When I began teaching yoga, we held our classes in a horse barn. It was a lovely horse barn, but a horse barn nonetheless. The horses were gone, the stalls were empty, but an earthy, equine energy lingered on. We practiced on a concrete floor and the space soon became know as the ‘yoga barn’. We have since moved our classes into a state-of-the-art eco-friendly facility right next door, and the name ‘yoga barn’ has stuck. The original barn had an enormous 18-foot garage door, which opened to a beautiful, expansive meadow. During winter months, the closed garage door acted as one of our walls. We had no A/C in the barn, so during the summer months when temperatures rose to triple digits, we simply opened the garage door, turned our yoga mats to face the meadow and were blessed with the peaceful and stunning vista. It was not uncommon to stand in vrksasana (tree pose) and watch a family of geese, deer or the occasional Bald Eagle amble across the meadow and into our view.
One hot summer evening, we opened the garage door and began class as usual. The meadow had been freshly...more
When’s the last time you took a good, long, honest look at your feet?!
If indeed the eyes are the window to the soul, then the feet are the foundation of the temple that houses the soul. Just as we build our yoga practice from the ground up by familiarizing ourselves with the yamas and niyamas (the ethical and moral codes of conduct – see previous two articles), hopefully incorporating those ethics into our daily living, we build our physical practice on the foundation provided by our feet.
According to yogic philosophy, our physical bodies are temporary structures that provide a home for our soul. Our soul has work to do while we’re here; it’s up to us to provide the healthiest and most appropriate living accommodations for that work. One can’t very well be of service if the soul is living in a cramped-up, brittle little shanty with the roof caved in. Perhaps you need to create some space (breathe!) and spread out a little (stretch!). Or maybe you’re asking your soul to trudge through this life in a large, burdensome, not so energy-efficient abode. Perhaps you might...more
I’m allergic to hay.
I’ve known of this allergy since I was a child growing up along the Gulf Coast of south Florida. This information didn’t pose too big a concern to my family or me when the only thing we’re growing down there is old.
Today I find myself living in the agricultural mecca of eastern Oklahoma…
On a 400+ acre ranch…
With a bleeping 80-acre hay meadow for a front yard.
What’s a yogini to do? Neti, Neti, Neti!!!
Delving into the classic texts on yoga such as the Yoga Sutra and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, you’ll discover the kriyas. Kriyas are cleansing practices that we undertake to purify and maintain a clean, healthy body from the inside out. The six primary kriyas are called ‘shat karma’. These procedures range from the simple and somewhat non-invasive breathing technique known as Kapalabhati (cleansing the lungs and the brain), to the rather, shall I say, more up-close-and-personal techniques of Dhauti which cleanses the intestines and Basti which cleanses the colon.
Somewhere in the middle is the nasal cleansing technique...more
If you’ve been staying current with The Current, you’ll recall that we have work to do as we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for our yoga practice. This month as we continue to explore the ethical building blocks of yoga, the yamas, we find ourselves at Brahmacharya (bra-ma-char-ya).
So. Let’s talk about sex, shall we?
Woo-hooo!!! And a collective cheer goes up from the readership.
All right, all right, pipe down.
More often than not, you’ll find Brahmacharya translated as celibacy.
Boooooo! Hissssss!! Boooooooo!!!
Easy now, just read on.
One of the strongest, most powerful, vital energies we have is our sexual energy, would you concur? Brahmacharya is not a call to repressing that energy – we’d be asking for mutiny if we did. Rather, Brahmacharya asks us to practice self-control, moderation and balance in all areas of our lives … including sex.
My favorite translation of Brahmacharya is to “walk with God”. A Brahma is also referred to as a “student of the scriptures”. In traditional Indian life as a child reaches...more
We are one of the most sittin’est societies, aren’t we? We sit hunkered down in our low-rider cars (or high-rise SUV’s), not even getting up or out to eat a meal; we sit on hard, unfriendly chairs with our heads straining forward at glaring computer screens; and we sit slouched into our lazy-boys while watching the idiot box at home.
Since we’re going to sit so dang much, let’s at least sit properly!
Have a seat. Wherever you are. Whether on your yoga mat, on the floor or in a chair. Get comfortable. Now, notice your posture. Don’t change anything about it; just notice it. Do you find that your head is leaning way out in front of the rest of your body, elongating the front of your neck? Are your shoulders rounded forward, or jacked up by your ears? What’s happening with your lower back? Don’t go changin’ anything yet; just keep noticing. How are you breathing as you sit? Do you find the breath is mostly hanging out in the upper chest?
You know how some old-school cars have bucket seats and they have that round knob on the side that tilts your seat forward and...more
February is the month of romance, candy hearts, chocolate hearts, quivering hearts, yada, yada, yada. That’s all good and well, but let’s put the goo aside for a moment; who among us doesn’t have someone in our life that crawls under our skin??
Perhaps it’s a family member, a crummy neighbor, your kids’ little league coach, the government, or the guy that drives 45mph in the passing lane on the turnpike?
Send them love!! It’s called Metta Meditation.
Wherever you are right now, take deep breath in and allow your whole body to relax a little as you breathe out. Take two more breaths just like that, coming to a place of ease and comfort in your bod. Now, begin to picture yourself at your happiest time, even bringing a smile to your lips. Silently repeat these words;
“May I be mentally happy,
may I be physically happy,
may I be safe,
may I live with ease and well-being.”
Doesn’t that feel good? Say it a couple more times if you like. It’s great fun to send ourselves happiness, safety, comfort and joy.
There are five types of...more
Holidays got you stressed out and completely exhausted??
What if I told you that I had something that would soothe your tired legs, decrease your anxiety, lower your blood pressure, and relieve that mild backache? Wait, there’s more; this could also lift your mild depression, reduce those varicose veins, curb your insomnia and reduce swelling in your poor tired ankles! Hold on, there’s more; it’ll also work wonders on your lymphatic system and is great for chronic fatigue syndrome.
How much is this wonder drug, you ask? Nada! Zip! Zilch!! AND, you won’t have to stand in line for a prescription to be filled, nor will you have to fill out any dreaded insurance paperwork. Did I mention it’s free? Happy Holidays…!
It’s called simply, “Legs-up-the-wall-pose” (Viparita Karani in Sanskrit) and it is so easy, indeed, you’ve probably done it many times as a child.
Sit on the floor with your right shoulder and hip touching the wall. Lean over onto your left forearm and inch your bum even closer to the wall so there’s still contact there. Now, gently roll down onto...more
I am grateful. One cold, snowy night in March of ’99 in a tiny Colorado mountain town called Lake City (elevation 8,700); I went flying out the back door of our kitchen. Literally. Two steps out the back door with my lame-ass, slip-on shoes (sans tread) and I was airborne. I landed on the edge of the concrete steps smack-dab in the middle of my back, bounced down the remaining steps until I came to a stop in the snow where I lay for several minutes simultaneously screaming for help while watching myself from some distant place and silently screaming at my body to move my toes.
Now, I have only given birth to what I think are brilliant ideas, suggestions, and the occasional Current article; but never a child. Having said that, if the pain felt in breaking one’s back is anything similar to that of childbirth…I’ll stick with my three hairy children – Gilda, Louie and Pema.
Why am I grateful? It was due to the back injury that I was initially exposed to yoga. After a year of enlightening and debilitating pain (and with much encouragement), I hobbled in to my first yoga...more
I often have students ask me, “What’s up with all the breathing in yoga? Why do we have to breathe through the nose all the time? How come I go to some classes and everyone’s breathing like Darth Vadar??”
Welcome to the world of pranayama; the science of breath. Pranayama is not to be taken lightly. Indeed, B. K. S. Iyengar is noted for not teaching pranayama to students until they have strengthened their body, nervous system and lungs by practicing asana for at least 2 years. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a very old ‘how to’ text on yoga) suggests that we commence pranayama practice only when the body has been regulated by asana and a moderate diet. For some of us, that could take awhile…
The breath has a direct effect on the brain, the endocrine system and the central nervous system. When you can control and stabilize your breathing, you can control and stabilize your mind. Let’s keep it simple and look at a few of the reasons we’re taught to breathe through our noses.
1) Breathing through the nose slows the breath down and in yoga, slow is good. When using the...more
A wealthy, religious man was traveling through the United States from Europe where he planned to pay a visit to a wise and world-renowned Rabbi who happened to be residing in New York. The European located the Rabbi’s apartment in an old, somewhat tired brownstone on the Upper West Side. Upon entering, he found the Rabbi living in one small room with nothing more than a bed, a desk, and just a few books. After the formal greetings and salutations, the appalled European asked, “Rabbi, where are your things?!” To which the Rabbi immediately queried back without hesitation, “Where are your things?” “But I am only passing through”, answered the visitor.
“So am I,” responded the Rabbi, “so am I.”
Take a look around you and notice your stuff. What are you collecting? What are you hoarding? What are you hanging on to?
Shoes? Canned goods and ammo? Stamps? Old one-hit-wonder-hair-band concert jerseys? Resentments?
How long of a shelf life does any of that stuff really have? Better yet, ask yourself what is it about this stuff that has you so...more
Whenever I show pictures to my friends back home in the San Jaun Mountains of southern Colorado, I most frequently hear something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh! Look how green it is!” Of course, when Sam and I left Colorado in 2001, we were in the midst of a serious drought. To see so many lush, green trees was like staring at an oasis in the desert to our friends.
I don’t ever want to take for granted the beauty of the trees out here. Three summers ago on a hot June night, something called a ‘gust-nado’ tore through our property and literally twisted many of our great trees right out of the ground. And of course, there was the freeze a year ago January that also gave the magnificent trees in this area a hard hit.
My husband supports the Arbor Day Foundation and every spring we plant and nurture a half dozen little sticks that appear in our mailbox hoping that one day soon they’ll grow into trees…
If the sincerest form of flattery is imitation, let’s get busy and plant our own tree! Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Vrksasana, or Tree Pose. This is one...more
I celebrate a birthday this month. One of the big ones, as they say. Quite frankly, I don’t mind telling you that when I was young and foolish, I never intentionally planned to live beyond 29 (another story, another time!). Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, 40 is looking – and feeling – pretty damn good!
In yogic philosophy, our age isn’t contingent on the amount of years we’ve gathered but rather, our age is determined by the health and flexibility of our spine. A thorough yoga practice, whether done in a class or sequenced on your own at home should take the spine in all six directions: folding forward, bending backward, moving laterally to the right and left, and rotating or twisting to the right and left. These six simple movements are like giving your spine a shot of WD-40.
Our spines tend to compress after about 20 minutes of sitting. The next time you get in your car after a long, stressful day at work, see if you don’t find yourself adjusting your rearview mirror. Have you shrunk? Yes, in fact you have! We do indeed get shorter as the day goes by....more
Aah, it’s that time of year. The temperature nears triple digits, the sun blazes down as though it may never again have the opportunity to shine so bright, and the forecast calls for more of the same through August. The fire element has spoken and we have no choice but to listen and (hopefully) respect it. Or move to northern Alaska.
Here’s some advice for staying cool that’s legal, non-fat and pain-free.more
Back in 1969, the late, great Sri Swami Satchidananda took the stage in Woodstock, New York before a crowd of thousands. His message was simple; “The whole world is watching you,”’ he said to the crowd. “The entire world is going to know what the American youth can do for humanity. America is helping everybody in the material field, but the time has come for America to help the whole world spiritually also”. He then gathered the voices of everyone together in chanting “OM”.
It’s traditional to begin or end a yoga class with chanting OM, and I am discovering that out here in these parts, (i.e., rural eastern Oklahoma) the big OM is a bit mysterious and scary. However, there is no need to fear the OM. Let me explain.
Scientists are telling us what the old-school yogis have known for centuries – the whole universe is moving and shaking! Nothing stands still; everything is constantly pulsating and creating a rhythmic vibration. Sound is vibration and vibration is the source of all creation, according to modern science. Yogis recognize this vibration with the sound of OM,...more
I recently had someone tell me they’d been doing yoga for 4-5 weeks and was utterly discouraged because they’d not seen any improvements in flexibility or strength. When I asked what they’d been doing, they mentioned a DVD. I cringed only slightly (I don’t think they noticed), and strongly suggested getting to a class with a qualified instructor as I do with anyone who is new to the practice. Then I asked how often they were using the DVD; 2 days a week. Hmmm, often times 2 days a week is just enough to keep yogis coming back for more because they’re noticing some benefit. This improvement doesn’t always appear physically in the form of flexibility or strength right away, but frequently appears mentally first as a sense of equanimity and peace. When I asked how long the DVD was, that’s when I got the stunner – 15 minutes! This individual was sincerely disappointed, genuinely baffled at their lack of progress, ready to cut up the sticky mat and use it for packing material!!
We read in the Yoga Sutra, chapter 1 verse 21, that
“The highest yogic results will come quickly...more
Any yoga practice worth its downward-facing dog is based on the founding principle of non-violence, or ahimsa (ah-heem-sah). We aim to practice this principle in all areas of our lives – both on the mat as well as off. We’re encouraged to mind our thoughts, consider each word, and evaluate all of our actions. Of course, we refrain from injuring ourselves, but it’s really not about us. We are asked to make all our choices based on what will cause the least amount of harm – to the environment, to all beings and finally, to ourselves. In that order. You see, if we take good care of the environment, we’ll be making choices that will also take care of all sentient beings – both human and animal – which will in turn take care of us. Sound simple? Actually, it is.
The first facility we established at The Canebrake was the Yoga Barn. I knew that we needed to create a safe and healthy haven for yogis, but not at the expense of the environment. We set out to cover as many bases as possible in creating a facility based on the practice of ahimsa. First order of business was to recycle...more
“Everyday, think as you wake up,
today I am fortunate to have woken up.
I am alive;
I have a precious human life,
I am not going to waste it
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself.
To expand my heart out to others,
to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
I am going to have kind thoughts towards others,
I am not going to get angry or think badly about others,
I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
How are you going to begin your new year? To answer that question; let’s look at how you begin your day. Here are three simple steps that will ensure your days add up to a very good year.more
There’s a story in the Zen tradition about a young meditation student who finds his teachers instructions to “watch the breath” dreadfully boring.
Sitting together by the edge of the river one day, fielding complaint after boring complaint from his listless student, the teacher finally has enough. Quick as a flash, he grabs the student by the back of his robe and shoves his head under the water. As the student struggles to free himself, the teacher firmly holds him down. At the last second, the teacher pulls the youngsters’ head up only long enough for him to grab a breath, whereupon he dunks the youth for a second time. The student struggles and bandies about. Again, at the last possible moment, the teacher pulls the students head out of the water and – GASP – dunks him yet again! Just as the student begins to cave, the master pulls him out of the water, sets him down on the bank of the river and calmly asks, “How boring is your breath now?”
I’ll break the news to you as gently as I can. Our physical yoga practice – the graceful Sun Salutations, the vibrant Warrior...more
There’s paradox with this whole yoga gig. The popular notion in our current self-absorbed, ab-ass-and-boob-obsessed society is that yoga is a work out. When practicing yoga in its entirety – and I mean the full meal-deal, kiddos. All eight limbs. Yamas to samadhi – we come face to face with yoga as a ‘work in’. And as our inner practice develops we experience a transformation of sorts and before long we’re off and running on the path of the spiritual revolutionary. As our ‘work inward’ leads us toward spiritual evolution, our work outward propels us towards a spiritual revolution. Let me explain.
The foundation upon which our entire practice is built are the yamas and the niyamas; the ethical and moral do’s and don’ts. It is here, before we ever step onto a sticky mat, that we begin to acquire, cultivate and nurture a new way of thinking and living. We clean up our thoughts, curb our words and keep tabs on our actions. It is also here in the beginning stages of yoga that we realize our interconnectedness with the world around us and we begin to share responsibility for our...more
Allow me to introduce you to your gut. You may have met your gut before; this formality usually takes place when something’s not quite right physically or emotionally. I have a dear friend back home in Colorado who always encouraged me to listen to my gut, telling me that’s where God was. When I’m in my head I find myself intellectualizing, rationalizing and justifying. With over 100 million neurons located in the lining of the GI tract, it’s not surprising that that’s where I’ll feel it first if I’m jacked up or upset. On the other hand, if I simmer down long enough, the gut’s where I’ll hear that still, small voice. And when I go with my gut, I’m usually right on target.
Let’s take a look at the small intestine. Approximately 22 feet long(!), the small intestine is where the majority of our digestion takes place. Take a minute and visualize that; 22 feet of narrow tubing switch-backing, winding and coiling its’ way through in your belly! That’s a lot of tubing.
Twisting postures are incredibly beneficial to our digestive system. These asanas stimulate our small and...more
Long, long ago, in a spiritual galaxy far, far away lived a young gal named Sati who’d found her true love in the arms of the rather unorthodox Lord Shiva. With his wildly dreadlocked hair, penchant for hanging out in cemeteries, and a taste for snakes as accessory, the outrageous Lord Shiva had no chance of winning the approval of Sati’s father, Daksa. The ultra-conservative Daksa ruled his house and land with an iron fist; rules, regulations, and plenty of structure. Lord Shiva on the other hand, loved to dance, tended to burst into loud, spontaneous song on a whim, had a habit of dousing himself with ashes and was prone to a libation or two. What a wildman.
Not long after Sati left her father’s house to marry Lord Shiva, Daksa threw an enormous religious ceremony (read: party) inviting everyone in the galaxy except Shiva and Sati. This was to be the spiritual event of the millennium and his faithful daughter and her beloved were intentionally not on the list! What a blow! Shiva was nonplussed and shrugged it off – perhaps there was a sky burial that night to attend – the...more
Named after the late, great Ms. Radner, Gilda is my very first pet. She came to us from a rescue operation in Denver while we were living in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. We’ve had her since she was two, she’s now 10.
As with many rescue dogs, Gilda came with her own set of issues. To gain her trust, I immediately enrolled the two of us into an agility training class in Crested Butte. We attended once a week throughout that first summer and have been the best of friends ever since.
By the time Gilda arrived in our lives, she was already well-versed with the basic commands. She’s a sharp biscuit, so it wasn’t long before she was throwing me high-fives and reading my mind.
Aside from a certain person who pushes my buttons, I believe that Gilda is currently my best teacher. One morning not long ago, we were toying around and going over the basics again. I gave the command “Platz” (which means ‘down’ in German, Standard Poodles are German dogs after all), and instead of dropping to her belly as she’d done so many times throughout the past 8 years, she...more
Our male poodle, Louie, loves to play with a tennis ball. He’d run till his pads were bloody if we’d let him. His mantra? “Ommmmmmust chase ball!” He’s a full-on junkie; at some point, we have to take the ball away from him to get him to relax a little.
I’m not much for tennis, or chasing balls of any sort for that matter. However, I have discovered that tossing a tennis ball around does give me a certain amount of insight into my own level of buoyancy and energy.
Off with your socks and take a look at your feet please. You may recall from a previous article (April 2007) the importance placed on our feet in our asana practice. It’s through standing on our feet that we find our connection to the earth, providing grounding and stability as well as energy and lifting for the rest of the body. The body is often referred to as a vehicle in yogic philosophy and the four corners of our feet are like the four tires of a car. What kind of car are you? What kind of car would you like to be? I’m thinking Maserati GranTurismo S for this girl. Here’s where the tennis ball analogy...more
In the classical 8-limbed tradition of ashtanga yoga as thrown down by my main man Patanjali, the final limb is samadhi. Samadhi is this complete absorption in the moment, absolute bliss. My experience is that this blissed-out feeling of Samadhi isn’t exclusive to yogis living in Himalayan caves or on the high plateaus of Tibet. I’ve heard from many an ordinary human being who’ve related similar experiences, many who’ve never stepped foot onto a yoga mat.
Think back to a time when you were completely wrapped up – so completely focused, concentrating so deeply (dare I say meditating?) – in what you were doing that you lost track of time and place. Call it a ‘runners high’, call it being ‘in the zone’. Call it what you will.
I get lost in music. I’m thinking of particular moments during “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, “He Shall Purify” by George Frideric Handel, the Beastie Boys concert back in Denver… Music is currently having a strong influence on how we practice yoga in the west.
An awakening took place in my practice and my...more
I get lost in music. I’m thinking back to particular moments during “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, “He Shall Purify” by George Frideric Handel, that Beastie Boys concert in Denver… We aspire for those moments in our yoga practice. We call it ‘samadhi’, absolute absorption. You’ve probably experienced it yourself; running, dancing, meditating, praying, chanting. It happens, we lose track of time, place, even ourselves. Everyday that we get on our mat or cushion, we’re laying the groundwork to invite Samadhi. Yet we can’t plan for it or force it to occur. Samadhi just happens. And boy, do we love it when it does!
An awakening took place in my practice and my teaching in 2003 when I attended my first Jivamukti yoga class on Lafayette Street in NYC. Upon completing our opening chants and pushing up into our first down-dog, the play button was pressed and viola – there was sound! We glided through a beautifully fluid sequence of sun salutations, standing poses, headstands and backbends; all the while motivated and inspired by a clever arrangement of tunes that drew from...more
Recommended Reading for the Student of Yoga
I’m a bit of a book-hound, especially when it comes to my favorite subjects – dogs and yoga. As a yoga teacher, I’m frequently asked for suggestions on reading material to further enhance ones knowledge and practice. While my bookshelves, both at home as well as at my studio at The Canebrake, can attest to the plethora of great books on the market today, in this article I’ll only showcase what I refer to as ‘the sauce’. If you really plan on making a life-long study of the art and science of yoga, the following three are necessities.more
When I went through my first teacher training program, I learned of a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Actually an umbrella term for a group of disorders, TOC occurs when the brachial plexus is compressed under tight neck muscles or depressed collarbones. This manifests in pain, discomfort, numbness or tingling anywhere from the neck down to the fingertips. Often the result of trauma (car wrecks) or repetitive injuries from job-related activities (‘keyboardasana’), TOC also shows up in over-hand athletes (swimmers, volleyball players, baseball pitchers), backpackers … and simply, practitioners of poor posture.
The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves originating from the cervical spine and T1. This bundle of nerves travels through the scalenes (thick muscles on the side neck), under the clavicles (collar bones), across the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), and down the front of the arm – including the biceps brachii (hence the name) – all the way to the fingertips.
Take your hands to your collarbones where they meet the sternum at the center of...more
Plant Those Tubers and Grow a Lotus!
The lotus flower carries powerful symbolism in eastern traditions; purity, spiritual growth and the divine within each of us. From the dark, murky and muddy depths at the bottom of a pond, a seed takes root. The long, wavering stem gropes through the water towards the shimmering light above. The exquisite, aromatic blossom comes into its own when it breaks through the surface and basks in the brilliant light of the sun. This month we till the ground for Lotus, but as with growing anything of such delicious beauty, patience is essential. Padmasana ñ Lotus Pose ñ is quite a jewel, but demands time and compassion.
Begin with a few rounds of Sun Salutations and standing poses such as virabhadrasana II (warrior II), prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend), and parsvottanasana (intense side stretch). Then hit the floor for eka pada rajakapotasana, or pigeon pose, to generate the external rotation of the femur in the hip joint that will be necessary for full lotus. Do this sequence on each side so the body is cultivating...more
Not long ago, I was walking through the lobby of The Canebrake having just come out of a yoga session, feeling expansive and light and enjoying an organic banana. With what I detected to be exasperation and a hint of disdain, an employee said, “Look at you!! Have you always been so good??”
“Uh, no” was my reply.more
We all have our reasons, or purpose, for pursuing a yoga practice; indeed there are as many different reasons as there are yogis. In Sanskrit this is “Sankalpa’” our intention, or the reason we do what we do. I’ve certainly redefined my intentions more than once over the relatively short time Iíve dedicated myself to this path, and I anticipate that as my practice deepens and evolves, my sankalpa will follow suite.
In March of 1999, I shattered my 12th thoracic vertebra and discovered a pain that I never knew one could live through. At the age of 30, I was unprepared to live the remainder of my life in this battered and broken down vehicle. Motivated by the idea of a more pain-free existence, I gave yoga a try as I was brittle, broken, and bent. What did I have to lose?
Over the course of time, I came to realize that there was much more to discover during this 90 minute appointment with my sticky mat. My teachers taught me not only how to align my bones with my joints and how to appropriately engage various muscles throughout my body, but they continue to teach me how...more