Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Truly, people come to their own lessons in time — and that includes my father.

"Forgiveness does not change the past,
but it does enlarge the future."
~Paul Boese

There've been a lot of things that have shifted lately, some of them things I never thought would actually end up this way. One of these is my relationship with my youngest brother, who I've always felt the closest to though we grew apart as we got older, yet because of intimate relationships ending in both of our lives, we're growing up in a way, together. Now, he is helping to watch out for me as much I've always been aiming to do for him being that I'm nine years his senior.

The other familial relationship that's also transformed in a magnificent way is that with my father. I've always been "daddy's little girl," as I'm the eldest and closest to him in being kindred spirits in a way. I believe I'm the first child he ever told he loved, when I was in college, because the father of my boyfriend at the time unexpectedly died of a heart attack, and I then spent the next couple of weeks helping to take care of their entire enclave, until I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. My father, whether because he realized that this situation could very easily have happened to him, or because he did not want to hear me in pain in that way, told me that he loved me. Perhaps I abruptly stopped crying or furrowed my brows and took my phone away from my ear, I can't remember. I just knew that it was likely the first time he had ever said anything like that to any of his children, and to this day, I'm not sure if he's actually said it in those words to my three younger siblings.

I called him today to check on his health, since lately he's been having issues that are concerning for the heart (both his and mine). He gave me the results that the doctor told him, that he has more tests to undergo through December, and detailed the shifts he's been making and is planning to make to improve his overall health. I asked the Vedic astrologer about this when we spoke on the phone, and he reassured me that the worst is already behind my father and both of my parents will be all right for some time to come, as long as they continue to be mindful of their health.

I continued to listen to my dad's sharing while driving in the car on the way to meet a friend for a quick bite. He talked of his lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. And then, he started saying inwardly reflective things that so profoundly leapt the transmuting of my past forward, which I've been working on for over a decade, that I almost couldn't take it all in at first.

"I'm doing everything I can not to stress out anymore," he asserted. "You know how I used to fight with people a lot? My customers, my workers, your mom. Now, I don't do that anymore. I just let things go. I let them go. It's so much better this way."

"I never realized before how my anger was creating such an unhealthy environment at home for all of you kids, how I wasn't doing a good job as a father in that way, and now, I see it. I'm trying to do everything I can to make it better. I do whatever your mom wants me to do, even if it's an annoying request. I just want to make the other people around me, happy. That's the most important thing."

I got out of the car as he was still talking, and I started doing math in my head. My father is now 67 years old. It has taken him up until this point — regardless of the countless insights and requests and suggestions his family offered to him along the way — to accept responsibility and want to make amends. This moment, I never thought would happen. On some level, I knew he felt badly once we grew up and left the house, but to hear him say these exact words was unreal.

I realize that this isn't always something that happens a lot in life, where people grow to a point of consciousness that they can become aware of their own behavior, the impacts its had on others, and then aim to right any wrongs. Oftentimes, the behavior is so habitual and compacted over time, that it almost seems easier to continue being in these unhealthy and negative ways than to stop the momentum and move forward in a new direction. It takes courage and humility, and a big dose of wherewithal and will.  Plus, I believe that it involves detachment from results, because after such a long time of hurt and pain that's been inflicted, asking for forgiveness or wanting to make amends doesn't mean that the other party will participate. The way my father sounded, it didn't seem like he was asking for anything from us or from me. He was just sharing that he realized what he'd done for so long, and that it became abundantly clear what he wanted to do now.

I stepped into the restaurant where my friend was waiting, then backed out of the doorway and stood to the side of the entrance for awhile on the sidewalk. I could have listened for hours more, but I had to go and perhaps even wanted to have a bit of space to process what he'd already said, so I told him I'd call him back in a little bit. Then, I hung up and moved through the day. 

By the time I called him back a short while later, the tone had shifted a little. There wasn't as much of an outpouring of inner realizations on his part, but more of the caring father making sure that I've been okay throughout my break up.

This interchange between us affirmed even more that there's a perfect order to the Universe. When you stop searching, you often find what you're looking for. And for a man like my father to say what he did further emphasizes that everyone truly learns their lessons on their own timeline. If we can do our best to honor ourselves and heal and thrive in the ways that we need to, then the outside can begin to resemble what's happening within. 

I almost felt like this experience got me one step closer to writing my book. Like I had mentioned before, perhaps everything that I'm undergoing now is just part of a master training plan for what's to come. I've always felt slightly guilty to air out my family's laundry, especially when I see the work that my parents have put forth to improving themselves at this stage in their lives. But instead of feeling guilty about it, I can feel that it's inspiring for myself and for others who may be experiencing similar situations. 

Truly, we never know what's going to happen and more often than not, it could be our greatest hopes coming true right when we least expect it...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Learning to accept help — and not feel badly about it.

"Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness,
to pull another hand into the light."
-Norman B. Rice

It's not easy for me to ask for help. It's even harder for me to receive it. And, especially over the past couple of days, I've had to be vulnerable in different ways in hopes that someone would reach back out to help pull me into the light. 

My beau and I are no longer together. Having spent an arduous few weeks after making this decision, things have not ended as I hoped that they would in an amicable and loving way. Instead, our shared space became a dim place that turned into a need for me to leave the situation, lest my heart be made harder for the seeming inability to hear, see, or respect one another as the other person would prefer. 

Two of my girlfriends came at my last-minute call to help move my things into a new place, one that I just found out I'm not yet certain to have yet, because the property management company has not made a final decision. So, I find myself in limbo, learning to practice patience, to practice faith that the Universe loves me and is looking out for me, and most importantly, to practice relying on other people and not feel badly for accepting their offerings of support, affection, and encouragement. 

I revel in the hugs I receive, the reminders that I'm a good person and not the bad/selfish/unkind one my beau has painted me to believe. I welcome, as readily as I can, the new opportunities that are opening up, like being invited on Fox5 news today to practice yoga, or becoming aware of karmic balance, when my friend's roommate offered to make me pancakes for breakfast before the sun was up — a person who barely knows me at all — to contrast how I'd been asking my partner for just this thing, but his response was, "You wake up so damn early, no one could possibly wake up earlier than you to do that for you."

I see that I have a tendency to choose men who do not treat me in ways that I believe many women would like to be honored, and perhaps this is an attempt to rectify past familial histories, like if I can get my recent beau to take responsibility for his actions and his words, then somehow, it will make right my upbringing, in which the adults never owned up to their misbehaviors. I know that I'm human, and that when we are in love, in longer relationships, or in "comfortable situations," we let so many things slide that if our friends told us they were going through, we simply wouldn't support that type of experience. 

I believe things are different now, which is why I chose to walk away, why I let my heart be sad and bruised and broken in little ways throughout the past month, why I looked at him when he was yelling to ask if that was what he wanted to do? I'm not perfect by any means, and there were definitely times that my behavior could have shifted for the better as well. I could have removed the high expectations I tend to have for myself and subsequently for my partner, which often makes someone else feel like they're not enough, or I could have been less adamant about implementing my beliefs instead of truly respecting differing opinions. There are a lot of "could haves" and "would haves" that only time will filter into truth, so in the meantime, when I meditate, I send healing wishes, love, and light towards the people I feel I have wronged, or those I feel who have hurt me.

What I've learned from the time we've spent together and how I've grown from this experience will likely unfold for quite awhile to come. But what I can see happening right now is that something in me has finally taken a stand to affirm that my happiness and well-being is more important than any story I've conjured of how I'd like things to end up or be. I can see the Magic Mirror effect, where I am reflecting something back to him and he is reflecting back to me, and then we choose how to respond, what to believe, what not to take personally, because sometimes, it wasn't our looking glass looking back at us, but a special visual effect of projection.

I am tapping into my power, believing in my greatest potential, and opening up to a greater faith that I know what is right within. I'm developing a substantially deeper trust in myself, which is exactly where peace of mind comes from. All I can do is be present, be with the love that surrounds me everywhere, and aim to be my whole person while truly encouraging others to do the same. Hopefully, the next relationship I enter will sustain that idea in a mutual and healthy way. In the meantime, I am humbled by the wonder and abundance of love that exists within my friends and family. 

Thank you, Universe, for blessing me with the people in my life — supportive and challenging — as they make me who I am now. And, when I forget, please help to remind me that I am more than okay. I'm great. I was then, I am now, and I will be ever after. 

I had asked Ganesha to help me remove obstacles. He's the deity for the Root Chakra, the place where we feel grounded, safe, and secure. He answered my prayers, just not in the way that I expected and with more flair than anticipated. My craniosacral healer always says that the Universe gently nudges you at first to pay attention. When you don't listen, It starts to push a little harder. And, when you still don't listen, It smacks you upside the backside with a wallop of awareness and a learning opportunity you can't ignore.

Yep, that's about right. Namaste.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

All About Ashtanga: Why Parsvakonasana makes me feel chubby — and how I move through it.

"The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta."
-Eduardo Galeano

Vanity Fair recently wrote an extensive article about Asthanga Yoga and several of the controversies that surround it. I thought it was intriguing, especially since I now have an opportunity to work closely with several of the people mentioned in the piece. The air of superiority mentioned in Vanity Fair is absolutely something that I've personally perceived. For a very long time, I've had the feeling from different Ashtangis I've encountered that because I wasn't a devotee of that style of practice, I was regarded as somehow less than. It was subtle, but definitely there. Luckily, the teachers at Jois have been so incredibly welcoming that it dispels this preconceived notion, but again, I'm new to the practice. What I've also noticed from the role I serve as a writer on assignment, people and businesses like to put their best faces forward. I take it all with a grain of salt and am learning like never before to develop my own opinion, taking everything into consideration.

Yesterday was my first day back at Mysore at Jois, after taking off a week off for my "Women's Holiday," and the fact that my elbows are regularly tender from all the Chaturangas and paddling and climbing I put them through. At first, I was hesitant to go back, giving myself backdoor excuses that my business coach would absolutely reprimand me for. 

"If you give your brain the option to back out," he often tells me during our coaching calls, "it will."

We all cycle through highs and lows, lights and darks, so I showed up to practice, even though there were several times I was tempted to pull off at different exits and go to breakfast instead or start my workday. Yet, like so many other experiences that have come to fruition because I actually saw things through, I was glad I showed up. Not only is the practice of yoga in and of itself is so rewarding, but to also have knowledgeable instructors who are manually manipulating you into deeper variations of the pose is even more amazing. And, the fact that they take you to levels they believe you're capable of is another blessing. Mostly, it's the fact that I followed through on a commitment I made to myself. And, well, there's nothing that feels quite as good as that.

I trained with Andrew Hillman, the Yoga Director at Jois, as David was just getting back from teaching in Vegas. It was nice to experience Mysore with a different instructor, though at first, I was concerned about doing it right or being evaluated. Just like David, Andrew took me through the series, helped me laugh through challenging asanas, and then closed my practice by teaching the remaining poses of the standing series

Partway through it, I became distinctly aware of how my body felt in Parsvakonasana — and I did not like that feeling. It reminded me of all the reasons that I hated doing yoga when I was recovering from my eating disorder, where I felt the "fat" that I had been trying so hard to evade through extremely unhealthy measures. As I bent over towards one side on my mat, I could feel a roll of hate oozing from my middle, and I became immediately upset. Unfortunately, there are two sides for this sequence, so I then had to shift my feet and direction, and feel the fat cascading over my thigh again on the other side. 

It was a flash, an angry and hot bright burst of thought that singed my brain. "Step to the front in Samasthihi," Andrew directed, stopping the train that my thoughts began to runaway on.

It was then that I realized once again how this practice of yoga forces you to look at everything, your insides and your outsides, your habits and your tendencies. It offers an opportunity for you to choose differently in this moment, and this moment, and this one, because yoga encourages us to be present rather than drown in the past or worry about the future. The more aware we become, the more difficult it is to pretend that we can continue being in the false and temporary bliss of ignorance. I was faced with the understanding that I still have issues with my loving my body, and also with the ability to do something about it. I could stop the brain pattern, and instead, practice gratitude that my body moves in wonderfully strong ways that bring me pleasure and happiness. I could choose to see that I'm not stuck in cement and that everything is malleable, that change is an ever present part of life, so one day, I would be able to do the advanced poses that the other practitioners in Mysore were doing, just as one day, my body will no longer look the way it does now through aging or training or whatever might happen. This is a snapshot of a collage, and depending on the artist and the audience, beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder. 

What I see, others do not. And what they see, I often have a hard time gazing in the same way. But it's changing and it's shifting, so that when I play a sexy song in my head or in my car or at home, I feel the groove within my soul. I'm becoming more comfortable with exuding the gifts I've been blessed with, to not feel shameful or guilty, but to embrace my light, so that I can be part of this amazing sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity that we may all be bright and shiny, happy people.

Bring it on Parsvakonasana! Bring it on and let me see my strength, let me be my brilliance, let me practice yoga every day in every way. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reflections & Musings: What a Vedic astrologer had to say about my life.


My life has been good to me. I've had experiences that people admire, interactions that have shifted the course of my life, and love beyond the boundaries of time and space. It hasn't always been this way... things started out rough, but I'm amazed at how my relationships with my family have transformed to become what they are now. I have a mom and dad who went from berating me countless times throughout the day to recognizing their own mistakes and are now making amends. They actively spend time with me to remind me again and again of how incredible I am and how proud they are of me.

I've been around the world to places where I'm treated as if I were a celebrity, because of my writing prowess, smart thinking, and openness to fostering meaningful relationships. I manifest that which the Universe believes I am meant to have in ways that are beautiful and surprising and expected, all at once. Again and again, I am humbled and grateful. 

Today would prove to be another one of those memorable experiences, where I was given an opportunity to speak with Sanjeev Verma, a Vedic astrologer who works closely with Deepak Chopra. What he told me about my past, present and future weren't necessarily shocking, as he affirmed things that I already knew, but he did give me new things to think about and take action on. 

The thing that's wonderful about Sanjeev is that his purpose is to help you genuinely move past your blockages, so that you can live your divine right to abundance, health, happiness, and love. He compares it to leaving something you're searching for, but unfortunately, you're looking in the wrong room. You have no idea that you're even in the wrong place, and you could be looking as hard as you're able, but you'll never find it unless by some random happenstance of luck, you stumble upon the other room. 

"If you have a good map, and a good reader of that map, you will be able to find what it is you're searching for," Sanjeev tells me. He is here to help you read the map. 

I asked him about the difference between destiny and free will, especially because so many people are hesitant to get any type of reading done, for fear that they will be told something they don't want to hear. And, he explained it like this:

"Destiny is like if 1,000 people are on a ship, and it is going from point A to point B. Everyone will arrive at point B. But on the ship, you have the freedom to move around. You will talk to different people and have different interactions. That is free will. You'll still get to point B, just how you get there and what happens along the way... that is up to you."


For me, he informed me that my mind has been searching the world over for something, and I haven't yet been able to figure out what that is. It's been on a relentless and tireless quest for knowledge, for learning, for experiences, that still seem unsatisfactory in some way. Until now. 

"You've been through many lifetimes and experienced everything that life has to offer — the good, bad, everything. You're an old soul. There are two types of people in this world. One of them is warriors, who go out and fight and do external things to feel inwardly, these are new souls. Then, there are old souls, who must go inward to have a satisfying life outward. And the reason I'm here now in your life is because I am meant to tell you that the thing you have been searching for all this time is within you. You mind is searching for its seat, and that seat is within you."

I paused, quiet, and he continued.

"The only way you will find happiness is if you look within, because if you are constantly searching as you have been doing, you will never be fulfilled, whole, or complete," he observed, firmly, gently. "You can ask me questions if you'd like."

And I did. Ultimately, when I kept asking about certain matters, he chuckled and said, "That is a decision for your heart. Only you can know that. You must listen to your heart — I can't tell you what your heart wants."

There were so many things that Sanjeev said, which resonated with me as they affirmed things I already knew on some level, either obvious or subtle. He expounded on the benefits of meditation for me, and gave me a mantra to open up the blockages in my root chakra, the space of safety and security. 

By the end of the conversation, he reminded me not to focus too much on one thing. "You shouldn't have all the answers, because if there is no mystery to life, then what is the point? That is what makes life intriguing and worth living."

I went surfing after our conversation and caught more waves with confidence than I have in a long time. Yet, I also felt sad for the confirmation of what I already knew. Certain elements of my life are ending, new parts are beginning, and I... am just feeling it all. There's nothing in the stars that will take that human experience away. This is what my soul signed up for when it arrived in this body, when it came into the world exactly on the date, time and place that I shared with Sanjeev. That is the imprint, the snapshot of the Universe that will always be with me. I am divine and I am human, all at once. 

"You're not a sadhu, you're not a hippie. You need to find out who you are. You need a major transformation on your way of thinking. Get grounded, you really must do this. The next two years are pivotal for you, and good things are coming, but you must find yourself first. Meditate, meditate, meditate."

I came away from the experience wondering, hopeful, and a bit sad. To pursue the things that he has told me are in my astrological chart, things my heart has already been leaning towards, means doing exactly what he recommended and shifting belief systems/thought patterns/habitual tendencies that I've held onto for quite some time, because they served me once. 

Now, it's about meditating. Going inward. Trusting that I am who I am know I am, and living from that place.

"You know the law of attraction?" Sanjeev asked me. 

"Yes, like in The Secret," I responded.

"Well, it does not apply to everyone," he continued.

"Hm," my brows raised at his statement, surprised at this assertion. 

"You... you are the prototype for the law of attraction. If you go inward and then live outwardly from there, you will experience things greater than you could ever have imagined. If you continue to seek outwardly, you will never be fulfilled or content. But if you go inside, if you meditate, your life will be so so good."

I thanked him for his time, and then hung up. And then, I was kind of floating. I truly believe that you don't hear things until you're ready to hear them. Somehow, it wasn't necessarily like he was telling me things I haven't heard before from others, but he did help me shift something within. Suddenly, life became different. And, it still feels that way.

From a very, very young age, I knew that there was a greater purpose for me in this world. I didn't know how that would look or would it would entail, but I knew that I had a connection to the Universe around me, and that it was my role on this planet to fulfill that destiny. 

Here I am. Getting more and more ready to shine. We'll see what happens as I step into the light and live from there...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All About Ashtanga: Finish to Week One, The Bandhas and the Moon Cycles

Original photo by Peter Lik

"Under every full moon lies a reflection of the stars,
and under every star lies a reflection of someone's soul."
-Ruthie Fer Shure

I finished week one of Mysore practice, right as my "women's holiday" was about to start, as David called it. During our session last week, I asked questions I've always been curious about.

First, it started with which breath corresponded precisely with which movement. As David clarified the inhales and exhales of the Vinyasa (breathing & movement system), he noticed where I would hold or not exhale completely.

"Always take an extra breath if you need," he encouraged. "More breath is never a bad thing." At his suggestion, I exhaled completely before moving into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, then took an extra breath to move through the next series.

"Why are there moon days when Ashtangis don't practice yoga?" I asked, after a series of Surya Namaskar A & B.

David looked at me, smiled slyly, then responded in a Hindi accent, "Two planets, one place. Very dangerous."

I chuckled at his imitation of Pattabhi Jois, after which he explained in more seriousness that when asana is practiced daily, rest days are important. Ashtanga recommends at least one day of rest, and an extra biweekly 'moon day' gives another day for the body to rejuvenate.

"What about when a woman is on her cycle? She's not supposed to practice then, either?" I followed.

"Well, when a woman is menstruating, her body is going through a lot," David clarified. "And, since it is apana energy that is moving outward, you don't want to practice mula bandha to keep it in, and you don't want to practice asana without mula bandha. So, it's suggested that women take three days off when on one's cycle."

"Pattabhi Jois used to do everything around the house when his wife was on her cycle. That was the traditional way of doing it, because it was her time to rest. You have to have a really strong partnership and understand that you're both in it for the long haul, to be able to honor traditions like that. He understood that she needed to rest, so he did all the cooking and cleaning. And, even though it's recommended that we have days of rest, Pattabhi Jois was known to teach every day. His family kept encouraging him to rest, but he did not want to."

Part of our conversation was a nice break from the practice and as sweat dripped down my temples as he asked, "Do you want to know more?"

Ever a student of almost any type of learning, I nodded eagerly.

"The bandhas help to direct the prana along the nadis (energy channels). They stoke the internal fire," he said as he proceeded to remind me of where each of the bandhas are in the body. Mula Bandha is at the root of the body, Uddiyana Bandha is at the core, and Jalandhara Bandha is at the throat. "Without bandha control, the breathing will not be correct and the asanas will have no benefit."

I nodded and thanked him for the clarification, then we both got up for him to direct me through a series of standing poses, where I relied upon myself for keeping an accurate and even breath count. I found myself fumbling through what came next, which is likely why after class, he told me, "You must study."

"Yes, yes," I responded, acknowledging he was right. "And maybe come earlier, so there are more people."

Inwardly, I wanted to tell him that I liked the individualized attention — and was a little intimidated by it, too.

After four days of rest, which my elbows are grateful for too, I'm back at it tomorrow. We'll see what else unfolds!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Awarenesses: Did you grow up with a conditional kind of love?

"You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens."
-Rumi

This is going to be a short and sweet post, right before I run into a private Reiki session. During meditation today, I realized that I have been loving others with conditions and clauses. When I was growing up, my parents were very temperamental with their care. They would put exceptions on their affections, only giving us attention if we received straight-A's or behaved just as they had envisioned in their heads. 

In my adult relationships now, when surrounded by unconditional care, I view it with skepticism and doubt. I have a hard time believing that someone is going to love me if I'm not performing at 150% of my potential. And, in my intimate relationships, I feel that I do the same as my parents did, only loving when things fit the script I've crafted in my head, which even an intuitive person would have a hard time unfolding. 

I want to love with all my heart in a way that inspires greatness. This is where I would like to live from, the place where Rumi wrote from, where I am open in a way that makes every moment in life a miracle to embrace and honor and share.

I write these posts as a way for my brain to re-train itself into a new way of thinking, to process experiences that perhaps others share so we can form a sangha, and to perhaps one day look back and witness my own development into a beautiful soul. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey. May you inspire ripples in this vast ocean we share. Let's ride the waves together. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

All About Ashtanga: Day Three, "It's supposed to be hard."

"Do your practice and all is coming."
-Shri K. Pattabhi Jois


Let me back up a little bit and talk about what Ashtanga is. It means 'eight limbed yoga' (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) and is "an authentic practice that can lead to liberation and greater awareness of our spiritual potential" according to the booklet that Andrew Hillam (Yoga Director at Jois) handed me when I first interviewed him. Ashtanga believes that the third limb (asana) is the most important, because through this, we can understand the others as through consistent effort, we find more subtle layers. The last four limbs arise spontaneously as a result of the practice of the first four, leading to the 'union' that is so often spoken of in Yoga. Over time, asana brings both the body and the mind to a state of stability and peace, a feeling of contentment and inner tranquility.

In order for yoga instruction to be effective and true, the Ashtanga style believes in a direct and unbroken transmission of knowledge from the Guru (teacher) to the Sisya (student), a tradition that reaches back thousands of years in India. Ashtanga is rooted in Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) and his family. Guruji studied under Shri T. Krishnamacharya, one of the most distinguished yoga practitioners of the 20th century, for a total of 25 years. He went on to establish the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute and after seven decades of continuous teaching, gradually retired from his daily classes, leaving the Institute in Mysore in the hands of his daughter, Saraswathi, and grandson, Sharath. The lineage continues with the Jois family at locations around the world. Guruji passed away on May 18th, 2009 at the age of 93.

The method of asana practice prescribed by Guruji was taught to him by Krishnamacharya and is said to have come from an ancient text, the Yoga Korunta. The style relies on the linking of asanas through prescribed vinyasas (movements) and incorporates deep, even breathing and steady gazing with the eyes, or drsti. The vinyasa, or movement between asanas, encourages the blood to circulate properly in the body, while the deep breathing supplies a rich source of pure air, oxygenating the blood and allowing the removal of unwanted toxins through the lungs. Internal heat is produced and burns up the impurities in the body, so that toxins are liberated from the tissues by each asana. The sweat that results also serves to remove toxins from the skin. Drsti, or steady gazing in different places during each vinyasa and asana, is an important element of the practice, because over time, it facilities dhyana (meditation) which profoundly steadies the mind. When all of these elements are incorporated into the practice — learned correctly under the guidance of a qualified teacher — we're able to purify and strengthen the system, making the body light and strong, the mind calm and peaceful. Then, we're able to realize the full benefits of the practice and "dive deeply into the ocean of yoga."

Today, after practicing both the opening and closing mantras, we moved deeper into the standing series, during which I wobbled substantially in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.

"It's supposed to be hard," David said quietly. "Don't let the ego get in the way."

I laughed when I fell out of it, partly out of embarrassment until I realized that we all have to start somewhere and they — every advanced teacher I've met — stood where I was standing today. A moment of feeling unsure, unsteady, self-conscious until practice made the poses purposeful and easier.

I also noticed that I would reach for water or my towel to stall in between moments when David was assisting another student, mostly because I wasn't sure what else to do with myself and standing in Samasthihi proved slightly awkward. David saw me reaching for my water bottle and said, "No" firmly from the middle of the room.

"I'll tell you why after," he said once he was closer to me, and instructed me on the next pose to move into.

Later, he explained that if I drink water, then all the awareness and energy goes to my belly to process what I've just ingested. Instead of being in the actual practice, I start to move out of it. He recommended that I can drink a little water enough time before class, then a few minutes after, but none in between.

"It's hard on your system, especially if it's cold water," he explained. "These are just little things, but they are..." and I nodded with understanding.

We'll see what happens tomorrow, but for today, I can feel my elbows and body getting a little sore. Luckily, that's why I have wonderful people for acupuncture and massage to help me feel good!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

All About Ashtanga: Day Two, "Pick Up Your Arches!"

"Our feet are our body's connection to the earth."
-Andrew Weil

My second day of MySore practice and in all of my yoga classes, this is the first time that I've ever had a teacher continually tell me to lift the arches of my feet until my flat footedness disappears, in way that he suggests could create permanent results.

When I was younger, my parents told me that because my feet were flat, there was no way that I could do gymnastics to get on the Olympic team. Never mind that becoming an athlete of this caliber would be hard in and of itself, but the adults in my life took away any sort of daydreaming possibilities before they even had a chance to manifest. "I may be able to play around with cartwheels here and there, but being a gymnast could never become a career," they would say. 

Eastern medicine believes that your physical ailments are symptomatic of something going on deeper inside, and if this is the case, then perhaps I have always been searching for some sort of lift in my life, a way to be grounded and to rise up all at once.

Some people have very minor arches, but my feet are like big flat saucers that hit the ground each time I walk. To exacerbate things, I have a minor bone that juts on each foot from where the arch should be, which makes wearing rigid footwear like ice skates very uncomfortable, as the bones will keep rubbing against the constraints normal feet would have no problems with. 

"Put your feet together, toes to touch, inner heels to touch," David instructed. 

I looked at him, and furrowed my brows. 

"I can't, my feet are flat," I said, dismayed.

"Do it, you can. Put your toes together and lift your arches. Get your calves to start working. The reason your feet are flat is because you are not using the muscles there," he suggested, as he gently and firmly adjusted my body to follow his instructions. "Rotate your thighs inward and upward. Start engaging your hips and your bandhas."

I did as I was told with a fair amount of discomfort. Then, I flowed through Surya Namaskar A followed by Surya Namaskar B. Again and again, David would point out when my arches were lifting, when I was letting them lie flat, and he would simply not take "no" for an answer from my body, when I thought I couldn't get the inlines of my feet to touch one another. 

After awhile, the discomfort gave way to acceptance, and I began to believe that what he said might become true. Perhaps through practice, I could indeed develop a bit of a lift beneath me, a bit more support all the way from my connection to the earth. 

By the end of practice, I walked away feeling like something fundamental had shifted, that suddenly, I could potentially do something I never thought I could. I went from thinking that a foundational part of my body would always be this way, even if I didn't like it, to understanding that perhaps everything could actually shift in beneficial and lasting ways. I began to turn the knob to a door of possibility that I thought was forever closed to me. 

At one point, David also asked, "You said you do Reiki, right?" 

I nodded, while sweating and breathing in Parsvakonasana

"Your hands are super hot, they're on fire right now!" he said, as he was adjusting the placement of my palm. "So much prana."

After the asana portion of the practice, we chanted both the invocation and the closing, so that I could learn from repetition. Then, David directed me into Savanasa. I briefly ruminated on the gentleman in front of me who was doing poses I could vaguely comprehend were physically possible, until I began to let go of expectation and find my connection to Source. 

Grateful for such a wonderful opportunity to expand and deepen my practice, I arrived in the present moment with a broader sense of what is and what may come. 

Upcoming Workshop: Fire Up Your Practice @ Soul of Yoga in Encinitas



And, just in case the text is a little blurry: 


Discover your inner warrior
with Judy Tsuei.

Get your heart pumping in bright and shiny ways. You’re invited to take flight, balance on your arms, crunch your core, groove to upbeat tunes and — most importantly — smile huge when you realize how strong and courageous you truly are!

Created especially for those looking to work up a sweat, add more heat to your yoga routine with a powerful and playful workshop designed to inspire strength, fun, and Spirit on the mat.


Come play like big kids do! (And, bring a friend to share the fun.)


Sunday, Sept 23
@ Soul of Yoga, 627 Encinitas Blvd
3-5pm
$20/person

*Level 2/3; ideal for anyone looking to bump up your practice a notch.

To register, see front desk, call 760.943.7586, or click under the “Yoga Workshops” tab at soulofyoga.com. Questions? Email judy@hawkandlily.com



Hope to see you there! 

All About Ashtanga: Day One, Surya Namaskar


"I may not be there yet,
but I'm closer than I was yesterday."
-Author Unknown

It's a good thing that I checked my phone one last time, before I started doing something else, because I suddenly realized that my first Mysore practice at Jois studio in Encinitas wasn't starting at 10.45am — it was starting at 10am! I had 16 minutes to arrive at my final destination and jetted out the door, urgently asking the Universe to please not let me be late, as this class not only meant the beginning of an inward journey I've been curious to take for awhile, but it's also part writing assignment and I was on a job! Luckily, my Audi zipped through the freeway lanes and plopped me in a prime parking spot directly across from the entrance of the studio. 

I arrived with a couple of minutes to spare, yet the sign at the front door told me to go to the back. I did as I'm told, only to find the back door locked. Fast forward to my running back to where I started in a frenzy, opening the door to the front of the studio and whizzing past the woman at the front desk while saying, "I'm supposed to meet with David for Mysore!"

Flustered, I found the familiar face of the teacher I was scheduled to meet. He calmly smiled as he handed me a waiver form, and I made my way to the back corner, where three other students were already in the middle of their practice. David came over to me, sat down, and asked if I'd practiced before.

"This is my first time with a real Ashtanga class," I informed him. 

"Do you do yoga?" he asked, a simple and gentle question. 

"Yes, I'm a yoga teacher," I responded, still feeling like a newbie when it comes to being considered a good teacher.

"Do you know breathing?" and immediately went into Ujjayi, loud, victorious breath. I nodded and began to deepen my inhalations and exhalations. "That's most important."

"Do you know Surya Namaskar?" he looked at me, a slight grin on his face. I felt this was a trick question, and if I said 'no,' I would surely fail the first test of becoming a true yogi.

"Yes," I laughed, nervously.

"Well, let's see," he said, and I immediately got up. 

With his gentle instruction, I flowed through my Sun Salutation as I would normally do. David offered quiet pointers along the way, "Look at your thumbs — look" and "Pull in the belly," "Don't tilt back," "Place your hands all the way down in line with your toes," with explanations as to why, "This will strengthen your legs,""Too much arching strains the back," and so on.

"Now continue," he said, as he walked away from me. I did as I was told and before long, I was breaking into a full sweat.

Earlier the previous week, I interviewed Andrew Hillam, the Yoga Director at Jois. He explained the Ashtanga practice to me in a way that I have not considered, one which dispelled a lot of myths I held — even as a teacher. I thought Ashtanga was for those "really hardcore people," who could do the craziest things with their bodies. I partly thought it was an elitist type of practice, that looked down upon other styles. But what it truly is, is beautiful.

"We try to do everything here like you would experience at Mysore in India. The practice you have here, with the teachers, should be exactly as you would have over there. We pay homage to our Guru every morning, and light a candle. We practice the rituals. We believe the teacher should interfere as little as possible with the student's practice, so that they can go within. Many say they come in here and appreciate the sense of calm, the quiet," Hillam explained. "We don't believe that you should think about nothing, but that you should get your mind to focus on one particular thing. I have witnessed incredible journeys within the students — it's truly transformational."

As I continued to flow through my Surya Namaskar A, with David coming back now and again to check on me, I remembered that Andrew made it a point to say that in the traditional style of teaching Ashtanga, you don't move onto the next pose until the teacher feels you are ready.

With sweat dripping down the side of my forehead as I stood in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) after a number of repetitions, David asked if that was the most Sun Salutations I've ever done.

"Actually, I've done 108 during my teacher training," I told him. He looked pleasantly surprised. "Well, let's move onto Surya Namaskar B, yes?" I nodded and followed his lead.

In the corners of my view, I could see students who were moving through extremely advanced postures with ease. From handstand into backbend and then back into a handstand, I wondered if I would ever advance to that point. I'd always been curious about Mysore (and initially thought it was such an odd name to give to a style of practice that perhaps truly meant it would make your body achy after doing it)  and now here I was, invited to try it out firsthand. I desperately wanted the type of strength that I've admired for so long, yet at the same time, scared to pursue it. It almost seemed so intense that it was unattainable, and in that belief, I did not try. Now things were different. I had been asking the Universe for a teacher for quite some time, someone who could show me how to deepen my practice in the way that I offer to my clients when working in privates with them, and here was this amazing opportunity, just not in the way I expected.

Not normally a fan of regimented sequences, the way that David worked with me lent something new to the practice. It was a subtle connection between student and teacher in a way that let the student feel safe to explore, guided on where to go, yet the journey was completely up to the individual creating space on the mat. 

I wasn't quite sure where to end, so I just kept going. I made mental notes to bring a towel and plenty of water with me the next time, excited about the commitment I've made to aim for a 6-day-a-week practice, at the same time every day if possible, for a month.

At the end of it, David came to show me how to move into seated postures. I felt that I was *this close* to being able to jump through from High Plank to a cross-legged Sukhasana (Easy Pose), but realized that there was still a bit of transformation that was going to happen if I could look as graceful as David did in demonstrating.

That's the thing about Ashtanga. Most every teacher I've met who has a practice rooted in Ashtanga that then flowed into Vinyasa (which came from Ashtanga, as Hillam noted), makes the tough stuff look so incredibly graceful. There's a stillness in the movement, a lightness in the strength, so that peace reigns supreme in whatever the pose may be. 

At a time of transition in my life, I'm looking forward to the changes to come, both internally and externally. It's not without a dose of bittersweet, a learning of how to let go of attachment, and an opening to this or something greater.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reflections & Musings: How could I not have seen this all along? It's news to me: I'm Asian!

"The term 'inner tradition' refers to the practice of Chinese medicine 
in a way that places primary emphasis 
on the use of medicine as a tool to aid spiritual evolution." 

Last night, I had a giant realization right before I went to sleep. While reading just the first few pages of Lonny Jarrett's book (as quoted above), I wanted to highlight every word in a gold as brilliant as the awareness it was shining on healing and spirituality. Then, an a-ha moment crescendoed into my consciousness as parts of past and present all came together.

I immediately journaled: 
"I am remembering now, as I read this book, that it's always been this. From the iSearch project in Mr. Provisor's 9th grade class — where my mother "strongly suggested"(forced) me to look into acupuncture as the main topic — I have always been fascinated by the complementary healing arts. How odd it is that while Mom continually cautioned us to do everything we could to fit into the mainstream and not stand out, every time a project came up in school, she asserted how important it was to distinguish ourselves as Chinese, so we could teach the other students about our culture. Now, I have a chance to incorporate it into my teaching and even possibly create a teacher training program after my 500-hour training. The more that I think about it, how wonderful and amazing it would be that this could be my passion, after all this time, and maybe even take me around the world by teaching a blend of the East & the West!"
Basically, it's kind of like how the sky has always been blue, but suddenly, you realize that you can see the hue in a totally new way. It's always been there, but as the adage goes, you'll only get it when you're ready to get it.

When I was in 9th grade, we were assigned a project for the semester, called an iSearch Project, where we had to pick a topic and generate an original 20-page double-spaced paper and a 15-minute presentation. Our teacher, Mr. Provisor, had various stipulations — we had to conduct live interviews with people (this was prior to the Internet, so it involved looking in the Yellow Pages and typing and mailing letters of inquiry to people), have a certain number of resources and references (which meant lots of library visits to refer to the Dewey Decimal System), and I can't remember what else. At the time, it seemed like a lot! I had no idea what I was passionate about (all I wanted to do was fit in and like what everyone else liked) and was the queen of procrastination (a habit that has shifted... a little). 

Finally, a month before it was due, my mother kept pestering me that I should do the project on acupuncture and Eastern Medicine. I looked at her, skeptical and irritated. For a woman who constantly drilled it into her children's minds that we needed to do everything we could to fit into the dominant 'white' culture, this suggestion was going against everything she had taught me up until that point. What's more, one of my aunts was an acupuncturist and not only did I view her as a mean lady, but every time I was around her, it seemed all she wanted to do was jab thin little needles into my siblings and myself.

Eventually, I relented. I wrote letters of inquiry to various acupuncturists, requesting a bit of their time to do a live interview (maybe this is also where my love for hearing others' stories began?), and actually got a few responses. My mother drove me where I needed to go and to my surprise, I became enthralled by what these experts were telling me. 

I distinctly remember meeting with a gray-haired Caucasian gentleman practicing Eastern Medicine in his office. He asked if I'd like to test the health of my organs and body systems, the way that he would do with any other patient. 

"Sure?" I responded, questioningly.

He brought out what looked like a silver rectangle with holes drilled in orderly rows that perfectly fit an array of smile vials the acupuncturist had in a case. Connected to the rectangle by a black cord was a round silver wand.

"Hold this in one hand," he instructed as he gave me the tubular stick. "I'm going to place different vials in this container. Each of these vials contain elements that correspond to your different organs, so I'll test and see which one is healthy and which might need a bit of help. You'll hold out your other arm, and resist my push. If your organ is healthy, you'll be able to resist me. If not, you won't. This is one of the ways I test how my patients' bodies are doing."

Only now do I realize that he was muscle testing me. He first began with my arm at neutral, held out to my side, where I could the push of his hand with ease. Yet, as soon as he put a vial in the metallic container on the desk, one that designated a part of my body that was not as healthy as it could be, there was nothing I could do to resist his pressure. He'd take the vial out, push again, and I'd be fine. Put the vial back in to test and my arm flopped towards the ground like cooked spaghetti. My mind was blown away.

The other highlight I remember from this project was finding a VHS recording of a PBS show that featured videos of qigong masters in China. In a community park, the master would stand 40 yards away from a row of adults. He would then place his hands together and push energy towards the line of 20 adults, who would all fall back as though he were standing right in front of them and shoving them over — and he wasn't even close to touching them! I just looked quizzically at the television and wondered how? 

In the end, staying up til dawn the night before my presentation was due, trying to put together a poster board and writing a 20-page paper with all the correct citations, jammed everything I'd learned over the past month in a way that the 15-minutes of presenting in front of my classmates flew by. I went from being nervous to having too much to say in the amount of time I was allotted, and somehow without my knowing, shifted from a topic I cared nothing about to something that I presented in such a way that everyone in the room was entranced. 

The classroom clapped once I finished my last word. Mr. Provisor looked as though he were about to jump out of his chair, "You obviously did a lot of work and really care about this topic!" 

Inwardly, I grimaced. 

"No!" I wanted to shout out loud. "I don't care about this Chinese stuff! I want to be American! I want to be a white girl like all the rest of my friends and eat bologna sandwiches in brown paper bags rather than have to buy my lunch from the cafeteria!"

But, that's not what he was referring to, so instead, I did what I was taught to do, which is nod silently and smile acceptingly. I answered questions from the other students, which they asked not as much because it would earn them participation credits, but because I could see they were genuinely intrigued. This was likely the first time any of them had ever been exposed to anything like this. Then I sat back down and thought nothing more about it over the next two decades of my life.

Now, I'm dating an acupuncturist who, over the course of our relationship, has encouraged me to actually embrace being Chinese/Taiwanese. His family has shown me what it's like to honor tradition, to blend the culture they now live in with the one they were raised in. They've welcomed me into their lives as if I were their daughter, and I suddenly feel like I belong somewhere. Yet, I've had less than a handful of conversations with my beau about his acupuncture and Chinese herbology practice over the past 450+ days, other than to ask how his day went. I haven't inquired about the meridians in the body, which points correspond to which emotions, or how healing happens even though I am deeply interested in these things. It may seem obvious, but just as my nose sits on my face, it did not even occur to me to bring this as a topic of learning between us. Instead, I've simply sat beside him listening to strangers at restaurants question how treatments work when they find out he's an acupuncturist, and plucked a book or two from his library.

There are parts about me that are still resistent to bringing in what seems to have been so obvious all along. How could I not have seen that the seeds were planted long ago, when I find that the past decade of my adult life has been to search inwardly for answers? How could I not have acknowledged that I am truly excited to learn about all of these complementary modalities? I have been searching through Ayurveda, through yoga, through Reiki and other sorts of energy healing, when all the while, it has been in my blood. I was raised with it right in front of my face, surrounding my ears, lingering around my consciousness, even pricking my skin, yet because of a feeling of learned shame for being a minority, I have instead existed with a thick dark fog blocking a potential gift that was my birthright.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've realized how important it is to discover and unleash my own brand of yoga teaching style. Not what I think a teacher should be, how I think I should sound, what I think I should say, or what I feel I should know, but how can I be my most authentic self, where I'm not afraid to shine brightly irregardless of what others will say/think/do? On the most recent call with my business coach, he asserted that the more we worry about getting others to like us and the more people-pleasing we try to be, the more unappealing we actually become. Ultimately, we end up garnering the opposite reaction of what we're aiming for.

In reading just the introduction to Nourishing Destiny, I had to resist nudging my beau awake with exclamations of amazement at these answers just resting on my lap. According to China's oldest herbal text, Shen Nong Ben Cao, "the highest aspect of healing involves helping the patient to fulfill destiny in order to live out the years as allotted by heaven. Below that level of healing is the nourishment of humans' inborn nature (xing). The lowest class of medicine treats only physical illness."

I had no idea that traditional Chinese medicine had a primary therapeutic focus to help patients fulfill their personal destiny. Jarrett writes:
"I call this the 'inner tradition of Chinese medicine,'... that places primary emphasis on the use of medicine as a tool to aid spiritual evolution. Most notably, a patient's progress in treatment is assessed primarily by indicators of conscious awareness and balanced emotional functioning rather than, as is done in more external traditions of practice, assessing response to treatment with primary emphasis on the relative presence or absence of pain or other physical symptomalogy... Another hallmark of the inner tradition is that it explicitly serves as an extension of the practitioner's own spiritual quest and path. A foundational principle of this tradition is that a practitioner may only engender a virtue in a patient to the degree that he or she is able to assess that virtue within."
It's in the artful stories of each Chinese calligraphic character, the fables and mythology behind how things came to be, the reasons why my family was so superstitious growing up. All of these things were planting the seeds for me to put it all together into a way that is applicable for today's culture. 

But, this still involves my actively embracing a side of myself that I have almost repented since elementary school, when I came to realize that I looked, ate, and thought differently from my majority counterparts. By truly blending East and West in a teaching style and a belief system that works for me means reevaluating so much of what I think in a loving and less judgmental way. It involves coming to terms with the fact that I am truly a hybrid being, one who was born in sunny California with attributes of a country half the globe away.

Can I do that? Can I finally relish that I'm not the docile, submissive Asian girl so often portrayed in mainstream media, that I'm not super thin and delicate, but rather curvy and strong, that I have a voice that commands a presence? Can I exude confidence rather than be self-effacing or face-saving? Can I take what I love about both cultures and truly make it my own in a way that other Asian-Americans who've grown up in this country with parents from another one would be proud of, too? Ultimately, can I love exactly who I am on the inside and the outside? 

I believe the answer is 'yes.' And it all starts with an intention. So, my intention is to be all of me. And, with this blog and daily life, I'll see what the Universe and I co-create. 

I bet it's something beautiful.