Interactive Intentions



Be soft in your practice.  Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.  Follow the stream, have faith in its course.  It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there.  It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices.  Just follow it.  Never let it out of your sight.  It will take you.  - Sheng Yen, Chinese Buddhist Monk 

Happy New Year!  A few years ago I started a habit of taking time to establish my New Year’s resolution.  I generally set the intention in early January to be open to inspiration and then settle on a specific resolution for the Lunar New Year.  Adopting a fluid, rather than rigid, approach is often more helpful more me in the long run.

This year I tried something a little different.  I actually did set my resolution at the beginning of January and have been revisiting as I waited for the Lunar New Year.  In 2018 we've had an extra long time between the two beginnings.  Lunar, or Chinese, New Year arrived last Friday, February 16th.  Why does it change?  Lunar New Year falls on the second day of the new moon between the 21st of January and the 20th of February.

I appreciated the space this gave me to engage with my intention and modify as needed.  I started off with a commitment on January 1 to bring curiosity to my relationships.  I explored this in my writing for the Riveter blog, and community quickly joined curiosity as a focus.  I sat with these two ideas and another word came up for me - connection.  The past eight weeks offered me time to explore these three concepts individually and collectively.  

Curiosity - As a mother of a toddler, I find that I'm fairly starved for adult conversation.  When I sit with this longing, it becomes clear that this often manifests as a desire for adult attention.  I get the chance to interact with the outside world and I talk, alot.  I'm trying to be aware of that and balance my need to tell stories with curiosity about others' lives.  I want to engage in thoughtful ways with people I disagree with - in a manner than honors both of us.  When alone, I hope to wean myself off of mindless downtime like watching favorite shows and listen to more podcasts that engage my brain.  New Year's Intention #1 - ask questions and stimulate my brain.

Community - This winter I'm focused on how to hibernate and still build community, because winter can be a dark and lonely time of year.  Between cold/flu, short days, and traffic/schedule challenges, it's hard to find time and energy to get out of the house and be with people.  I'm working on small things, like meeting friends at a yoga class I'm already going to so we can practice together or get to know another parent at my son's school or take a writing class to remind myself that I'm not the only one passionate about this craft.  New Year's Intention #2 - be in community.

Connection - Speaking of writing classes, I attended one on dialogue last weekend and was amazed at the life lesson hidden in the group exercise.  We had to fill in half of a conversation for an assigned role.  I was given a card with an instruction to write four lines of dialogue as a teenage daughter in an argument with her mother, without discussing it with the mother.  Then I found the woman who wrote the mother lines and we engaged in the dialogue.  As you might expect, since we wrote our sides of the fight separately, we talked past each other.  The surprising aspect of this exercise was how true to life it felt.  Even when we're right in a conversation with another person, we so often have our own agenda to get across and don't listen or respond very well to what the other is saying.  New Year's Intention #3 - listen in order to connect.

Brené Brown summed up my thoughts for 2018 pretty perfectly in a recent interview with Krista Tippet.  She speaks to loneliness stemming from  "counterfeit connection" and "common enemy intimacy."  We've lost our ability to connect and truly belong.

And so this first practice of true belonging is, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” When you are really struggling with someone, and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or belief, move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection: How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?  Stay curious, be kind, and, listen with the exact same amount of passion that you want to be heard. 

Mind and Meditation

Much is made this time of year about getting the body in shape - many of us commit to new routines, workouts, and diets in an effort to improve our health. Yet state of mind is just as important as shape of body.

"Researchers in the field of neuroscience have found that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you are constantly thinking negative thoughts...the neural pathway becomes stronger, and those thoughts become more automatic and habitual. The basic idea is that 'neurons that fire together, wire together.' The more you practice a new behavior, the more integrated or groomed the pathway becomes.  This news is both disturbing and liberating: through purposeful attention, mental training and practice, we can change our brains and ourselves."  - Ann Kearney Cook, Darling Magazine

The brain has been on my mind this week. In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, in an article titled "Mind Games", scientist Sebastian Seung compares the firing of neurons to a river and the continual wiring and rewiring as a riverbed - over time the river shapes the riverbed until, in an extreme case, the result is the Grand Canyon. And then the canyon determines where the water flows.

Meditation then, is more than just a way to calm the mind, it can shape our lives. A few years ago I was introduced to a "meditation misperception," namely that a blank mind is the goal of a meditation practice. To stop neurons from firing - that's just a fools errand.  What we're really after when we sit is awareness. Attention is paid to what the mind is thinking and from there, we can make changes. Positive thinking really does have power.  It can actually reshape pathways in the brain.

Want to try it out for yourself? You might start with a Heart Math technique.  Negative thoughts impact physical and emotional health. Instead, if we focus our attention on a previous experience of appreciation, we can rewire pathways to promote well being.  It's simple.  Find a quiet place to sit for a couple of minutes (you really don't need more, a 20 minute meditation goal is pretty intimidating). Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Recall a time you felt appreciated.  Imagine reliving that experience, rather than just thinking about it. Let the feelings spread through your body.  Stay with this experience for 30 seconds.  When you finish, take another 3 deep breaths and notice how your body feels.  Open your eyes and go about the rest of your day.  Find another few minutes tomorrow and repeat the practice.  It doesn't take much to start reshaping the riverbed.

Summer Practice

Sunny sky Much as I love summer in Seattle, I usually like to escape the city for a trip or two.  I always take along my yoga mat, but whether it actually gets used is a toss up.  Sometimes I find I just need a break from my routine, which is a lovely thing to give yourself permission to do.  Last summer I discovered that being away was a great chance to develop my own practice.  Morning yoga by the lake before a swim invited a new layer of calm into my being.  I'm looking forward to being back in in that place for a good long while this July and August.

Before the lake in Idaho though, there's always theater.  Last week I was in Southern Oregon for an annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Friends who are fellow yogis joined this time and they are both more adventurous about trying new studios than I am.  Emily even wrote about an experience for my blog last summer.  On this trip, she inspired me to walk a couple of blocks from our vacation rental to a beautiful studio on a quiet street in Ashland.  Rasa Yoga was the perfect place to spend the noon hour on a hot summer day.  The breeze teased the filmy curtains as I moved through reclined twists and watched a few high clouds skirt over the bright blue sky.  The teaching was familiar, spoke to the breath frequently, and promoted a balance of effort and ease--something I always appreciate in our over-asana-ized culture.  I get pretty attached to my studio and teachers in Seattle, and this experience was a nice reminder of the larger community of yoga and the benefits to trying something new.

So here's to summer, and a willingness to let go of our strict routines and embrace whatever comes along.

Accessing Anahata

Much as I like the idea of subtle energy, I tend to resist it when presented with the opportunity to deepen my practice in this way.  For some reason, that didn't happen over the weekend while studying meditation, pranayama, bandhas and vayus with two teachers I greatly admire - Jenny Hayo and Chiara Guerrieri.  I am deeply grateful to both of them for the space they held and the teachings they offered.  And I also know that I showed up ready to receive.  Perhaps 6 months of backing way off of my physical practice to focus on subtle alignment and sensations in the body had prepared me.  I felt my breath move in new ways and was refreshed in my desire for a consistent mindfulness practice. With that sense of openness, I returned to a guided meditation that I find quite powerful, though it had sat on my shelf for a good long while.  Maitri, or Meta, is a simple and beautiful way to increase the capacity of the heart for compassion towards self and others.  I shared my own interpretation of Maitri in my very first post on this blog.  It's certainly appropriate for any time of year, but as I discovered this week, spring provides an abundance of imagery to support the practice.

If you are unfamiliar with this meditation, it's a four-part offering to self, a loved-one, a neutral being, and finally to someone with whom you are experiencing dis-harmony.  I usually use my own words, but this week felt drawn to my teacher's rendition:

May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease.

May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease.

May we be happy, may we be healthy, may we be safe, may we live with ease.

Maitri is associated with the anahata chakra, or energy point in the heart space.  Each chakra has a color and anahata is green.  I often try to imagine my awareness dropping down into my chest and am always curious to see if somehow the color green will show up.  It doesn't and I'm left wondering what I'm missing.

I left my Maitri practice on Tuesday and had the rare opportunity to move at human speed for the rest of my day.  By this I mean that I walked to wherever I needed to go.  As I made my way from one neighborhood to another, I was suddenly flooded by green.  Everywhere I looked - neon, earthy, dark, mint - green.

IMG_5047IMG_5051IMG_5048IMG_5056IMG_5054IMG_5062IMG_5065IMG_5066It turns out that when I open my awareness, slow down and use my senses as I move through my day, I find that what I've been looking for is already all around.  Every where I go this week, I see green.  The world around me is alive with love and compassion.  It's spring and love is in bloom.  Hello heart chakra, nice to meet you.

Buddhism and Yoga

In an effort to deepen my practice and teaching, I'm enrolled in an advanced yoga teacher training program with 8 Limbs Yoga Centers.  Every few months I gather with other teachers to delve into a particular aspect of yoga.  This coming weekend the over-arching theme is Buddhism and meditation.  Certainly not all yogis are Buddhists and vice versa, but there are many connections between the two practices.  With this training on my mind, I stumbled across "What Does Buddhism Require" in The New York Times.  If you're curious at all about some the tenants of this tradition, I recommend this overview. Two aspects of this article caught my attention, as they relate to both my yoga practice and my graduate studies:

  • "The third (jewel) is the Sangha, or spiritual community, conceived sometimes as the community of other practitioners, sometimes as the community of monks and nuns, sometimes as the community of awakened beings. The project of full awakening is a collective, not an individual, venture."
  • "The Buddhist tradition encourages us to see ourselves as impermanent, interdependent individuals, linked to one another and to our world through shared commitments to achieving an understanding of our lives and a reduction of suffering. It encourages us to rethink egoism and to consider an orientation to the world characterized by care and joint responsibility. That can’t be a bad thing."

The more I practice and study, the more I experience the beauty of the collective and the value of embracing the impermanence of life.  Change is constant.  Community, if we dare to embrace it, helps us move through our ever-shifting landscapes with grace.

Vacation Yoga

I recently had dinner with my friend and fellow teacher, Emily Bedard.  Aside from our shared love of yoga, we have a summer vacation spot in common.  Emily had just returned from McCall, a lake-town in Idaho where I will head next week to spend time with friends and family.  Her recent experience had me laughing and looking forward to my visit even more.  I asked Emily to guest blog for me, and her post follows the photo (Payette Lake at sunset) below. McCall Sunset

When I started doing yoga some years ago, I started in a city. The studio was on the second story of a commercial building in a busy neighborhood, and the soundtrack from outside was a mix of tires on pavement and bus hydraulics and sirens and people calling to each other on the street. Inside the studio, the crowd was young, mostly, and urban and eclectic and hip. I loved it there. When I went to other cities, I could find more or less a similar experience. But when I went to the beautiful little Idaho town where my husband's family vacations, I had to do my yoga alone and that meant it didn't happen much. There were just no studios or classes or workshops to be found.

The town's name is McCall, and it wraps around the lower half of the deep, cold, mountain-backed Payette Lake and extends south from there. When I first visited in 1997, the town felt considerably more hardscrabble then it does now. No handsome downtown ice rink, no prettily appointed central park, no sushi restaurant. Those features began to pop up as McCall developed more of a resort identity over the last 15 years, but I've loved it in all its phases. And then recently it happened: I showed up one July and a yoga studio had, too.

Of course, I was curious. What would I find in a studio class in my favorite tiny Gem State town? Was this the way to link my Seattle life and my Idaho mini-life? What I found was this:

When you do yoga in McCall, the temp outside might be 95, but the second story room with its exposed rafters will still be mysteriously, pleasantly cool. When you do yoga in McCall, you might set up your mat next to a smokejumper, who probably recently jumped out of an airplane—on purpose—into a wildfire. When you do yoga in McCall, you notice a lot more callouses and a lot fewer pedicures, and this is instantly uplifting. You look east out the window in Warrior II and see the grocery store where you could buy a snap shirt after class, if you wanted. (You find that you sort of want to.) You count more men than in your city class, and more kids, too. You find you are the only one who seems surprised when the teacher asks you to "pistol-grip" your big toe in a forward fold. You take a dolphin pose and imagine your forearms are forks on a forklift, just like you're told to. And, finally, when the teacher closes class with a single Om and a moment of silence and a sincere Namaste, and then tells everyone, "Now, go jump in the lake!" that that is exactly what you ought to do.

So, yes, it was the link. And also, no, it wasn't. The experience was simultaneously familiar and new, comfortable and a bit awkward. It was, in short, just what yoga always is for me: That space and place where "Whoa, look at that!" and "Oh hey, I know you!" are somehow two sides of the same amazing coin.

-Join Emily on Sunday evenings for a 75 minute Slow Flow class at Yogalife Greenlake.  View her bio here.

Finding Alignment

April has been a whirlwind of activity and continual movement.  A visit to South Carolina, home of a very dear friend, led right into spring quarter.  My new classes proved quite intense, emotionally depleting and disorienting.  Somewhere in there I hosted a dinner for 20 people, got back into teaching and pretty much gave up on my usual commitment to self-care.  I arrived as a student to one of my favorite yoga classes on Wednesday morning and collapsed into stillness.  It was a shock to my system.  I finally sat quietly with all that had been gathered up as I tore through two and half weeks like a tornado.  A mantra crept into my being and carried me through the practice: all I can do is be here. As a planner, I'm not naturally inclined to show up to my practice (or life for that matter) and contentedly be present.  It's a continual struggle for me to not think ahead or look back constantly.  I can count on one hand the distinct memories I have of dropping into a moment and being fully committed to it.  I love that feeling, but it sure doesn't happen very often and it's always been a sense of not wanting to be anywhere else.

Wednesday's practice took me by surprise.  I hadn't anticipated falling into presence with now out of sheer exhaustion and finding comfort there.  To be unable to focus on anything else behind me or ahead of me, to be cradled by the practice, was bliss.  I extend my deep gratitude to Jodi Wellman for holding space that allowed each of us to find inner alignment.  It was exactly what I needed.

Embracing Ordinary

Perfectly Average AfternoonIt's actually one of those gorgeous Seattle days today that reminds you why the rain is worth it, but this photo seemed more appropriate to my musings.  I saw a video recently that keeps replaying in my mind.  The entire 40 minutes is worth your time.  What's stuck in my head is a call to "tolerate the boring bits" in life and each other.  Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together observes the general tendency of our current culture to live as though all that matters is stringing together a social-media-worthy collection of highlights, avoiding or distracting ourselves during the relatively uninteresting phases. This theme has continued to pop up in my life the past two weeks. Crossing to Safety is a beautiful story, one I read years ago and put away on a shelf.  I dug it out recently and was once again touched by the simple tale of friendship.  One character encourages her friend, the writer, to aspire to a book about regular life.  "Most artists--writers too, you're all alike--found it easier to get attention with demonstrations of treachery, malice, death, violence."  Charity begs Larry, "write something about a really decent, kind, good human being living a normal life in a normal community, interested in the things most ordinary people are interested in."

Over the weekend I attended three yoga workshops with Sarah Powers.  She had a lot of interesting things to share about yin yoga and suffering.  What stands out to me is our final meditation, during which Sarah reminded us of the benefit of cultivating attention.  Not attention to anything, just pure attention.  This is something to be practiced, just like any other skill.  Let me tell you, it felt a lot like learning to appreciate the mundane, because gazing at carpet for 15 minutes, even striped carpet, isn't exactly what I call fun.  And yet, so necessary.

One final thought on appreciating--celebrating even--the average, everyday moments of life, from my favorite poet...


On my shoes,

Boiling water,

Toasting bread,

Buttering the sky;

That should be enough contact

With God in one day

To make anyone


(Hafiz - Buttering the Sky)

Strong and Subtle

solar plexusA shift in my schedule last week prompted me to stay at the studio after teaching Tuesday afternoon to practice with my friend and colleague Natalia Rudovsky.  Her level II class offers a very different style from mine and while I have a deep respect for Natalia's abilities both as a yogi and a teacher, I don't usually find myself craving the fiery energy explored in this 75 minute practice.  Perhaps something about the bright sun that day alongside chilly temperatures nudged me to challenge the physical body, lay down a mat and surrender my desire for ease. Yoga is a discipline that asks us to find balance between ease and effort and I confess that I am generally more at home with the former.  I like to curl up to a nice mellow, gentle series of poses.  And so, even though I don't often seek it, a practice that pushes the limits of my physical strength and breath capacity can be just what I need from time to time. Not only did the asana sequences challenge me, but Natalia's exploration of the Chakras brought me face to face with an aspect of the subtle body that I often find illusive.  What are Chakras?  My longtime teacher, Lisa Steele, describes them in this way: "the Chakras are an invisible center of spinning energy, located where the mind and body meet.  While not synonymous with any portion of the physical body, their effect on the physical body is strong; it is believed that our physical bodies shape themselves around the Chakras."

If you enjoy a strong asana practice and want to deepen your understanding of mind-body-spirit connection, I encourage you to try and make it to Natalia's Sunday and/or Tuesday evening classes soon.  Every two weeks features a new Chakra (current focus is on Manipura (third/solar plexus).  I myself hope to be there again soon.

Effort and Ease

IMG_3108I've struggled to put up a post the past few weeks. when I had the words at my fingertips, I picked up a book instead of my keyboard. I lost what I wanted to say. I waited, and waited and waited...for all the thoughts in my head to form into something profound, for the perfect moment to sit down and write, for the stars to align. Maybe someday that post will make its way here, but today i was inspired by the mild day, mellow sunlight and dwindling darkness to invite a little ease into my life. I had a lot of expectations for January. I planned to dive right back into my pre-holiday schedule with renewed commitment and focus. and then I caught a bad cold and was forced to take it slow for a couple of weeks. As I healed, I realized something pretty obvious (but somehow had escaped my conscious awareness), that January is just as dark as December and all I wanted to do was hibernate. I have the luxury in my life right now of setting a schedule that is aligned with the rhythm of the seasons and I've noticed the changing ratios of darkness and the light affect me more. So, I set aside my big plans and let myself be. Last week I felt like I was ready to try again. We're still in winter, but I feel the promise of spring. The days are a little longer now, there's a bit of freshness in the air.

This morning I returned to one of my favorite practices - 90 minutes of pranayama, meditation and Sutras study with Jo Leffingwell. Two of my teachers have studied with her and I am quite humbled and honored to learn from Jo myself. As we sat today, I remembered something she gave voice to in a previous practice - referring to the exhale as "releasing the breath." Over and over today I cycled through "inhale and release, inhale and release." Eventually this gave way to a sense that the expectations of thinking mind could surrender, dissolve, and blend into a hopefulness of the heart. For me, hope is a little more gentle, it carries a sense of ease that is missing from expectation.

The beginning of February seems like a good time to refresh. Perhaps you set a New Year's resolution that you've stuck to doggedly. Inhale and release...soften your goal into a hopeful intention. Maybe January came and went and you never really found your sense of direction for the year ahead, or you made a resolution and forgot it. Take five minutes to sit in quiet, observe your breath, release any lingering frustration and find a little lift with the inhale. See if you can taste the coming spring. Discover that sweet spot between effort and ease. This is the practice of yoga.

(Yoga Sutra 2.46 | sthira sukham asanam - asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation)

kicking off my 2013 practice

i had every intention of using my recent time on the beach in california for asana practice.  i rolled up my travel mat, stuffed it in the overhead bin, propped it up in the corner of my room for 3 days, then toted it (still rolled-up) back to the airport and another overhead bin for the flight back home.  as it turned out, my inaugural 2013 practice was a return to a habit i acquired in late 2011 and had fallen away from this past fall -- friday evening hatha flow with Andreas at yogalife queen anne. Dove

something nudged me to the studio tonight, rather than practicing on my own.  i'm glad i listened.  it felt good to build up some heat on a dark, january night.  i needed to stretch my aching calf muscles from morning runs on the sand.  most importantly, i got to be part of a community, to join my voice with others in a song for peace.  i'd forgotten how much i appreciate the simplicity of his class -- a steady focus on breath and body with the occasional, yet perfectly intentioned reminder of something more.  as if he's casually tossing out a comment about alignment, Andreas will speak to a sutra or remind us that being an advanced yogi is about being able to find ease, to back off even, in a physically challenging pose.  tonight he offered one word to guide our focus for the new year in place of resolutions - santosha.  one of the niyamas (ethics) in yoga, santosha means contentment.  what a lovely reminder as i begin 2013.  are there things i want, dreams i chase, regrets from the past?  absolutely.  but i can set those aside and dwell on my contentment.  i have a good and full life and if most of it stayed just about as it is today for the rest of my days, i would be happy.  i am happy.  santosha.