Saturday, December 27, 2008

Start your New Year off with a FREE week of Ashtanga!

That's right - the second full week of Ashtanga classes at A2 Yoga in 2009 is FREE to everyone! That is:

Monday, Jan. 12th @ 7:30pm
Wednesday, Jan. 14th @ 5:30pm
and Saturday, Jan. 17th @4:00pm (you can always view the schedule at

Come to all 3 to really get a feel for what Ashtanga can do for you! Rapidly build your strength, improve flexibility using specially structured sequences, and enhance your concentration and mental yogic practice! Knowledge of Ashtanga will allow you to take your practice further - in any direction you choose. 

Also: I will be teaching on New Year's Eve (Wed. Dec. 31st @ 5:30pm), and I will be at the New Year's Day 108 Sun Salutation event (along with Jo & others - Thurs. Jan 1st @ 11am), so come celebrate the end of 2008 and the dawning of 2009 with us!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

A2 Yoga is closed today & tomorrow. Happy holidays & bright blessings to you all!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Quotes of the Day

A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern; he repeats phrases and thinks in a groove.

If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

---Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Steep yourself in enlightenment

Enlightenment does not usually come as a blinding flash, all at once. Instead, if you allow it, it will slowly infuse itself into every aspect of your life, over the course of months and years.
-John Tarrrant

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You are not your thoughts: Reshaping your inner world

Yoga is a physical practice, but as I stress in my classes, it has a powerful effect on the mind, as a form of meditation. And what is meditation, exactly? It does not mean "having no thoughts" or anything of the kind. It means observing, non-judgementally, everything that is going on internally. Sometimes the mind will be very loud. Sometimes it will calm down. Observe these fluctuations, and their impermanence. Sometimes you will have the realization that your mind feels very free and expansive! And then you will realize that thinking about this expansiveness has made it disappear, because to think about it, you come out of that state. But this is nothing to worry about. Observe all these fluctuations.

You will start to notice that there are certain voices in your mind that are much louder and more prominent than others. Now, I do not mean this in any "hearing voices = illness" way. We all have constant voices in our heads - our self-talk. And it is our self-talk, NOT our external world, that largely determines how we feel and how well we can deal with things.

At first, as you notice and observe these voices, they may seem to get louder. This is just because you are paying more attention to them. Continue to observe, even if your mind makes a racket! Watch how even the most difficult thoughts and emotions pass away after they arise, to be replaced with other thoughts and emotions, equally impermanent.

As you begin to identify the prominent voices, you will notice how much they affect you. Many of us have prominent negative voices, thanks to both our culture and our upbringing. These negative voices can make us sad, anxious, depressed, angry... they can make life seem almost unbearable. But here's the good part: you can work with these voices, re-shaping your inner world into a wonderful place to be! And when your internal world is peaceful, relaxed, and happy, your external world will be as well, regardless of what's going on.

Now, I am not claiming that just by talking positively to yourself, you will be happy all the time. First of all, this is a process, not a quick fix. It can take months, or years, but it does have the power to completely transform your life. I will back up my statement by sharing my own personal experience.

When I was 4 years old, my baby brother, only 6 months old at the time, died of a heart defect. This was obviously a terrible blow to my family, and we all sank into a deep depression. Now, some people may say that 4 years old is too young to be depressed, or to even really understand the event. But my experience was that I was very aware of what had happened, and I felt a tremendous loss. I missed my brother. I wanted him back. I wanted my parents to be happy again. I wanted things to be different.

The loss of my brother created all sorts of damaging self-talk for my 4-year-old self. I thought that if I were a better kid, this wouldn't have happened. I thought maybe it should have been me instead of him. I thought that God or the universe or someone was punishing our family. Why else would this happen? What was the point of my brother's life? It seemed like it had brought us nothing but agony.

As I grew up, the depression stayed with me. I often thought of myself as "no good" at things, or just "no good" in general. I thought I was damaged in some way. Being diagnosed with epilepsy only added to this idea that I was "damaged". I would think to myself, if only I could be someone else. I don't even want to be me. Life is too hard. I can't do this. That was my motto for years: I can't do this. I can't "do life". It's not for me. I am out of place in this world, and I should not be here.

My depression, complicated by seizures due to epilepsy, became so severe that I ended up dropping out of high school with only a few months to go. I had hit bottom. I literally could do nothing other than lay on the floor and cry. Nothing helped. Not my parents, not my therapist, not my doctors. I didn't see how anything would ever get better. So in my mind, I resigned myself to this life of misery and pain.

But then..... then I found yoga. And as the physical practice began to bring me back to life, the mental aspect began to help me feel better - something I thought could never happen! I was astounded. I began practicing more and also studying yogic and Buddhist philosophy. I began to meditate on my negative thoughts, and to deconstruct them. I would watch as the negative thoughts proved to be untrue, again and again. I was not out of place, or worthless, or bad. I was simply human. And I began to function again. I finished high school, and went to college.

As I felt better, I began to work with my pain more directly. I would meditate on my thoughts and feelings about my brother's death. Then I would consciously challenge and debate them. For instance: "why was his life cut so short?" was challenged with: "you don't know how long everyone's life is supposed to be. Maybe his was the perfect length, like all of our lives." My thoughts of "why was he born, just to die so soon? To make our family suffer?" were gradually replaced with: "well, he came into our family and left us with a gift of tremendous compassion and understanding for all those who experience loss - and that is everyone." The idea that "my life should have been different" gave way to: "everything is as it should be".

Over the course of a few years, with many many hours of practice, my inner world became a peaceful, even happy place. It allowed me to stop focusing on my problems and to turn my energy toward helping others. It actually allowed me to turn my problems into strengths.

Now, I cannot say that I never feel sad about my brother any more. There are definitely times when I am sad, when I miss him, when I wonder what he would have been like. But that's just one voice, almost whispering now. And it is both comforted and overpowered by the new way of understanding that I have built for myself. I could choose to continue to believe that life is unfair, and that it dealt me a harsh blow. But I don't want to live in that world. Instead, I choose to live a life that was blessed by a very special person; a person who taught me compassion for all living beings, without ever saying one word. I thought I would never get over grieving his loss. But I have, by honoring him as my teacher.

So that is a piece of my experience with transformation, for whatever it's worth. We all have our own challenges, our own harsh blows to deal with. But what I want to convey is that we CAN CHOOSE a happier, more peaceful, more integrated way of living. It may not be easy. But it can shape your world into a wonderous place to be. So don't believe your negative thoughts. I assure you, they're inaccurate. And they aren't you. You are a being of compassionate energy, so much bigger than any thoughts.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A commitment to kindness

We know how important it is to practice kindness when dealing with others, and with the self. I have touched on this before - our culture teaches us, in many ways, to beat ourselves up simply for being human. This self-negativity and abuse is as unjust and unfair as if it were aimed at someone else, if not more so. The greatest things we can learn through yoga and meditation are to be kind and gentle, beginning with the self.

Actually, for most people, it's easier to begin with compassion towards others, and use that to learn how to extend it inward to the self. Our inner worlds are very complex, and we often make (false) assumptions like 'everyone else has got it together', 'I'm the only one who feels inadequate', 'everyone else is judging me' and, 'everyone can see all my flaws'. In fact, other people only see what you show them, and no one has 'got it all together'. As an example of how our internal and (perceived) external identities can be very different, I thought of myself as very shy and introverted my whole life. And yet, the opinion of people around me always seemed to be that I was outgoing and had no trouble making friends with strangers. It took me a while to understand this. I finally realized that these other people could not, in fact, see my inner nervousness or self-doubt, and they took my chatty attempts to compensate for my shyness at face value. They truly saw a friendly, outgoing person.

Our inner and outer identities are always in flux, but the reaction of those around us does have a definite influence on shaping our inner life. If we receive messages that we are bad or useless, we will incorporate those 'definitions' into our understanding of ourselves. And of course, if we receive messages that we are loved and worthy of happiness, we will incorporate those things as well. When we are younger, our parents and other authority figures have a lot of power here. But the great news is that, as we get older, we can take charge of which messages we incorporate (think about that word for a second. 'Incorporate' literally means 'to make part of the body (or self)'.). Just as we do with breathing, we can turn this identity-message process from an unconscious one into a conscious one, inviting positive energy and messages in, and filtering out the negative ones. This takes some practice, but you can vastly transform your inner world by shifting your view of yourself in this way. 

A while ago in class, I brought up the idea of practicing as if you were in someone else's body; a friend's or stranger's on loan. I think a lot of people thought I was loony that day, but I was trying to stress the point that we don't react to others the same way we react to ourselves. We may instantly get frustrated if we cannot do a pose or a task, but have quite a lot of patience while teaching this same thing to a friend. My encouragement to you is to extend the same patience and kindness to yourself, always, in all situations.

As humans, I believe we have an inherent obligation to extend kindness to all, especially ourselves. If we follow this path, only good can come of it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

All things are coming!

A student asked Guruji, "When will I be able to do a backbend?" Another asked, "when will I be able to do a headstand?" The questions continued, as Guruji sat patiently and smiled. Finally when the group had asked all of their questions, he grinned and said, "Don't worry. Many, many lifetimes. All things are coming."


So remember: if frustration arises in your practice, breathe through it. You have lots of time to master these skills!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drop all competition - Major Updates Coming!!

When practicing yoga, drop all competition, especially with yourself. Just explore what is available in each moment. In every moment, there is something new or deeper available.

Just like with this blog. Updates coming soon! :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quote of the Day

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thai Massage HOUSE CALLS

If you live in Ann Arbor, I am now making Thai Massage house calls, for a very reasonable rate. If you're interested in a session, or have any questions, please email me at [at], or talk to me at the studio.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Meditation challenges for the strong of heart

As many of you may have noticed, there's been quite a bit of noise going on at the new A2 studio as we repair some pipes. We try to keep it to a minimum during class time, but when it IS there, rumbling and roaring, smashing through tile floors, it's one of the more powerful meditation exercises I've encountered in a while.

As a more subtle version of the phenomenon, think about this. You are sitting down on your mat, preparing for class. Meditation starts, and everyone begins to settle into their breath. Then, another practitioner arrives a few moments late. What happens in your mind next is a very good indication of the level of focus in your practice. I understand that it is easy to get distracted and look up. But it is this unconscious action we are learning to override, acting always from a conscious place. So, use these disruptions, small and large, as bonus practice moments, learning to remain calm and focused as the world continues its dance around you.

If we all turn to look when another yogi comes in a few minutes late (and notice how quick our minds can be to judge causes we know nothing about!) then the energy of the entire room is disrupted. But if we all sit quietly and respectfully, then the energy remains calm for all, and everyone can move into their practice much more smoothly.

Quote of the Day

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
-Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's been a while!

As some of you may have noticed, I have taken a short hiatus from blogging. This was due in part by an extremely office job/yoga schedule, but I am going to try to post more often, for the tens or even dozens of people who may read this from time to time.

"Real love is only possible whe you see everything as yourself." -Sri Swami Satchitananda

Delving in to the Sutras a bit, Sutra 1.24 says: "The Divine Conscioness is self-effulgent like the sun". So, if the Divine is always in our hearts, why do we need to call it forth at all? The reason is that many of us became stuck and stagnant, having closed off our heart, from ourselves and eachother. So, as we are able to open up the hearth through practice, our Divine self is revealed. The true miracle here is that if we are able to open our hearts like this, overcoming self-doubt or self-judgement will happen naturally, over a course of time.

And down the road in the future, those once-intense feelings of self doubt will simply begin to become more comfortable in your own skin. This is an amazing transformation. Over time, you will feel grounded, at peace, and able to deal with any wobbles life may through at you. As I'm fond of saying in class, life is never going to stop throwing wobbles, some big, some small, but what we can learn to do on and off the mat is to stay very calm, tap into our inner resources of our inner-balance and equinimity, and BREATHE! .......knowing that wobbles, intensity, and firey feelings in the muscles are not a hinderence to your practice, but a gift, not only serving to strenghten you physically, but also mentally.

Sutra 11.7: "Excessive fondness for fleeting pleasures (Raga) causes longing."
Sutra 11.8: "Excessive avoidance of unpleasant experiences (Dvesa) causes pain."
Don't let these sutras put you off. All they are saying has been said many times before by very wise people - "Everything is fine in moderation." In yoga, we try to figure out how to walk the middle path. Being an Ashtangi or yoga practitioner should not create more stress, tension, and self-comparison to yourself and others. If this is where you're at, take a nice deep breath and remember that things are always impermanent & will shift for you.

I know it's incredibly hard to drop judgement sometimes, but like everyhing else it's a learned skill. Finding a little detatchment from our ego-dramas does not me we devalue ourselves or our emotions. Instead, it means we are doing more to help them, but not feeding more negative energy into the system. Over time, we can learn to be far more compassionate towards others, including ourselves (meaing ourselves as individuals, as well as the entire human race).

Ashtanga yoga is a highly individualized learning process for each individial person, and it's important to remember that, when you're feeling frustrated, those feelings will pass. I promise. Please always: Work compassionately with your body, always being gentle instead of forceful. If you ever want to talk about frustrations, or any other topic, you can find me at the studio, email me at, or give me a call at 734.846.4366. I am always very happy and honored to chat and assist, so please don't hesitate to get in touch. Namaste, everyone, and have a safe and happy up-coming Halloween!!
Blessings to all beings. -L

Sutra 11.15 "Intuitive wisdom empowers us to expand beyond the constantly changing natural world ("the seen") to the abode of the Divine Spirit (The Seer).

"When we are able to know the self, all else is known." - Bhagavad-Gita

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quote of the Day

"If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter - if we practice it without fail, we will then attain physical, mental, and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood towards the True Self."

-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruij)

"There is no need to be overwhelmed by the many dimensions of astanga; just come in and take from it what you want."

Friday, October 17, 2008


After a long wait we can finally say the move is now here! Starting Monday, October 20th all classes will be held at the new A2yoga location; 2030 Commerce blvd.

Directions starting at the old A2yoga building to the new one are:
1. Start out going SOUTHEAST on W. STADIUM BLVD toward the football stadium
3. Stay STRAIGHT to go onto COMMERCE BLVD.
4. End at 2030 Commerce Blvd

The studio will be on your right hand side.

As a notice to everyone: We are technically not allowed to park in the large parking lot right in front of the studio. That lot belongs to the post office, and all people parked there are at risk of being towed. There are however plenty of parking spots in front of the building and at the side, as well as up and down commerce blvd, in front of the apartments. So please note if you do choose to park in the post office parking lot you do it at your own risk.

Hope to see you there soon!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quotes of the Day, and some commentary

Before you've practiced, the theory is useless. After you've practiced, the theory is obvious.
-David Williams, Ashtanga teacher

This calm steadiness of the senses is called yoga. [Then] one should become watchful, because yoga comes and goes. -Katha Upanishad

...that's right, our yoga fluctuates, just like everything else in this universe. So if fluctuation is to be expected, then it is no problem. The only problem arises when you are not able to simply observe this fluctuation. Do not give in to the society-encouraged temptation to judge yourself. You are not "good" or "bad" as a result of your practice. And your practice itself is not "good" or "bad" at any time. It simply is what it is. It may be waxing, it may be waning, it may feel contsistant for the time being, but our most important lesson is in learning to drop judgement and the ego. One of the first places we can try to do this is with our practice itself. If you find there is a part of yourself that can't stop judging, that's ok. It's a habit that's hard to break, & as I said, we don't get much encouragement from society. Try your best to accept the judgemental part of you without judging it! Sound like a paradox? It's not. As humans, we are more like a small city than a single individual. We all have many different aspects to us, some even hidden to us at times. What we want is for the Non-judgmental Observer to be in charge of this boisterous city, rather than leaving the Ego and the Judging Mind in control. Be aware that the Ego and the Judging Mind will probably not like this shift in power. They will complain. Learn to recognize their voices so you can respond with compassionate meditation, rather than Ego-based actions & thoughts. Over time, as you learn to reside with the Non-judgmental Observer at the helm, you will be able to deal gently and compassionately with anything that arises.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Yoga Abs

Yesterday I posted a nice long post about yoga and the abdominal muscles, and it started to get a little too long & unwieldy. So here's the second Yoga Abs installment; scroll down a bit if you missed the first.

I said we'd talk about rotations in regards to the abs. Rotational asanas like Revolved Triangle or Revolved Side Angle engage the internal and external obliques, which are key muscles for developing a strong abdominal wall. The obliques also stabilize your spine when you rotate the trunk and pelvis. For example, when you kick a ball, the obliques rotate your pelvis. When you throw a ball, the obliques pull your shoulder around. These muscles also stabilize your vertebrae to maintain spinal alignment when you lift heavy weights. Our center of gravity lies just below the navel.

The transversus abdominus also plays an important role in maintaining a toned abdominal wall. You engage this muscle when coughing, sneezing, or exhaling forcibly. Unlike the other three abdominal muscles, the transversus doesn't move your spine. We use it a lot when working with the breath. To really get a sense of contracting this muscle, try this: Rest your hands on your thighs. Take a deep inhale, then exhale completely while contracting your abdomen up & in to expel the last bit of air from your lungs. Then, without drawing in any new air, begin counting out loud: "One, two"...etc. You will feel your transversus cinching around your waist tightly, like a drawstring. Before the lack of oxygen becomes uncomfortable, relax your belly and gently draw the breath in again. The transversus is what we use to maintain Uddiyana Bandha (your "Flying Up" Abdominal Energy Lock).

Breathing with the belly - If you breathe mostly by using the rib cage muscles, without using the diaphragm's power, you're limiting your breath. And if your abdominal muscles don't release, your diaphragm can't descend fully. That's why yogis balance abdominal strength with flexibility. Remember that deep, diaphragmatic breathing does not mean pushing your belly out deliberately. Full belly breathing just requires a naturally alternating engagement and release. To make sure you are practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing, first engage the abdomen in a complete exhalation, then allow your lungs to fill up naturally, relax the abdomen, but try not to push it outward. Observe the flow from the lungs to the belly, back and forth. Lay on your back in Savasana (Relaxation or Corpse Pose), breathe slowly and deliberately, feeling the strength of your inner core as your obliques and deep transversus muscles compress, expelling the air from your lungs completely. Then take joy in the flow of oxygen & prana that fills your chest as these muscles release, creating space for prana to flow into your heart center like water flowing into an ocean. Observe without criticism. Imagine your abdominal cavity as the container of your deepest wisdom, and feel the energy at your navel radiating outward throughout your body. Breathe.

Stretching out those abdominal muscles after working them is important. Backbends such as Supported Bridge or Up Bow are helpful, as are poses such as Up Dog and any other asanas that lengthen the front of the body. If you feel too much tightness or any pinching in the lower back, this is due to the low back being used as a hinge, instead of distributing the arch evenly througout the spine. So remember, the low back is not a hinge! And keep the butt muscles engaged to protect it.

In many healing and mystical traditions, the belly is seen as an important center of energy and consciousness. Tantra yoga sometimes depicts the navel as the home of rajas, or solar energy. In Tantric practice, the yogi stirs up rajas in the belly by using the breath, helping to create a "divine body" filled with prana. This is partly why Indian gods are often shown with large bellies. In Tai Chi, the lower abdomen is designated as a reservoir of energy. If you're not into esoterics, consider the research of Michael Gershon, M.D. "You have more nerve cells in the gut than you do in the combined remainder of the peripheral nervous system," Gershon says. Gershon is the chair of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and he says he's sure that our thoughts and emotions are influenced by our gut. Gershon came to this fascinating conclusion through his research on serotonin, an important brain chemical many of us know of in relation to mood stability. It turns out it also plays a role in the bowel. Operating independently from the brain, a giant nervous system that Gershon calls the "second brain" works silently in the abdomen. Gershon explains that this belly-brain, scientifically known as the enteric nervous system, doesn't "think" in the cognitive sense—but it continually affects our thinking. "If there isn't smoothness and bliss going up to the brain in the head from the one in the gut, the brain in the head can't function," Gershon says. So if we keep our tension, unhappiness, nervousness, etc. trapped in the belly, or if we don't make peace with our belly as it is, we are interfering with our own ability to feel mentally at peace.

Throughout practice, we'll continue to strengthen the abs while keeping them supple, and more importantly, really understand which muscles we're working with internally. Focusing on the belly during practice is a great gage of how things are going. Is there room for the breath? Are you able to maintain Uddiyana Bandha? Keep observing without judging. As you tap into this power center over time, it will vastly expand both your mental and physical practice.

Quote of the Day

"Some say the glass is half empty.
I say who gave you a glass in the first place? Is it not a gift?"
-Seth Bernard

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Real Yoga Abs

Our culture is somewhat obsessed with the look of "six-pack" abs, and some people may hope to obtain them through yoga. But yoga creates supple strength, not hardness. The six-pack look can rob you of flexibility and freedom of movement. Overdoing abs exercises can lead to a flattening of the lumbar curve, creating a weakened spinal structure.

Our society's obsession with flat stomachs has psychological ties too. Many psychologists suggest that when we try to control our feelings, it leads to tightness in the belly - trying to swallow and hold it all in, as it were. Soft bellies seem vulnerable; abs of steel seem invulnerable. But as yogis we are learning to shed the armor we hold around the body. Tension interferes when we try to access the deeper wisdom that rests in the belly. As yogis, we require a supple abdomen in which we can feel the fullness of breath and sense the stillness of our being.

Strong, toned muscles at the core of your body support good health. And it is important to lift up through Uddiyanabandha when practicing. But it is a soft lift; it does not mean we should cultivate a permanent belly cramp, or hold our breath. Think of images of the Buddha, perhaps the world's best-known yogi. In many depictions, he doesn't have "abs of steel", or even anything close to it. Yogis know that chronically tight abdominals aren't any healthier than chronically tight hamstrings or back muscles. We want to develop a balance of abdominal strength, suppleness, relaxation, and awareness in our practice and our daily lives.

Here are four things to think about when working with the abdominal muscles in practice: (1) Movement springs from the body's center of gravity just below the navel; (2) asanas train this core to act as a stable base and fluid source of movement; (3) abdominal muscles should be toned but not tense; (4) the first step in abdominal fitness requires learning to sense this core, becoming familiar with it from the inside.

A basic knowledge of the belly's anatomy is extremely helpful for practice. Abdominal skin is different from much of the skin covering the rest of the body. It has subcutaneous tissue that loves to hold on to fat. It can store up to several inches. The fat-free bellies you see in ads are possible for less than 10 percent of the population. Your skin must be very thin to show muscle, and this can't always be achieved with exercise; it takes the right genes. Being young helps too. Once fat cells accumulate around your torso, they don't go away. You can shrink them. But they will always be there. Too much belly fat is unhealthy, of course. But working too hard to eliminate fat can also cause serious problems. Women can suffer estrogen depletion, bone weakness, and fractures. And psychologically, if you can't love your belly (no matter what shape it's in), you can't love yourself fully! A few centimeters or inches of fat over those muscles don't matter! Most adults, including runners and people of optimal health, carry a slight spare tire around their middles.

So let's focus deeper, thinking about the actual structure of the belly muscles. Right under the skin, a sturdy wall of four paired muscles stretches over the internal organs. On the surface, the strap-like rectus abdominus extends along the front of the body, from the pubic bone to the sternum (chest). On both sides of the rectus abdominus, a thin but very powerful muscle, the external oblique, runs diagonally from the ribs to the rectus, forming a "V" shape when viewed from the front. Running perpendicular to the external obliques, the internal obliques lie just below. These two pairs of muscles work together to rotate the trunk, and flex it diagonally. The inner-most layer of abdominal muscle, the transversus, runs horizontally, wrapping around the torso like a corset. Flexing this muscle pulls the belly inward. The sheath formed by the transversus and the obliques provides strong but expandable support. It protects the soft interal organs, can provide compression that aids in bowel elimination, and is flexible enough for diaphragmatic breathing.

All of these muscles can be exercised by doing yoga. For example, when you are in Navasana (Boat pose), you're contracting the rectus abdominus, drawing the sternum toward the pubic bone. Holding postures like Navasana helps strengthen this muscle isometrically, toning your abdomen without making the muscle less flexible. You engage the upper portion of the rectus in forward-bending posese such as Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Conversely, you engage the lower portion of this muscle by raising your legs while maintaining a stable torso, as in Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Foot Pose, a.k.a. Leg Raises). To keep the rectus not just strong but flexible as well, it's important to combine contraction exercises with complementary stretching postures like Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose). A strong, responsive rectus muscle will protect your lower back and allow you to sit up tall with ease. But try not to overdo it. Overworking this muscle can not only compromise your ability to do backbends, it can actually bunch up your torso and flatten the natural curve of your lumbar spine.

Next time we'll talk about rotations in regard to the belly muscles, and more about the physical and emotional energy housed in the belly. So for now, we'll say Namaste to our center, and remember that judgement won't build strength and flexibility, but practice will.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

For one who has conquered the mind,
the mind is the best of friends.
But for one who has failed to do so,
his very mind will be the greatest enemy.
For one who has conquered the mind,
Paramatan has already been reached
for tranquility has been obtained.
To such a person happiness & distress,
heat & cold, honor & dishonor are the same.

-Bhagavad Gita

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Golden Rule

"The Golden Rule for life
is that there are no golden rules.
There cannot be. Life is so vast,
so immense, so strange, so mysterious,
it cannot be reduced to a rule or a maxim.
All maxims fall short,
are too small;
they cannot contain life
and its living
Hence the golden rule
is significant, that there are no golden rules.
An authentic human being does not live by rules, maxims,
The authentic human being
simply lives."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quote of the day

I wanted to share an exchange I had with my wonderful boyfriend the other night. I said something about Savasana being the "end of class/practice". He responded incredibly insightfully, saying "Oh, but Savasana is just the BEGINNING of practice! That's when you've worked through everything, found your peaceful state, and can then remain in that peaceful state as you extend your practice out into the world."

Thank you, Jer, you are absolutely right. Savasana is just the beginning of true practice.

May you all find inner peace and calm resting within you throughout every part of your day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Devoting our time to what matters

We often complain of having too little time - too little time for work, too little for resting, for playing, and so on. But there is always the same amount of time; what matters is how we use it. Easy to say, harder to put into practice. Where does your time go? Observe, without judging. How much is spent watching TV? How much in the garden? How much feeling grouchy and irritated? How much feeling and demonstrating love? When we look within, it is very easy to pinpoint those things which we should nourish by devoting our time to them. And love lies at the center of them all. But do we make enough time for it? We make time for TV, even for our yoga class, but do we make time to truly be with the person or people we love?

Thich Nhat Hahn says that each morning and evening, maybe when saying goodbye and hello again, we should each hug the people we love and together take 3 deep breaths. That's all. Just a few seconds to breathe together. But the precious, real connection this repeated act creates is a strong loving force in the universe. We must bring about a revolution in how we relate to those we love, and that of course includes ourselves. Yoga practice is a wonderful way to love the self. We must reconnect with our love of others and of life. As the brilliant Shel Silverstein says,

"I will not play at tug o' war.
I’d rather play at hug o’war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins."

.......I know it's silly, but....imagine if the whole world chose hug-of-war instead.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Massage again! $25/hr!

To those of you who emailed me about massage, I'm so sorry if I haven't gotten back to you. I had some server problems and lost a few days worth of emails. So, if you'd still like to take advantage of the Best-Price-in-Town $25/hr massage (traditional table, Thai, or a combo), please email me again at[at] apologies for that! Namaste.

Dealing with frustration and negativity, continued...

As I've said before, we all deal with frustration, both on and off the mat. This is part of being human. The world is not going to stop creating frustrations for us. What CAN change is our habitual responses to these frustrations. And it is by moving through frustration that we journey forward and continue to enlighten our bodies, minds, and spirits.

A simple, & perhaps an example we can all relate to is getting frustrated in a pose, because it feels too intense, your balance feels off, or you just feel like you can't get it "right" that day. A habitual response in the mind might be "Arrgh, I hate this pose", and a habitual response in the body might be to give up. But most importantly, when frustration wells up it wants you to shift your focus AWAY from what you are doing. This is the yogic challenge here; to keep your focus through the pleasant, the neutral, and the unpleasant. This takes time. We are very habituated creatures. But in order to be free of our everyday suffering caused by the conditioned ("chattering") mind, we commit ourselves to focusing through whatever comes our way.

Here is a secret that not everyone knows. Shifting your focus away from pain (either physical or emotional pain) actually makes it worse!! The next time you incur a minor injury, such as stubbing a toe or finger, try this: instead of concentrating on thinking "OW!" and how to relieve the pain and all the times you felt pain like this in the past and and and.... just drop that, and focus INTENSLY on the hurt finger/toe/area. You will notice that what felt like static pain is actually shifting all the time, ranging from tingles to sharper pains depending on the injury. Take an interest in this impermanence of pain. (Of course, if your injury is severe and/or you are bleeding a lot, please go to the ER or call 9-1-1! ) Keep your focus on your pain as intensly as you can, until you watch it gradually fade to a dull throb or ache, and then disappear entirely. Look at that!! You have just meditated through pain! You are teaching your mind that it focuses where YOU want it to, and not just where it wanders.

The same principal can be applied to frustration. Don't try to push it away. Remain very, very aware of it, in all its details and subtleties. See if it is trying to tell you something, but usually it is just conditioned mind chatter. Whenever things become difficult for us as adults, we have a hard time handling it, because we want to master it right away. But as I've been stressing, mastery takes time. Just think about babies learning to walk and talk.

No matter how severe your frustration and negativity is, don't turn it against yourself. We are all precious beings who don't deserve this terrible kind of self-talk. If you wouldn't say it to a 3 year old child you love, don't say it to yourself! By viewing yourself at war with your body and mind, peace is never possible, because the physical and psychic beings are always battlegrounds. However, a body and mind at peace are able to hear the knock of the Infinite on the door of their souls when it comes. Our goal in life is to be peace, and to spread peace everywhere we go. By working through our own negativity, we can offer others so much more. We're all in this together, so hello fellow travelers, and I hope we can all help eachother out.

P.S. - A big thanks to Shelley for subbing the Full Series Ashtanga class this past Saturday!! I heard rave reviews last time and the students and I really appreciate it! :) -LSD

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dealing with frustration

"My leg just won't bend that way!"
"I've been trying this forever and I still can't do it."
"I'm never going to be able to do that pose."

Our ego/chattering mind likes to throw thoughts like this at us often. And not just during practice; it also likes to get negative beforehand, to convince us to not even go practice in the first place!

Just like wobbles in balance poses, frustration never actually goes away completely. We can just become very competent at dealing with it and breathing right through it.

Yoga is a challenging practice. Learning new things is challening, especially as adults. Because we are grown-ups and we understand what is being asked of us on an intellectual level, we expect to be able to DO that thing instantly. But understanding and doing are different things. You get the pose, it's just your body won't quite cooperate... we've all had this experience. I'm taking guitar lessons (trading them for private yoga lessons, actually) and I know what the songs sound like, I even know where my fingers should go, it's just that they won't always go there! But just like everything, practice over time results in mastery. And the time is going to pass anyhow, so you may as well practice things you'd like to master!

If you're feeling frustrated, stop, take a few deep breaths, and take a moment to think of all the things you've managed to learn to do up until now - everything from learning to crawl and walk and talk to learning to write and drive and maybe paint or build things or any of the complex things you're able to do. Remind yourself of the time those things took. And assure yourself that if you want to master this new skill, you'll one day look back and barely be able to remember when it was so difficult.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My yogis :)

I am always so happy to have each and every one of you in class, and I'm always interested in your questions, challenges, and experiences. My wonderful friend Lauren was in last night's class, and here's a link to her blog entry about it:

(it's her Sept. 18th entry, for those of you reading this after the fact)

I look forward to practicing with all of you again soon!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Taking some meditation lessons from Tibetan Heart Yoga

When we meditate, our minds encounter obstacles. This is perfectly normal. What matters is how we respond to these obstacles. Tibetan Heart Yoga offers us six "flavors" of response when the mind is being unruly:

1. This too shall pass.
2. I cannot control this now, but I can breathe through it.
3. I put this and myself here for purposes of higher learning.
4. Someone else might even find this pleasant.
5. I can transform this problem into the very path itself which I seek.
6. We must live as gardeners, tending with love whatever surroundings we find ourselves in, internal and external.

We can use any one (or more) of these whenever they feel helpful.

When we meditate, we sometimes expect our mind to become instantly still and for us to have an immediately blissful experience. This is not really how meditation works. It is an exercise and a practice, just like physical yoga. It is important to not become too frustrated at the beginning. The mind wants you to become discouraged, because that way it can stay in control and you will drop all this meditation silliness! Do not listen to the mind. Start slowly, and just start to learn to feel still and stable in your seat. Learn to watch the breath. Remember that this takes time. If I could give you the gift of a quiet mind, I would, but all I can do is try to explain and offer different techniques. It may happen slowly, or it may happen in an instant, but you will get a taste of that supreme inner silence and joy. Once you get this glimpse, no matter how small, you have understood that meditation is not about DOING, it's about NOT DOING! Dropping the mind. Dropping the ego. Simply existing in your divine state, taking complete joy in the breath and in the prana, your life-force energy, flowing through your body.

If you have difficulties meditating, talk to your instructor. There are many different methods and techniques to help you. And you will probably find that by becoming a stronger, more stable, more committed meditator (even if your practice is only 10 min. per day), it will greatly benefit your yogic practice as well. TRY THIS: Meditate for just 5 or 10 min. every morning, as soon as you get out of bed. You can set an alarm. Try to notice if it has a calming/positive effect on your morning and the rest of your day.

Life throws enough demands, busy times, and stress at us. As an act of self compassion, meditation can help us calmly and sanely deal with any area of our lives.


For a limited time, I am offering discounted massage sessions to my yoga students, and their families and friends. You MUST mention this offer when scheduling an appointment!

Currently, in town, the price of massage runs anywhere from $65/hour to $80/hour. I am offering One-Hour Thai OR traditional Table massages for $25. This is less than half-price, and if you've been feeling stiff, achy, or tense, either from intense yoga practice or from sitting at school/your office job, schedule an appointment with me and I can help you out!

If you have any questions regarding the differences between Thai and Table massage, or any other questions, comments, etc. please email me at

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pose of the Day: Backbends!

As you probably know, there are many varieties of backbends available to us. Supported Bridge, Up Bow, and Camel, to name just a few. There are also poses like Natarajasana (King Dancer) which have strong backbend elements to them.

No matter which backbend you are doing, keep your butt muscles engaged!! Those of you who practice with me have heard me say this over & over again, but it's because it's so important. Engaging the glutes protects the lower back. Think of contracting the back of your body to open the front of the body to the sky; open heart, long belly, open hips. Make sure to rest in between backbends with the knees in, spine in a reversed position.

What are some potential obstacles in backbend? One is lack of flexibility in the spine. The answer for this is more practice, challenging though it may be! Work closely with an instructor if you have a very rigid (or rigid area of your) spine. Another obstacle is lack of strength, usually in the arms. This needed strength can be built up by lowering down correctly through plank during Sun Salutations. Ask your teacher! Your instructor can show you other ways to strengthen these muscles, as well as how to use a strap to stabilize the arms. Fear can also be a tremendous obstacle here, especially if you have had a less-than-positive backbend experience in the past. As always, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Keep breathing. Backbending can be both physically and emotionally intense, as the heart expands and becomes open and vulnerable. Learn to trust your body, including when to challenge yourself, when to let go, and when to back off. Never hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it!

In general, students start off with Supported Bridge Pose. From there, you will likely progress to Up Bow. Up Bow can take several modifications; once it becomes easily accessible you can begin to walk the hands toward the feet, eventually grabbing one or both ankles. (**This is very advanced!!! Please do not attempt without an instructor!!**) But you don't have to be able to hold your ankles to begin to learn Drop-Backs. These often start with "walking down the wall" into a backbend. This helps us understand how the hips need to shift forward in order to counter-balance the weight of the body as it bends backward. Walking back UP the wall is harder, and requires very strong Bandhas and stomach muscles. Once you get the feeling of having a very stable base in the legs and hips, Drop-Backs without the wall are possible. Have an instructor assist you to a lessening degree, until you are completely in control of the backward descent. Again, coming back up is more challenging and requires Bandhas, belly strength, and a little momentum somtimes :)

Remember, always practice at your own level. Everything comes in time. With that being said, here is an awesome, must-see video to demonstrate the principles I've been talking about:
(thanks, people!!)

Not fighting the self

We battle with ourselves a lot. We know we should exercise/do homework/clean the kitchen/balance the checkbook and so on, but we don't! It's as if that part of ourselves that doesn't want to is overpowering us.

So, how do we overcome the inertia, the "I don't wanna" feeling, and meet our goals?

Our first inclination is to fight with ourselves. We think maybe if we argue with ourselves hard enough, we can force ourselves into doing the unpleasent thing. Once again, we've been taught that this is how to deal with unwillingness and procrastination. But, since it does not show compassion for the self, it's just another perpetuated myth. Being hard on yourself doesn't work, or if it does, only in a limited capacity. What it DOES do is make you feel bad about yourself! And that's never helpful. We need to move from a positive place.

Instead, try the radical stance of complete acceptance. When you accept that you feel lazy, undisciplined, and unwilling, you will also see the willingness, understanding, and compassionate energy capable of getting through practice/getting the job done, etc.

When your energy is no longer bound up in fighting yourself, there is an awful lot left over. What can you do with this energy? Well, there's yoga, meditation, cleaning, checkbook balancing... with still enough for painting, dancing, playing... anything you like!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"How do I know how hard to push myself?"

The question of how hard to push ourselves in practice is a difficult one to answer, and there are many factors to take into account. First of all, you should of course back off if you ever feel sharp pain in a pose. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we can be so disconnected or competitive that we will push through sharp pain. This is never a good idea. Listen to that pain and release or modify the pose. Call the instructor over if you want assistance.

Intensity, burn, "dull ache", and "dull pain" are sort of a different matter. Again, this is difficult because every person is different and experiences things differently, but normally it is ok to work through these sensations. One can even work fairly intensely if there is a good open dialogue with the body to ensure safe practice. As your practice deepens, it becomes more clear that working through these intense sensations is actually more of a challenge for the mind than the body. As you become more and more able to stay calm and focused on the breath, you will become more able to sit through very intense postures and deepen them.

Staying focused on the breath also helps us learn to drop our competitive nature, and our habits of "encouraging" ourselves with negative thinking (such as: "I could do this last time, so I HAVE to be able to do it right now!"). If we notice that we are pushing ourselves from a negative or competitive place, we should back off a little and observe this, just like we observe everything else that comes up. If feelings of inadequacy come up, we gently observe those, too. All of us have felt negative and inadequate, both on the mat and off. Through yoga, we can learn to remain connected to our divine self, regardless of what emotions are temporarily rearing their heads.

Challenging yourself positively in your practice allows you to move forward. You should practice as if the body were a very precious, priceless vehicle on loan to you (in essence, this is exactly what it is!). Do not take the body, its abilities, or its senses for granted. Do your best in each moment to focus and to maintain a positive attitude toward the breath and the pose. Positivity is like a muscle. If you do not practice it, you cannot draw on its strength when you need it.

We work the muscles themselves very hard during practice. Muscle tremors, shakes, and burning are not necessarily bad things. Sometimes we push through what feel like barriers of exhaustion. As long as we are aware, this is ok. Of course, we should not do things like try handstand for the first time on worn-out arms. But if we are familiar with the poses and practicing safely, we can keep going. If you need an outside perspective, check in with your teacher. He or she can help you determine what is available to you.

We should try to challenge our own individual habits. Ask yourself: "Do I tend to push myself to my limits, at the gym or in other areas of life?" Then perhaps you actually need to learn to be ok with pushing less. Ask yourself: "Do I tend to baby myself when I'm tired or when things feel hard?" If so, yoga is the perfect vehicle to allow you to strengthen your forbearance and stamina.

In the end, only you can decide how hard to push yourself, and this can and should vary with each practice. Just as with all things in life, we must continually seek out that balance between effort and ease.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Falling Asleep Tonight

Try this:
When you fall asleep tonight, use the Savasana meditation. Scan your body, checking in with each area, to see if you can gradually release any tightness until you feel incredibly heavy and relaxed.

Now, imagine you are resting in the hands of God, or the Goddess, or the Universe. Relax down even further. Feeling that which is greater than yourself support you with infinite love and compassion. Feeling unconditional peace and joy, take this with you into your sleep.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Non-attachment in the kitchen

Two dear friends of mine are in the kitchen, arguing about 'non-attachment' over a bag of chips. One claims that non-attachment equals "detachment", unfeeling and uncaring. The other tries to explain that non-attachment still allows us to care deeply; more deeply in fact than if our compassion is filtered through anger, sadness, or other emotions. Non-attachment simply means dropping our attachment to things being a certain way. When we are not attached to the outcomes of things, we are able to find joy and contentment in whatever happens. Of course, if there is injustice or suffering in the world, we must do what we can to alleviate it. But to identify with the source of the suffering, to take it into ourselves and let it turn our minds round and round as we fail to fall asleep... this is simply to create more suffering in the world: in ourselves. My friend arguing against non-attachment is absolutely correct in that we must never become complacent, we must always strive to create a better, more just, and more compassionate world. But his opponent is also correct. Whatsoever we witness in this world, we must practice gentle non-attachment in order not to create needless suffering in another creature (ourselves). This will allow us to move from the position of right-mind, taking the best course of action in the moment to help ease our fellow beings.   

...a continuation of yesterday's post

I ended yesterday's post by talking about recognizing our own habits, and changing those habits that do not fit with the way we'd like to live (and teach others to live) in this world. But of course, recognizing these habits and patterns is very hard, and often painful. Changing them can be even more so.

Many people think that meditation is supposed to instantly clear your mind. But this is not what happens, and not what should happen! Meditation (seated or moving) is an opportunity to witness the mad swirling of the mind in all its glory, and to say "Wow! I had no idea all that noise was constantly going on! I'm going to keep breathing as I watch it quiet down." It's a lot like when you have the TV on for background noise & you stop noticing it - but when you turn it off, the silence has a strong presence of its own.

Recognizing the mind's habits through the use of meditation and awareness practices, including yoga, may bring up many negative judgements about the self. It is very important to not listen to these judgements. They are just old baggage, and they are not in charge. If they were useful, they would have done something useful by now!! (Making you feel bad does not count!)

So what do we do when we see a negative pattern in ourselves? Instead of taking negative blame for it, we can take positive responsibility. This keeps us from blaming external circumstances while still practicing self-compassion. Gently congratulate the self for being willing to learn and change. The Universe is not against you! We are here to learn to overcome suffering, and to extend that knowledge to others.

The sooner you take ownership of the negative patterns in your life, the sooner you can disown them! Nothing in your past exists in your present, current-moment reality right now, so you can make any choice you want to. The past can evaporate into thin air, unless you choose to hold onto it. Ishvara Prandihana, as I referenced yesterday, is the "final surrender". Some take this to mean full, complete surrender to the yogic practice, some use it to mean total surrender to God/Goddess/The Divine, and others see no separation between the two. However you interpret the concept, surrendering to our practice, and breathing through any wobbles or intensity, brings ultimate joy, because there is no more fear and holding back, only engagement in the moment.


You are not your past actions.

You are not your past habits.

You are not how others see you or how they have treated you.

You are not what others have told you your "faults" are.

You are ONLY what you think and do in THIS moment.

And you are divine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breaking out of our Habits

Practicing yoga is a way to break our habit cycles and influence the direction of change in our lives. It's a slow and ongoing process. There is no end to self-development. It's work, step by step. The gift of yoga is that you don't have to jump to the top of the ladder. In fact, you can't; no one can. Just take the first step up. Don't worry about the last step. What is right there in front of you is the next step. So then the next step becomes obvious, achiveable. But if you try to figure out how to get to the top, you may become discouraged and stop trying.

We all reach points, both in yoga practice and in other areas of life where we think, "I give up." We feel it is all too much, we don't have the energy, we are in a rut, we can't move forward. This is a normal experience of being human. What's important is to find ways to move forward anyway, to break out of our rut, to challenge our habits.

The word "svadhyaya" comes from two Sanskrit words: sva, meaning "yourself", or "that which you really are", and adhyaya, meaning "to move forward, to go in the direction of, or return to". Svadhyaya means to move in the direction of your true self, to return to who you really are.
Svadhyaya implies knowing who you are in each present moment, and understanding what is best in your relationships with your partner, children, parents, teachers, students, employees, employers, etc. In asana practice, it's being present with the practice. Svadhyaya is being in "right relationship" with whatever is present.

Svadhyaya is also a form of meditation. Some popular forms of meditation practices have emphasized one-pointedness, or attention, which help us cultivate a focused mind; however, that doesn't necessarily help us resolve our behavior or relationship patterns. We need to challenge ourselves to do that. Thinking of our highest ideals for the world and the way creatures in it are treated, we must look honestly at ourselves and our actions to see if they support our ideals. If they do not, we must practice the yoga of right speech and right action to align ourselves. Alignment in speech and action is just as important as physical alignment on the mat. And when we falter, we try to remain compassionate with the self.

Svadhyaya has to do with self reflection and the journey into who we truly are. Ishvara Pranidhana deals with attitudes and it manifests in the way we handle situations. Do we have an attitude of openness & acceptance? Do we have the internal strength and stability to maintain that attitude of openness in our hearts, even in the midst of suffering and change? We see people every day that naturally possess this heart-opening and connecting ability, and because of that, they are able to be there and help others. Suffering does not have to close us off. It can help us open, to heal self and other. We can break out of the habits of suffering and negativity, and learn how to extend accptance and joy to everyone we meet, in any situation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quotes of the Day

"Yoga exsists in the world because everything is linked." -Desikashar

"Do your practice and all is coming." -Sri K. Pattahabi Jois ('Guruji' to Ashtangis!)

"Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory." -Sri K. Pattahabi Jois

"Before you've practiced, the theory is useless. After you've practiced, the theory is obvious." -David Williams

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." -Albert Einstein

Friday, August 22, 2008

Saturday Class: Mini Thai Massages!

Join me for Full Series Ashtanga practice tomorrow, Saturday, from 4-6pm. I will be offering a taste of Thai Massage during Savasana!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Quote of the day

One of my favorite pieces of writing by the incomparable Kahlil Gibran (the text of his book of collected writings, "The Madman", is available through the Gutenberg Project at
The Astronomer

In the shadow of the temple my friend and I saw a blind man sitting alone. And my friend said, "Behold the wisest man of our land."

Then I left my friend and approached the blind man and greeted him. And we conversed. After a while I said, "Forgive my question; but since when has thou been blind?"
"From my birth," he answered.
Said I, "And what path of wisdom followest thou?"
Said he, "I am an astronomer."

Then he placed his hand upon his breast saying, "I watch all these suns and moons and stars."

There is a whole universe within. We are all infinite. All we need to do is be still, and look.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Say Yes!

For one day, try this:

Say yes to your life. Meet each experience with all the love and acceptance you can muster, inside and out, body, mind, and feelings. On and off the mat, welcome everything with a loving heart.

If you stumble, practice self-compassion. Appreciate yourself for being willing to try this meditation.

When we stop fighting, when we stop struggling and complaining and making ourselves miserable because that's the way we're used to getting through a day... when we drop all these things, peace and joy remain.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Witnessing instead of Judging

"You have been taught that there is something wrong with you, and that you are imperfect, but there isn't, and you're not."
-Cheri Huber

From a very early age, when we are still tiny, helpless, and dependent on our caretakers, we heard things like this all the time: "Stop that!" "Cut it out!" "You're driving me crazy!" "Shame on you." "I'm so disappointed." "Why don't you ever think?" "What will it take to teach you a lesson?" "I've done so much for you and what thanks do I get?" "Too bad, you deserve it."

Even parents who are kind and loving say these things sometimes. Why? Partly because they're just human, but mostly because the same thing was done to them. They believe that those types of statements and negative energy are necessary parts of socialization. But they're not. They just teach us that we're fundamentally flawed, when we're not!

We are encouraged to look for flaws in ourselves, to judge those flaws & feel negatively about them - maybe even hate ourselves - and to then punish ourselves mentally, physically, &/or emotionally until we change. BUT! Judgement and punishment do NOT work to create change.

What we DO need to learn is: To love ourselves unconditionally, to appreciate ourselves fully for who we are, to have confidence in our own abilities, and to trust our own heart for guidance in life. Many of us have been told, directly or indirectly, that living this way is somehow self-centered. It is not. Living this way is the path to true love and kindness for the Self and all others.

We often feel fearful, angry, anxious, irritated, disappointed, etc. These negative emotions can often arise during yoga practice, as I've discussed before. Why does this happen? Yoga helps us practice witnessing the mind and all its movements. Throughout the day we use the mind and the intellect to steer us toward what we want to (or have to) focus on, and to suppress or steer away from things we don't want to deal with. During practice, we are witnessing the mind and the breath simply as they come, without judgement. That means that if a negative thought arises, we don't try to instantly shove it away. It has arisen because it needs to be experienced, dealt with, and then released. This release cannot be forced.

These negative emotions and self-concepts are NOT who we are. They are simply a result of what happened to us. It is sad that this happened to us, but we are stronger now, and all of it can be let go. The problem is, it's hard to let go, because it feels like letting go of a part of the self! Even though it's not, it's been there for so long that it feels all tangled up with your identity. For some people, letting go of things like shame, self-loathing, a negative outlook, etc. can feel like losing an arm! Some people are not ready to move past their own negativity. That's OK. But it is possible for each and every one of us to live in joy, happiness, compassion and contentment. If you are practicing yoga, you are already headed in that direction. Keep going!

So, what do you do when Negativity rears its head during your practice? First of all, keep breathing, maintain your focus, and remember that these thoughts or images, like everything, are only temporary. They WILL pass. You WILL feel better! Secondly, it's important to understand that negative mind chatter NEVER has any helpful information for you! It is nonsense, and should not be believed. You can think of it almost as a separate entity with its own adgenda: it is going to keep bugging you so you pay attention to it! And when you pay attention to it, you are feeding all those old negative feelings from childhood. Even though this feels awful on one level, it feels familiar and safe on a deep level, because of those childhood experiences we all had. We need to learn to not feed negative thoughts AND not to judge or turn against the Self for having them. They should simply be witnessed and allowed to pass away as with all other thoughts, like birds flying across a clear sky and into the distance. But negative emotions are especially difficult. This is where we need to separate the Witness from the chattering mind. The chattering mind is upset. But the Witness is always detatched and compassionate. We can all connect with this internal Witnessing mind and use it to deal calmly and compassionately with any situation, internal or external. If you take the most frightening thing in the world and invite it in, put your arms around it, sit still with it, and love it, what is there left to be frightened of? We are scared of our emotions because they can be painful. But living with repressed self-hate that breaks through to the surface sometimes is even more painful. At some point, now or later, you're going to have to really look and really deal with your emotions to see what's underneath, i.e., your true Self. And I am happy to be able to promise you this: it is a flawless, shining jewel.

Quote of the day

From song lyrics by Daisy May, a Michigan based musician I adore:

Oh my brother, don't give up on the world
Just know you can't seek shelter outside of yourself
Oh my sister, don't you get so low
Build a home within you, take it with you when you go

Wherever we go, there we are....

Friday, August 8, 2008

The physical benefits of your practice

When practiced on a regular and frequent basis, Ashtanga yoga has many physical benefits. It can actually slow the resting pulse rate and lower your blood pressure. It can increase the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the muscles, move the anaerobic threshold further away, release toxins from the body, improve overall balance, heighten awareness, build strength without making muscles bulky, increase stamina, and help in regaining lost flexibility.

To increase these benefits, do not practice on a full stomach - this is uncomfortable and will impede your practice! It's also important to be well-hydrated, of course, and the best way to do this is to start when you get out of bed, even if class isn't until the evening. Hydration happens over a period of time, not instantaneously. So it's best to be truly hydrated thoughout the day and ready for practice, rather than having a belly sloshing with water during class :) Some teachers even discourage drinking water right before or during class at all, because they feel this "puts out the fire" that we are trying to build up in the body. But, if you feel thirsty during class, I highly encourage you to listen to your body & compassionately give it what it needs.

If at any time you feel uncomfortable with a pose, don't do it! Flag me down and I will be more than happy to suggest modifications or alternatives. Practicing in a safe, positive, and healthy way is of the utmost importance.

This is probably just a reminder to most of you, but it's good to keep in mind! Every practice is different. Things that feel easy or available one day may not the next. Rather than viewing that as a problem, we use the opportunity to remain present in the moment, check in with the body, and do what's most beneficial in THAT MOMENT.

If you practice on a regular basis, you will see amazing transformations not only in the body, but also in the mind. In fact, one of the greatest mental benefits of yoga is that it allows us to slow the mind down enough to appreciate those slow, sometimes unnoticed transformations with great clarity.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quotes of the Day

"The witnessing soul is like the sky. The birds fly in the sky but they don't leave any footprints... [The] man who is awakened lives in such a way that he leaves no footprints... he never looks ahead, he never looks back, he lives in the moment." -Osho

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." -Lao Tzu

"Asanas [poses] are a microcosm of life. They are miniature worlds filled with all the forms [and challenges] of the world at large. Our ability to thrive amidst those forms can be improved through the artful awareness developed in yoga practice." -Sharon Gannon & David Life

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Join me for Full Series Saturday!

Just a little reminder/invitation to our Full Series class from 4 - 6 p.m. today (Saturday)!

Also, on a different note, check out the 2 Surya Namaskar videos linked on the left :)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Seva Yoga

"Seva" yoga is usually translated into English as "service". However, the word "service" does not really capture the essence of the word seva. Seva is much more than donating money to a charity, for instance (not that I am discouraging donations to worthwhile charities!).

A guru by the name of Swami Niranjan explains that the word seva is made up of two words: 'saha' and 'eva'. Saha means 'with that' and eva means 'too'. The word "seva" means 'together with' and describes those actions that seek collective upliftment through an understanding of the needs of others, and are based on togetherness and integration. Seva is an expression of compassion, of the desire to uplift and assist people.

Seva is selfless service. But the whole "collective" and "togetherness" bits make some people think you need to live in an Ashram to do it. On the contrary. There are people all over the world practicing seva yoga right now. You can practice with them. Also, if you begin to practice it by yourself, even those around you who are not aware of what you're doing will begin to respond differently. Herein lies the magic. It turns the focus away from the self. One begins to be very present & does not let the Ego-mind wander to past or future.

Seva can be offering a smile. Seva can be holding a compassionate space for a friend during times of trouble. Seva can be saving a worm from a puddle in the rain. Why would you save a worm? Because you understand that you and the worm are connected, on many levels. Just as connected as you are to your human friends. Worms till the soils that grow our food, that same soil where our bodies end up one day. By returning the worm to dry earth, you have just directly uplifted and assisted many people, though they do not know it. And the worm itself has presented you this karmic opportunity to be its rescuer; an opportunity to practice compassionate seva. No act of compassion is too small. So the real question, the one people don't often think about, is: why would you abandon a worm? If your response is anything like "I'd be too busy" or "it's gross" or "who cares?" then you haven't quite grasped how truly interconnected we are in this universe.

We are all made up of the same things; us, the soil, the trees, the worms. Call it carbon or stardust, we are all the same, just passing through different forms at different times. So from that viewpoint, seva becomes very easy. Working to understand and uplift ourselves automatically serves those around us, due to our innate interconnection. From this stance, when we want good for ourselves, it is unselfish. We want good for the world. Seva burns away the Ego. The practice of seva yoga transforms the personality in the same way that the practice of asana can transform the physical body.

Initially with asana, we confront an image of the body that the mind has created. This image persists due to a lack of awareness and understanding about the reality of the physical manifestation that is the body. This image that we have of the components of our bodies and what we can do with them, their mobility, flexibility and strength, is mostly illusory. With seva, we confront the mind itself and our (again, illusory) idea of who we are. We come to understand that the 'self-centered' Ego-mind is not our true nature. Rather, our true nature is to remain in non-judgmental constant connection with everything. This is the state that yogis call Samadhi - Bliss.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dealing with Emotions

After a little discussion on dealing with the different types of thoughts that may arise during yogic practice, and how to work with them, it's now time to discuss the emotions that may arise for us during practice.

As with thoughts, emotions are transitory - fleeting. But while you are experiencing them, they seem to be lasting an eternity. Especially the negative ones! Some people think that yoga practice is no place for negative emotions, or they try to use the practice to make the negative feelings disappear. This is not a wise effort. On the contrary, yoga practice is a GREAT time & place to deal with negative emotions, because we can start to see them for what they really are, rather than just blaming outside circumstances.

Some negative emotions that I (and countless others) have felt during practice: boredom, irritation, restlessness, fear, anger, hatred, self-loathing, teacher-loathing, loathing of the human condition, frustration, and that sense of just wanting to give up!! I am sharing this to demonstrate how normal it is for these emotions to arise. But whereas off the mat we might deal with these by shouting at the driver in front of us or arguing with our significant other, on the mat we learn to deal with them by BREATHING THROUGH them, and observing them as they pass. Over time, we learn that even the most intense negative emotions will pass quickly if treated with non-attached compassion and respect. Then, instead of making rude gestures at the bad driver in front of us, which drains US of our prana, we maintain our sense of mental and energetic balance and continue our practice throughout the day.

Speaking of mental balance, I had a great opportunity to practice in Ana's wonderful class last night. Many of you have heard me joke that right vs. left is not my strong suit, and neither are balance poses. Well, this is true, and has been getting more challenging due to medication I take that causes muscle tremors. Long story short, I could not maintain a single balance pose for longer than 3 seconds. My "monkey mind" started hurling some nasty (if creative) insults at me for this. For a moment, I agreed with its dismal assessment of my abilities. But then, 'yoga mind' and the breath came to my rescue. During each balance pose, after my best 3-second attempt at it, I stood in Samasthiti (Tadasana) and breathed fire into my breath and bandhas. A tiny piece of my "monkey mind" was worried about what others would think. But once again, I let that slide away & practiced my own powerful internal practice when needed.

Positive emotions can also be challening during practice, but in a different way. I may not have a good sense of balance, but I've always been flexible, so I immediately loved bendy asanas. However, this kept me stuck for a while, wanting to practice only the poses that felt good or were easy to do, while ignoring other poses. Eventually and with much patience, my teacher got me past this point.

If you feel sadness, feel it. Don't block it out. It may not seem so, but it is a gift, an opportunity to see more clearly. If you feel extreme happiness, feel it to its fullest! It too is a wonderful gift! Use your yogic practice to lessen your attachment to both negative and positive emotions, so that you are not at their mercy. Then, when emotionally-charged situations arise, you will be able to respond, rather than mindlessly react.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Yoga Smile :)

Did you know it's ok to smile during yoga practice? Even Ashtanga :)

But a yoga smile is a little bit different than the smiles we normally give out during the day. Those smiles have a social function; they help connect us to people and reinforce friendships and relationships. But the yogic smile is an inwardly-directed smile. It's a sort of inner dialogue. Just as with the Drishtis (gazing points), we are less concerned about the outside world than with our internal environment.

A soft, inwardly-directed smile during practice can do many things. Firstly, it can soften the muscles of the face, which often become unnessicarily tense due to the vigorous practice.

The yogic smile can also be used to diffuse thoughts that arise. If negative thoughts arise during an asana, do not fight them. Instead, gently smile at these thoughts, and they will start to recede. Soothe any fear, pain, or negativity as if it were a small child, deserving of boundless empathy. We are all deserving of this boundless empathy and acceptance, but it is hard to find out in the world. The BIG SECRET is that it is already abundant, in yourself! The jewel is in the lotus. You are perfect as you are. Smile inwardly, absorbing this knowledge into your being.

This inward smile can also be used to calm competitive, best-strongest-fastest thoughts; the type which Western sports considers to be a good mind-set. In a yogic view, these thoughts are really no more 'positive' than the 'negative' ones mentioned earlier, because they are very much wrapped up in attachment to certain outcomes. If you can only be happy based on a certain external outcome, your happiness is not under your own control. Learning to find happiness, compassion, and contentment is the ultimate goal of yogic practice. Learn to smile through your "easiest" and "hardest" poses, dropping judgement and offering full compassion to the self.

Off the mat, the inward smile can be extraordinarily helpful whenever you are feeling frustrated, annoyed, angry, etc. in the store, on the road, or wherever you are. Your chest probably feels tight. You might be teary-eyed. Try to disconnect with the ego-component that is viewing this frustration so personally. Try to smile at the part of you that understands that this is all temporary, that the world is unfolding exactly as it should. You are an amazing being with a divine right to be here. Smiling with compassion toward yourself gives you almost boundless energy to extend this smiling energy toward everyone you meet.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thanks for a great Saturday class!

Just want to say thank you to everyone who came to the Full Series Ashtanga class on Saturday. It was a pleasure and a priviledge to go through the whole series with you! Any and all who are interested, please join us from 4-6pm this coming Saturday! I'm already looking forward to it! :)

(Note: Regular classes are Mon 7:30-9pm and Wed 5:30-7pm, as usual.)

Dealing with thoughts

Yoga is more about training the mind than the body. During our practice, we learn how to not get caught up in thoughts, but instead, how to drop them and become free of them. There are only five kinds of thoughts: Of all the countless thought impressions that come into the mind field, which form the matrix of the barrier or veil covering the true Self (or center of consciousness), they all fall into one or more of these five categories. In other words, while there are many individual thought impressions, there are not countless types of thoughts to deal with, but only five. This can help greatly in seeing the underlying simplicity of the process of Yoga, not getting lost in the apparent multiplicity in the gross and subtle realms.

Pramana: right
Viparyaya: wrong
Vikalpa: imagined
Nidra: deep sleep
Smriti: memory

Witnessing the five kinds of thoughts: By learning to observe the thinking process, and then to discriminate between these five types of mental objects, we start to gain a mastery over them, and their ability to control our actions, speech, and thoughts.

With mastery of witnessing: As that mastery comes within reach, we gradually find a neutral, non-attached (Sutras 1.15, 3.38) stance of witnessing, where we can observe the entire flow of mind, while remaining peacefully undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved. Meditation can systematically deepen.

Without mastery of witnessing: Without that mastery, we become victims to our own unconscious mental process, losing free choice in external life as well as the ability to experience deep meditation.

Friday, July 25, 2008


From 4 - 6pm. Hope to see you there!
:) -LD

Drop all doing

Spirituality, as Osho says, is a flowering. It is the ultimate energetic luxury. Only when things are overflowing with vitality & prana do they bloom. Throughout our day, our energy goes on leaking out - drained out of us by what we do, wasted on small annoyances and petty grievances. People talk just to talk, having no sense of the innate energy of silence. We cannot sit still. We are obsessed with "doing", we cannot stop doing. This is what we have to drop in yoga. Drop the doing. Drop the striving. Find a place to 'just be' in each pose. And then, having dropped all the unnecessary things, you will find you start blooming, as if out of nowhere.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

UPDATE on Saturday Full Series Class

We are definitely still going ahead with the Full Primary Series class starting this Saturday, July 26th. For this week, we will keep the 4pm time slot, but if you would prefer the class to be earlier, we DO have the option of moving it up to as early as 1:30-3:30pm, if this fits people's Saturday schedules better. (Thanks, Ana!!) If this interests you, PLEASE leave me a comment here, send me an email, or talk to me on Saturday.

I'm so greatly looking forward to sharing the First Series with you in its entirety! I promise you'll feel amazing afterward :)


Sunday, July 20, 2008

NEW! Saturday Full Series Class!

I'm pleased to announce that, as you may have seen in the recent A2 email, there is going to be a Full Primary Series class on Saturdays, starting next week (the 26th). The class will run from 4-6pm, and can be approached from 2 basic angles: practicing the full first series with whatever modifications needed and ending at 6pm, OR practicing Mysore style, i.e. going until there is an asana that you cannot do and then going to finishing poses at your own time and pace. 

I invite you to join me on Saturday at 4pm! Ashtanga experience helpful but not necessary. See you then!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Full Series Class update: July 26th?

Hi :) It looks like we might be holding the (first) Full Series Ashtanga Class from 4-6pm on July 26th! Let me know via comments or email if this is a time/date you can make, or if the after noon of the 27th would be better instead. THANKS!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sun A: It's all in the details

Whether you're new to Ashtanga or a seasoned practitioner, there is always new ground to be discovered in the simple things. Here is a wonderful video that goes through Suryanamaskara A in precise detail (copy & paste this link):

Try doing three of these at home every day, especially if you only take classes once or twice a week. You'll really start gaining strength and fluidity. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Moving meditation: You don't have to sit still

I had several reasons for getting involved in yoga, but one was my inability to meditate. Simply put, I could not sit still for longer than 10 seconds. I marveled at this inability of mine. The task seemed so simple: just sit. But it was unbearable for me, to the point that I would jump up and start to scratch my arms and sides as if there were ants all over me. My nervous system felt completely overwhelmed. And everything I read on meditation stressed that forcing things would lead nowhere, so I felt stuck. Until I realized that mediation could be practiced in motion.

I saw a video of monks practicing walking meditation in their monestary garden, and immediately started practicing in my own living room. I had always been a pacer, but now each step brought my mind with it into the present, keeping it anchored, the flitting thoughts of past & future less and less disruptive. Bringing the concept of moving meditation into my yoga practice transformed it completely. I had been gaining strength and flexibility, but I still struggled with my tumultuous, competitive, brewing thundercloud of a mind. Truly learning to link each movement to a deliberate Ujjayi breath allowed my mind to become peaceful at last, contentedly flowing with the breath.

I have told students that if I could give them the gift of a quiet mind, I would! But not only can it not be gifted, it cannot even really be adequately described, because words cease to be the connection to the world. Instead, you are directly connected to everything, without the veils of language, social convention, etc. Plugged in directly to the source. And we are all wired to do this. But again, "do" is the wrong word. It is more akin to not-doing, to dropping all patterns. A little like the moment you stop trying to see the optical illusion and then, there it is, as it was all along. You were just on a different wavelength! A contemporary monk remarks, "in meditation, the convention of personality starts to unfold into energetic patterns; patters that are ephemeral but karmically potent when they're held onto... You experience yourself more like an energetic sphere of sensitivity than as a 6-foot tall vertebrate who's a man or a woman. The mind itself becomes different; something that's part of what's going on, not something separate thing that makes judgments about it."

The yogic system of breath, bandhas, and asanas has been around as long as it has because it works. As Sutra 1.2 tells us, Yoga is the mastery and integration of the activities of mind. So even if your mind still feels loud and incessant, keep practicing. Do so especially if this is the case, since the difference you will experience will be profound. And eventually, you'll be able to sit, with a quiet mind. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jalandhara bandha

Continuing our discussion of the Bandhas, which seems to be popular according to the little poll on the left, the Yoga Sutras tell us that "Jalandhara bandha catches the flow of nectar in the throat". On a fundamental health level, Jalandhara bandha can be used to reduce throat inflammation, tonsilitis, etc. It also opens up physical and energetic channels up the back of the neck, while compressing these channels in the front of the throat. Holding this position causes prana and nerve impulses to collect in the cervical plexus of the throat, and when the bandha is released, they flood into the skull, activating higher centers in the brain.

Jalandhara banda becomes especially important once the Kundalini energy really begins to make its way up the spine. Kundalini energy is its own creature, and it behaves like one: it has been asleep for a long time, and so it does not wake easily. It must be awoken, again and again like a sleepy child, until at last it comes out of its slumber and begins to journey upward. As you work with prana and Kundalini energy during your practice, you can use Mulabandha and Uddiyana bandha to lift the energy up through the body, and Jalandhara bandha to keep it flowing upward with each inhale, not letting any "slip back down" with the exhales. Visualize holding this precious pool of nectar at the base of the throat, using the energy lock.

Going back to Western medicine, the activation of Jalandhara bandha is a means to consciously control the body's metabolism. Activating this bandha applied pressure to the thyroid, which secretes the hormone thyroxine (T4). T4 is responsible for the rate of tissue metabolism - that is, nutrient consumption, cell turnover, and tissue aging. The influence of T4 goes right down to the microscopic level where it activates enzymes and oxidation in cells. "Massaging" the thyroid by using Jalandhara bandha helps regulate this organ & keep it in good health. We begin to connect with the body's processes on a very deep level, a cellular level. So whether we want to use the traditional yogic visualization of a pool of nectar in the throat, or to think about the T4 hormone being regulated, this third bandha offers us tremendous physical and energetic health benefits.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Uddiyana bandha

If you've been to my classes, you've heard me refer to Uddiyana bandha as the "flying-up energy lock". Physically, it involves pulling your navel in toward your spine, scooping those muscles upward to lift the energy further up through the body. Taking Uddiyana bandha also has the effect of shifting the breathing to the upper chest, creating a perfect platform for Ujjayi breath. If you're still having trouble visualizing what Uddiyana bandha looks and feels like, here is an example (warning: advanced yogi!! Yours does NOT have to look like this! This is to demonstrate the principal):

So, what are the benefits of holding Uddiyana bandha throughout our practice? Well, in yoga, engaging this bandha increases the power of the core. Thus, it becomes easier to hold many postures such as balancing postures. It also tones, cleanses and massages the internal digestive organs, leading to healthier digestion. And, very importantly, it serves to continue the upward movement of Kundalini energy through the body. Learning to engage both Mulabandha and Uddiyana bandha continuously throught practice leads to incredible strength, stamina, and stability in asanas. As you engage these bandhas, feel yourself literally grow taller and more open through the chest. Feel the breath grow deeper. Take this length and openness with you to work, to the bank, to the grocery store - wherever you go. Notice how managing your energy in this way, in this upward direction, leads to increasingly positive energy exchanges with both others and yourself. Be the peace you want to see in this world. There are many ways. This is one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

First Series: From start to finish!!

Hi everyone!
I've recently been discussing with Ana the possibility of holding "Full First Series" classes or workshops. Each session would be 2 hours long, to allow us time to practice the First Series all the way through. I'm not exactly sure how we'd run the classes; maybe once a month, or more/less depending on interest. Speaking of which - please LET ME KNOW if you'd be interested in these Full First Series sessions! Email me, leave a comment, or tell me in person at the studio. I've already gotten a 'yes' from 3 people, and if we get a few (or a lot!) more, then we can do this!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Grounding: Mulabandha

I've been talking about Mulabandha a lot in class recently. Mulabandha is the energy lock we control with the pelvic muscles. The chakra itself is called Muladhara. This root chakra is of utmost importance in Ashtanga yoga, and in the chakra system as a whole. Just as every building needs a stable base, a strong root chakra supports those above it. We humans are vertical creatures, an unusual orientation in this world, and one that stacks the chakras in a vertical column. Our Kudalini energy lies sleeping in Muladhara. Through yoga & bandha control, we can awaken this energy and help it move upward, through each of the chakras, toward its original source, the Whole. Grounding ourselves through Muladhara and extending energy up the spine, we become a vertical bridge between earth and sky, an energy conduit. With this transcendent energy flowing in us and through us, we can really feel and deeply understand the inter-connectedness of all things. We can see that we are much more than our roles, our lables, our possesions and our thoughts. Enlightenment is right here, if we ground ourselves long enough to look around.