Mala Puja

My first mala was a silver capped Rudraksha I ordered on the internet about twelve years ago. It’s a half mala made of 54 beads and doesn’t fit all the way around my wrist in the bohemian chic yoga fashion we have all come to know and love, but it’s a good mala anyway. I learned there is such a thing as Shiva, mantra, and prayer beads as a necessary accessory simultaneously – I shopped immediately and with abandon.

I chose the silver, chain linked number for the same reason I bought that shirt with the zipper all the way up the back that time – style and function. By my estimation, if it’s chain linked then my mala isn’t likely to break, which back then would have been a travesty because I didn’t yet know how to make or repair them. This mala needed to be sturdy because I was hell on wheels; determined to do both spiritual practice and maintain the half drunk social life I cultivated all the way back in beauty school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to do my japa (mantra repetition) in the CVS parking lot where I bought my cigarettes on my way to the bar.

This mala, in particular, has seen the best and the worst I have ever had to offer. This mala witnessed nightmare boyfriends, all night benders and career changes at the speed of light. It was with me in teacher training and the first time I went to Kashi Atlanta; I wore this mala around my neck and I felt both conspicuous and liberated.

At some point, I wanted a new mala. This is when I decided to learn how to make my own and the rest is history. I make prayer beads all the time now; for sale, for gifts, for friends and teachers in training and I feel very lucky to to do it. That first mala is something special because I realized it could be done, that I could envision it and then have it in hand. It is black ebony with gold flecked acrylic accent beads and a black and gold elephant charm beneath a small Rudraksha (the same brown seed bead of which my first ever mala was entirely made) – this mala looks like it should be around Michelle Pfriffer’s neck in Married to the Mob.

married to the mob

You may wonder whatever happened to that unbreakable chain linked mala that got me all the way to the cushion to begin with? When I learned that it’s appropriate to drape a mala over a picture of a beloved Teacher or Guru, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t know how long those Rudraksha beads circled Neem Karoli’s image, but it seems like a long time. The silver began to look dull and the tiny dog tag with Shiva in place of a tassel tarnished so it was hard to make out the image of the meditating Lord.

I’m not sure exactly when, but that mala fell into a tea light so that two of the silver capped beads were coated in white wax. I wasn’t sure how to clean wax out of the crevices of Rudraksha beads and, having decided that it lent an authentic, well loved took to my altar, left them alone until last week when I wrote “clean wax off mala” on my to-do list in my dot journal.

I don’t know what inspired me to add this to my to-do list, but once it was there I felt like I should actually do it. I’d moved the mala from the wood frame to the bowl of a blue lotus candle holder once I decided to clean it, and I retrieved it from its ceramic cradle last night. I looked dubiously at the tarnished metal, uncertain of my plan to rehabilitate it and not even sure why I felt inclined.

Alas, I took it to the kitchen sink over which I began to pick at the wax with my thumb nail. I was delighted that it flaked off easily enough, but there was still the matter of more deeply embedded wax. My plan was to boil it out with hot tap water, which worked like a charm. The wax melted out of the small channels of the dark beads quickly.

I turned on the cold tap and gathered the mala in my hand so the water could wash like prayers over the entire strand and with the cool water running over my hands my mind wandered back to Kashi. I thought about the Kali puja I attended with my Teacher. It was the February weekend workshop that culminated in a timeless practice of devotion through which I sang kirtan among my friends.

I witnessed my Teacher offer her hands to the care of Kali in the temple where we practice and learn. The room was awash in sunlight but we were all transfixed by the devotion and offering of time and attention taking place before us. There were candles and incense, fruit and chocolate, ghee poured onto a flame, there was a garland and flowers for the Mother. There was a palpable awareness that none of us would ever be the same.

Like the snap back of the space/time rubber band, I realized standing at the sink with my hands and prayer beads in running water that to practice puja means to take care, to tend to, to attend to. In a flash, this realization changed the whole feeling of cleaning this mala from the physical removal of debris to an act of devotion to that which is in service of the Divine. What else is a Mala meant to serve?

I dried this mala and noticed it felt lighter and sparkly, though the beads remained dark from the recent flood of water and years of use. I oiled the beads with jasmine oil and a silent passage of mantra over the beads to tune into the mantra, the mala and the Divine. I spent some time polishing that silver tag bearing Shiva’s likeness so that the tarnish lightened to a patina.

I realize as much as I have wanted to be told what book to read or which website might teach me about puja, it’s actually something that dawns like light in the heart. I might have been told a million times in a thousand lives, but having been shown is like the equivalent of muscle memory in the energy body – retrievable, irreversible, immanent. It is actually and absolutely the product of Grace.

But with this information regarding puja, it opens the practice of puja to limitless possibilities. Even self care can be a form of puja to the Divine dwelling within the body; drink plenty of water, eat good food, walk on the Earth.

Make effort on behalf of the good.

Give your full attention whenever possible.

As my Guru would conclude her emails, “This is my puja, and this is my prayer.”

Sunlight made visible
the whole length of a sky,
movement of wind,
leaf, flower, all six colours
on tree, bush and creeper:
all this
is the day’s worship.

Night and day
in your worship
I forget myself
O lord white as jasmine. 

 

 

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What Does the Moon Think?

A little while ago, whilst sitting in meditation, I was thinking…

I have this marvelous space for meditation. It’s in the corner near the bed with a low writing table to my left so that when I sit down to practice all manner of witchy yogi things, I’m enclosed and low to the ground, thus facilitating a baseline sense of security. My meditation table in front of me is long and nearly as low as my writing table. The blue wood surface is covered with images of importance; murtis (deity statues), photographs, gemstones, malas…

I have back pain in the upper back, somewhere in the neighborhood of my shoulder blades. This pain is probably from restaurant work, wherein I heft trays laden with food to and fro. Sometimes, this ache makes sitting tall and straight a challenge, so I recently contrived a seat against the wall near the bed, still within energetic reach of my meditation table and all of the meaningful accouterments thereupon. It is fortunate that from this vantage I may view pictures of my Teacher, my Guru and a stone Ganesha on the wall.

I’m reminded of my recent visit to Kashi Florida, the ashram where the Teacher of my Heart studied and where I just went on retreat during Durga Puja – the culmination of nine nights of celebration in honor of the Divine Mother. Temples abound in Kashi Florida; you can’t go to lunch without walking by several sacred spaces and, in truth, the entire field of houses and green is sacred, holy ground.

While I was in Kashi, I had a different sense of myself, as though self-awareness mingled with a dream. I ambled into a treeline and appeared on the other side at a yoga studio in the jungle; green and welcoming like the small shala, which means home abode of Yoga. I might find the path around the Ganga pond and peer into a thick ring of bamboo sheltering the large golden Buddha, an expanse of crystal at his knees. Perhaps I enter a home residence and, walking through the kitchen, find myself in the theater of study where Ma Jaya taught, teaches still, before a tall glossy black Kali who summons me to her feet.

In the midst of these spaces, ideas don’t so much encroach. To-do lists crumple and burn like parchment on hot coals. My what-might-have-been mentality, which haunts the corners of my mind like newly made ghosts, decays into the rich dark soil that feeds the jungle shrubs where The Mother dances, just off the path to the dining hall. I can feel that space now, evoked by the writing, and errant thoughts float away like petals cast onto the quiet surface of water. Each question of my mind is answered with another question made more sacred for the asking; why was all of that running around so important? What was bothering me so?

Oh, yes, thinking in meditation.

Back home again, my work is to continue to remember that feeling and freedom and bring it through my own life. Is this really even work, come to think of it? It is the only work that matters, I have decided.

Dear Reader, unless you are brand new to my posts, you are well aware that my work has confounded me and made me feel misplaced. I have had ideas about myself that I am not always sure how to align with my reality, so I flail around and make decisions  without all of the necessary information.

It was upon these ideas about myself I was contemplating whilst trying to meditate with my back against the wall. My small white dog made herself comfortable at my shins, not unlike the large crystal mountain range below the Buddha in the bamboo garden. Here I’m breathing into my heart, submitting my thoughts to the churn of that space in spite of the pesky protests the mind sees fit to produce.

As though from on high, a thought unoriginal to the low mind illuminates the moment; The Moon has no idea of itself and there is nothing else like it in the cosmos. There are other moons, how many does Saturn have? But none like ours… there is not another like ours. It shines radiant and full or collapses into the thinnest sliver, finding in its own darkness a well of renewal and replenishes us all with its draw on the tide.

This new train of thought is bright, like moonlight without the competition of garish streetlights. I am emboldened, thinking of the Sun, which has no idea of itself, either, but is simply bright and burning as a constant service to us all.  And there are stars, each unique in its combustion and placement, not a one contemplates its future or its distant, molten past.

Closer to Earth, I think of the black cat I adore. She sleeps unself-consciously, never doubting for a moment that she will be nourished with food and love. She does not question the path that lead her to me, or me to her; she has no idea about herself perhaps other than Love and being Loved as a feeling of wisdom in the language she speaks. My little dog at my shins dozes without the intrusion of ideas, just simple awareness of our nearness.

Granted, who am I to know what the Sun and the Moon are thinking? Who am I to say what the Cat knows? I don’t know, except that I know myself to be a disciple of the Sun, I am the Moon’s daughter, the Cat and I are Sacred Companions. I am learning that ideas are vastly different from inspiration; ideas can be unyielding, inspiration can expand and contract, like the breath, so it is life giving and sacred. An idea may only be acted upon, inspiration moves through us and we act of its behalf. I think, more than anything, ideas come from the outside in, from points of reference. I think inspiration is a gift from the inside out, like a heart beat’s cosmic reverberation.

I think ideas are meant to be guideposts until we can listen from the inside, thereafter to answer and call forth inspiration through the art of our practices, so we can see the path that leads into the treeline, and follow that narrow trail of rich Earth all the way home to ourselves.

 

 

 

Kicking Up Into Headstand and Other Bad Advice

queen

Sitting at my dark-wood roll-top desk, legs crossed under me on a grey armless chair, I turn my head to see Queen on SiriusXM radio, Another One Bites the Dust. I keep it on the 80’s on 8 channel because, you know. The volume is muted so I have to look at the album cover to see what’s playing. It makes no sense, I know, but neither does a lot of things.

When I was twenty-four, I worked at Dillard’s salon. Retail cosmetology is the absolute worst, the only consolation the multitude of stores in which to spend money while I await the promised clientele. At the same time, I dated an idiot who I let convince me I should become a real estate agent. As advice goes, this was pretty bad.

As a twenty-five year old real estate agent I was just terrible. I didn’t even do all the post licensing rigmarole because the National Association of Realtors took all my money in exchange for access to house listings and a lapel pin in the shape of an “R”. By the way, it’s pronounced “real-TOR!” and not “reel-AH-tor” as we like to say in the south. Get it right.

Thankfully, neither the guy or the real estate career worked out. While they stewed together in the sewer, I went and got a nice job waiting tables where the lapel pins were shaped like grapes and not like a ridiculous “R”.

A few years later on a cold December night, whilst rattling around in a lonesome stupor helped along by a large bottle of moderately good wine, my mother suggested to me that, perhaps, I could teach yoga. I immediately railed at her about what a horrible idea that is, given that I didn’t think my six or so years of practice constituted a decent level of experience to teach the stuff. Not only that, but there was not a single yoga teacher training academy in Pensacola.

A year later I take her relatively helpful advice, having decided for myself that a career in fitness and wellness could lift me out of the doldrums of food service, which might have inspired the previous year’s malaise. A new career was thus launched after a year of training and in less than three years I find myself enmeshed in the new and budding yoga teacher training programs in Pensacola as an instructor and mentor.

I might add that it took me a year to follow this good advice to go to teacher training, so it is plainly obvious that the speed with which I act on given advice is inverse to how good it is. For example, You say “This apple pie is hot, let it cool before you eat it.” Me – already chewing.

When I began teaching yoga I also started doing hair again. I was working at a high end salon. It was a pretty good gig because I could go teach a yoga class between clients. I could even schedule yoga classes around my budding clientele. However, I was getting advice from two corners; the salon owner advised me to dress like a stylist and less like a fitness professional at beauty boot camp and the yoga studio owner advised me to quit my job and teach yoga full time.

In response, I quit the salon and waited tables on the weekends so I could be all piss and vinegar during the yoga teaching workweek to which I was newly committed. Quitting the salon job was terrible advice. So was leaving the restaurant, which I refused to do, given its ability to pay bills and afford me the luxury of new books, high end cat food and  – ironically – flip-flops made out of yoga mats. This move might have ultimately cost me opportunities, since I didn’t really offer a great show of force in my commitment to yoga.

I’ve maneuvered, like a street magician’s sleight of hand of where’s the marble, around the three jobs of food service, cosmetology and teaching yoga, and the marble that ended up in the magician’s sleeve was teaching. Eventually I had to let something go. I was becoming a cynical instructor secretly hoping no one showed up to class. I took the advice of my own counsel and quit teaching at the studio.

The problem with being a yoga teacher without a studio home is that I sometimes see via the marvel of social media students share their practice. How is this a problem, you might wonder?

Last week I saw a video of a local student kick up into headstand. She was proud of headstand, which is a commendable pursuit and a practice with grounding and depth. It has cautions that come with it, along with important alignment cues and stability practices. One of the things I remember from my own teacher training is the emphasis on  taking care of the cervical spine and the importance of lifting into headstand with control and keeping a neutral neck in shoulder-stand. Kick right the hell up into handstand, put a hole in the wall with your foot if you want, but control is key in headstand.

I thought about leaving a comment on the clip – what do they call those now, gifs? I considered all the ways I might direct, assist or inform but felt uninvited and, quite frankly, like a troll. I have enough of that feeling when I go to Panera Bread and they tell me they are out of sprouted grain rolls for the day and I have to restrain the expression on my face – very troll like.

From my perspective I must, at best, look like an armchair quarterback. At worst, a cynical out of work yoga teacher with control issues. But I am not out of work – not with all those jobs – and if I do have control issues, the issue is with not taking responsibility  for my life sooner.

Yoga is not my main source of income and teaching it is no longer my career. With this realization comes a great bit of freedom, including the ability to teach whatever in the hell kind of class I want because paying my light bill no longer hinges on the number of students who show up. It is my job to reassure and instruct, but not necessarily to make you like me.

This also means I can say whatever I want, in the name of safe and healthy alignment, so I’m going to give everyone some good advice – don’t kick up into headstand. Ask yourself, “What would Iyengar do?” and then do that.

I realized this week, between the dance between biting my tongue about technique and finding empowerment around the freedom of teaching off the clock, that giving up on my profession was the best thing I could have ever done for my practice. I am also renewed in teaching, as any good teacher will tell you, Dear Reader, because the practice informs what instructors are best able to teach.

Here’s a fantastic video on safely practicing headstand. She gives great cues and alignment instruction. https://supersisterfitness.com/safely-properly-headstand-for-beginners/ 

 

Turn that Hot Mess into a Happy Little Tree

Back in June if you saw me with a sock on my forearm I had no compunction with telling you why it was there. You might have also noticed I was totally unwilling to show you what was under it.

I went and got a tattoo I couldn’t stand to look at. Now, you may be wondering a few things, like didn’t I see it before they put it on me? Why yes, I did. But looking at a tattoo outline is a little like looking at faces on a dating site – it’s not always accurate. The famous last words, “But when we add color and shading….” sealed the deal for real estate on my lower arm.

You might wonder if I went to a place I’d never been. Perhaps I decided to go the disreputable and half assed rout. Alas, no, I went to a custom shop where I’ve gotten work before. It is for this reason that I was willing to ignore my little voice and churning guts that had a very bad feeling and plenty to say.

Do you know what I said in response to that little feeling? “It’ll be fine.”

The artist was late and hadn’t drawn up the design, so it was all sort of a rush job which I willfully ignored because, you know, it’ll be fine.

The following day I taught my very first out of town workshop to a large group of yoga teacher trainees. So horrified by the affliction of this horrible tattoo, made worse by the swelling despair of its recipient, I re-purposed a brown stocking sock by removing its toe.  I swiped this sock from my host and dear friend to whom I am forever indebted; thank you for having such nice footwear.

I had a six hour drive home after this roller-coaster weekend of tattooing and teaching. I had plenty of time to decide what in the hell I was gonna do with the hot mess on my arm. Only recently I’d been referred to an artist in Pensacola and, after reviewing her work, called for a consultation from the exit onto I-85 south bound.

I pleaded, “I know you can’t do anything with it right now, but if I can just come in so you can tell me you can fix it, I’ll feel so much better.”

When I arrived the next day and peeled the sock away from the gooey mess of a fresh tattoo she said, “I can do something with that.” It felt like a balloon of tension and anxiety popped right there in the middle of The Psychedelic Shack. I made my appointment for a month later. This is a list of things I learned while I waited it out –

1. People are a lot more sympathetic than we give them credit. Sierra Kay, my tattoo artist and one of top twelve favorite people, made me feel a hundred times better just by meaningfully saying, “I know how you feel.”

When I explained the sock on my arm to clients or students, people seemed to understand. It was like being stuck in an outfit I hated but couldn’t take off. Everyone was nice and didn’t give me a hard time about it. Most people either tried to reassure me or make me feel better by sharing their own tattoo tale of woe. It was all very sweet.

2. Detachment is just a yogic concept until you have to take care of someone or something that you really don’t like. A tattoo is, essentially, a controlled wound that requires special care. Just because I couldn’t stand the sight of it didn’t mean I could just let it wither and crust up on my arm because it was on my arm. I had to wash it, dry it, put the stuff on it, make sure it didn’t get bumped or harpooned even though on more than one occasion the serrated edge of a butter knife looked like an appealing alternative. This teaching potentially translates well to challenging family, friends and customers. Also, the car you may no longer be in love with still requires an oil change. This is sorta reminiscent of that teaching, “People are assholes, love them anyway….” especially if you are somehow attached to them.

3. Things you think of as permanent aren’t necessarily so. I signed a waiver at a tattoo shop where I got that hot mess put on and that waiver said I understood I was having something permanent put on my body. Permanent is relative given how quickly I got it fixed, just saying.

This teaching could extend to that new haircut you hate, that boyfriend you wish you’d never met, those lip injections or that job – it can be changed, adjusted or perhaps, if you’re lucky, totally transformed.

4. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is to never, ever, under any circumstance ignore that little voice, especially when it joins with your guts. It was almost an act of will to stay in the shop when I felt things going awry. The artist was late, unprepared and distracted and I knew it. All of this is really on me, you know, because I could have left. But I didn’t. Let me tell you something, Reader, this teaching has already paid off because since getting that tattoo I have thought to myself, “it’ll be fine…” and now relate that dialogue with, “No the hell it won’t.” There is no telling how much grief and misery I may avoid because of this new found faith in my intuition.

5. Everyone has bad days, even the most lauded professionals. I’ve had yoga classes I tried to teach with laryngitis. I’ve gone to work at the restaurant so hungover I thought about throwing up in the garbage can near the Coke station (I’ll happily list the benefits of sobriety if there’s sufficient interest – not being tempted to throw up at work would make the top ten). I have had receptionists book me clients for services I was not trained to perform but tried to do anyway.

I never thought of this before, but I think part of professionalism is recognizing when we are not prepared for the work. This doesn’t mean to sub your yoga class when you get a hang nail on your pinkie toe, but if you really have something going on show compassion to yourself and your students, clients or customers.

6. You probably saw this one coming, but Bob Ross was right about happy little accidents. Sierra Kay gave me this dreamy bracer piece that takes up about three quarters of my forearm. She designed a marvelous rose quartz skull in the center of a blue lotus matched in detail by lavender plumeria and moonlit waters. The hibiscus that was a little too confederate red for my taste is a dazzling cranberry. The aspects of the tattoo around which communication was stunted is now covered over with a mosaic in which symbols are nestled and held by a totem of steadiness. The whole effect is that of a vintage Hawaiian post card.

I didn’t start out with the design I have on my arm now, and I don’t know how I would have otherwise arrived at it without starting where I did. God blessed the broken road that lead me to the Psychedelic Shack – seriously folks. Thank you Sierra Kay.

They say referrals are the highest compliment – well, that and a nice tip. If you’re in the market for a tattoo artist who is easy to sit with and has a particular talent for tattooing give her a call. Her watercolor work is amazing ~ 850-479-9007

 

 

Rethinking The Great American Eclipse

This is the day before the Great American Eclipse and let me tell you something – I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of seeing articles on it and talking about it, too. I read horoscopes and Vedic astrology and like any decent new age kid I follow The Hood Witch, Mystic Mamma and Serpentfire on Instagram, so I kinda already know everything about all the woo woo of this eclipse in Leo. Just saying.

Right now I’m over it all. There is an expectation in the air for this eclipse, like we’re collectively going to be able to release dogmas that have held us back from being our best, brightest and most enlightened selves. We’re going to break through or jump over this eclipse portal to be somehow different and better than before. It’s like 2012 all over again without the hysteria and subterranean fear of aliens no one wanted to talk about until after it was over.

This eclipse portal and all its fetishized implications, the least of which is that this country’s leadership will somehow come under the control of someone with some sense, makes me feel like an under achiever. There’s lots of internet chatter, which I have resolved to henceforth ignore unless it’s in regards to this blog or my Etsy shop, about this eclipse aligning us with our true purpose, our dharma, our raison d’etre. I’ve heard that before and now it’s just starting to piss me off.

Maybe it’s because I have a cold and feel like an under achiever, because all I want to do is drink ginger tea and eat noodles, but I feel pissy about this topic of dharma and purpose. Does this mean that in my pissy-ness I will neglect my practices, that I won’t do my mantra or that I’ll say to hell with you all and those damn cardboard glasses that make everyone who puts them on look like ALF?

Of course I will do my practices, but I’m not doing them with any certainty that lightening will crack open the sky and I’ll have a clear vision of my own raison d’etre – eclipse or no. In fact, I’m not so sure about that whole reason for being anymore, at least not in the great sweeping sense of finality that has made me feel like a desperate yogi on the lookout from some outpost on the edge of the world. Maybe we’re not supposed to have the one, explicit unchangeable thing that we are – poet, doctor, lover, priest, garbageman, physicist…. What if the work isn’t to discover what we are but, instead, to peel away everything we are not.

I spent six years thinking, decidedly, that my purpose on this planet was to teach yoga classes. I fell in with a crowd who I let convince me that “job” and “calling” must coincide and I’ve been miserable ever since. By the time I wrapped that up a few months ago, I felt strained resentment for the “profession” and annoyance at the decidedly shiny happy people who insist on yoga #everydamnday and never ever admitting to feelings of sadness, frustration or anything below the acceptable baseline of utter joy.

Sometime around my first year of teaching yoga I did Rod Stryker’s online workshop on The Four Desires, which is a book about helping the aspirant uncover the fundamental intention of their soul and purpose for walking upon this Earth. The book talks about intention, decision and the four aims of life which are the investment of oneself equally in duty, wealth, pleasure and the pursuit of liberation. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much me #everydamnday

Upon further contemplation and a few years under my belt, I am given pause at the audacity of someone implying I must qualify my existence with an acceptable statement of intent.  All of the stream of consciousness writing I did during this online workshop with The Four Desires left me feeling as confounded as reading about the implications of this eclipse we’re looking at tomorrow. If there is work to do, I don’t know what it is. If there are special maaracas I am supposed to shake, then I don’t know where they are. If I am supposed to be something more or different than myself after the moon dances in front of the sun tomorrow afternoon, I don’t know what that looks like.

Dear Reader, have you ever practiced puja or prayers in which you left offerings on your meditation table or altar? Perhaps a bouquet of flowers or a small cup of water in front of a picture of the Black Madonna or Jesus? Have you ever removed the pits from dates and left them before a statue of the Buddha? Have you ever dared to leave dark chocolate before an image of Kali?

Well, I have (or variations thereof), and sometimes I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to do other than leave the milk, the oats, the water or incense. Should I do something more than leave an offering? Ought I to say a special mantra specifically designed for aspirants on the spiritual path to say while making devotionals? If so, I don’t know what it is and am confounded by that, too.

Then, like lightening opening the sky, one night it struck me that it’s not my job to know what to do with the offerings. I hand it over for a reason…. I give over the chocolate, the flowers, the water, the flame and I set it down. Setting it down is part of the practice. Perhaps, for some of us, it is the hardest part of the practice. But by the very virtue of being the one leaving the offering, I am not the one who has to know what to do with it.

So here we are on the precipice of this magnificent celestial event, and if you’re anything like me you might have cultivated all sorts of spiritual expectations and psychic implications around it. It’s okay, as you can see, clearly I have too. But I’ve been doing some writing today, and I’ve been doing the one practice I have clung to during the maelstrom of information, astrological guidance and implicit warnings regarding the path of the moon’s shadow passing over our great nation.

That one practice to which I have clung is the silent mantra, which is a great tool for overcoming the shadow of negative thinking that stretches across the mind during times of transformation and change. Sometimes, negativity manifests as expectation. Think about it – has doing something awesome ever made you feel like crap? No, it hasn’t. But any wall of expectation you built around the awesome thing you did might have made you feel like crap. If it didn’t then you’re more enlightened than me, so…..call me, tell me your ways. Because if I write and publish a book and it’s anything less than a run away best seller, I’m going to feel like a failure. See, isn’t that crazy? That’s what I’m talking about.

I see the real potential for this eclipse to leave folks deflated and a little depressed, like the wake of a few weeks into the New Year, because I’ve seen a lot of talk regarding the expectations of this eclipse. There is a heightened sense of something, and even though we don’t know what it is or even if it’ll be good, at least it’ll be different.

Make your expectations like an offering to the Sun – set them down and let ’em go.

At the eleventh hour, when I’ve had quite enough of all this talk of dharma, transformation and upheaval, I’m going to suggest you do whatever it is you’re gonna do and to the best of your ability, let it go. Get grounded before you stare into the sun, set your feet firmly on the path to which you committed and hold onto your practices with both hands. If you’re doing that, then you won’t have a free hand to hang onto expectations and projections so, whether this eclipse is just a really cool astronomical occurrence or a major astrological event that ushers in a time of peace and prosperity, you’ll be receptive and present.

Also – this is what everyone I’ve seen so far looks like wearing their eclipse glasses….

alfglasses

 

 

Under the Mat

In the world of hairdressing, there is a saying “Behind the chair…” which is code for tips, tricks and horror stories. Tonight a Yogi in teacher training messaged me about my “worst deer in the headlights yoga teaching moments.” I was referred to him by a friend. My response might become a new blog series. These are my tales from under the mat….

At the beginning of my yoga class I like to ask students what they want to work on. I like this opportunity to interact before class begins and it allows time for those who are on time to settle into the space.

Once, not so very long ago, a man replied to my inquiry, “I’d like to learn one handed handstand.”

Dear Reader, I do not practice one handed handstand for so many reasons, but it’s lucky for this guy that I know enough about alignment and stuff that I can effectively teach it. If you’re in yoga teacher training and reading this, please be advised that you don’t have to be able to perform every pose to teach every pose so long as you understand what you’re teaching. Got it? Also, there is usually someone in the room who can do it; use them to demonstrate the pose.

One handed handstand it is. I begin the class with everything we’re going to need for this posture, though I am not sure if Iyengar included it in his work Light on Yoga, but what the hell, right? We say mantras for supple joints and I pass out calcium supplements just to be safe. We do shoulder stuff and activate our abdominal muscles and everything. At the end of this class I move me over to the wall, where we shall discuss and perhaps consider this pose for ourselves.

I invite the man who suggested this pose of the day to the wall with me, where I will assist, coach and encourage him. And do you know what he says to me?

“I was just kidding.”

“What?” I ask with the late afternoon sun shining through the window onto my perplexed face. “What?”

Well, he might have been kidding but there I was, up against a wall and an entire room of yoga students expecting a demonstration. I demonstrated a perfectly respectable handstand and, while up-side-down, described what one might expect of a one handed handstand were I to demonstrate that, which I did not.

Then, most of the students go to the wall and they practice perfectly respectable handstands… with both hands firmly on the ground thankyouverymuch.

Another story that comes to mind is about a mother and daughter who visited Uru Yoga studio when it first opened. They were both very nice, they were both really into yoga and they were both almost always late.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, but the first five -ish minutes of class are introspective and meditative. This is so even at the gyms, where it is equally important to settle in and focus on the breath before movement.

It is during this quiet time, before the music starts and I start hollering cues, that these two women would inevitably open the door and stomp down the ramp that leads into the large practice space. They sounded like Lipizzaner stallions high stepping in their tennis shoes, which they wore as they walked all the way across the long room to the opposite end of the space.

Inevitably, one would unroll her mat like she was trying to kill something with it and I’d see the rest of the class, trying to pretend like an Army platoon hadn’t just descended on the yoga studio on leave, flinch from the sudden and loud noises of their revelry. I’d keep talking, “Breath in and listen to the sound of your breath…” and I’d watch while these women roll around on their mats, removing tennis shoes and socks and putting their hair in ponytails. I’d say, “Continue to listen to the sound of your breathing, soft “H” sound on the inhale…” as though this was normal, average start of class protocol.

It happened around the time that this mother/daughter team were torturing classes that the studio held a meeting/potluck/getting to know you wherein we sat in a large circle and introduced ourselves. Before we were set loose on the hummus and vegan mayonnaise mango salad we were asked if there were any issues we’d like to address.

I thought this was the perfect time to lodge my complaint with a very reasonable solution. I gave a Reader’s Digest version of these ladies’ shenanigans and suggested that we make a very nice sign covering the basics of studio etiquette. For instance, it might say…

If you are late to class, please enter quietly….

If you must leave class early, please exit quietly….

Please remove your shoes before entering the practice space….

I had no way to foresee how egregious this recommendation would be. Following my monologue, it was suggested to me whilst still sitting in this large circle, that if I was having experiences of people disrupting classes I was teaching it might be that I was entertaining disruptive thoughts prior to class and the real solution to this quandary might be to sit in my car before class and think pleasant, uplifted and non-disruptive thoughts so I could manifest a tranquil and peaceful environment in which to guide yoga classes.

“What?” I think, with the late afternoon sun shining through the window onto my perplexed face. Even while I wonder where in the hell I might have sounded unreasonable, I consider the possibility of being in a sequel to The Secret and then, I notice that none of the other yoga teachers are making eye contact with me.

Having dispatched my problem, the same question is asked again,”Is there anything else we would like to bring up or address?” There are a whole bunch of yoga teachers looking at the floor, undoubtedly manifesting thoughts of warm lentils and glitter.

As it was, by the time we got to the food the lentils were, in fact, cold. It is fortunate that I like cold lentils. Those ladies eventually quit going to yoga classes, but it wasn’t because of anything I said. I think, if I had that race to run over again, I would say something to them. I’d say something very nice, like, “If you’re running late, please come on in, but wait until opening meditation is over so you don’t startle everyone.”

This is the most reasonable way, I think, given that you can clearly see into the studio through two observation windows and a glass door! I would also contemplate tranquil scenes and up-lifting thoughts, just to cover all of my bases.

 

 

 

 

The Teachings of Wonder Woman

Now listen ya’ll, I can’t promise there aren’t going to be spoilers in this post, so if you’re going to get mad about it wait and come back after you’ve seen it. Those of you who know me, know I’m not a comic book movie person. Personally, I like Transformers best. I don’t like Batman though I’d be inclined to give Iron Man the time of day, but that’s more a Robert Downy Jr thing than a super hero thing.

Then there’s Wonder Woman.

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I planned on seeing Wonder Woman, probably after it came out on DVD, until I saw the clip with Robin Wright riding a horse and shooting an arrow in slow motion. Let me set the tone for you; it was day three or so into the ten day yoga detox I do with Swami three times a year. Two or three days in is not the most glorious or fantastic. I felt tired, hungry and haggard. This is the natural course of things in a detox, I think, before the slinky, clear and luminous feelings arise. I was feeling old when I saw Robin Wright with her fierce lion face and mow-hawk braid and I thought, “I wonder how old she is?”

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She is 51 years old. I take this to mean that my time to ride a horse while I practice archery in slow motion has not yet passed. This much needed psychological boost inclined me to go see the movie in the theater. Yes, I went to see Wonder Woman so I could watch Jenny from Forrest Gump kick some ass. She was worth the price of admission.

Through the course of the movie I got swept all up in it, Reader. You just wouldn’t believe it. But while I was all awash in feminine power and might there was a part of my writer mind composing a blog about it. Aren’t we all lucky I am so good at multi-tasking.

Here are a few suspicions I have had that were confirmed by Wonder Woman

~ The interests you have when you are seven are good indicators of what you should pay attention to as you grow up. Just because collecting Unicorn figurines doesn’t seem to have much merit when you graduate high school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a vocation in animal husbandry. I’m just saying, pay attention to your dreams, and then insist on them. Insist on them even if your mother is the Queen of Themyscira and doesn’t want you training to be an Amazon warrior. Do it anyway.

~ Playing small doesn’t help anyone, especially not you. In fact, the opposite is true. Playing big will inspire others to be big, too. This makes getting things done easier and inspires greatness in the world.

~ Ignorance is not bliss. This is a concept the Yogis know very well; the root of suffering and all trouble comes from forgetting our Divinity. Luckily for us and for Diana – Wonder Woman herself – there is an inevitable moment of remembering for us all. Even luckier for us is that we get to see that moment when it happens for Wonder Woman and she recognizes her Divine heritage. It’s a game changer people.

~ The same energy that can cause all kinds of hell and misery can be used for good and transformation as well. Electricity is a fine example of this – it can shock the hell out of you or it can make your room nice and bright so you can read and get your eyeliner on straight. At the end of the movie there is a most magnificent moment in which Wonder Woman snatches the malevolent currents thrust at her from the hands of the God of War right out of the ethers and uses them for her own purposes. In this case, it was to defeat the God of War – oh the irony. What might have killed her, saved her and the world. Use what you’ve got and use it for the good.

~ Training is important. Even Wonder Woman had to practice, which she did every day. This isn’t even a sneaky “yoga every day damn” post because it might be crochet you’re into. If you slack off then your afghans are going to be saggy and inconsistent. Practice

~ We need a hero, we need a strong and impressive leading lady who doesn’t play to the leading man. But, and I think most importantly, regardless of gender, we need to see the hero within ourselves. Just like it’s almost like we are born to forget our Divinity, we aren’t programmed to know that we are what we’ve been waiting for.

Wonder Woman waits not a moment for someone else to do anything. She grew up empowered – she grew up with Amazon Warriors, for heaven’s sake. So let’s not be too hard on ourselves for not necessarily having a strong sense of self efficacy. But it’s a good goal with a powerful trajectory I’d personally like to work on.

This last point brings to mind a quote by Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, “You had the power all along, my Dear.”

Like Wonder Woman, walking around a Goddess and didn’t even know it. Until she did, and then she owned it. We’ve had the power all along, my Dears.

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