Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blissed and Blessed: an evening of restorative yoga

Mmmmmm.... Just got home from a juicy Restorative Yoga workshop at Om Shala led by visiting instructor Christine McArdle-Oquendo. It was two hours of candlelit yoga, accompanied by some incredible healing sounds from my friend Aaron Noble. While we ever-so slowly moved through our sequence, Aaron held the frequencies high with crystal singing bowls, chimes, and didgeridoo.

Can you say Sat Chit Ananda? Experience. Consciousness. Bliss.

We could barely all fit in the room with all the yogis, blankets, blocks, chairs, and straps! Each given a sheet of paper with the illustrated asana sequence, we were able to move through the sequence at our own pace, holding each pose as long as felt comfortable. In this way, it was like an individual practice, but with the energy and support of the group.

It is incredible how affective these poses can be on your mind/body. Often times we can get so competitive with ourselves in a vigorous Hatha Yoga practice, that we forget how to just relax and take it easy with asana. A simple pose like legs up the wall can be extremely beneficial when we focus conscious breathing for an extended period of time. Restorative Yoga utilizes particular asanas that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, causing the mind and body to slow down. By moving into stillness, we can experience more fully the essence of what we truly are - Absolute Bliss. We tune into Source. Refreshing and restoring our mind/body with fresh prana, new life.

I caught the wave and rode. Flowing deeply with the support and life-force of breath. Dropping deep into each pose, using each breath to breathe in healing light and compassion into every cell of my body. Sometimes I'd drift under water only to be pulled back up by the vibrational force of the didge, or an unexpected gong of the singing bowl to zap me back into the presence of the present. And then I'd just drop-in. Dwelling deep within the cave of the heart, flooding with Joy.

It was so beautiful to share the practice with the community. While we were each drifting off into our own realms of consciousness, we were also very much there together. Chanting together. Breathing together. Moving and flowing, loving and healing ourselves together.

If you have never done Restorative Yoga before, or it's just been a while. Go. It is such a nurturing and healing experience. Side effects may include feeling relaxed, released, restored, blissed, blessed, healed, light, loved, rejuvenated, clear, damage to sense of ego-self, heightened awareness of Self and Oneness, possible difficulty speaking in words, trouble finding your car keys, and/or sleepiness.

Jodie DiMinno teaches Restorative at Om Shala on Sundays 6:30-8p (following my Sadhana) and on Wednesdays 7-8:30p. Also check out this great article Aaron wrote on sound healing for Conscious Dancer Magazine! (page 26)

Let us continue to remember to love and support ourselves fully on this journey. Bless.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lord Keep Me Shining

Check out this beautiful video my friend Daruka put together to the sweet sounds of Jai Uttal's track "Lord Keep Me Shining". If you've been in my class recently you've probably heard it. Enjoy!

8 That which is awake even in our sleep,
Giving form in dreams to the objects of
Sense craving, that indeed is pure light,
Brahman the immortal, who contains all
The cosmos, and beyond whom none can go.
For this Self is supreme!

9 As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape
Of every creature in whom he is present.
10 As the same air assumes different shapes
When it enters objects differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape
Of every creature in whom he is present.

11 As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Or by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all!

12 The ruler supreme, inner Self of all,
Multiplies his oneness into many.
Eternal joy is theirs who see the Self
In their own hearts. To none else does it come!

13 Changeless amidst the things that pass away,
Pure consciousness in all who are conscious,
The One answers the prayers of many.
Eternal peace is theirs who see the Self
In their own hearts. To none else does it come!

- Katha Upanishad

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sankara's Six Stanzas on Nirvana

Om. I am neither mind, intelligence, ego, nor chitta,
Neither the ears nor the tongue, nor the senses of smell and sight;
Neither akasa nor air, nor fire nor water nor earth:
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness - I am Siva, I am Siva.

I am neither the prana nor the five vital breaths,
Neither the body's seven elements nor its five sheaths,
Nor hands nor feet nor tongue, nor other organs of action:
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness - I am Siva, I am Siva.

Neither greed nor delusion, loathing nor liking, have I;
Nothing of pride or ego, of dharma or liberation;
Neither desire of the mind nor object for its desiring;
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness - I am Siva, I am Siva.

Nothing of pleasure and pain, of virtue and vice, do I know,
Of mantra or sacred place, of Vedas or sacrifice;
Neither am I the eater, the food, nor the act of eating;
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness - I am Siva, I am Siva.

Death or fear have I none, nor any distinction of caste;
Neither father nor mother, nor even a birth, have I;
Neither friend nor comrade, neither disciple nor guru;
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness - I am Siva, I am Siva.

I have no form or fancy: the All-pervading am I;
Everywhere I exist, and yet am beyond the senses;
Neither salvation am I, nor anything to be known:
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness - I am Siva, I am Siva.

(Taken from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why practice yoga? Interview with Max Strom

This is a really great interview with senior yoga teacher Max Strom in which he discusses why would someone want to practice yoga? I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with him last year at Om Shala and was really inspired by his strength and compassion as a human being.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

6.5 Earthquake Shakes the Roots

Yesterday around 4:27p pacha mama let out a big belly roar that shook Humboldt county. It was a magnitude 6.5 that set off in the ocean near the coast of Ferndale, about 20 miles south of Arcata. So far there are no injuries reported, just snapped power lines, property damage, and missing pets.

A friend of mine was on a cliff gazing out at the ocean when it happened. She said she saw the edge of the earth shake! I was working at the store on the plaza all day and stepped outside to grab a burrito with a friend. As I was walking back to work, I reached into my pocket and my stomach sunk as I realized I left my keys in the store and I was locked out! At that very moment, the glass windows of Mazzoti's began shaking and whoooshing beside me. I thought someone got slammed into it. There was a pause. Then the earth below me began rolling. Earthquake! Glass windows! I ran into the street as everyone began pouring out of the stores and restaurants. Two girls let out screeching cries. All of the cars parked on the street began swooshing side to side like jello as the road rocked like the ocean. I could feel the earth deep within my belly. Then all the bars let out and people came running out with beers yelling and howling like the world was coming to an end! It was all very surreal, and all very much Arcata.

The power went out for most of the town. I could not believe that the one time I lock myself out of the store, there's an earthquake! It was almost comical. Luckily the owner came by shortly after and opened the door. We fumbled around in the dark to try and assess the damage and couldn't believe that there appeared to be none. Only a few little things had fallen over at All Under Heaven. Give thanks to the store's protector Buddha's.

My cell phone was down for about an hour, and the electricity was shut off at home til about 8:30p. I was planning on going out that night to do some kirtan chanting with friends, but took the opportunity to retreat and go inside. I burned some incense, did some yoga, and read ancient scripture by candlelight. I was almost disappointed when the lights came back on...

The Katha Upanishad

"Hidden in the heart of every creature
Exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest,
Greater than the greatest. They go beyond
All sorrow who extinguish their self-will
And behold the glory of the Self
Through the grace of the Lord of Love." (20)

This quake served as a beautiful reminder of the fragility of all of this. Our whole world and life as we know it is not as stable as our comfort and routine has us to believe. At any moment it can be "shaken" up. Everything is constantly changing, flowing, dying and being reborn. You can never step in the same river twice. You can never breathe the same breath again. In sanskrit this is known as anitya or impermanence. However the ancient texts continually teach us that there is something that lasts, forever pure and eternal in nature. Something that no earthquake can shake.

"When the wise realize the Self,
Formless in the midst of forms, changeless
In the midst of change, omnipresent
And supreme, they go beyond sorrow." (22)

This was a beautiful moment to recognize and reconnect to Spirit.
To offer great gratitude and love for family and friends,
strangers, plants, animals, and rocks.
And to deeply appreciate the life we got.

100 years from now, all of these humans will be gone.
This is a very significant statement to ponder.
Let us remember we are all just visitors passing through.

So much love.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Transformation of Things

Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly,
a fluttering butterfly.
What fun he had, doing as he pleased!
He did not know he was Zhou.
Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou.
He did not know whether Zhou
had dreamed he was a butterfly
or a butterfly had dreamed he
was Zhou.

Between Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction.
This is what is meant by the transformation of things.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Michael Cera Does Vipassana

Actor Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad) speaks to David Letterman about attending a silent 10-day Vipassana retreat. Although they joke about the retreat and being a "celebrity with no time for meditation", Letterman seems sincerely interested, and Cera appears genuine in his silent experience.

Check out the full interview here:

For more information on Vipassana meditation or if you're interested in attending your first 10-day retreat, check out The retreats are donation based only and are on-going throughout the year in locations all over the world. I highly recommend attending one if you're interested in exploring what meditation can offer your life.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eyes Open or Closed?

In today’s yoga world there is such a plethora of styles and traditions. Each teacher has their own unique flavor and expression, interpretation and approach. This abundance of yoga is certainly a blessing in our modern world, however, the smorgasbord of styles and traditions can be confusing. The philosophies that influence the practice are so often mix-and-matched. Each school teaches a varying approach to asana, pranayama, alignment, etc.

As we move through our practice, and through life, it’s important to stop and ask the simple question, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” Something I believe is very appealing about yoga to many people is that it challenges you in all aspects of your being: physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, spiritual, etc. Yoga recognizes the totality of the human condition and provides a means to integrate the various layers of Self. Therefore every movement in a Hatha Yoga class has an emotional and psychological connection or response, and a philosophy to back it up.

While I was in the Bay Area over the holidays, I had the opportunity to experience the Berkeley yoga scene. I found a really beautiful studio on Telegraph named Yoga Mandala. It is a Tantric temple space, spiritual community, and Hatha Yoga studio. I took two classes and really enjoyed them both. I appreciated the deep element of spirit and authenticity the teachers brought, and of course lots of chanting!

Something really interesting came up, however, during practice. In both classes the teachers continually reminded us to keep our eyes open. Simple. Right? I realized that until now, I had always been encouraged to close the eyes, to go inward. And now out of habit, it was very difficult to keep them open for an entire class. (I did close my eyes during Savasana…)

I spoke to one of the teachers, Jessica, after class to inquire about this very simple but subtle dilemma. Her answer made perfect sense from the tradition she is coming from, and actually represents a fundamental divergence in yogic philosophy that we see present within modern yoga!

“We are coming from a traditional Tantric approach,” she explained. Simply put, Tantra recognizes that the Divine is found in everything. The underlying creative force or shakti of the universe is manifest in all things. The “unity in the multiplicity” could be considered the Hallmark of Tantra. It is in this sense a “life-affirming” philosophy. Embracing all phenomena, experience, thoughts, sensations, etc. Closing the eyes during a Hatha Yoga practice can be viewed as cutting yourself off the from the experience and world around you. Most Tibetan Buddhists (Vajrayana/Tantra), in fact, meditate with their eyes slightly open. This is seen to provide a more seamless integration of mindfulness “off the mat”. In this sense, there is no “checking out” during practice, and no “checking back in” to this world after Savasana. With the eyes open, it is one open field of consciousness.

The eyes closed approach, however, is just as valid, but comes from a different philosophical approach. It is perhaps more Classical, stemming from pratyahara, the idea of sense withdrawal found in the Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

"When he completely withdraws the senses from their objects, as a tortoise draws in its limbs, then his wisdom is firmly fixed." - Gita II:58

Here the focus is on drawing the yogi’s awareness inward to do away with sensual experience. By closing the eyes, it can be easier to develop one-pointed inward concentration – focusing on the breath, sensations, prana, ajna chakra, Isvara, etc. Eventually this highly concentrated focus will lead to deep absorption in samadhi.

I believe that both approaches are equally suitable for a yoga practice and can serve the individual based on his/her needs. Most of us begin our yoga journey with the eyes open. Naturally, we need to see what the teacher is instructing, and to observe our own body alignment. I also spent much time looking at other bodies aligning around me, comparing them to my own... It is interesting to notice how dependent we are on our senses, particularly vision, to guide our experiences through life. Closing the eyes in Vrksasana Tree Pose will show you real quick. However, one of the magical unfoldings of this journey is that as the practice progresses, the body naturally aligns itself. It knows when to lift the heart, relax the shoulders, tuck the pelvis, etc. We can begin to close the eyes and perhaps have a deeper inward experience. However, over time our practice can switch to autopilot - habitually closing the eyes out of repetition and muscle memory, and potentially disconnecting from our experience.

Do you practice with your eyes open or closed? As an experiment, next time you practice, try doing the opposite. An eyes closed inversion can be an invigorating experience. So can keeping the eyes open during a forward bend, while maintaining total awareness of the breath and sensations. If nothing else, it can be a curious investigation into your own experience, and a fun way to shake up your yoga practice. Either way, don't forget to ask why you're doing what you're doing!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bringing in 2010

January 1st is just another day on the Gregorian calender, however, it is also more than that. It has become an important ritual in contemporary society. With so many people gathering in celebration around the world, it is an energetically potent moment. It is important that we use this opportunity mindfully to cultivate towards our highest goals and ideals.

As we bring in the new year it is important to also let go of 2009. For many of us, our lives are so fast-paced that we are constantly moving from one activity to the next without pausing to reflect or process the events leading into Now.

If you can, take a moment to check-in and reflect on this past year...
  • What is your quality of mind right now, compared to Jan. 1 , 2009?
  • What were some of the big events in your life in 2009?
  • In what ways have you grown?
  • Is there anyone or anything that you can forgive? (yourself included)
  • Is there anything you can let go of?
  • Think of a good deed you did for another being
  • Recall moments of joy, happiness, and laughter

To help us transition consciously into the new year and decade, let us begin by invoking the qualities of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who sits at the thresholds of space and time and who blesses all beginnings.

ॐ गम गणपतये नम
om gam ganapataye namaha (108 repetitions)

By chanting the sacred mantra of Ganesha, we bless the year ahead. It can help to remove any obstacles we encounter on the path - letting go of emotions, toxins, negative thought/habit patterns, or anything that is preventing you from living your life in the highest place of consciousness and bliss.

May 2010 be a year of Peace.
May we each go deep deep inside to find that essence of Truth within,
that spark so bright it can lift the veils of any dark night.
Dwelling within the cave of the heart, returning to Source until we find a voice.
Vowing to move and speak only from this place, deep within.
Knowing that its strength lies its connection, its foundation, its roots.
An interdependence with all life, swirls us together like pearls on a string.
May this be a year of integration, of celebration, and dedication.
Stepping Thy lotus feet on the accelerator of the conscious evolution revolution.