please share what would inspire YOU and create the perfect sanctuary for recharging and recollecting the Self.

I am open to whatever it becomes, but a couple visions grip me. I see a space with wide french doors, and large screen doors opening into a meditation garden.

I see the studio as both a sanctuary and community space, a place for deep relaxation and for energizing, mobilizing and forging connections.

There are other thoughts for the future that may manifest slowly over the years... Some may manifest and others may not be for us.

Contrasting ideas emerge, one of a hip urban scene, one of a deeply peaceful ashram.

An ultra eco-modern space: studio, juice/tea bar. Nourish your body with pure water, herbal/decaf teas and select fresh juices, including wheat grass.
Sanctuary~ Maybe private relaxation rooms, available to visit anytime during hours for 30, 60 or 90 minutes of relaxing music or silence, meditation or chanting, asanas- as you wish. Just an inspiring space for you to use freely to enhance your wellbeing.
Retreat~ Maybe one guest room for private retreats...
Comfort~ soft, embracing furniture in the lobby, a hammock on the porch.

PEACE~ a meditation garden with herbs and flowers, a small pond, a little path to walk, stones or benches to sit on, communing with nature for healing and relaxation.

Energy~ Friday night Kirtans, morning, day and evening practices, even weekends. Workshops for deepening your practice physically, mentally & spiritually and using creativity as meditation.

While staying in the heart of Amsterdam is best, at least for the forseeable future, inspired by the founders of Jivamukti Yoga, I hope to buy forest lands in the name of the studio to create forever wild spaces of sanctuary for all life.

Being green and clean is a major goal as well~ solar lights outside, solar panels, led lights, minimal energy use, conserving water, no chemicals, composting/repurposing/recycling be close to zero waste...
What would the perfect yoga sanctuary in the city be like for you? Please feel free to share your feedback, it is so dear to me!
Dedicated to the inspiration, freedom and deepest joy of all~ namaste

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

108 Days of Meditation: path of spirals

It is so funny how life unfolds! Just inside a self-imposed commitment, I find myself climbing a new fork on my path and my relationship to formal practice shifts.

I am studying Kashmiri Shaivism (Tantra, but not what most people think of it), and find lots of Truth in it for my path. It is a very different approach to the same yoga, but it places less stress on conventional practice and more emphasis on just trusting on the unconditional Love to be the guide.

So I feel like I'm cheating, but my way of just being in a creative groove is to follow my heart-center/conscience, which is much the purpose of the whole meditation thing- to get you into the timeless participation and non-judgmental awareness of the moment. Formal practice is important to cleanse/heal/purify and re-balance mind + body to return to that heart-space within. But for me that includes my walking in nature, communing with nature, seeing the Consciousness 'smiling' back at me in all things, and deep yoga asanas followed by some seated meditation. But for now, I'll still be sitting for my night session. But its almost too easy, being informed by this new perspective has revealed much of the innate and natural 'yoga' that has always been my nature.

Some days I am just a beginner, so humbled and just starting, looking out into the big unknown almost scared, but inspired. Then some days, I almost think I am really onto something, ready to just about be a guru (a "remover of ignorance"), an unconditionally loving consciousness that can be a mirror for others to show them their true essence with my loving words. Its all just cycles. Spirals, the path is filled with spirals. Its not linear, like I once conceived, its swirling, spiralling deeper. With each cycle the veils are removed one by one, the veils of ignorance dissolving, I feel clearer and clearer.

We build up the unknown to be so Poof! magical. Yet somehow thid enlightenment thing is more real and everyday, and completely attainable. It takes constant striving. But there is shift after shift in awareness, there is constant swirling change and rapid evolution. Its getting swifter and swifter and my expectations and attachments are disappearing of themselves.

So anyways, I'm going to sit my 20 mins enjoying the sensation of spanda and the oneness of internal and external sensations. Om namah shivayah, namaste!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Interbeing and the Myth of the Independent Person

So your ego thinks its so tough and independent? You say, yes! I work and pay my own bills and cut my own lawn and don't ask anyone for help! I suck it up and suffer through on my own, I don't ask for the support of others. Do you really think so?

Do you grow your own food? Spin your own thread and weave your own cloth, make your own clothes? Do you have anxiety or a temper because you are so bottled up, or do you judge (yourself and) others harshly because of your bitter internal resistance? Do you digest well, have deep peace, unshakable confidence?

No one is really independent. Asking for help when it is needed, knowing ones limits and humbly accepting help and generosity when it is offered is the sign of a wise person. What makes the difference between being lazily dependent on others and being balanced is reciprocity. If one can also be as generous as possible in every opportunity that arrises, if one is humbly and truly and deeply grateful for what is received, then one is on the path of yoga.

Everything is Consciousness

Let us guide our lives in a way that honors the Consciousness that is in everything and all forms. If we remember that everything in the world wears the gentle smile of consciousness, we cannot be so callous with human and animal lives, so quick to slice down a tree that has lived two hundred years, to toss our faithful possessions around and abuse them like ingrates and to treat the intricately living Earth like merely inputs to be manipulated.

We all felt the "aliveness" in the world as children. We are not wiser or smarter for forgetting. We are colder and duller, a little bit dead when we give up acknowledging the beingness of all that is.

Life is vibrant and miraculous when we live with wonder, gratitude, patience, and respect for life itself, and everything that manifests within our experience.
To know this and live this is surely a path of yoga.
May all beings be free from suffering and have total happiness! May existence clearly sparkle once again in the eyes and hearts of all conscious beings!

So simple, so difficult

We come to a place on the path where we are pretty pure- our body, lifestyle, motivations... And then the bigger challenge isn't to hold on to increasing information, but to let go. To let go of everything, and become purely motivated from the stirring of our heart-center in a completely personal-impersonal way.
Letting go of past, future, expectations, sense of self, sense of others and just re-becoming pure awareness.
This is a simple yet completely, incredibly difficult challenge...