Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the heart in the head

I am fascinated with traditional concepts, philosophies and practices that have informed lives and cultures for thousands of years, but continue to remain outside the measurable realm of modern western science. It is one of the reasons I love the ancient wisdom tradition of yoga. In western science there is a tendency to ignore or disparage any modality or path to healing that doesn't fit into the narrowly defined parameters of modern knowledge. In the same way that electricity existed before there were tools to measure it, there are also powerful energetic and etheric aspects to the body, mind and psyche that exist, whether they can be accurately measured by western science, or not.

Chakras, the seven wheels of spinning energy believed to be found in the subtle human body are worth examining as an example of my blog musings today. Can chakras be proven to exist using modern tools of discovery? Can chakras be discovered in an MRI, x-ray or CT scan? Again...unh-unh. Can chakras be biopsied, or examined in an autopsy? That would be a big N-O. Some might suggest that because Chakras can't be explored using any of our typical, standard scientific methods, it follows that they do not actually exist. Seems a bit closed minded to me, especially when I think about all the cultures and people who believe they exist, and utilize the knowledge of Chakras to support and sustain health and well being. Is it perhaps a bit like faith? For many, a belief in God or a higher power gives comfort and relief, regardless of whether there is any proof of existence.
There was a long period of time in my life where if a concept, system or mode of healing didn't fit into western science's protocol, I believed it was of less value, even if I experienced it as helpful and successful with myself or my massage therapy clients! I somehow dismissed it as less valuable than something that could fit neatly into our limited understanding of the world around us. Or, I found myself wishing there was an appropriate tool available to measure and catagorize it's power to prove that it was valuable--as if seeing, feeling and experiencing it's value just wasn't enough.
Over the last several years I've noticed a softening and acceptance around my need to comprehend everything through the lens of western understanding. The very questions I ask myself about something's value are intrinsically different than they were before. Instead of asking myself how something fits into the accepted format of science as I used to do, now some of my questions are, "Is this helpful?", "Does this support tolerance, acceptance and compassion?" , and, "Does this bring me from the darkness to the light?".
Perhaps one day western science will discover methods to measure etheric and subtle energy, including chakras, or perhaps it won't. In the meantime, I will focus my attention on my brow chakra--the third eye--and remember that the third eye is sometimes called the heart in the head, because it brings the sweetness and understanding of the heart upward to the thinking center of the mind-- combining the two to support open minded thought with love and compassion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

thanksgiving & the grateful heart

Of all the things that the Thanksgiving holiday evokes in me, including my bliss over pecan pie with whipped cream and mashed potatoes loaded with butter, the idea of gratefulness and appreciation is high up there on my list. My interest in 12 step recovery philosophy and the yogic path merge beautifully around the concept of being grateful. It's easy in our lives to take for granted all we have, and instead complain and whine about things that really are just not that important. I know I fall into that mode, and at times struggle to come out.

Here is a lovely exercise to practice if you are feeling resentful, jealous, grasping, or victimized. Ready? Connect with your breath. Sit up tall, elongating your spine. Feel your sitting bones reaching down to the earth. Lift gently out of the waist, roll your shoulders back and down, float the crown of your head towards the sky. Close your eyes and bring your hands into Anjali mudra-- palms together, fingers extended towards the sky, and place the front of your thumbs against your heart space. In the western world, this mudra is often refered to as prayer position. With your eyes still closed, bring your attention to the things in your life for which you feel grateful.

Start basic-- you have a roof over your head, warm clothes to wear, food several times a day, and hot running water. You are likely minutes away from nature. Trees, birds, animals, and clean water are part of your daily life. You go to bed at night and wake the next morning fairly confident that you are safe and protected from bombs dropping, or war beginning in your neighborhood. Most people in the world don't have these things to take for granted.

Move into your appreciations more deeply. Notice all the systems and parts of your body that function. Notice your keen mind and vibrant breath. Now, bring to your attention to those you love and hold dear, and those who love and hold you dear. Beginning to feel that you are unbelievably lucky and blessed? Let these feelings fill your heart, and your emotional body. Breathe the essence of appreciation into your very core. Gently open your eyes and proceed to notice the rest of your day informed by the beauty of thankfulness.

This Thanksgiving, as my family gathers around the dining room table, tucking into a delicious and nurturing meal, we will each take a turn and name a few things for which we are grateful this year. I couldn't feel more lucky.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

yoga for the intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program

In addition to the residential substance abuse treatment component of our program, I also teach yoga to the intensive outpatient treatment youth. Our program director came in yesterday to take some pictures for an upcoming article in the Michigan Association of Drug Court Professionals newsletter about yoga as a treatment modality in our facility. Here are the youth in various stages of Tree pose. This class tends to be a little chaotic, but yesterday they all made a real effort to participate. I'm feeling pretty lucky to have this opportunity to share yoga in this way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

yoga laugh

Laughter was the theme of yesterday afternoon's yoga class in my home studio. Giggles, gawfaws and bubbling up from the gut laughs informed our whole practice.

For a very brief moment at the first outbreak of giggles I had an urge to contain the class and "get back on track". I'm happy to report that I was able to let go of my need to control our practice, and instead I simply relaxed into the spontaneous expression of the simple pleasure of a good belly shake.

After that, we moved from vinyasa to laughter, back to vinyasa, then more laughter right up into shavasana. The giggle fest started again when one of the students fell into a deep sleep and began to snore, but not enough to wake him.

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. To date their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being. Want more information about the practice of yoga and laughter? Check out this website:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

kripalu yoga class at Sun Moon Yoga

These roses are one of hundreds of flowers at the Brentwood Saturday farmer's market that I visited during my trip to L.A. I love the color, and there is nothing like the memory of sweet smelling roses on a day when it is raining, snowing and sleeting within the span of 20 minutes.

Tomorrow is the first of my kripalu yoga classes at Sun Moon Yoga studio in downtown Ann Arbor. The class isn't up on the studio website yet, but there is information about location and fees. The class starts at noon. Check out the website:

Friday, November 14, 2008

prayers of loving kindness

I just returned from a week in L.A. I flew out with my younger sister to spend the weekend with my parents, my brother, his wife and their two kids. The weekend turned into a week after my mom had a medical crisis and was hospitalized. I was relieved to be in a position where extending my stay was both easy and the right thing for me to do.

I had many opportunities to practice devotion and service. I also had many opportunities to receive care from those around me. There were times during the week when I felt worried, stressed, impatient and tired. There were other times when I felt trusting, calm, relaxed and content. There were many times when I turned to my "off the mat" practice of yoga to sustain me so that I could support others. And there were times when I breathed into letting others support me.

In my previous post, I wrote about feeling less than my best yoga self as time moved me away from my Kripalu YTT experience. This week brought me right back--grateful for the opportunity to be in L.A. when I was needed. My mom came home from the hospital yesterday, and I came back to Michigan. This post is a prayer of loving kindness: May you all be happy, may you all be healthy, may you all be free from suffering.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

yoga on & off the mat

Swami Kripalu said, "Seekers who believe they must practice yoga only in the meditation room are under a great illusion. They must practice yoga in society as well. Practicing yoga in the meditation room is easy because there are no external disturbances. The true yogi is one who can successfully protect his mental steadiness while in society."

These words of Bapaji have been on my mind a lot these last few weeks as I struggle to heed his advice. It has only been 3 months since I left the Kripalu center, but it feels much longer, and my ability to hold close to me Kripalu yoga philosophy and the way of life that I embraced so fully in yoga teacher training has begun to dissipate. Although I am continuing my daily sadhana, going to yoga class, and regularly teaching Kripalu yoga, I notice that my patience and willingness to really practice bhakti (devotional) yoga off the mat and out in the world has been lax.

I haven't exactly been the model of mental steadiness when confronted with the daily chores and petty burdens of what at times feels like a chaotic life. And, of course I see the ridiculousness of somehow experiencing my life as chaotic compared to how most of the rest of the world lives. And yet I struggle.

It's easy to be generous, compassionate, understanding and accepting when I am in the protected world of yoga, whether it's in class, or on my mat. I can meditate, calm myself and feel totally at peace when I am in my own little yoga studio, listening to Krishna Das chant on my ipod. It's a whole lot more challenging to open my heart with love and tolerance when I'm deep in the everyday tensions and stress of life with peace and calm in my heart and belly.

Lately I find myself wishing to be back in the protected cocoon of the Kripalu Center, with nothing to concern me but getting to the next yoga class. At the same time, I understand that finding a balance between living the yogic life while living in the modern world is the real goal. I think this is why we call it yoga practice! I just need to keep practicing living yoga off the mat as well as on it, and do it while keeping my self-talk gentle and forgiving when I am showing up less than my best self.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

hope & progress

Late last night, looking at the faces of people waiting at Grant Park in Chicago for Obama to arrive, I felt, for the first time in many years, excited and happy for our united states. The diversity of the crowd was striking and gratifying. Our new president elect represents a powerful future for our nation and for our planet. It's been a long and painful 8 years, and I am deeply satisfied to celebrate the change we have created by believing in the power of hope and progress. During Obama's acceptance speech, he said, "While we breathe, we have hope". I wholeheartedly agree. Inhale into a deep, cleansing breath, and exhale into hope and joy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

green halloween

Halloween evening was fast approaching, and my husband wanted a costume. Our front yard garden is nearly done, so Jeff decided to combine his love of local food with dressing up to create a mostly edible costume. With a tarragon 'fro, chili pepper arms, arugala legs, and castor bean leaves covering everything else, he made the scene as locavore man.