Letting Go Of The External "Stuff"

In Yoga, we often say “Let Go” during our practice. 

But, what are we letting go of?  What are we holding on to?

As we settle into our practice we try to let go of the tight muscles that might be hiding in our shoulders, neck, back, hips, or elsewhere in our body.  We try to let go of thoughts and stress and worries and the busy activity of our mind.  We try to let go of these things so that we can free ourselves up so that our breath can widen out into the space.

But, often we’re holding tightly to more than just a few tense muscles. 

And, that’s the more subtle part of “letting go.”  And, it’s just as important.

We’re holding tightly onto our external selves.  Who we think we are.  Who we want to be.  How we want to look.  What we do, what we have, and what we want.

Because, that’s often how we define ourselves.  We are our age, our height, and – oh my! – our weight.  We are our jobs, we are our education, we are our social standing, we are our bank account.

That’s a lot to let go of. But, it’s an essential part of Yoga.

If we hold too tightly to those external “definers”, we will never reach our truest, purest spirit that hides under all that external stuff.

Today, I was part of a conversation and the topic was all the external stuff.  What they were getting their spouse for Christmas, how much they were spending, how indispensible they are to their job, how much they know.

It was a little uncomfortable, but mostly it was a good reminder.

We all do this. We all hold on.

It’s not our job to judge what someone else does or what they hold on to.
Instead, Yoga asks you and me to hone in on what we’re holding onto that is stopping us from finding our own inner pure light.

I hold on, too. (If you’ve seen me in the past few weeks as I have prepared for my move to a new Yoga studio, you know how I hold on … and worry … and lose sight that Yoga is much, much more than having a perfect floor to practice on.)

It’s hard enough to let go of our stressed shoulders (see, didn’t you just check your shoulders and drop them down alittle?).

Now, Yoga asks us to let go of the other things we hold tight. Who we are on the outside. That takes more effort.

But, the reward is great.

The light at the very center of your being is pure and perfect. It is healthy, it is wealthy, it is wise. It is everything. But, to find it means you have to dig a little bit. And, you have to let go of everything that is getting in the way.

It’s not easy. But, practicing Yoga – on your mat, or just by slowing down and paying attention to your breathing – can give you a peek at the “True You.”

And, then, what you look like on the outside, or what you have, or what you want, begins to fall away on its own. It starts to become superfluous.

I am not my weight. I am not my job. I am not my Yoga studio.

I’m just me.

After the earlier conversation about Christmas presents and stuff, someone shared this post with me. How perfect! 

VOTE! It’s Your Yogic Duty

Voting is part of our Yogic duty. The time to take your Yoga off the mat and into the world.

It may seem strange because much of the time our Yoga seems like solely an inward journey … a journey to expand and enlighten our own body, mind, and spirit. After all, when we step on the mat — it is just your two feet planting, your two arms reaching, your one heart beating, your one spirit shining.

But, as we respect and foster our own inward growth through Yoga, we must also remember — as the word Namasté reminds us — that we are all one.

Our actions, our efforts, our Yoga are for the “all one” … not the “just me”.

And, so, we must respect and honor … and take responsibility for … our journey as a society.

Yoga is not about isolating ourselves from the world. It is about non-attachment to the things of the world, true. But, that’s something altogether different.

We seek our inner growth as a means not only to help ourselves, but also to be of benefit to others.

Voting is a very easy way to do that. It shows your support and concern for the wellbeing of your neighbors, friends, and your community. It shows that on your Yoga journey you seek the highest good for all.

It shows that you care.

How lucky we are to have some say in how our society operates.

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by all the political anger in this election season — less from the candidates themselves, but from friends and others who think that by raising their voices, by shaking their fists, by being loud and rude, they will force me to their way of thinking. And, I’ve heard it on both sides.

I’m so tired of, and disappointed by, the mean-spirited links and “likes” that my Facebook community has been forwarding. I’ve kept quiet. Because anger, mean-spiritedness, sarcasm, and yelling will accomplish nothing — no matter who wins on Tuesday.

Voting is not about disagreeing and being angry.

Democracy is about working together. Compromising. And, making a difference in our community, our country, and our world.

And, as always, there is someone who says it far better than I ever could. Dorothy Day, a Catholic leader and social activist of the early 20th century, has inspired me in so many ways. She once said:

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.”

The work begins on Tuesday. Vote.

Let your Yoga light serve us all.


Who Decides What’s ‘Proper’ Anyway?

“There’s no ‘properly’. There’s just how it makes you feel.”

~ Keith Richards describing playing guitar

Maybe it was only rock & roll that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was talking about, but he did an incredibly good job of summing up my Yoga path and practice, too.

Yoga is about feeling … and letting that feeling blossom from within. 

Yes, there are great books of Yoga wisdom and sutras to guide and inspire us. But, they are just that — guides. They are meant to guide us so that we may find the true reward of Yoga ourselves. From within. Both on and off the mat.

Let’s just talk about the “on the mat” part today.

I know that a lot of my students wish I would spend more class time pushing them into poses … or pulling their arm one way and their leg another.  Isn’t that what Yoga teachers are for?  Pushing or pulling you into something deemed ‘proper’? Something someone has decided is correct or, even, perfect.

But, as I think most of my students know, that’s not my style. Afterall, I could sculpt a body into a beautiful Downward Dog or Warrior Pose. I could move a limb here an inch … or push your hip a schooch in the other direction.

What does that give you? It gives you a fleeting moment of something that may look like it belongs in a Yoga magazine, but isn’t really your Yoga.

It may look all pretty on the outside, but it may hurt on the inside. It may make a muscle tense or a joint ache. You lose the ease. You grit your teeth. You count the moments until you can come out of the pose. 

You lose the Yoga.

I may move a student or encourage a change in the pose with my touch, but that’s merely a suggestion or an invitation to move out of discomfort. But mostly I like to adjust my students with my words, with verbal suggestions that allow a student to find the pose from the inside.

Yoga is about finding the pose on your own … truly owning it and feeling it within you. No teacher can move you there. You have to find it yourself. And, what a great feeling it is when you do.

I wonder if Keith Richards has ever done Yoga? He should. He’s got the right heart for it.

Because Yoga isn’t about doing something ‘properly’. It’s about feeling the spirit of the pose inside, letting it come to life, and letting it shine out.

I hope you’re feeling some good Yoga!  Rock on, Yoga friends!

(And, yes, I AM reading Keith’s autobiography ‘Life‘ … again. One of the five greatest rock-and-roll books of all time. And, a great read whether you love the Stones or not.)

A Day With The Dalai Lama

Last week, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Charlottesville, Virginia.  I was fortunate to be able to attend both of the events where he spoke.

I took lots of notes, because remembering the things that people say can get in the way of the experience. I have a tendency to forget. It’s much easier for me to just write down the things I want to remember.

I posted a few short reports on my “other” blog: Baseball, Yoga, Life … (and me).

But, I wanted to include the links here as well …

In Part 1 of my “Day with the Dalai Lama”, the Dalai Lama talks about happiness and the benefits of being positive.  Click here.

In Part 2, His Holiness discusses cricket, exposes my baseball-watching habits, recommends a good night’s sleep, and inspires my cat Stevie.  Click here.

There is a Part 3 coming soon … and it will include a discussion on comfortable and fashionable footwear … so be sure to check back.

And, you can always sign up to receive posts from this blog … and from my “other” Baseball & Yoga blog … via email. A sign-up form is on every page.


Say "Cheese"!

This is Stevie.  Yes, another cat.  She’s one of my favorite “models”.

But, her Yoga is sloppy.  Oh, sure her Down Dog is kinda cute.  But, really, Warrior 2?  Very lackadasical.  And, you can just forget about Bridge Pose.

That’s where you come in.

I’m looking for some help – and a smiling face!

Would you be willing to be my Yoga model on my blog?

I need someone (or two “someones”) willing to pose in a variety of simple Yoga poses for use with my blog posts.  Nothing fancy, all poses we’ve done in Yoga at some point.   I would need you for about one hour at my Orange studio at a time that works for both of us.  You just need to do a handful of basic poses and that’s that. 

Think of it as having your own personal Yoga session … and you can forget there will even be a camera there.  I’ll do my best to make it fun and beneficial.  You’ll look amazing.  And, yes, I’ll even bring snacks!

You won’t become famous, because my readership is small.  But, you’ll help to illustrate the beauty and power of Yoga … you may help someone improve their own pose or inspire someone to try Yoga for the first time.  How cool is that?!

In return, I’ll gift your next Yoga session (in either Madison or Orange).  I will be very, very grateful and will thank you profusely.

Requirements: You should be familiar with my classes and basic Yoga poses.  You should know a Down Dog from a Warrior 2.  You should have an hour to spare (probably on a weekend) when you can come to my Orange studio.  You should be able to smile!

If you’re willing to give it a go … please let me know.  Email me at peacefulhands@gmail.com  Or, call me at 540.672.9528. 
Thank you for helping share Yoga!

UPDATE:  Thank you so much to the kind people who so generously — and so quickly — responded to my Yoga Model search!  Two beautiful and kind-hearted Yoginis are joining me this weekend for our “photo shoot”.  I can guarantee you that their Yoga is inspiring and beautiful.  I hope … hope … hope that my rudimentary camera skills can capture their practice so that I can share it with you in the days, weeks, months to come! 

Yoga’s 8 Limbs ~ More Than Just A Pose

It all began when I was asked a simple question over dinner last week, “How is our Yoga progressing?  Do you see us getting any better?” 
This person has been doing Yoga with me for many years.  And, there’s not a single thing wrong with her Yoga – she tries every pose, including the tough ones; she looks lovely in her poses; she comes to nearly every class.  She is a beautiful and inspiring Yogini!
But, it was a good reminder for me about what it means to “teach” Yoga.  Because, Yoga is so much more than just stretching out on the mat.  Even if the physical exercise is extremely beneficial to the body and the poses look lovely.
Asana is the limb of Yoga we practice most here in the West.  It is the Yoga of movement and exercise.  For most Yoga practitioners in the West it is the only Yoga they know.
There’s just so much more to Yoga than a sticky mat and a Sun Salutation. Asana is just one of eight amazing, powerful, and transformational Yogic limbs.  
We cheat ourselves if we fail to experience the rest of Yoga.

So, because you talked me into it over dinner … and because it’s so important … I’m going to post more frequently on the larger dimensions of Yoga, the pure essence of the practice, and the philosophy that gives us much more than just a supple back and strong arms.

For today, simply, the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
I’ll hope to go more in depth later.  The eight limbs, taken together, comprise a true and complete Yoga practice.  One limb can’t thrive without the others.  They all support and build upon each other.  One without the others is not really Yoga.
Yoga dates back to the Vedas – spiritual and life scriptures that came from ancient India thousands of years ago.  
But, the structure of Yoga and its eight limbs was first written by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras, which dates to about 200 AD.  While Patanjali did not create the limbs of Yoga, he is a considered to be the first sage to put them together into a written framework that can be studied and followed. 
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
1) The Yamas ~ rules governing moral and ethical behavior toward others.  Much like the 10 Commandments, the Yamas warn us against bad behavior and poor lifestyle choices.
2) The Niyamas ~ the keys to personal care, behavior, and healthy lifestyle.  Things we should do to be more fulfilled, more vibrant, healthier, and kinder individuals.
3) Asana ~ the traditional exercise and fitness component of Yoga.  The practice most commonly known and practiced in the West.
4) Pranayama ~ control of the breath and focused breathing practices.
5) Pratyhara ~ withdrawl of the senses, drawing the senses inward and closing off of external distractions.
6) Dharana ~ one-pointed focus, controlling the mind fully to concentrate on a single point of focus.
7) Dhyana ~ Meditation, absorption in a single thought or point of focus for an extended period of time, particularly meditation on the spiritual.
8) Samadhi ~ the pure bliss that comes through success in the other seven limbs.  Samadhi is the culmination of the limbs of Yoga, creating a perfect, sustained meditation that is the complete and pure absorption in the object of one’s attention.  The mind must be in perfect balance for this to occur. 
Although we think of the Yoga we do in class as simply Asana, we also try to experience some of the higher limbs.  We always include Pranayama in our practice.  We try to incorporate the spirit of Pratyhara and Dharana into our practice.  And, we touch on meditation as a very simple introduction to Dhyana.
The goal is to work at these first seven limbs.  The eighth, Samadhi, or purest of bliss, is the gift that comes from our commitment toward perfecting all the others.
For most of us, Samadhi will be a rare and fleeting thing.   
And, so our best course is to simply make time for the journey … to explore and experience all of the limbs of Yoga to their fullest.  When we do, Yoga can, quite simply, change our lives.
P.S.  I would love your questions and comments to keep the discussion going and to help steer future posts and conversations.  I’m going to label these posts as Yoga 101.  So, you should be able to click on the Yoga 101 label on the blog to see all of these philosophy and deeper discussions in one place.

One Wild & Precious Life

Oscar is my cat.  He’s 20.

Although he has his share of stiffness and achy joints in recent years, he can still hoist himself up on the barn roof for an afternoon snooze.  Just yesterday, for instance.

I share him with you, because he’s a good reminder of Poet Mary Oliver’s words:

“Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild & precious life.”

Oscar came to us about eight or nine years ago.  So, he already was an older cat — nearly elderly.

But, he was unhappy with his people up the road, I guess.  And, so he packed up and moseyed through the fields.  A half-mile.  He just showed up one day.  Moved in.  And, never left.

We always joke that he saw our place as a retirement home.

But, in fact, he didn’t retire.  Instead, Oscar found a second chance and a new life — rich, rewarding, active, and comfortable.

And, his decision to make a fresh start … at an age when he should have been winding down … is a daily inspiration to me.

It’s never too late to start again.

So …

“Tell me, what it is YOU plan to do with your one wild & precious life.”

P.S. Oscar would be delighted, I’m sure, if you would share his photo, and message, with your friends and loved ones.  Because he carries Mary Oliver’s inspiring words.  And, they are very good reminders that we all should live our lives to their fullest.

Sometimes A Flower Is Only A Flower

Sometimes a flower is only a flower. 

There’s no real reason for this post.

Except that this morning, I went out to take a photo of the single sunflower blooming in my garden. 

But, that photo didn’t turn out.

And, then I saw this tiny little morning glory, just tucked in amongst the weeds and vines.  And, so I took a photo of it.  And, the photo was sweet and the morning dew looked so glittery.  

So, I didn’t get the photograph of the flower I wanted.  I got something I didn’t expect.

This flower is only a flower.

And, there is no purpose to this post.

Except that sometimes a flower is only a flower … and that’s quite simple and beautiful enough.

Be Fearless & Pure …

This week in Yoga, I shared a meditation with you from The Bhagavad Gita, the spiritual book that guides (and explains) Yoga.  It is a beautiful story and guide to living a fulfilling and enlightening life.  It enhances every spiritual practice and if your Yoga is beginning to be about more than just the asanas (poses) on the mat, then The Gita is the perfect step into the higher potential of your Yoga practice.

The meditation in classes this week comes from the beginning of Chapter 16 of The Bhagavad Gita and I share it again with you here:

Be fearless and pure; never waver in your determination or your dedication to a good and spiritual life.  Give freely.  Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve others.  Seek the truth in all things; learn to be detatched and take joy in the sacrifices you make to support goodness.

Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show goodwill to all.

Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity, avoid malice and pride.  Then, you will achieve your divine destiny. …

These divine and good qualities will lead you to freedom.

The Bhagavad Gita is available widely.  It is a short and transformative guide.  You can even find free Apps of Gita translations for your iPhone or Droid.  I hope you’ll explore its beauty.