Interactive Intentions

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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. 

A Practice for Householders

I rush around a lot these days.  Motherhood elevates multi-tasking and what my entrepreneur brother calls "hustle" to an art form.  The pace is relentless and slowing down isn't really an option.  And I'm the queen of downshift and self care, or I was until September 2, 2015, the evening my son arrived.  

Life kicked up another notch recently, as I took on some additional projects and teaching.  Somehow I'd managed to re-introduce a brief time of morning yoga into my daily rhythm, thanks to early PNW spring sunrises as we move towards the solstice.  With these quiet mornings, I feel pretty grounded and less hurried, and was lulled into the sense that I had returned to my full practice of meditation and attention to nature's rhythms.  In reality, I'm still rushing here, there, and everywhere and not in tune with the moon's cycle, one of my favorite rituals.  

I spontaneously decided to use a lunar theme in the yoga class I taught Thursday evening at the Riveter.  I'd been wanting to bring in the concept to my classes there, syncing the feminine qualities of the moon with this beautiful female focused co-working and wellness space.  I quickly glanced at my calendar and saw "Supermoon" for Friday and assumed full moon.  I taught a practice focused on grounding during this phase.  While seasonally appropriate with the solstice approaching, I misled my students because I taught something I wasn't fully engaged in on my own.  I'd been spinning so fast, I'd shown up to class in-authentically, however well intentioned.  I continued on in my alternative facts bubble and based my personal meditation on Friday on the full moon Moon Angels card.

I realized my mistake when I finally did slow down.  Restorative yoga on a Sunday evening is about as quiet as one can get without going to bed.  I've been enjoying a class at Seattle Yoga Arts, where I have no connection as a teacher.  Perhaps this allowed me to show up completely as student.  For the first time in several years, a studio experience unexpectedly brought me fully and deeply into my body.  It was an equally intense and peaceful experience, focused on the throat chakra and a simple mantra "find my voice."  This 5th chakra, Vishuddha, is all about authenticity.  Once the practice as completed, I took my time leaving and walking the block home.  I lingered on the sidewalk and strolled another half block, looked up, and was shocked to see the crescent moon.  This little sliver was decidedly not the glowing orb I'd expected.  I felt the wind knocked out of me and had to sit down on the closest stoop to re-orient myself.  

Rebekah Erev Studio  Moons2017 (available for download here)

Rebekah Erev Studio Moons2017 (available for download here)

The difference between new and full moon energetically is significant, hence my strong sense of disorientation.  The new moon is about beginnings, a chance to start over on a monthly basis.  It exudes qualities of calm, quiet, and groundedness.  It can border on lethargic.  Sometimes it's appropriate to give into these aspects, other times we need to counter this energy.  The full moon is exuberant, lively, expansive, tending on chaotic.  At one time, not so long ago, my life involved rituals surrounding these regular markers.  The lunar cycle remains deeply resonant in my life, even if I'm not closely tracking each new and full moon.  It's drifted from my regular offerings as a teacher, yet feels so appropriate in this current hyper-masculine, regressive, and heated political climate.  I'm craving the cool, creative, life-giving moon.  

Speaking of lunar ritual, my friend Emily (aka the Ritual Coach) has a beautiful new posting on her blog, offering an honest and heartfelt new weekly energy ritual.  Giving ourselves permission...to explore what's stirring deep within us.  Yes, more of that please.

So how do we give ourselves permission to practice in the midst of busy lives?  How especially do caregivers of young children practice? If retreats and 20-30 minute (really, even 10 minute) meditations aren't available, do we just give up?  Absolutely not.  The Yoga Sutras (the original text outlining the philosophy of yoga) acknowledge that not everyone chooses a monastic life, and there are seasons to a lifetime.  When we're in the midst of careers and raising family and taking care of aging parents, we still practice.  It just looks different.  

My favorite Sutra has always been 1.33 - the "Householders Sutra."  It's for those who live in the world, not apart from it.  This Sutra acknowledges the way we come to any situation with an agenda, with our desires and hopes for the universe to be a certain way.  Here we are, very much in the world, in the messy weeds, yet have a choice to shift perspective and live within the context of four simple concepts that help us to set aside our wants and be present with what's happening for someone else.

I had the privilege to study with the amazing Jo Leffingwell for a couple of years and explore the Sutras in depth.  I'm pulling from my notes taken in her studio to offer an interpretation of the sanskrit for Sutra 1.33 that resonates most with me.  Rather than merely reacting to or mirroring others, we can stop spinning stories in our own minds and really see another person and situation.  From that place of stillness, we respond:

  •  where we find happiness, we express goodwill and friendship
  • where we find pain, we express compassion
  • where we find virtue, we express joy
  • where we find non-virtue, we express neutrality

It's not an easy practice, but it is accessible in the midst of busy lives.  It doesn't require signing up for a class, getting out a mat, finding a studio, or clearing a space on the calendar.  Through these straightforward concepts we can give ourselves permission to include a personal practice in our lives, to show up more authentically for ourselves and others.

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.

Less is (often) more

I have a pretty short attention span.  I love new projects, I hold multiple jobs, I haven't lived in the same home for more than four years since I was eight years old.  In fact, yoga may be one of the most consistent aspects of my life since I took my first class over a decade ago. For a discipline that is truly the essence of simplicity when you boil it down, yoga in western culture has become a circus.  A practitioner can choose from a myriad of styles, products, teachers and studios to create a perfectly tailored experience.  Teachers often become entertainers, spending quite a lot of time outside the classroom to develop new and exciting sequences, not to mention playlists, in hopes of keeping students engaged.  It's really quite a spectacle and a long way from executing basic postures to ready the body for lengthy periods of seated meditation.

A student stopped me after class this week and politely suggested my teaching lacked the variety he feels he needs to advance his practice.  And so I spent a few days wondering - is our collective quest for new and exciting experiences, products, and relationships really advancement or just distraction?

Truth is, I saw some of myself in this student.  I went through a period of time where I craved new poses and sequences every time I unrolled my mat.  I mentally criticized teachers who repeated playlists.  I went through a teacher training and found I had fun developing the strength to execute complex poses I had previously shied away from.  More recently however, I've been influenced by practicing and studying with teachers who are returning to the basics.  Who spend entire classes on the pelvic floor, tiny backbends and alignment of bones in a handful of postures.  Who repeat the same sequences week after week to give students the chance to familiarize and refine poses.  Over the summer I spent a week working on Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and discovered a way to shift my alignment so that it felt effortless to stand upright on my two feet.  I came away as elated as if I'd conquered handstand.

Advancement in yoga doesn't have to be about mastering difficult poses.  For me, it's become about subtle shifts and attention to detail in poses I've been working with for years.  It's about how I move through my boredom that can surface during a short and repetitive daily practice.  About staying committed when I feel like moving on.  About believing that advancement often looks like standing still, or even moving backwards.

Fall is a particularly good time of year to return to basics and invite repetition into your yoga practice.  The season is full of chaotic energy, as evidenced by the weather outside my window today.  I woke up to rain, then ate lunch in a patch of sun.  Blue sky disappeared as deep, dark layers of clouds moved across the sky and the wind churned up the gray waters of Elliott Bay.  Soon my herbs and pansies were being pelted with driving rain and hail.  The rain continues as the sun creates a bright glare over the waterfront.

The pace of life, if it slowed at all during summer, has picked up speed once again as we hurtle towards December.  It's the perfect time to cozy up to the poses you love and fine tune them.  Explore the familiar faces of Downward Dog, Chair, Lunge, Bridge, Forward Fold.  Move through Surya Namaskar A & B over and over again.  Try these poses and sequences with eyes closed, with deep attention to the structure of your body.  Practice them until boredom sets in and then see what you can find within the monotony.  You just might discover a steadiness and peace of mind.

Welcome Autumn!

A subtle shift in the air today announces the change of season.  Autumn, held at bay by an almost unbelievably warm (hot!) Seattle summer, is done waiting.  She arrives gently this time, easing us toward the inevitable gray.  Weaker sunlight pokes through high clouds and muted colors seem to surround a garden that only recently bloomed with vibrant energy.  For some, the goodbye is hard; others celebrate fall as the return of a dear old friend.  Those who find summer's pleasures overstimulating count on cooler, wetter days to rejuvenate minds and bodies. HydrangeasWe've managed to make every season busy -- too busy -- for our own good, yet autumn has always carried an expectation of activity.  Time to harvest, time to store up what we need for winter!  Unless you're an avid gardener, farmer, or canner, you likely aren't bustling around to gather and preserve food, but you probably are looking at an overflowing calendar.  Our lives mimic that windy, dry air soon to be swirling colorful leaves to and fro.

My yoga will shift to compliment the weather and counter the heightened pace of life.  The body will need heating practices to sustain the warmth built up over summer months.  The mind will crave symmetry and routine to take respite from the chaos.  Fall is a time for intentional sun salutations, kapalabhati (a cleansing breath), steady rhythms, and grounding focus.  My teaching will offer space for students to explore these practices in depth.  My blog will offer tips for how to best approach the next few months of your life both on and off your mat.  I look forward to our journey together as we scurry towards Winter Solstice.

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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.

Contentment, still relevant

It Felt Love

(by Hafiz)

How

Did the rose

Ever open its heart And give to this world

All its

Beauty? It felt the encouragement of light

Against its

Being, Otherwise,

We all remain Too Frightened.

Sprouts     Spring has come, as it does every year, but I never grow tired of the awakening that happens when the days get longer.  My garden blooms as hibernation comes to an end.  It feels a bit easier to breathe and certainly contentment is less difficult to practice.

     I've thought a lot about Santosha over the past 9 months.  The turmoil of moving, a remodel, moving again and finishing graduate school made me realize how hard contentment really is.  I wrote about it last October, about how easy it is to think we're good at being content when we think within the context of ease.  Once effort is required, santosha usually becomes such a challenge that I brush it aside and focus on other ethical teachings of yoga.

     Spring seems like a good time to strengthen this particular niyama (internal practice).  It's a hopeful time and I can easily find moments in each day that feel good and contentment is nearly effortless.  But there's usually enough turmoil in this season to provide brief tests, when contentment is less a feeling and more a choice.  Like those days of rain and wind we get after a teaser of sun and warmth.

     Meditation is as good a way as any I've tried to encourage growth in this area.  It's easy to get carried away with the business of spring, to become over-stimulated with light and activity.  A few minutes of quiet, alone, goes a long way.  And when I say a few, I literally mean 3-5 minutes.  If you think you can't "do meditation,"  try it for a week.  Start or end your day in silence, just briefly, and see what happens.  Set the timer on your phone for 3 minutes, sit and breathe and observe your mind.  If that feels easy, add another minute.  If it's a challenge, be willing to stick with 3 minutes, even if it feels silly and a bit wimpy (it's not).  As someone wise whom I can't recall wrote, "solitude is where you gather yourself."  It's counter-intuitive in our hyper-connected world.  Silence can be unsettling, but spend enough time there and you just might build santosha capacity for life's effort-ful moments.

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.

Summer Reading Suggestions

stack of booksThe past month has been a big ego check for me.  When I started my blog I was determined not to be "one of those writers" who posts consistently for the first few months and then fades off into oblivion.  I should have known that would only set me up for a little humble pie!  Fortunately, I'm a big fan of pie, even this flavor.  Lesson learned.  Spring quarter has been busier than usual for me and my writing energy has gone into essays for grad school.  The rest of my creativity seems focused on teaching.  And so it goes. Last week a student of mine stopped me after class to thank me for a book recommendation I'd given her.  I often read a passage during our studio practice from something I've been assigned in grad school.  Chipping away at a masters degree in Whole Systems Design ties nicely into my continuing study of yoga.  Whether a book is about the environmental history of Seattle, cross-cultural communication or science, it inevitably brings me back to my practice.  With summer just around the corner, it seems like a good time to post my grad school reading list as I finish up my third quarter.  Hope you find some time to sit down with a good book or two in the coming months!

Reading List - in no particular order

Hidden Connections  |  Capra

Thinking in Systems  |  Meadows

Post Carbon Reader  |  Heinberg & Lerch

Emerald City  |  Klingle

Soil and Soul  |  McIntosh

Walk Out Walk On  |  Wheatley & Frieze

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down  |  Fadiman

Bridging Cultural Conflicts  |  LeBaron

Group Genius  |  Sawyer

Paradoxes of Group Life  |  Smith & Berg

Bulldozer in the Countryside  |  Rome

Original Instructions  |  Nelson

American Cultural Patterns  |  Stewart & Bennett

Four Fold Way  |  Arrien

Finding Our Way  |  Wheatley

Practice of Adaptive Leadership  |  Heifetz, Linksy & Grashow

Basic Concepts  |  Bennett

Leadership and the New Science  |  Wheatley

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...

Slipping

On my shoes,

Boiling water,

Toasting bread,

Buttering the sky;

That should be enough contact

With God in one day

To make anyone

Crazy.

(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)

same old tunes, like new again

I still remember the first time I ever went to a yoga class where the music played was entirely classical (thank you Brent Morton!)  It was revolutionary to me - I felt completely at peace as the music became part of my practice.  I do enjoy some french ballads every now and then, along with Pink Martini and a random CD of mystery chants.  For special occasions I'll pull out Buxtehude - an amazing baroque composer. As I work on some playlists for this week's classes, I find myself returning to a mixture of old favorites.  I'm always amazed that after a month of festive music, everything else seems new again in January.  Like my home after I take down the tree and put the furniture back in its normal place -- vaguely familiar, yet fresh.  A bit of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (Winter), some Yo-Yo Ma, Pink Martini's La Soledad and a lovely little instrumental piece from Coeur de pirate.  Just a few songs I'm piecing together for tomorrow...