Monday, August 29, 2011

Guerilla Volunteerism: just do something

I have been very lucky in this very destructive aftermath of Hurricane Irene's wake. Not everyone has been that lucky. People have lost their homes to the floodwaters. All of us who have gotten away unscathed should be humble and grateful. Sitting home pretty much taking it all for granted and saying, "phew!", doesn't cut it. Can we do something to enrich the lives of those who have been affected? Can we do something to lessen the suffering, to bring some peace and happiness?
Donating to the Red Cross certainly helps, but can we take just a little more time and effort to go beyond throwing a buck in a jar and actually serve those in need? Volunteering for the Red Cross would be even better. We met two kind, strong, unselfish beings today, volunteering at one of the local schools serving as an emergency shelter.
We should rise up when others are in need, just like the hand goes to the foot when it is hurt. We are all one. We shouldn't do it for the glory, the pat on the back, the credit or thanks. We should do it because simply it is what is right, it is the least we can do. It is our privellege to help others.
Even if you aren't already a volunteer with the Red Cross, or if you don't think you have the time to make a difference, then you should do something anyways. We went to the school and just asked who was there what they needed. Then we went to the store and bought a few things and dropped them off. That's it. It really wasn't much, but we did something.
There are opportunities to help in many unglorious ways: see some trash, pick it up, throw it out; help an elderly neighbor; save a worm from scorching to death on the sidewalk; take a genuine interest in how someone is feeling; whatever opportunity is presented before you, it is your duty to rise to meet it with a fully opened heart. All volunteerism needn't be formal, recognized or remarked upon. It enriches us to serve others. That is it, the ability to serve is a privelege.
So rise to the next occasion for guerilla volunteerism. Take the time to enrich the life of another being, feel yourself enriched.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Feet as an expression of integrity in consciousness

Freeze. Notice your feet. Are they equally and evenly touching the earth? Are your legs crossed? Try this while you are standing, while you are walking. Just notice the quality of awareness and the degree to which your feet twist or do not press into the ground actively with every step.
This is like a physical representation of how conscious you aren't in the moment. We resist Reality, the way our feet resist the floor. We can activate our feet, and feel the corresponding blossoming upward and opening of the chest. The degree to which we engage the feet is the degree to which the heart/chest can open. It is the degree to which we can be free and compassionate.
In our asana practice we should strive. Strive for engagement, strive for eveness, strive to activate. In shavasana, we relax fully, and the degree to which we can open, relax, transcend is the degree to which we were able to strive, work, strengthen. The harder we push without strain is the harder we can let go.
The we open up physically the more we can transcend the physical in meditation.
It all starts with the feet, our foundation, telling us how our relationship to the divine Consciousness is. Are we really open and accepting of everything life brings? Watch your feet and take the challenge to embrace life entirely.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Overcoming difficult relationships

The true test of how far we are on the path is not how proficient we are at the poses or other techniques and practices, but how conscious we are in daily life and how conscious and compassionate we can be in our interactions with others.
We cannot think we are so enlightened if one harsh word from another crumbles our values and has usacting hateful and enraged. Its not to say that pain, anger, etc, will disappear, it is to say that enlightenment resides in our hearts, in our reactions, actions, intentions.. We can feel the anger fully, we can witness it and choose how to act consciously. We can cultivate the opposite emotion as Patanjali said to do in the Yoga Sutras. And at all times, we can look into our experiences as the Guru- opportunities to investigate where we are resisting our natural state. Everything is an opportunity for spiritual development.

We can dedicate the interactions that are challenging to revealing the Divine within as much as we can dedicate our joyous moments. The people who push your buttons are cosmically doing you a favor- they are acting like a catalyzing agent- speeding your growth if you accept the challenge.

Different techniques for working with difficult relationships exist, and really the number of techniques is limitless. You can find your own as well.

Witnessing: cultivating the identification of who you are with that witnessing state of consciousness invites a broader perspective. By stopping and witnessing the anger, jealousy, fear, etc. you can watch its effect on your mental state and physical form and begin to see the unconscious, automatic reactions that you employ. Slowly you will be able to witness the emotion and choose a new reaction.

Blessing: Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga recommends a meditative technique that tranforms both yourself, the other and the relationship. Grounding in a meditation posture, inhaling, think "blessings to", and exhaling allow an image and name to arise. Starting with loved ones, moving to neutral beings and then to those that challenge you, push your buttons and whom you may very strongly dislike. David Life, the other founder of Jivamukti Yoga, tells a story of how that technique transformed his relationship with a person that was violently hostile towards him. After some time with that practice, the same man that had threatened his life at one time spontaneously greeted him like a very dear friend.

Step into their shoes with compassion: reflect on others as holy beings at heart, seeing how their unkind actions may come from pain, loneliness, and other places where they have been hurt. See that they are someone's child. See that we all bleed, laugh, cry. We could be in the same place ourselves. We all do the best we can with the awareness we have. Take the higher road and do unto them as you wish they could do unto you. Don't objectify and demonify other beings.

See the Divine everywhere: looking at all beings as the Divine consciousness transforms our interactions. When you are looking to see God in the eyes of others you are not going to be as prone to fixate on the less amicable qualities. You will begin to see what you look for, the indwelling consciousness At the heart, not the habits of personality unconsciously operating on the surface.

Everything is the grounds for enlightenment. The keys to happiness are right here within and everywhere in everyone. When we think of yoga not as a workout on the mat, but as a practice to transform our relationships and lead us to enlightenment, we see the opportunity in each moment. We accept all beings and experiences with the open, grateful heart of the student. We make the unconscious conscious. We live love and become whole.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Family and children's classes to begin again...

As Fall approaches, we will soon begin family/children's offerings again.

I need to know who is interested, and what you would like. I want these classes to take off, but I need your help, through feedback, to serve you and your family!

What age are the children you'd like to bring? What day of the week and time would be perfect for you?

I am starting to envision a very loosely structured class where toddlers are welcome to play with toys or join in. Bigger kids can participate and be examples and learn to help the little guys. Classes would build friendships, family and communal bonds, patience, concentration, confidence, fitness, compassion and reverence for life. Children raised with these qualities become gifted at anything they do and are valuable local and global citizens.

Class activities include partner poses, imagination activities with poses (which also are relaxing and strengthen concentration as well), mindfulness/meditation, and other activities such as stories, songs, games, or coloring and relaxation.

I envision one class, Saturday mornings, for families and kids 18 months and up. Younger kids will watch and freeplay with parents (who are responsible to be with their youngest kids first) and bigger kids can participate in a more structured way. Big kids can sit out and watch, journal or color instead if they choose. Kids older then ten are welcomed to participate on a more adult level. Ages 11 and up are welcomed to come to our regular yoga classes with a parent or other family member over 18.

Yoga and meditation provide body awareness, tools to develop confidence, inner peace; they impart invaluable coping skills for lifelong mental health. Yoga poses are a fun, non-competitive way to encourage fitness through strength, flexibility, balance and cardiovascular wellness.

Please let us know how to serve you and your family. Namaste!

What is real freedom?

In our society, freedom is viewed commonly as the ability to buy, say, do anything at anytime, in spite of the consequences. However, this ties us deeper to the suffering of being at the whim of the ego, the false identification with thoughts and body as the full extent of the being.

If we can do and have anything, if we can hop on a plane anywhere, we can run away from everything- except ourselves. We can eat anything we want or have relationships with anyone at anytime, we are not free of the after effects, nor are we free from our inner experiences. No matter what we do, where we go, we are not free if we are prisoners in the tyrrany of the thoughts.

The thoughts are relentlessly streaming and if we participate whatsoever, it is like throwing fuel on the fire. The thoughts are repetitive, unconditioned behaviors and habits absorbed and strengthened over the years that we allow to define us. Only as we begin practicing mindfulness or meditation do we begin to notice that the thoughts define us- many of them can be very judgemental towards ourselves and others and are just echoes of things we've seen and heard from others.

We do not have any peace and therefore freedom until we begin to loosen the grip of the ego and stop limiting who we perceive ourselves to be by the defined parameters of personality. Then we become truly free to be what we are in each moment. Then we are free to be boundless. Then we are free to just be. This is true freedom, limitless freedom.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Powerfully Liberating Practice

The past has happened, and this moment is happening. We can't change it by complaining, we can't stop it by resisting, and if we fight, we suffer. If we cling too hard to our preferences and expectations, we suffer. The end of suffering is the end of clinging. When we open our hearts wide enough to swallow reality we are free. When we surrender the struggle against what is happening, we have the energy to accept it.

Our culture doesn't give us a healthy structure for this way of living. Opinions and preferences are considered important ways to express our existence. They strengthen the ego, the false self. Its not that preferences are evil- its that we suffer when things don't go our way. Freedom is found in having an opinion, but fully accepting the outcome whether it jives with our opinions or not.

Complaining is used as a way of life, a form of social bonding. This unhealthy practice affirms the mindset that we know better then reality. If we constantly disagree with life, constantly complain, make critical and sarcastic remarks, we are out of harmony with reality. We cannot find peace when we fight the moment.

We have to be dilligent and whenever we feel frustration, strong tension or a sense of anxiousness or sad dragging or longing, we have to ask ourselves, "what am I resisting?". This simple practice becomes one of the most powerful and freeing of all!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Expectations cause suffering...

Even compassion expectations, such as hoping and expecting that our tired child will fall asleep right away, create suffering when we get attached to them. If we get too wrapped up in the goal of napping, then all of the time between then and now becomes cheapened- precious time together thrown away and brushed aside with an anxious attitude.

By fixating on an expectation or even on something like a trip or event, not only do we give away the ability to fully appreciate all the time between then and now, but it is as if we tell ourselves that our happiness depends on getting what we want or on being somewhere other then where we actually are. Our attitude changes, our way of relating to others changes. The quality of our lives and of those around us drops.

Its not that having hopes, goals or exciting plans are bad things, its that being too attached to them causes suffering. If we cling too tightly to what we think SHOULD BE happening, we are disconnected from what IS ACTUALLY happening. This causes us suffering. If we have hopes, but remain open to what unfolds, we will be much happier, much more present and able to maintain inner peace through the changes life inevitably brings.

If we are not so attatched to our preferences, our likes and dislikes (raga and dresha in Sanskrit), then we are free to receive and enjoy what comes. If we let go of struggling for the goal, we effortlessly come into harmony with life itself and feel that the journey is the goal, that each moment is the goal.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Power of Yoga.. To change your perspective in daily life

A lot changed when a child is born. I knew that I was signing myself up for a challenging-yet-exquisite experience. I look at everything in life as a means to Self-realization, so my daily life, my relationship with my son, and the change I've made to care for him are no exception.

However, what I never thought about were the effects of practicing yoga formally much less then I had been. I was practicing 6 days each week pretty solid for at least 3 years, and almost everyday for 4 1/2 years when my son came. Now I rarely practice when I am not at work (due to the fact that my son needs supervision and attention), and to be an almost-stay-at-home mom, I reduced my work week to four days.

It took me a while to realize, but I really feel it on the days when I don't practice. And I don't mean just physically, although I am conscious of the compression in my spine I start to feel increasing if I don't redirect the posture properly with very frequent reminders. I mean that that sense of loving-bliss and patient resillience I have come to be is tested by the normal circumstances of life faster and faster the farther I am away from my last practice.
I am thankful for this opportunity to experience the power of daily yoga, then to have had it taken away, and to be able to feel the changes. I am aware that daily practice is incredibly neccessary if one really wants to transcend all of the pitfalls and negative habits of the human experience. If we want to be free from suffering, to live life from the still, loving center of consciousness, then getting to the point of being able to practice on our own and practicing in between classes is key.

I feel my mind heavy with junk, with sediment, and I feel the overthinking wearing me down in between sessions. I am not as loving, in fact I can fall prey to negatively perceived sensations that set off a cacade of energy blocking thoughts, actions and experiences, which drag my energy and mindset down.

Doing even 10-15 minutes of thorough sun salutations every morning, utilizing ujjayi breathing could be enough on the "in-between days". Over time, we can easily guide our own asana practice, and use group classes as a well to drink from once a week to keep us energized, creative, in-touch and on-track.

For a while I felt this slowly edging in, and I thought doing daily meditation would help clear and recenter me. Its not that meditation wouldn't work, but that for me, the difference between meditating "cold" or right after an asana practice is so profound that I have absolutely no desire to sit unless I am in the "right" state of mind, even if I have the desire to have the desire.

I think that my small, almost daily, window (a.k.a. nap-time), during which I have to fit all of the computer work that goes into running Enlighten and numerous projects, will be best used to include an asana and meditation practice on the three days each week that I don't teach classes. This is a more important self-discipline I feel then struggling to sit for ten minutes, when I can very clearly feel the alignment of my physical and energetic layers are off and need adjusting, so that the prana can flow as it should. Yes, this is what I feel, and its what you can detect with your senses too, and much more, simply by practicing yoga everyday. It may be 3 hours some days or only 15 minutes a day, but any bit helps expand your consciousness. Then there will come a time when you will know how much it takes to get yourself to the place where you are able to walk taller, meditate joyously, and live from your heart with an extraordinary amount of loving-bliss and brilliant creativity that allow you to be successful at all levels of life.

Balancing the mind and body

There is definately a correlation between stress, fatigue, burnout, thinking too much, not getting outdoors enough and time spent using with technology (TV, computer, phone, video games..). The more time that is spent indoors on a nice day, or in front of the computer, the more a subtle, anxious energy builds up. Pitta, or fire in Ayurvedic terms, or rajas in Vedic terms. There is an imbalance that builds when the body is very inactive and the mind is very active.

The average person spends hours in front of a computer or rushing on the job, both of which speed up brainwaves, then comes home and plops in front of the TV to "rest". We become exhausted from mental exertion, and we zone out in front of the TV, relaxing the body, but keeping the mind sped up, and since we are tired, the mind absorbs all of the imagery like a sponge.

To balance this split between mind and body, try getting movement outside as much as possible, while relaxing the mind by not actively thinking. Enjoy gardening, yardwork, walking, cycling, or hiking for example, or take your yoga practice outside. Whenever possible incorporate practical tasks as to get the job done and not make more "things to do" to stress you out later. Life can be your gym if you embrace it- between chores and outdoor hobbies one can stay very active and fit physically.

It seems that if our physical exertion can match our mental exertion, we start to feel balanced, and after a session, maybe 15-60 enjoyably vigorous (to our own definition) minutes, we are integrated and rejuvenated. We can then relax more fully. Our mind can be more still, even as we move through the rest of our day.

That is why at the culmination of our yogasanas, after the cleansing of pranayama, we are most open to meditation. After we tense and finally release, we are more clear, the lake of the mind more calm, and we can see the bottom more easily.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What do you want to know about Yoga???

I am inspired many times during the day to write, but only have so many chances to actually write. I write to share yoga with the world, and for the benefit of all.

So please let me know-- what would you like to know about yoga (practice, philosophy, lifestyle...)??? I am so inspired to share, and would love to answer specific questions or requests. If I don't have an answer, I can send you in the right direction of one who may have the answer you need.

I am at your service! In loving presence, Laura

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Yoga insights

Guru~ may I be a guru to those that I can be of use to. May I be able to shine the light of unconditionally Loving-Awareness and celebrate the Self in all. I am here to be of service. I-AM here to enrich the earth & beings around me, it is my delight and joy to be useful to others.
Freedom~ true freedom is freedom from the tyranny of the ego, and consciously deciding how to live. Self-control with loving-awareness, living joyfully, compassionately and consciously is bliss. Running amok, packing it all in, quantity over quality and doing anything, anytime, anywhere is not real freedom; it perpetuates ignorance, ignore-ance and contributes to suffering.

Love~ "prem" or "priya" is the love of a mother for her only little baby. Some love Existence/God like a lover loves Beloved. Some love like a friend loves a Friend. Some enjoy the relationship as a subject loves a King. Some experience It as a Parent-child relationship. While I enjoy moments of lover/Beloved occasionally, I very often explore, sample, delight in Life with the holy wonderment of a child. I spend the vast majority of my time loving Life/Earth/God as a mother loves her only precious child, seeking to tenderly serve and pour unconditional Love into all. How do you Love the world?? I am not special, you too have an essence of unconditional loving-awareness. The way it manifests is effected by our age and stage in life's journey.

Practice~ we have to practice. It is as simple as that- check in every day. We can't think its a good idea and not do it. We just have to do it, to the best of our ability, each day. Compassion and consciousness need to be practiced everyday, and with that little effort, big transformations grow!

Dedication~ dedicate everything to something meaningful- to God, to serving others, to compassion and freedom from suffering for all, to unconditional Love and pure consciousness, the the Greater Whole... When you dedicate everything, something inside ignites, and life really responds.
Remember that we are all one. When we serve others we serve our Self.

"It is in the shelter of each other that the people live" ~ Irish proverb

may you be free from suffering and find your bliss and Love, may my offerings serve your path to freedom and Love-bliss. To ALL, everywhere.
Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

108 nights ~ how meditation prepares us for enlightenment

108 nightly sessions of meditation from 8-7-11 to 11-22-11

I have decided to begin again, a new cycle of nightly meditation in bed. I think diving into Tantra/Mahamudra reminded me to think less and be more, but I also think that what felt so homey about it is how it excuses the laziness and resistence of the ego. To the ego, the small self that doesn't want to disappear, the idea of not challenging oneself with any discipline is exciting.

I was enjoying my sessions until I found an excuse to stop. I was learning a lot from them, and I witnessed so much egoic resistence to practice, although it was actually relaxing and enjoyable.

I won't set a forceful time limit, so ten minutes will be my basic standard, but more as I feel comfortable, following my bliss.

The goal of meditation is to enter consciously into Samadhi, a state of super-consciousness. To enter peretually after years or lifetimes of practice is enlightenment. But initially, entering Samadhi is like falling asleep: one can't force it to happen, one can only present the proper condusive conditions and let it happen naturally. So our practice of asanas, pranayama, bandhas, mudras, and meditation is all designed to prepare our mind and body for the intensity of Samadhi. We prepare, practice and let it happen.

Samadhi versus our typical state of awareness can be likened to electricity: the voltage of typical unconscious living is very low, whereas the voltage of Samadhi is extremely high. So through years or lifetimes of practices, we can cleanse, strengthen and prepare our nervous system, mind and body for that very intense state of consciousness.

In each moment our brain weeds out a vast amount of information, only presenting us with a very simplified version of what is actually pouring in through the senses. As we practice yoga we can handle more information, we become more conscious. We can experience heightened senses and I even find that greater sensitivity translates into occaisional overload, especially in boldly stimulating places such as malls, department stores, grocery stores. Continuing dilligently we can handle the greater and greater load with more and more peace and equinimity.

By practicing our indentification with "the witnessing consciousness", or sakshi in Sanskrit, our indentification with thoughts and body decrease and we abide more and more in a witnessing state, where we have peace and equinimity. From there we can develop the concentration and openess for the experience of Samadhi. From there we begin to live from our heart and in harmony with the higher Self.